Nikon Nikkormat FT – Camera Review

Nikon Nikkormat FT – Camera Review

1280 720 James Tocchio

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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James Tocchio

James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Avatar
    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 !!

    • 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!

  • 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 !

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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.

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

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

    Thanks, very helpful =

    • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!

    • 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!

    • The model proceeds the serial number which is located below the top plate meter display. FTn’s have an “N” above the display. Best of luck! There are the FT, FTn, FT2 and FT3. The Nikkormat EL should be more immediately recognizable as such!

  • 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!

  • Will those good ol’ days come back ever again…

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

    • James - Founder/Editor
      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!

      • Get a MR-9 adapter of flEa Bay for about $25! It has a Shottsky clamping diode that reduces 1.55V to the correct 1.35V! You can use a common Silver Oxide 386 battery! Incidentally,the late production with the plastic tip advance & timer levers had an optional K screen. Look for an orange sticker atop the advance lever.’s the only Nikon with separate M&X connections,so you can use flashbulbs & Speedlights together!

  • I have an FTn which I purchased in the early 70s. It is mint but not because it was not used. I am just a fanatic about caring for cameras. It has traveled many miles some in the pocket of my motorcycle fairing. I once got it out and took a photo while still riding. All one handed. Sometimes I get it out just to wind the film advance and fire the shutter to listen to the mechanical noises
    . I like heavy metal precision things. I just got a Nikkormat EL at a thrift place. I am going to get a new battery for it and have a manual on order from Ebay. then off to Walmart to get some film.

  • I own/use several Nikkormat FTn’s but my favourite is my black and brassed FT2. I specifically sought out a badly brassed body which I found at B&H. I then had the camera totally overhauled by Essex Camera Repair before they went under. So my FT2 looks like a beater on the outside but inside beats the heart of a regularly used and loved Nikkormat. I like FTn’s for use with macro and slow lenses but FT2’s for use with faster lenses due to their split focusing screen that does not work with slower lenses but really helps snap the focus in when it’s critical. The FT2 is also nice because the to plate meter display contains a + and – so you don’t get disoriented about your exposure as can happen with earlier Nikkormats. The FT2 also has a locking mechanism on the ISO selector which is handy. Speaking of metering, the FT2 takes the more common 1.5 volt LR44 type battery too. If you’re into flash, the FT2 has a built-in hot shoe too. Doing the “Nikon Shuffle” is really not a big deal in practice and is necessary for most Nikkormats but also the F and F2 photomics. It’s a practice that wouldn’t have felt out of place to a photojournalist in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I prefer the FT2 and also use an F2sb which require the Nikon Shuffle in order to mount a lens because one can then use both AI and Pre-AI lenses. The FT3 and F2as are more popular because they don’t require the shuffle but then you are limited to AI lenses only. Anyway, here’s my FT2 in the link below and thanks for your thoughtful and thorough articles! I look forward to more!

  • Nice review, except as noted by others, the Nikkormats (or Nikomats) were hardly budget cameras. They are quality through and through. Nikon made a mistake introducing them because while they were made to be a little cheaper than their F model, many pro photographers preferred to shoot them over their much more expensive F cameras, which cost Nikon quite a bit of money. The 50 2 Nikkor standard lens that is usually found on these is one of the nicest lenses Nikon ever made. They have stellar IQ, and beautiful bokeh. The Nikkormats were one of the best cameras Nikon ever made, and have a sweet sounding Copal shutter that is dead reliable even today.

  • I still have a Nikkormat FTN that I bought early in my newspaper career when my two F models were (I thought) nearing the end of their useful lives. (I still have them, too, and they still working fine.) Then there’s another Nikkormat I kept around for parts after the soft shutter release I had on it caught on something and ripped the release mechanism out of the top deck.
    The amount of abuse these camera could take is amazing testament to Nikon’s rugged design standards and their manufacturing. I once dropped an F down a flight of about a dozen concrete stairs and it survived with but a scratch or two. Worked fine.
    Living on a poor newspaperman’s salary, I fell behind in the ability to buy Nikon’s top-of-the-line professional cameras — an FM2 was my last film camera purchase.
    One thing I know, I won’t be dropping my digital cameras down any flight of stairs anytime soon.

    • James - Founder/Editor
      James – Founder/Editor March 8, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Thanks for the comment and taking us back with a first-hand account. I know you don’t need me to tell you, but I think I’d prefer the FM2 to the pro models anyway.

  • Hi, I just found this discussion and I agree these cameras are Great. I bought many of the nikkormats a few years ago for 15-25 dollars and have been servicing them when I get a few hours of quiet in my house. I find it very challenging and enjoyable to see these wonderful machines come to life again and folks, it is not hard to do. My wife says I need to sell some cameras, at least 100. I told her they didn’t eat and require insurance or license. I can’t turn them loose. I’m retired. The photos these cameras produce are sharp and just what they should be from a camera. I don’t care much for expensive plastic cameras.

  • Robert,
    I’ve often thought about servicing my cameras myself, especially when a major service now involves $100-200 and boxing the camera up for a long interstate trip. Of 100 cameras you’ve self-serviced, how many times did the process go sour? (in other words, what’s the chance an amateur camera serviceman is going to make things worse rather than better?…..I am pretty handy with my good selection of tools but my experience is mostly with “big stuff” like bicycles.)

  • Hi James! I just got an FT and found this article so helpful! I was wondering if you could help me out? I am certainly going through the slow starting out phase at the moment. I’m a beginner and finding it quite tricky, mainly due to the unavailability of a battery that will allow the light meter to work. Are the previously mentioned batteries in the comments suited to an FT? Also have you ever tried using a phone app as a light meter? I’m currently testing it out at the moment while trying to hunt down a battery.
    Thanks in adavance and thanks again for the article.

