Nikon Nikkormat FT – Camera Review

Nikkormat FT

The Nikkormat FT is something of a contradiction unto itself. On the one hand, it is incredibly well-built, which would indicate that its designers spent considerable time and energy contemplating every nuance of the camera. On the other hand, its operation is hampered by numerous unusual quirks, which would indicate a contrarily lackadaisical design team. Because of this strange dichotomy, the Nikkormat can be both petulantly frustrating and deeply endearing.

The FT reviewed here is the first Nikkormat produced by Nippon Kogaku K. K. (Nikon) between the years 1965 and 1967. It was made in a time of great change in the photographic industry, and while it embraced some of the advancements of the era it also seems to have been a somewhat retrospective camera. With it, Nikon created a new tier in its product line; a simpler camera made for amateur photographers who may have been intimidated by the price or complexity of Nikon’s professional grade F and F2 SLR cameras.

One of the Nikkormat’s strongest assets is its looks. This is a very nice looking machine. With its all-metal construction and fully mechanical controls, it oozes retro charm in the age of plastic-fantastic DSLRs. It was originally available in black and chrome models, with the black now being the rarer of the two offerings. In chrome, the camera features a well-balanced mix of brushed and polished details, and every button and dial shows impressively sophisticated machining. It’s one of the more geometrically interesting cameras, with a pleasing mix of shapes and forms complementing a well-proportioned overall body size. When fitted with the accessory shoe, the back of the camera in particular becomes an alluring display of circles, lines, and angles.

Nikkormat Shutter

The impressive build quality carries through to the little details as well. The battery compartment cover is a quarter-turn design, different from most cameras’ threaded covers which, over time, tend to become cross-threaded by careless owners. The film advance lever is a single machined piece of metal, eschewing the usual plastic embellishments found on many contemporary machines. The self-timer lever is similarly an all-metal design, and the frame count indicator window is a tiny, circular piece of rounded glass. It’s these high quality components that make the Nikkormat feel like a high-end machine, though it comes at the cost of lightness.

The FT is heavy. Coming in at 745g, single-handed use is virtually impossible. At the time of its release, this was noted by customers and reviewers, who cited the FT’s competition as being easier for travelers and far more wieldy. Then, as now, people were more forgiving of the camera’s weight due to the robustness of its build, as the FT proved to be remarkably durable both externally and internally. Internal components include a vertically traveling, metal-bladed shutter capable of speeds from Bulb to 1/1000th of a second. Flash X-sync comes in at 1/125th of a second. Interestingly, the shutter speed is selectable via a concentric ring positioned around the lens barrel. In theory this should make shooting a bit simpler, putting aperture and shutter control in the same general area. In practice, though, it’s decidedly odd and difficult to operate; another of the FT’s slightly peculiar (and slightly annoying) design elements.

The Nikkormat FT can be used without batteries, but batteries are required for its light-metering system to work. This system is a “center-the-needle” affair, using a CdS meter to read a full-frame average through the lens. The needle rises and falls to indicate exposure results against the camera’s current aperture and shutter speed setting. Interestingly the exposure needle is duplicated in a window on the top of the camera, allowing the photographer to take a reading without looking through the viewfinder. An additional quirk that some will find annoying is that the meter is only activated when the film advance lever has been pulled out to its “stand-by” position. This adds an additional step between getting a shot, though a possible benefit is longer battery life.

Nikkormat Shutter Speed Dial

Nikkormat Rabbit Ear

The Nikkormat “rabbit ear” meter coupling shoe.

The light meter works well enough, but synching the meter to Nikkor lenses again demonstrates the quirkiness of this camera. Nikon’s designers couldn’t figure out a way to automatically synch the aperture setting on the lens to the body of the FT. As a result, it becomes necessary to manually synchronize the lens with the body every time a lens is mounted. This is accomplished by first setting the lens’ maximum aperture against the film speed scale on the camera’s shutter ring. Next, the meter coupling pin must be rotated to the far right, and the lens’ aperture must be set to ƒ/5.6. This aligns the lens with the camera’s meter coupling shoe. Once mounted, the lens’ aperture must be reset by scrolling from maximum to minimum aperture. Here again the camera’s design bumbles between the photo and the photographer. The whole process can be incredibly finicky and inconvenient, especially when compared with some of the FT’s contemporaries. Nikon fans claim that this strange procedure isn’t so much a design flaw, but more a reflection on the limits of 1960’s technology. Then again, if other manufacturers managed to devise solutions, why didn’t Nikon?

