As a 20+ year Nikon user, I've probably handled almost every Nikon film SLR that's been produced, except for an F5 and F6. It was probably about 21 years ago that I handled a Nikkormat for the first time -- a co-worker’s Nikkormat FTN. About a year later, I acquired a Nikkormat FT2, which I used quite a bit doing macro and nature photography. The fully mechanical Nikkormats differ from all other Nikons because the shutter speed dial is located around the base of the lens mount. If you have used an Olympus OM-1, you would feel quite at home handling the heavier and more robust Nikkormats.
|Shutter speed dial. Also note the cold-shoe over the prism|
The first Nikkormats were introduced in 1965, and were sold as a cheaper alternative to the Nikon F. You sometimes see Nikomats, which were for Japan's market, but are the same cameras in all respects except for the name on the front. I suppose Nippon Kokagu thought of the Nikkormats as "amateur" cameras, since they were not a modular system like the F, yet they produced the same results. Obviously, a lot of pros used them as well, since they were solid cameras at a lower price point.
|Nikomat, AKA Nikkormat|
The Nikkormats were designed to be reliable, robust SLRs with non-removable prisms, and with less bulk than a Nikon F with a metering prism. They also differ from the F in having a Copal-square vertical metal shutter with speeds up to 1/1000 sec. In addition, the back of the camera is hinged, making for easier film-loading.
THE NIKKORMAT LINE-UP
Nikkormat FT - 1/125 flash, sync, ISO settings 12-1600, a cold-shoe is attached separately to the prism via a ring around the eyepiece. In fact, you often see FT's without a cold shoe attached. Depth of field preview, mirror lock up, built-in exposure meter, X and M flash sync, 1.3V PX-625 mercury cell for the meter. The FT requires you to also set the film ISO when you set the maximum lens aperture. That inconvenience was fixed with the FTN model.
Nikkormat FS - basically a stripped-down version of the FT without a meter, so there are no indicators for exposure, and no battery. There is also no mirror lock-up. Since there is no metering, there is no indexing prong, making this camera able to use just about any F-mount lens, but of course, with no built-in metering. They are less commonly encountered than any of the other Nikkormat models, and are now collectibles. Still, using one is pretty simple, much like using a Nikon F with the eye-level, non-metered prism, but with 92% coverage in the viewfinder. I reviewed this camera in 2013.
|Black Nikkormat FTN|
Nikkormat FTN - Introduced in 1967, it improved upon the FT with center-weighted metering, shutter speed seen in the viewfinder, and +/- indicators in viewfinder for metering. Still, the cold shoe is an accessory. Later production saw a plastic cover on the film advance lever. This is the most commonly seen Nikkormat as the production run was from 1967-1975. I have bought and sold a lot of them.
|Nikkormat FT2 - my current shooter|
|Black Nikkormat FT2|
Nikkormat FT2 - This model was produced from 1975-78, and featured a built-in prism-mounted hot shoe and the use of a 1.5V LR-44 cell for the meter. A locking film speed selector prevents accidental changes, and the PC flash connector will auto switch for X or M sync, if necessary. This is my favorite model of the Nikkormats, and one that I always seem to have around at one point or another, if only to use some good old non-AI lenses.
|Black Nikkormat FT3|
Nikkormat FT3 - Produced for only a short time (1977-1979), as the Nikon FM was released in 1977. The FT3 is auto-indexing, so there is no coupling prong on the front. It uses a 1.5 v silver-oxide cell, and all other features are similar to the FT2. It was the last fully-manual Nikkormat, and the last one with the shutter speed ring around the lens mount.
Nikkormat EL - The Nikkormat EL was introduced in 1972, and is a completely different beast from the fully manual Nikkormats above. It uses a 6v PX-28 battery that inserts into the interior of the camera via the mirror box. The shutter is an all-electronic Copal square shutter that requires power to function. The EL is an aperture-priority camera, with shutter speeds of B, 4 sec- 1/1000 sec. There is no exposure compensation dial. 60/40% center-weighted metering, mirror lock-up, ISO settings from 25-1600, built-in hot shoe, and a battery test button. The Nikkormat EL is roughly equivalent to the Nikon FE, except that it uses non-AI lenses, and is a more robust camera. The shutter speed is on a dial on the top deck of the camera where "it's supposed to be" like all other non-Nikkormat F series models.
