Nikomat FT
Type 35mm SLR camera
Lens mount Nikon F-mount
Focus manual
Exposure Manual or automatic
Flash hot shoe

Nikkormat (Nikomat in Japan) was the brand used by the Japanese optics company Nippon Kogaku K. K. (Nikon Corporation since 1988) from 1965 to 1978 to name two popular but otherwise unrelated series of interchangeable lens, 35 mm film, single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras.

The Nikkormat SLRs were moderately priced, advanced amateur level stablemates to Nippon Kogaku's premium priced, professional level Nikon F and F2 SLRs. Just as the Nikkor and Nikon brand names had established Nippon Kogaku as a world class maker of lenses and high-end cameras, respectively, with professional photographers before it, Nikkormat made amateurs sit up and take notice.


The Nikkormat F-series

The Nikkormat FT was an all-metal, mechanically (springs, gears, levers) controlled, manual focus SLR with match-needle exposure control, manufactured in Japan from 1965 to 1967. It was available in two colors: black with chrome trim and all black. The unmetered version was designated "Nikkormat FS."

The FT had dimensions of 95 mm height, 146 mm width, 54 mm depth and 745 g weight. This was larger and heavier than most competing amateur level SLRs of the mid-1960s, such as the Asahi (Honeywell in the USA) Pentax Spotmatic of 1964, but the quality of the internal components gave the FT an amazing strength and durability.

The FT used a metal-bladed, vertical travel, focal plane shutter with a speed range of 1 to 1/1000 second plus Bulb and flash X-sync of 1/125th second. The Nikkormat F-series had a shutter speed ring concentric with the lens mount, unlike Nippon Kogaku's other manual focus SLRs with a top mounted shutter speed dial.

As a mechanical camera, the FT was completely operable without batteries. It only needed a battery for the light metering system. Setting a camera to expose the film properly without a light meter requires memorizing complex exposure tables and built-in, coupled meters sensing through-the-lens (TTL) were a fantastic boon when introduced by the Topcon Super D (in the USA; RE Super in the rest of the world) in 1963.

The FT's exposure control system was a "center-the-needle" system using a galvanometer needle pointer moving vertically at the lower right side of the viewfinder to indicate the readings of the built-in, open aperture, TTL, full-scene averaging, cadmium sulfide (CdS) light meter versus the actual camera settings. The photographer would adjust the shutter speed to freeze or blur motion and/or the lens aperture f-stop to control depth of field (focus) until the needle was centered between two pincer-like brackets. The needle array was duplicated in a window next the top-mounted film rewind crank to allow exposure control without looking through the viewfinder. The meter was turned on by pulling the film wind lever out to the standby ready position and turned off by pushing it back flush against the camera.

This was very advanced in 1965 and proved to be remarkably long-lived. Nippon Kogaku used it for all versions of the Nikkormat FT with incremental improvements. The Nikon FM, FM2 and FM2N of the succeeding Nikon compact F-series SLRs used an improved viewfinder only, center-the-LED system until 2001.

The FT's viewfinder also had a fixed focusing screen with Nippon Kogaku's then standard central 4 mm microprism focusing aid plus 12 mm matte focusing surface.

The Nikkormat FT accepted all lenses with the Nikon F bayonet mount (introduced in 1959 on the Nikon F camera) and a "meter coupling shoe" (or prong, informally called "rabbit ears"). The FT had a mirror lockup allowing its use with some specialised lenses for which an auxiliary viewfinder was provided.

The FT was Nippon Kogaku's first SLR with a built-in TTL light meter. As such, Nippon Kogaku could not find a way to automatically synchronize their Nikkor Auto lenses' aperture information with the FT body. Therefore, mounting lenses required a special preparatory procedure. First, the lens' maximum aperture (smallest f-stop number) must set against the film speed scale on the FT's shutter speed ring. Then, the "meter coupling pin" on the ring surrounding the FT's lens mount flange must pushed all the way to the right and the lens' aperture ring must be preset to f/5.6 to line up the "meter coupling shoe" with the pin for mounting. Note that the lens maximum aperture had to be reset every time the lens was changed. This was very inconvenient compared to some other SLRs of the 1960s.

