Metering Issues with Nikon FM3a

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mooseontheloose

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So over the past couple of months I've been developing a year's worth of film and am now in the process of making contact sheets. I mostly shoot with my Rolleiflex, but my FM3a is a well-used second shooter. I had a few rolls of Provia to be developed and was dismayed to find that most of the outdoor shots were severely overexposed. However, when looking at my black and white negatives, they seemed okay. However, now that I'm doing contact sheets, it's clear that that problem is there as well. Anything shot indoors, or in overcast/shadowy conditions (like a forest) comes out perfectly fine. Anything shot outside with the sky in the frame is overexposed by at least a stop, sometimes a stop and a half (based on my printing times) - both for bright overcast and sunny days. But the overexposure is consistent in these lighting situations, which makes me think it's not a battery or shutter issue, but a metering one. (I have run through all the speeds on the camera and they sound correct to my ear).

I have a Mamiya 6 and know that the meter on that camera can be fooled into overexposure due to the brightness of the sky, but I've never heard of the same with the FM3a. When it stops raining here and/or the sun comes out I'll go and so some testing with the camera against a handheld meter, but in the meantime I was wondering if anyone here is aware of this issue and/or has any suggestions to deal with it.

Note: This is a fairly new-to-me camera as I bought it last year, and I did not notice this problem with the first few rolls I shot with it, probably due to the lighting conditions I was shooting in at the time.
 

MattKing

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Rachelle,
I've never encountered a meter that could be fooled into over-exposure y the brightness of the sky.
Under-exposure, yes, but not over-exposure.
 
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mooseontheloose

mooseontheloose

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Rachelle,
I've never encountered a meter that could be fooled into over-exposure y the brightness of the sky.
Under-exposure, yes, but not over-exposure.

Hi Matt - I know it sounds strange, but that's what it is. My slide images are almost completely clear, my black and white negs are extremely dense. It might not be the sky, but it definitely only happens on the images taken in outdoor settings with the sky visible.

FWIW - I'm still shooting and exposing film the same way I've always done, so this is a bit of a mystery to me.
 

reddesert

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I don't know the answer but suggest some tests (pardon some obviousness).

First, make sure your lens(es) is/are stopping down all the way at all settings. You're probably using wide stops in low light and small stops in bright light, so if the aperture is hanging it will affect bright light more. You can test this fairly easily with the lens off and flicking the aperture lever on the back, but also test it on-camera in case the camera link lever is bent and not letting the lens stop down fully.

Next, as you planned, take the camera and some meter or camera you trust and compare the metering in low light, and again in bright light. Then, in both situations, run the camera through the range of aperture settings and make sure that it always changes the suggested shutter speed by the correct amount, 1 stop per stop.

After the lens aperture, the second issue I thought of for the meter being off by a variable amount is if the camera AI metering tab is hanging up and not following the aperture ring, but I think that would cause under exposure at small stops, not over exposure. (Because the lens is at f/16 but the camera thinks it's at f/5.6, etc.) Check that anyway.
 

AZD

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The lens possibly not stopping down was my first thought. Easy enough to confirm visually by setting the shutter to B and watching the aperture blades. Do they close as expected?

BTW, setting to B is good because you can also tell if the aperture is sluggish (slowly creeping in place) rather than entirely inoperable. At higher shutter speeds (as likely outdoors) then a sluggish aperture will not be closed down in time for a fast shutter.

Many other possibilities and variables, but I’d start there.
 

AZD

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Also… if the aperture thing comes to nothing, I’d start comparing suggested exposure with another camera/meter you trust. A blank, evenly lit, uniform surface (grey card, cardboard, bright white poster board, large book, etc) outdoors would be a good test. I sometimes do this as a sanity check with an ancient selenium meter that is still surprisingly accurate.

I don’t know the FM3A (unfortunately), but some cameras allow meter adjustments for linearity, or the rate at which the meter responds to increased/decreased light intensity. If something like that is out of whack then you could possibly see the results you’re having. The cure would be a calibration.
 
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mooseontheloose

mooseontheloose

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The lens possibly not stopping down was my first thought. Easy enough to confirm visually by setting the shutter to B and watching the aperture blades. Do they close as expected?

BTW, setting to B is good because you can also tell if the aperture is sluggish (slowly creeping in place) rather than entirely inoperable. At higher shutter speeds (as likely outdoors) then a sluggish aperture will not be closed down in time for a fast shutter.

Many other possibilities and variables, but I’d start there.

I had the same thought as well, but used a variety of lenses and the exposure issue is the same with all of them. However, it won't hurt to check, thanks.

Never thought about testing with B, I'll do that as well.
 
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mooseontheloose

mooseontheloose

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I don't know the answer but suggest some tests (pardon some obviousness).