The viewfinder is nothing special, though it’s important to remember this is not a professional level SLR. Still, more informative viewfinders are always welcome. The exposure needle display is incredibly small, often being topped or bottomed out as the user dials in the proper exposure. After the exposure needle, all that’s visible is the selected shutter speed, necessitating continuous raising and lowering of the camera from ones eye to check aperture and make adjustments. Focusing can be difficult, as the machine lacks the popular split rangefinder area, but this can again be forgiven as the machine was never intended to be the best SLR in the Nikon range. A depth of field preview button is included, and placed intelligently to slight left of the shutter release button. Nice.

Availability of lenses is superb, with the FT accepting all Nikon F bayonet mount lenses equipped with a meter coupler, dubbed “rabbit ears” among collectors. With excellent examples being very affordable, and an extensive collection of higher range lenses for those willing to pay, the FT can satisfy the optical needs of any photophile. Additionally notable is the inclusion of a mirror lock-up lever, allowing the FT to be fitted with specialty lenses and specialized optical viewfinders. Indeed, the wealth of options around Nikon’s F mount can be so great that it’s very easy to become overwhelmed. While daunting, this is something of a nice problem to have.

It’s true that the Nikkormat FT’s previously mentioned issues will hamper the photographer. Early operation will be filled with moments of pause, frustration, and double-checking of settings, lever, and dials. Some will find the early going untenable, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with a truly wonderful relationship. As familiarity grows, the process becomes more fluid, and eventually one shapes their habits to fit the camera. The mechanical precision and technical capability of the FT is instantly appreciated, and as the user builds a rapport with the machine, its little annoyances and quirks seem to morph into charming and accepted eccentricities. In spite of its shortcomings, the Nikkormat FT truly deserves its place amongst the ranks of the most sought-after and respected vintage SLRs.

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  • Reply
    Randle P. McMurphy
    January 8, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Nice review but the Nikkormat was never a low budget Camera.
    Even you take it in your Hands you can feel the “Heavy Metal Steel” !

    I also own a Nikon F Photomic and compared to this Fat Pig the Nikkormat is a slim, inconspicuous, elaborate Beauty.

    Just move one decade further to the Nikkormat EL which is my personal favourite because it is the first rough build electronic
    Nikon with aperture priority and much easier to use as the “Professional” Nikon F2 !!

    • Reply
      January 8, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      You’re right on point my friend. The only way the Nikkormat is a budget camera is in the price being lower than the F at the time. I personally like the Nikkormat better than the F, just like you.

      I love that you called the F a “fat pig”. Hilarious!

  • Reply
    March 31, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    I purchased my Nikkormat Ftn back in 1973 along with an 50mm f2 lens. Shot a lot interesting feature photos with Kodachrome, Ektachrome and Tri-x films with just excellent results. I learned so much about photography and picture composition by using this amazing tool. Solid as a rock. Ahhh, the good old days!
    Best to all !

    • Reply
      March 31, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      That’s what it’s all about my friend!

  • Reply
    June 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Hi, I am very new to film fotography. It started with someone loaning me their Nikon FT. Now, I have just bought one myself, but I have a question, if you don’t mind. The camera I bought doesn’t display the shutter speed near the needle, while the other one does and from what you write, yours does too. Do you think it is because there is something wrong with it or is it just a version that doesn’t display the shutter speed? Thanks in advance, and I really like your articles, they’re not just filled with technical jargon but clearly with a lot of affection for film.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Brenda. To answer your question, the original FT didn’t have shutter speeds displayed in the viewfinder. This was added to the updated FTN, which is an identical camera with the addition of center-weighted metering (as oposed to the original’s averaged metering) and the mentioned inclusion of viewfinder displayed shutter speeds.

      We’ll have to update our review to include this information, so thanks for bringing it up.

