I have a beautiful Nikon FA 35 mm film camera. At the time of its release, 1983, it was touted as one of the most sophisticated Nikons ever. The FA was our introduction to Matrix metering. The SLR featured multiple exposure modes including full program. It was a marvel of technology.
Unfortunately, that part about technology, isn’t the case for mine.
As beautiful as my silver and black Nikon is, it can’t read a scene to save its life. In Program mode, everything looks the same to its silicon eye. It chooses the same shutter speed for a midday landscape as it would for a moody interior shot. And both would be wrong.
But I didn’t have the heart to let her go.
The funny thing is, in manual exposure mode, all of her shutter speeds are accurate. So if I set 1/15th of a second on the top dial, that’s what I got. The same was true for 1/4000th and everything in-between. And she sounded good at every one of them. Really good.
How could I let her go?
One morning, I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X and captured a series of cat portraits. (The pandemic will push one to such activities.) I used my iPhone as a light meter. It wasn’t convenient using the two devices in tandem, but I had to find out if the camera was functional. After processing, I smiled when I hung the roll in the bathroom for drying. Every frame looked perfect.
Yes, she is flawed, but oh so magnificent.
Just to be clear, if I use the silver and black FA in manual exposure mode where I set the shutter speed and the aperture, I have a smooth-operating camera that can take advantage of my Nikon optics and delight me with each click of the shutter and wind of the film advance. The only catch: there’s no internal metering.
The body is willing but the mind is gone.
But there’s no way I’m letting this camera go.
By accident one afternoon, I discovered the Reveni Labs Light Meter. It was developed by a young entrepreneur named Matt Bechberger. Matt realized that there are many great cameras out there that are perfectly operational sans an exposure meter. He designed a tiny device that slides into the top hot shoe and provides readouts that we can apply for proper exposures.
I joined the Kickstarter campaign and ordered one for the Nikon. Two weeks ago it arrived. And it works brilliantly.
As tempting as it is to leave this as a happy ending to a love story, I have one last thought to share. It’s a shame when something as lovely as a 1983 SLR gets tossed aside because it’s not as smart as it once was.
I think people like Matt feel the same way. And my guess is there are many rolls of film in the future of that aging silver and black camera.
I’m so glad I didn’t give up on her.