First, make sure your lens(es) is/are stopping down all the way at all settings. You're probably using wide stops in low light and small stops in bright light, so if the aperture is hanging it will affect bright light more. You can test this fairly easily with the lens off and flicking the aperture lever on the back, but also test it on-camera in case the camera link lever is bent and not letting the lens stop down fully.

Next, as you planned, take the camera and some meter or camera you trust and compare the metering in low light, and again in bright light. Then, in both situations, run the camera through the range of aperture settings and make sure that it always changes the suggested shutter speed by the correct amount, 1 stop per stop.

After the lens aperture, the second issue I thought of for the meter being off by a variable amount is if the camera AI metering tab is hanging up and not following the aperture ring, but I think that would cause under exposure at small stops, not over exposure. (Because the lens is at f/16 but the camera thinks it's at f/5.6, etc.) Check that anyway.

I'll definitely be checking my lenses as well, but it would seem strange that they all are causing this behaviour.

I do plan on testing against my trusty Nikon FE, which is what I shot exclusively for nearly 20 years before deciding to replace it with the FM3a (I wanted a more robust camera for the long haul). What I find interesting is that in my backlog of film I had to develop, there were a few rolls in there from the FE and not the FM3a, and those negs turned out just fine with no issues. So it's definitely something that has happened in the last year, with the new camera.

I've heard about the AI metering tab being a bit off (it seems to be the only metering issue I've found with the FM3a), and I'll take a look at that as well.

A final thought I had was that perhaps my filters are throwing the meter off somewhat, since I tend to use yellow (and occasionally red) as default, but will remove them in low light/indoor situations. Again, I don't think they are the culprit, but I'll add them to the mix when I do my testing.
 
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mooseontheloose

mooseontheloose

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Are you sure you haven't sometime in the past dialled the exposure compensation dial to + and forgotten about it, is the DX reader working properly, have you overridden the DX reader and forgotten about it?

Yes, that has sometimes happened in the past (!) but not anymore. The other issue is if I did do it, then it would affect the entire roll, not just images that were taken outside, unless I always knocked it out of place every time I went outside.

Same with the DX issue - it would affect the entire roll, not just images in a specific lighting condition.
 

Chan Tran

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Hi Matt - I know it sounds strange, but that's what it is. My slide images are almost completely clear, my black and white negs are extremely dense. It might not be the sky, but it definitely only happens on the images taken in outdoor settings with the sky visible.

FWIW - I'm still shooting and exposing film the same way I've always done, so this is a bit of a mystery to me.

So can you post and image with the exposure setting? Aperture, shutter speed and film used.? Are you shooting in auto or manual? When you check the shutter speed on the FM3a you have to check them in both auto and manual. In manual it's mechanically controlled and in auto it's electronically controlled. Besides that there are many reasons for the shutter speed in auto and manual are different.
 
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momus

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Without testing the shutter w/ a shutter tester, it's difficult to know if the higher speeds are off. That's why I finally bought an inexpensive one, many times a shutter sounded OK to my ears but wasn't when I tested the cameras w/ the tester.

Since you appear to have other Nikon cameras. I'd take the problem camera and the known-to-be-accurate camera out for a walk together. Swap the lens back and forth between them while noting the meter readings at different apertures on the higher shutter speed settings on a sunny day. It has to be a meter or shutter issue, but which, or both, is the question. Comparing the 2 cameras should tell you what's happening.
 

CMoore

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When was the last time somebody had their hands inside your FM.?
That has always been a worthwhile expense For Me.................:smile:
 

250swb

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Yes, that has sometimes happened in the past (!) but not anymore. The other issue is if I did do it, then it would affect the entire roll, not just images that were taken outside, unless I always knocked it out of place every time I went outside.

Same with the DX issue - it would affect the entire roll, not just images in a specific lighting condition.

Well not really, you are going to see the effects of over exposure in an outdoor scene with a high contrast range far more than in an door scene with a low contrast range. Use a separate meter (even an iPhone app meter) and compare the results from the cameras meter, it should give some clues. And you have to pay attention to what you point your meter at, obviously aim for an 18% grey.
 
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mooseontheloose

mooseontheloose

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Without testing the shutter w/ a shutter tester, it's difficult to know if the higher speeds are off. That's why I finally bought an inexpensive one, many times a shutter sounded OK to my ears but wasn't when I tested the cameras w/ the tester.

Since you appear to have other Nikon cameras. I'd take the problem camera and the known-to-be-accurate camera out for a walk together. Swap the lens back and forth between them while noting the meter readings at different apertures on the higher shutter speed settings on a sunny day. It has to be a meter or shutter issue, but which, or both, is the question. Comparing the 2 cameras should tell you what's happening.

That's my plan! I'll be testing/swapping the three lenses I use the most and will have my FM3a, FE, and an external meter to compare against. Will check on both manual and automatic settings.z

I want to invest in a shutter speed tester as well, just for my own benefit, as I shoot with so many old cameras I'm sure the speeds at both the high and low ends are probably a bit off in quite a few of them.
 
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