Note that modern AF Nikkor autofocusing lenses (introduced 1986) do not have a meter coupling shoe. Although most AF Nikkor lenses will mount and manually focus on the FT, the combination cannot provide open aperture metering; only stop down metering. Nikon's most recent 35 mm film SLR lenses, the AF Nikkor G type (2000) lacking an aperture control ring; and the AF Nikkor DX type (2003) with image circles sized for Nikon's digital SLRs will mount, but will not function properly at all.

The FT also had two PC terminals to synchronize with flash units: an M-sync to all speeds for M and FP type (1/60 second for MF type) flashbulbs and an X-sync to 1/125th second for electronic flashes using guide number manual exposure control. However, the FT did not have a built-in accessory shoe to mount flash units. The "Nikkormat accessory shoe" must be screwed to the top of the pentaprism cover via the eyepiece first. Note that this shoe only mounts the flash. A PC cord must still be plugged into the appropriate PC terminal. This was normal for most SLRs of the 1960s.

Nikkormat FS

The Nikkormat FS, manufactured from 1965 to 1971, was a bargain FT stripped of the built-in light meter with its exposure information system and the mirror lockup feature. The FS was unpopular when new because of the lack of a built-in meter, but this makes it rarer and more valuable than the FTs to collectors today.

Nikkormat FTn

Nikomat IMG 5356.JPG

The Nikkormat FTn was manufactured from 1967 to 1975. It simplified the lens mounting procedure of the rabbit ear Nikkor lenses. The meter coupling pin on the camera still had to be aligned with the meter coupling shoe on the lens, but the lens maximum aperture no longer had to be manually preset on the FTn.

Instead, the lens aperture ring had to be turned back and forth to the smallest aperture (largest f-stop number) and then to the largest (smallest number) immediately after mounting to ensure that the lens and the FTn couple properly (Nippon Kogaku called it indexing the maximum aperture of the lens) and meter correctly. This system seems unwieldy to today's photographers, but it was better than before, and became second nature to Nikon and Nikkormat camera using photographers of the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition, the FTn improved the metering system to the now classic Nikon 60/40 percent centerweighted style. The viewfinder also added +/– over/underexposure metering markers and set shutter speed information.

The FTn also offered a choice (made at purchase time or by replacement at factory service centers) of brighter fixed viewfinder focusing screens: Nippon Kogaku's standard Type J with central 4 mm microprism focusing aid plus 12 mm etched circle indicating the area of the meter centerweighting or the Type A with central 3 mm split image rangefinder plus 12 mm etched circle.

The front and back of the Nikon Nikkormat FT2

Nikkormat FT2

The Nikkormat FT2, manufactured from 1975 to 1977, added a permanently affixed hot shoe to the top of the pentaprism cover, combined the two PC terminals into one and switched the light meter battery to a non-toxic silver cell, one 1.5 V S76 or SR44. ASA adjustment also featured a lock and an easier slider than previous models. The advance lever was more contoured with an added plastic grip. The FT2's viewfinder also switched to Nippon Kogaku's new standard Type K focusing screen with 3 mm split image rangefinder and 1 mm microprism collar focusing aids plus 12 mm etched circle indicating the area of the meter centerweighting. A final small touch was the addition of "+" and "-" symbols on the display of the top meter read-out. The numerous little improvements on the FT2 directly reflected customer suggestions for the FTn.

Nikkormat FT3

The Nikkormat FT3, manufactured for only several months in 1977 (but still available new from dealer stock in 1978), had the shortest production run of any Nippon Kogaku SLR. The FT3 was essentially identical to the FT2 except that it supported Nikkor lenses with the Automatic Indexing (AI) feature (introduced 1977). AI Nikkor lenses had an external "meter coupling ridge" cam on the lens aperture ring that pushed on an external "meter coupling lever" on a ring surrounding the FT3's lens mount flange to transfer lens set aperture information.

