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The 'Technocamera' That Brought the World Modern Metering: We Review the Nikon FA

The Nikon FA is the arguably the best valued, vintage, manual focusing 35mm film camera you can buy today. It’s light weight, wonderfully modern for a vintage camera, and the built-in aperture priority mode makes use of the most modern metering of its day which is still unrivaled. 

This is the second in a series of reviews of budget-friendly 35mm film cameras. In case you missed the first, it was the Nikon FE (the review can be found here). For those that are keeping a pulse on the film market, I suspect that they’re aware of the drastically increasing prices, making it more and more difficult to find a good, solid film camera on a budget. Having shot through multiple rolls and now and then loaning the camera to friend that has experience with film photography, I can honestly say that the Nikon FA is relatively fool proof in the best way possible.    

Of all the Nikon 35mm film cameras, the most professionally built and most highly regarded are the F2, F3, and the F6. Some people love the original F and may even claim they like the F5 or F4. Though, admittedly, I don’t know any of those people – particularly for the F5. The thing about all of these cameras is that they are very heavy relative to the Nikon FA and FE (as well as the FE2). And truth be told, the additional weight does bring with it some better build quality and a substantially higher price tag.  

The Nikon FA was released in 1983 and production was continued through to 1987, however, it was still available new for purchase until 1989. Its entire production was overlapped with the Nikon FE2 (also produced from 1983-1987) and the Nikon FM2 (made from 1982-2001). Similar to these other model cameras, the chassis of the Nikon FA was made from an aluminum-copper alloy, and for the FA, the shutter was titanium. The Nikon FA has a max shutter speed of 1/4,000th with a max sync speed of 1/250th. Though my particular camera had chrome trip, the FA offered an all-black model which I must admit is a very sharp-looking camera which I wish I had over my chrome model. 

Build Quality

As I noted above, the Nikon FA is constructed using a copper-aluminum alloy first used for the Nikon FM (in 1977) and uses Copal-made titanium, vertical traveling shutter. Much like my experience with the Nikon FE that I reviewed previously, the FA is light, compact, and sturdy-feeling that makes you feel quite confident to take it out for any and all adventures. If you’re unfamiliar with these cameras but have any experience with vintage Nikon lenses, you can expect the same level of high-quality construction. 

Accessories

Much like the Nikon FE, the Nikon FA has some available accessories but it is not on par with the professional lineup of the F2 through to the F6. There is a motor drive available (Nikon MD-15) as well as third-party power winders. There are also three different focusing screens available for the FA: the standard focusing screen, the Type K screen; Type B which is entirely matte with a fine-ground center focusing spot; and the Type E which is a lot like the Type B but with horizontal and vertical lines etched into it which can be really helpful for architecture photography and multiple exposures. There was also a databack available for the Nikon FA (Nikon MF-16). Much like the Nikon MF-12 databack, the information is printed in the bottom right of the frame. 

Lens Offerings

The Nikon FA should work well with most Nikon lenses made so long as it has manual control of its aperture. This includes Pre-AI lenses, AI, and AI-S glass. Further, I’ve been told that it includes autofocus Nikon D-series glass, though I’ve not tried this myself. So far, I’ve only used my 28mm AI-S, 35mm f/2 non-AI, and 50mm f/2 AI-S lenses and they’ve all worked splendidly with the camera. Given the quality of Nikon glass, the lenses could be considered the best part of choosing Nikon over the other competing brands for your 35mm camera. 

What I Like

  • Size (it’s a good deal smaller than my F2 and F100 as well as its F3 contemporary)
  • Weight (on par with the Nikon FE and the other models using the same chassis, this camera is remarkably lightweight)
  • Matrix metering means nearly all shots will be metered correctly even with manual focus lenses (only the Nikon F6 can do this as well)
  • It’s possible to use a databack
  • There’s a small grip added to the front of the camera which is a nice touch but seems to be missing on a lot of copies of the camera so I do worry that they break easily
  • Batteries are easily available at grocery stores and drug stores
  • It has a really cool nickname – the “Technocamera”

What I Don’t Like

  • The LED data coming through the viewfinder
  • Only three focusing screens to choose from – I wish there was something like the Nikon Type H that I have for my F2 and have come to love (microprisms across the entire screen)

Conclusion

The Nikon FA is hands down my favorite 35mm budget-friendly camera that I’ve used. In fact, against what I planned to do, I intend to keep the camera for and have it be the only film camera that I take on big trips. What the FA over the FE or my F2 and F100 you ask? I did like the FE and would still highly recommend it but I just really preferred the handle that was added to the FA and it’s hard to argue with matrix metering. The F2 is a fantastic camera and I love that I can use it without the need for batteries but it’s a bit of a brick and without aperture priority mode, it isn’t great for traveling nor is it good for loaning to a friend to shoot. The F100, as much as I love it and as great as the metering system is, it’s a relatively large and heavy camera. So much so that it can take away from the experience because it’s so similar to shooting digital. As such, the FA has found its way into my heart and my regular rotation. I spent right at $100 for my copy (without a lens) a few months ago and I would highly recommend it for that price or even for $200 if it came with a good lens. 

