The Nikon FA camera has pretty much been overlooked. I think because the FE2 came out so soon on its heels. But like Nikon has pretty much always done, the Nikon FA was the sister prosumer release to the Nikon F3 at the time. Like the 8008/F801 to the F4s or the F100 to the F5, etc. It’s just what Nikon does.
Nikon FA Camera – All But Forgotten
The Nikon FA camera is a multi-mode automatic camera that was introduced in 1983. Like I said, the Nikon FE was upgraded to the very well received FE2. The Nikon FA shares the same new titanium honeycombed shutter of the FE2 that had a faster shutter speed and flash sync of 1/250 sec. Besides its very attractive updated appearance, people forget it was a first for Nikon with the new intelligent programmed mode. I don’t know what is “intelligent” other than it’s shutter priority automation, but, OK, I’m impressed. Well, if it was still 1983, I’d be impressed.
But it’s really the metering system that made it really ground breaking. It was the introduction of Matrix Metering. And while it took all AI lenses, Nikon should have been clearer with the fact that it worked best with the then recently introduced AI-s lenses.
Manual Camera with Matrix Metering
A manual camera with automation features! Remember, this is 1983. It wasn’t very well marketed. Nikon’s marketing department dropped the ball,…big time. But to really take advantage of its new automatic features and groundbreaking metering, you NEEDED AI-s lenses. In fact, with the exception of the new space aged plastic viewfinder as opposed to the FE2 metal viewfinder, I truly believe it was a better camera than the FE2. I know I’ll get roasted for that one, but that’s what I believe. And thank goodness it had the flash attachment on top of the viewfinder. And not on top of the rewind, like the F3. (which to this day I think is stupid)
However, this was also the pre-dawn period of auto focus, being pushed heavily by Minolta. I guess Nikon was worried, and the AI-s lenses were preparation for this new direction. So, while innovative in it’s metering and automation scope, it was still a manual focus camera. Nikon didn’t realize at the time that “manual focus” would actually be a positive feature someday.
One advantage that Nikon had over Minolta, Canon and eventually others, was the F mount. Backwards compatibility was a virtue they stood by until recently. And even now, the F mount is still gospel. Although those companies would argue to the contrary.
No “Toy Camera”
I have a weird way of telling the Nikon “toy cameras” from their more serious products. A round optic on the viewfinder. (as opposed to rectangular) Like the Nikon EM, (which was the test bed for the non-rabbit eared AI-s lenses), or the FG, etc. Just my eccentricity. The FA was round, so we got off on the right foot. By the way, the reason you see so many old cameras missing that rubber ring on the viewfinder is because it’s a single thread! Stupid design, but big money maker for Nikon.
The FA is a very good deal in the used market just because of Nikon’s marketing faux pas. Nikon gave up too soon on this groundbreaking camera. But it did stick around for awhile. It wasn’t discontinued until 1989. No confusing LCDs and the ability to mount any AI to AF lenses,…only one of 2 Nikons’, which makes it a much better first/backup camera than many.
It’s not a titanium body. But aluminum chassis or not, this camera has been used professionally as a matter of course. Almost as if it’s a well kept secret. Viewfinder readouts are pretty easy to see in any light, and it is a bright viewfinder in low light.
The Good and Bad
- Center weighted TTL capability
- 1/250 second sync
- Leica-like wind lever,…very smooth and precise.
- It takes 3 different motor drives,…MD-11, MD-12, and MD-15
- The MD-15 supplies power to meter if meter batteries go bad. (rare)
- Early Matrix metering
- Same titanium honeycomb pattern shutter as FM2
- Comes in Silver and Black!
- No auto-rewind on motor drives.
- Aluminum chassis, a brass bottom plate and a plastic top plate. All good, and plastic won’t dent,…but hit hard enough, it will crack!
- No adjustable diopter. (most Nikon models don’t have,…that’s just my pet peeve)
Forgotten But Cheap
The FA is a forgotten Nikon. But it’s probably one of the most advanced manual-focus SLRs ever made by any company. It has both matrix metering and program mode with any AI-s lenses. A first. But works as well as any manual SLR with AI lenses. Unless you’re a well paid professional, this is all the camera you’ll ever need. And it has 100’s of accessories and compatible lenses. All at give away market prices. And still works in a pinch without batteries. What more can you ask for in a little light tight box? Find Nikon FA