Note that most AF Nikkor autofocusing lenses are also AI types. They will mount and meter properly under manual focus on the FT3. However, Nikon's most recent SLR lenses, the AF Nikkor G and AF Nikkor DX types, are not AI types. They will mount, but will not function properly.

The FT3 was little more than a stopgap placeholder, awaiting the release of the first of the completely redesigned Nikon compact F-series SLRs, the all new Nikon FM, with its modern compact chassis and microprocessor electronics, in late 1977.

The metering system was considered one of the best on the market at the time.

The Nikkormat EL-series

Nikkormat EL

Nikkormat EL

The Nikkormat EL was an all-metal, electromechanically (some solid-state electronics, but mostly springs, gears and levers) controlled, manual focus SLR with manual exposure control or aperture priority autoexposure, manufactured in Japan from 1972 to 1976. It was available in two colors: black with chrome trim and all black.

The EL had dimensions of 93.5 mm height, 145 mm width, 54.5 mm depth and 780 g weight. This was very large and heavy compared to many other SLRs of the mid-1970s.

As Nippon Kogaku's first electronic autoexposure camera, the EL required a battery (one 6 V PX-28 or 4SR44 in the bottom of the mirror box) to power its electronically controlled metal-bladed, vertical travel, focal plane shutter to a speed range of 4 to 1/1000 second plus Bulb and flash X-sync of 1/125th second.

Nikkormat EL Match-needle Display

The battery also powered the EL's "match-needle" exposure control system. This consisted of two needles pointing along a vertical shutter speed scale on the left side of the viewfinder. In manual mode, a black needle pointed out the shutter speed recommended by the built-in 60/40 percent centerweighted, cadmium sulfide (CdS) light meter, while a translucent green needle showed the actual camera set shutter speed. The photographer would adjust the shutter speed and/or the lens aperture f-stop until the needles aligned.

In automatic mode, the EL's black needle indicated the shutter speed automatically set by the electronic circuitry in response to the light reaching the meter. The green needle just indicated that the EL was in "A" mode.

Manually setting a camera to expose the film properly takes two steps, even after taking a light meter reading. Autoexposure systems that reduced it to one step were a fantastic boon when successfully introduced by the Konica AutoReflex (Autorex in Japan) in 1965. This system was very advanced in 1972 and also proved to be remarkably long-lived. Nippon Kogaku/Nikon used it, with incremental improvements, not only in the Nikkormat EL-series but also in the Nikon FE, FE2 and FM3A of the succeeding Nikon compact F-series SLRs until 2006.

As with other first generation electronic autoexposure SLRs, the EL had a reputation for rapidly draining batteries; later Nikons had much more energy efficient electronics. Note that the EL will still function without batteries in a very limited fashion: completely manual mechanical control with one shutter speed (an unmarked 1/90 second) and without the light meter.

Like the contemporary Nikkormat FTN (see above), the EL mounted all rabbit ear Nikkor lenses with a double twist of the lens aperture ring and its viewfinder had a choice of Type J or Type A fixed focusing screens.

Nikkormat ELW

The Nikkormat ELW, manufactured from 1976 to 1977, was an EL modified to accept the Nikon AW-1 autowinder, providing motorized film advance up to 2 frames per second. The ELW also expanded the shutter speed range to 8 full seconds and its viewfinder switched to the new standard Type K focusing screen (see the Nikkormat FT2 above).

Nikon EL2

The Nikon EL2 was manufactured from 1977 to 1978. The EL2 was essentially identical to the ELW except that it used instant response silicon photodiode light meter sensors and supported Nikkor lenses with the new Automatic Indexing (AI) feature (see the Nikkormat FT3 above).

In a much more important change, the EL2 abandoned the Nikkormat name, which placed the cameras at a disadvantage compared to the much better known 'Nikon' nameplate. The camera was replaced after a year of production by the Nikon FE.

