Wander the far corners of the Web and you'll find photographers gushing praise on most every Nikon F camera released in the 1970s and 80s. The FE, FE2, FM, FM2, and FG all have legions of fans. The F2 has it's own Facebook fan page and a cult following. And the F3 is loved as being the last of the manual focus Nikon pro bodies. Even the Nikkormats and Nikomats get love.
Lost to obscurity, hardly written about or reviewed, the Nikon FA stands as the most unloved, or at least under appreciated of the famous Nikon F line. It's an odd thing too, because the Nikon FA is a historically significant camera.
Released in 1983 and dubbed the "Technocamera", the Nikon FA was a pro/consumer manual focus SLR with fully manual, aperture-priorty, shutter-priority and fully programmed automatic exposure modes. It was also the camera platform into which Nikon incorporated what was at that time called "multi-pattern" or "multi-segment" metering. Rather than center-weighted metering, which was typical in most SLRs of the time, this new Nikon system took readings from various segments of the scene and then, based on all of the information received, the little on board computer dialed up the best exposure. Nikon's multi-pattern metering, introduced in the FA, better known today as matrix metering, would become the basis for the metering systems in all later SLRs and DSLRs.
The late 1970s and early 80s were interesting times in the development of 35mm cameras. Within the limitations of what was possible at the time, cameras were evolving quickly with major manufacturers all trying to outdo each other with automation. Professional photographers and advanced amateurs were hesitant to give up their mechanical, mostly non-battery dependent cameras and trust their photography to a box of electronics which a dead battery could render useless in an instant. In addition, Nikon shooters, I have always felt, have never led the charge in early adoption of new technology, leaning more towards evolution than revolution. The FA was a powerful, technologically advanced camera that perhaps, was just too far ahead of it's time. It was discontinued after just a few years and it's legacy faded into obscurity.
Back in 2010, I bought a FA off of eBay. It was plagued with electronic gremlins and only occasionally worked right. I dismissed the camera. When I think back, it was probably a loose electrical connection or corroded battery contact. During those brief moments when my FA was working, it was a great camera to use. The versatility of having a small, light camera body that allows manual, shutter-priority or aperture-priority control was pretty cool. And for those times that I wanted to just point and shoot, a flick of the switch handed off creative control to the camera. So I decided to give the FA a second chance and picked up the one you see here along with a 50mm F/1.8 Nikkor lens from Ken Hansen Photographic in New York.
Controls are pretty standard for this era SLR and will look very familiar to Nikon shooters, especially anyone who has shot the FE, FE2, FM, FM2 bodies. The switch under the shutter speed dial controls modes: M for manual, A for aperture-priority, S for shutter-priority and P for fully automatic program mode. ISO and exposure compensation as well as film rewind is on the left side. The meter is activated by pulling out the film advance lever. The camera is powered by two A76 or S76 batteries. I love the little hand grip Nikon added to this camera. It is similar to the grip on the F3, except this one is removable. The viewfinder is typical of Nikons of this era: big and bright. There is an LCD readout in the finder, similar to the F3. Aperture is direct read out reflected off the lens barrel.
The example I just purchased from Ken is in pretty good shape. The meter works well and the camera responds in all metering modes. The shutter sounds great. I will probably send it off to a local repair guy I know for re-foaming. Most SLRs of this vintage at least need seals and mirror bumper foams as they get gooey over time.
I'm anxious to run this FA through it's paces. Like the Hasselblad 500c/m, I have found that sometimes I need to revisit a camera a second time to do a proper evaluation. I'm a big fan of F bodies and if this FA works as designed, I'm prepared to show it some well deserved love.