Nikkormat ELw - quite rare, and it was the first "Nikkormat" that could use an autowinder, the AW-1. It was only produced between 1976 and 1977. I have never seen one in person.
|Nikon EL2 - nice if you can find one!|
The Nikon EL2 is often categorized with the Nikkormats. However, the camera has Nikon on the front, not Nikkormat. It’s an AI body, so there is no metering prong as with the EL. It also has an exposure compensation dial. It also had a short run of production, from 1977-78, most likely because the Nikon FE was the better option for an aperture-priority camera. It can also use the AW-1 autowinder.
|Nikkormats have ISO settings from 12-1600|
Using Non-AI Nikon camera bodies
Any old-timers (like me) that have used the older Nikon bodies are familiar with the mounting of lenses on non-AI (non Auto-indexing) bodies - which would be the Nikon F, F2, and Nikkormats up to the FT2 and EL. For these cameras, you need to do the "Nikon twist." That involves the following:
1. Set the aperture of the lens to f/5.6
2. make sure the indexing prong is properly situated at the front of the camera (at the index dot)
3. Press the lens into the lens mount
4. As the lens is inserted, and the bunny ears (indexing tab) have captured the indexing prong, twist the lens to the left, and then the aperture all to way to the minimum (f/16 or f/22) and then right, to the maximum aperture.
This process tells the camera the maximum aperture of the lens, which is why they are called non-AI. Non-AI lenses have solid bunny ears and no metering ridge at the edge of the lens barrel. Auto-indexing (AI) lenses have holes in the bunny ears, as do AI-S lenses. AI and AI-S lenses with the bunny ears can be used on non-AI bodies, but non-AI lenses cannot be used on most AI bodies because they lack the metering ridge. In fact, unless a non-AI lens has been modified, it will break the metering tab on the body of the camera, with the following exceptions: Nikkormat FT3, Nikon FM, FE, EL2, and F3. In these cameras, a small chrome button at the edge of the lens mount is pressed to release the metering tab so that you can mount a non-AI lens - but you'll have to use stop-down metering for a proper exposure on those cameras.
The Nikkormats are solidly-built SLRs that are certainly quite reliable, but as the years have passed by, the major problem is that the resistor ring that controls the input into the light meter may have deteriorated, and there are no new replacement parts. What I often see is what is called a "jumpy" meter. The needle in the viewfinder will be erratic at first, and will sometimes settle down to what the true exposure should be. If the resistor is in really bad shape, the meter will just give you a crazy value that is obviously wrong, or not move at all. The shutters are reliable, as are all other operations in the fully manual Nikkormat F series. They are "beasts" that are certainly heavier than the Nikon FM and subsequent smaller-bodied SLRs. Yet, they have a retro charm that many people find appealing.
|The clean top deck of a Nikkormat FT.|
Are Nikkormats a good buy today?
Given the low prices that most of the Nikkormats sell for on eBay, I would say that if you are looking for a fully manual SLR, the Nikkormat FT2 and FT3 are obvious choices due to the use of 1.5V cells to power the meter. You can use a 1.5V PX625A for the FT and FTN and adjust for the slightly-off exposure. You can also use an external meter, a phone app, or sunny-16 to shoot and not use a battery, or if the meter's not working. I think the biggest drawback for novice users of these cameras would be the unfamiliarity of the non-AI meter coupling procedure. Most of these cameras are around 50 years old or more, and although I have had many pass through my hands in good working condition, some of them have been affected by salt water corrosion, misuse, banged about, or just beat-up by years of use.
|Four FTN bodies that I sold for parts/repair|
Since they are fully manual, with the exception of the EL series, there are fewer things to go wrong, and like any camera from the late 1960s to early 70s, caveat emptor. Having said that, aside from the metering, most Nikkormats have a lot of life left in them. You can pick up a pretty nice Nikkormat FTN on eBay for less than $50. Black models seem to sell for a bit more than the chrome ones. A Nikkormat FT2 with a lens will sell for about $50-125, and an FT3 usually sells for $100-$175. Nikkormat EL prices range from $25-150.
