I’ve always been curious about the Nikon FA. It seemed like there wasn’t too much ever said about it. Not many technical reviews. It just didn’t seem like people talked about it much. So I thought I’d take a look for myself. I generally like Nikons from this era (early to mid 1980’s).
First off, here’s some things I know about the FA, both good and bad.
- Uses Ai and Ai-s lenses – of which I have lots
- Matrix Metering!
- Multiple metering modes (Program, Shutter, Aperture, Manual)
- Updated electronics from the FE & FE2
- Feels good/solid in my hand (heavier than FE/FE2)
- Control layout is very similar to the FE/FE2
- Slightly newer than the FE/FE2. With cameras this old, newer is generally better for reliability, repairs, etc.
- Plastic top plate
- No match needle metering (especially nice for manual mode)
I will say, number 8 in the pros column is a slightly big deal with regard to these cameras. Age is important. Even though I love the simplicity of the FE, I’ve had FE bodies where the shutter/electronics don’t work right, or by dropping the camera the electronics fail. So, the extra few years of age can make a difference. That’s my only concern, especially with the older FE. The FE2, being a bit newer, can be more reliable. This camera, the FA is a bit newer than the FE2. So, by logic, and the fact that the electronics are a bit newer in the FA, I would say it should be a bit more reliable. Of course, with antiques, like these have become, there are no guarantees of reliability.
The big attraction for me is #3 in the Pros column. This was the first camera to have matrix metering – even though it’s pretty primitive compared to today’s implementations of matrix metering. I would like to know just how well it works compared to standard center weighted averaging that was normal at 1970’s and early 80’s.
If you want to read what Ken Rockwell has to say about the FA, click here.
So, how well does the FA’s Matrix Metering really work? Here’s some images from my FA. I tried to shoot in conditions that I thought might fool an averaged meter reading. I actually think the metering worked well. Taken on Ilford HP5+ and developed in HC-110, dilution B. The photos on the trail, with trees and splotches of sun look nice. I especially like the one with the fence and vines, and backlighting at the top. I think the camera did a nice job of exposing for the foreground without completely burning out the sunny area. Since I’ve been doing a lot of medium format lately, I am a bit shocked by the amount of grain in these photos – but that’s 35mm, I suppose. All in all, they look pretty good.
The idea behind matrix metering is that the area being metered is divided into several zones (5 in this case, more on some newer cameras) and each zone is independently measured, and the computer inside the camera evaluates the measurements and calculates the proper exposure. Newer cameras us more AI that simple pattern matching, and I’m sure the technology will continue to get better and better.
I guess I would say, after handling a Nikon FA, and shooting a bit with it, if you find one, don’t be afraid to give it a try. It is interesting, and not a bad camera – in my honest opinion (for what that’s worth).