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.
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.
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.
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)
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?