      You’ve got a great camera, even though it doesn’t display the shutter speed in the VF. Hope you enjoy shooting it!

      • Reply
        June 13, 2015 at 12:34 am

        Thanks a lot for your reply!

  • Reply
    July 17, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    When my wife and I got married, I owned an F and she owned the Ftn. We have been a pair ever since 1977. Love them both.

  • Reply
    July 26, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Very nice review. So the image of the view through the viewfinder is from an FTN?

    • Reply
      July 26, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      Yes I believe it is.

      • Reply
        July 26, 2015 at 8:11 pm

        Thanks for your reply. Had an FTN in the early seventies. Am getting a “new” FT2 next week.

        • Reply
          July 26, 2015 at 8:21 pm

          Very nice! Happy shooting!

          • mmarquar
            July 26, 2015 at 9:51 pm

            Thanks. I like your blog site.

  • Reply
    Stu Williams
    February 26, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Just looking at one now and came to see what your thoughts were, James – as always.

    Thanks, very helpful =

    • Reply
      February 27, 2016 at 12:07 am

      The Nikkormat FT is an okay camera, but I think the Nikkormat FTn is better. The lens indexing on the FT is somewhat more complicated and fiddly. Lens indexing is more straightforward and easier with the FTn. Lens indexing on the FT2 is similar to that on the FTn. Lens indexilng on the FT3 is different and more modern.

      • Reply
        Stu Williams
        February 27, 2016 at 12:14 am

        Also very helpful, thanks. Turned out to be just that, an FTn. On its way to me now – happy days 👍🏻

        • Reply
          February 27, 2016 at 12:17 am

          The Nikkormat FTn is a very fine camera.

  • Reply
    Cusop Dingle
    May 20, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    I started with a new FTn in 1974, preparing for a year abroad as an exchange student. Thousands and thousands of exposures of Ektachrome, Agfachrome, TriX and HP5, at least one trip through my bicycle spokes, the dirt and moisture of backpacking, and two cleanings/calibrations (last done 2001) and the machine still works as its makers intended. Over the years I’ve added an original F (plain pentaprism, simplicity itself), and EL (another unkillable brute), an FM (good for bicycle trips because it’s considerably smaller and lighter), and most recently an F3 (a gorgeous piece of work), all used and very affordable in the post-film used market. They all get used, but I always come back to the FTn. Its original Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 remains my go-to lens. Nostalgically favorite kit?

    • Reply
      May 20, 2016 at 10:08 pm

      That’s a fantastic lineup, and even better memories. I hope you enjoy them for many more years!

  • Reply
    June 23, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Hi James! Beautiful website with great content. I have sort of a random question for you, wondering if you could help? I have a photo that my mom took of her Nikkormat camera back in the 70’s and I’m trying to find out the exact model so I can buy one (since she no longer has it). I’ve asked a few major camera retailers with no avail. I’ve included the link to view it here:
    thank you!

    • Reply
      June 23, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      Hey Lauren, I’m happy to help. That looks to be the Nikkormat FT2. It could also be the FT3 but the FT3 is pretty uncommon so I suspect it is the earlier FT2. I hope this helps!

  • Reply
    September 20, 2016 at 6:55 am

    Hi James! Wonderful insights into the FT. I have owned mine since early 70’s and enjoyed adapting to all the quirks you mentioned. Could you point me to some good websites for buying/selling and lenses? Thanks!

  • Reply
    samir sinha
    September 23, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Will those good ol’ days come back ever again…

    • Reply
      September 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      Bulk TriX, a bottle of D76, an FTn, an EL and recently added an F3 and a collection of prime Nikkormat glass. Add the Beseler 23 that arrived with the F3…..and “those days” have returned….

  • Reply
    October 2, 2016 at 1:22 am

    Do you know where to find the batteries for the internal meters? Loved all the information- it was very helpful!

    • Reply
      James - Founder/Editor
      October 2, 2016 at 7:12 pm

      Hi there. Any of these should work –

      Some people will tell you to get the Wein cell battery for proper 1.35 voltage. I use the modern 1.5v battery, which annoys many people, but my exposures have never been off and they last far longer and cost less than the Wein cell.

      Choose what you like!

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