Design history

In 1959, Nippon Kogaku released its first 35 mm SLR, the professional level Nikon F. The F combined every SLR technological advance available in 1959 (automatic diaphragm lenses, instant return mirror and eyelevel pentaprism viewfinder) into one superbly integrated package with bulletproof mechanical durability and reliability, plus topnotch optical quality. It also offered the most complete system of accessories in the world, including interchangeable viewfinder heads, viewfinder screens, motor drives, flashbulb units, bulk film backs and eventually over fifty world class Nikkor lenses. The F quickly became the preferred 35 mm camera among professional photographers (especially photojournalists) and amateurs of the 1960s.

However, the professional SLR market was (and is) a small market with very expensive offerings. The Nikon F with Nikkor 50 mm f/2 lens had a list price of US$359.50 in 1959 when a good new car could be had for US$2500. Many amateur photographers desired to buy the F, but simply could not afford it.

Nippon Kogaku's first attempt to produce a moderately priced, amateur oriented SLR, the Nikkorex series of 1960 to 1965, was a failure. Actually manufactured by Mamiya Camera Co. with one model shared with Riken Optical Co. (today, Ricoh), the Nikkorexes were clunky beasts, larger than the Nikon F despite having far fewer features. Undistinguished fit, finish and feel, and mediocre reliability (due primarily to an outsourced shutter design) did not help. Few people were impressed. Nippon Kogaku went back to the drawing board.

Nippon Kogaku's second attempt was designed and manufactured completely in-house. Compared to the Nikon F, the Nikkormat FT had a fixed pentaprism viewfinder and did not accept a motor drive. However, with very sturdy construction plus access to the Nikkor lens line, Nippon Kogaku finally achieved its desired success with amateurs.

The Nikkormat FTn was a particular bestseller and had an enviable reputation for toughness and reliability. It is now regarded as one of the finest SLRs of its generation, rivaled only by the Canon FTb of 1971.

The 1970s presented Nippon Kogaku with a different challenge. With the 35 mm SLR optical and mechanical format perfected, the industry turned to advancements in electronic convenience features. It had already begun during the 1960s with built-in light meters, but accelerated dramatically in the 1970s.

First came the electronically controlled focal plane shutter. A major expense of the Nikkormat F-series was its high quality mechanical shutter. Just as a cheap mechanical watch keeps mediocre time, so does a cheap mechanical shutter. Unreliable or fragile shutters were a major source of exposure errors or mechanical failures in low end mechanical shutter SLRs.

Then came electronic autoexposure. Built-in light meters and electronic shutters combined with microelectronics to make exposure control simpler and faster. It was hoped that this would expand the amateur SLR market by enticing photographers normally intimidated by the need to learn all the gritty details of operating a manual SLR to step up from compact automatic leaf-shutter rangefinder (RF) cameras.

Like other first generation autoexposure SLRs, the Nikkormat EL was a conservative evolutionary design, and as such, has proven very reliable.

Current status

The Nikkormat F-series are today considered classic designs and are still favorites among film photographers. Assuming that they are not abused, Nikkormats suffer very few mechanical failures for an amateur level SLR. They generally need only the occasional cleaning, lubrication and adjustment (CLA) to continue normal operations even today, thirty to forty years after production, similar to other mechanical Japanese SLRs of the era, such as the Canon FTb, Pentax Spotmatic, and Minolta SR-T 101.

However, the F-series are not indestructible – especially the meter electronics. When they do break or wear out, repair may be difficult, requiring cannibalizing other F bodies, though CLA and repair services are still available.

The Nikkormat EL-series were also tough and reliable, but as with all first generation autoexposure SLRs, they are not considered as handy as later generations with better electronics. With the size and weight of older mechanical SLRs, but with fewer features than succeeding autoexposure SLRs, the ELs are not as popular today as the newer Nikon FE and FE2.

Nikkormats are still readily available on the second hand market, and can usually be found for US$50-200, depending on the exact model. The FS, AI type and all-black bodies are relatively rare and carry a premium. Nikkormats are collected and pristine examples are difficult to come by.


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