Have you ever used the Nikon FA? What were your thoughts? How did it compare with other budget 35mm film cameras that you’ve used?
 

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11 Comments

Charles Mercier's picture

My camera for decades was the all manual FM. It just had 3 red diodes and a center weighted meter. That thing was amazingly accurate. I never took an unintentionally over or underexposed photo. Never.

Tom Kinkel's picture

I am going to say something and some will really flame me for it !. Nikon metering was and still is about as good as anyone can put into a camera whether it be film or digital. I have used so many brands and models but Nikon metering is so good you can count on it to deliver .Many of the press photographers struggled to get consistent exposure when the papers switched to the C brand , Like anything it's a matter of getting used to the new work tool .But many said they miss the Nikon metering consistency ! .Last film camera I owned was a Nikon F4s and that was like a space ship to any camera at the time .I cant believe I sold it !

Jan Holler's picture

The matrix metering on the FA works so well that I can't say that today's metering work significantly better. I second your statement.

Jan Holler's picture

I have a Nikon FA since 1986, may I add to the item as follows:
* Battery: 2x LR44 or 2x SR44 batteries or 1x 3V CR 1/3N. The battery lasts forever. My FA is still running with the same battery from 1986. I have photographed about 200 - 300 rolls of film with it.
* Almost all Nikon lenses up to the newest ones work with the FA. However, with G lenses, you can't adjust the aperture and the camera switches to aperture mode (lens always fully open) in any mode except M.
* The camera offers matrix metering with manual lenses. There are very few Nikon cameras that allow this.
* It takes two different motor drives: MD-12 and MD-15.
* The cover of the pentaprism is made of metal for the black FA and enforced plastic for the chrome FA.
* It offers TTL as flash mode.
* It's automatic program can expose for a very long time, much much longer than Nikon's usual 30 second limit.
* One can run the camera without battery with 1/250s (no metering), use the M-250 setting on the dial.

(Photo: Nikon FA with MD-15 and AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8)

Tom Kinkel's picture

Whenever I talk Nikon I feel like so many people talk Canon and Sony up . Owning a Nikon F and an ELW then F2 , F2s an F3 then a F4s and F4 loved all of them . A Nikon D2Hs after a few Fuji versions that caused me a lot of grief .The only brand of camera's that I only spent money on the purchase price, no servicing or repair costs after 30 something years .I think I almost talked myself into another Nikon !

Jan Holler's picture

Hi James. When I bought my FA, I wanted a black model, but it was out of stock for some time at that time. So I got the chrome model. Every time I saw a black FA, I was a little sad. - 35 years later, today, I think differently: now I like the chrome model better. It ages much less (no black paint coming off at the edges) and it looks much more like Nikon's traditional FM cameras.

Moshe Strugano's picture

Nice Article

Michael Steinbach's picture

I shot with a FE2 FA combo up to the intro of the F100 and with a pair of those till the introduction of the D1x. Great cameras all around.

John Nixon's picture

I started my photographic journey back in 1980 with an FM. My last four film cameras were an FM2n, an FE2, an F4S and an F5. I never owned an FA but I used a couple extensively and liked them a lot. I’d like to have owned one.
I parted with the FM2n and FE2 about 10 years ago but I kept the F4 and F5 until 2 years ago. I have to say, I think you’re being a little unfair to the F5, which I think was the best professional Nikon film camera of the lot. I will admit it took the death of my F4 (cracked mirror housing) to force me to use it enough to become my favourite!
However, my D850 leaves them all for dead. That’s progress. I’m sure the Z9, or whatever it ends up being called, will leave it behind too but since they’re way out of my price range now, it’s pretty academic!

Andrew Almeida's picture

If memory serves, the FA was the first camera to incorporate the now standard PASM dial as well as the first camera to incorporate matrix metering.

Timothy Gasper's picture

The first Nikon I ever had was the FM and I loved it. I just recently sold the beloved FE,at my wife's demand, but I still have the Pro F series from the F ftn to the F5. Don't really want or need the F6, especially at its price. I have always wanted the FA since it came out and will now get one. I purchased all my film camera gear in the early 2000's when the prices were low as I believed there would be a renewed visit to film again. The FA is the most advanced manual focus camera ever and I intend in enjoying it. Just don't tell my wife. Thanks for the nice review. Excellent camera.