Some Non-AI Lenses on the Nikkormats
My all-time favorite non-AI lens is the 50mm f/2.0 Nikkor-H. While not as fast as the 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor-S, it is a lens with no aberration, extremely good resolution, and will close-focus to 2 feet. It has a 52mm filter diameter, and has an aperture range of f/2-f/16. They are easy to find on the used market, and definitely worth more than they typically sell for. The very earliest version of this lens will have Nippon Kokagu on the front, labeled as a Nikkor-S, with the focal length given as 5 cm. The focus distances are in feet only. It was the first lens to be released with the Nikon F in 1959.
The letters after the Nikkor, such as H, S, etc., refer to the number of elements in the lens - Q=4, P=5, H=6, S=7, O=8, N=9. These designations did not carry over to the AI lenses and beyond. They are just called Nikkors.
Non-AI lenses to have -
20mm Nikkor-UD f/3.5 - amazing lens for its time, and that ultra-wide view is great. It has a 72mm filter thread.
24mm Nikkor-N f/2.8 - 24mm is my favorite for wide without too much distortion.
28mm Nikkor-H f/3.5 - fantastic normal wide without distortion. Compact, with great results.
35mm Nikkor-O, f/2.0 - a larger lens than the 50mm, it focuses from 1 ft - infinity.
50mm Nikkor-S, f/1.4 - Pretty much an every-day lens, and with the wider aperture, great for low-light. There are two versions - one with sharply angled bunny ears, and one with the typical bunny ears. I have one that was factory-modified to be an AI lens, and it's a wonderful lens to use on my Nikon FM3A.
55mm Micro-Nikkor f/3.5 - this is the original Nikon Micro-Nikkor, and it's as sharp as a tack with a minimum aperture of f/32! It focuses on its own to 1/2 life size and with the M extension tube, it goes to 1:1. Great on a bellows, or with other sizes of extension tubes.
85mm Nikkor-H, f/1.8 - A great lens for portraits. The minimum aperture is f/22.
105mm Nikkor-P, f/2.5 - Fantastic lens that continues to be great for portraits, nature, etc. Add an extension tube for great close-ups.
135mm Nikkor-Q, f/3.5 - a more compact lens than the 135mm f/2.8, it's never as popular as it was in the 1960s. Yet, it has its uses, and they are pretty cheap. The 135mm f/2.8 is a huge lens with its a sliding lens hood. If it matters, I find the Tamron 135mm f/2.5 Adaptall-II lens to be superior and smaller.
200mm Nikkor-Q, f/4 - an under-appreciated lens that works wonderfully with either a diopter or an extension tube for butterflies, etc. There are several versions of this lens, but the original with the silver and black barrel typically sells for very little. Minimum aperture is f/22.
80-200mm f/4.5 Zoom-Nikkor-C. A true zoom lens, with focus staying the same as you zoom in or out from your subject. Minimum aperture is f/32!
Building a kit with all of the lenses above will likely cost less than one of today's digital mirrorless Nikkor zooms. Except for the 20mm, all take 52mm filters. They are made of metal and glass, with no plastic, no rubberized grip, and all-manual everything. The later models, with a C designation, have better multi-coated surfaces, but all are excellent for black and white photography.
For further reading:
Peterson, B. Moose. 2000. Nikon System Handbook, 6th ed. Silver Pixel Press, NY.
Cooper, Joseph D. 1969. Nikon Nikkormat Handbook, Amphoto, NY.
Comon, Paul. 1996. Nikon Classic Cameras, F, FE, FE2, FA, and Nikkormat F series. Magic Lantern Guides, Silver Pixel press, NY
Stafford, Simon, Hillebrand and Hauschild, 2004.The New Nikon Compendium. Lark Books, NY.
https://mir.com.my/rb/photography/hardware/classics/nikkormat/html/history.htm - a good starting point online for Nikkormat information