    • Hi there. Any 1.5 volt battery will work fine. Don’t stress about the voltage thing everyone talks about.

  • Hey! I just received this camera from a relative as they were cleaning up their house and aesthetically, I think it’s a beautiful camera. A bit heavy but it feels like a well-built machine. I’m really looking forward to having this camera serviced (along with my Nikon AF). Of course, after reading your review, I can’t wait to fiddle around with this camera since you mentioned about the little quirks!

  • I have picked up a few of these over the last three months. Wonderful cameras in every way. My favorite 35 mm camera ( including Leica )

  • What film would you suggest using with the FTN? I’ve got a 28mm lense. Thanks!

    • Any 35mm film will work fine. Basic stuff is Fuji Superia.

    • For B/W consider Kentmere 100 or 400. I am a long-time TriX user, but find the Kentmere film very easy to use and develop (maybe even easier than TriX) and like the results I get with it from my FT and FTn. And 1/3 the cost from the usual NYC photo houses.

  • Hi. I’m trying to put together a small collection of Nikkormat cameras. I have a FTN and thought I had bought a FT but the camera I have had to return is another FTN. My other camera is a Nikon D40X but I’m at an age where nostalgia plays a big part in my life. I can’t afford what I had previously a Nikon FE. I’m grateful to have found this forum. Thanks

  • My father gifted me his 1966 FT a few years ago when he learned of my renewed interest in film photography (I recall shooting a college project with the FT and it being my dad’s serious camera, as opposed to the Olympus Trip 35). The light meter was dead, but I had the camera serviced. The meter was non responsive due to internal wire corrosion from condensation having been stored in the loft/attic for over 30 years. Anyhow, the original FT is most definitely an idiosyncratic and quirky vintage SLR as described in the review, but I experience these quirks as attributes rather than hindrances. I love my FT not only for its sentimental value, but also for its surefooted
    precision and overall bulletproof handling – bear in mind these are comments coming from a Wetzlar era Leica M film shooter.

  • Hi, great article and help. I’ve a question, and was wondering if somebody could help me. I think it’s quite hard to find out if a lens is compatible with a camera. I’m very interested in a Nikon NIKKOR 35mm F2.8 MF Lens, but I’m wondering with which camera it would work. Is it true that non-ai fits with the FT, FS, FTN, FT2 (because of age) and that Ai fits a FT3? Thank you so much for any help!

  • ANNUYSKA, you are quite correct. However the later AI and AIS lenses will work just fine on the earlier cameras including Nikon F2 Photomic, Photomic S and Photomic SB plus the Photomic metering heads for the Nikon F provided those lenses still have the little silver claw at f5.6 on the aperture ring. Even today, you can still buy new Nikkor lenses from Grays of Westminster in London – “last of the brand new stock” the old boy (Gray Levett) tells us. The old boy has stocks of the claw that was made for the earlier lenses that were solid. £15 to include the two minute screws! Take them and the lens to someone who changes watch batteries every day for a living – he won’t drop the screws. Sometimes, if an old lens is upgraded to AI, they take the metering claw off as it’s not needed for F2A, F2AS, F3, FM, FE, FA et al.

  • I have just found this site. I am from Malaysia. I have the original FT with the 50mm 1.4S. Also have FT2 up to F3 and F4. But the FT with non AI 50mm1.4S lens is an art by itself. A beauty. Meter is not so reliable but with film camera the sunny f16 rule is good enough. And have dozens of expired film from yester years in my fridge.

  • I had accumulated a fair collection of older, pre AI “scalloped ” lenses for a black Nikon F plain prism I’ve been using for the past 13 years. Last year the shutter jammed. Fearing an expensive repair, I put it on eBay and to my surprise, someone bought it. I bought a 1974 F2 Photomic so I can use my collection of lenses – 24/2.8, 28/3.5, 35/2, 50/2, 50/1.4, 85/1.8, 105/2.5, 135/2.8, 200/4, 300/4.5 & 70-200/4.5. The 85/1.8 is my favourite for portraits and the only lens I’ve ever bought from Grays of Westminster. Now, I wonder if my F2 packs up, what about my lenses? Sell, no. I’m going to get myself a cheap Nikkormat FTN, doesn’t matter if the meter is u/s as I’ll use a Weston V and never mind about the mercury batteries. Btw, the F2 takes the commonly available 1.5v ’76’ cells. Also, I can put Ektar in the F2 and XP2 in the ‘mat.

  • I recently picked up a like-new Nikkormat EL for very little. What a great machine! So easy to use and it has the proper Nikkormat “heft.” It looks and feels like an even more refined FT/FTn but with the convenience of autoexposure when desired. My 50 mm f/1.4 is a great companion to this body.

    • For many reasons, the EL is the best Nikkormat body ever made. It’s pretty damn close to being the best Nikon manual focus body too.

      • I’ve got several of them for comparison – Nikkormat FTn (my original warhorse over the past 45 years), FT, F Photomic, F pentaprism, F3, FM, FE- they all have their charms, but considering overall function and aesthetics, you make a good point. I think they’re incredibly undervalued, certainly compared to the various Nikon-branded instruments. I work with graduate students – their curious minds means I get a lot of questions about my film photography, and several have become interested. A while back I bought an FTn that I keep at work to lend to interested students (I provide/process their first roll), and have recommended FTns to those that get the bug – they’re an inexpensive entry point to a level of equipment that far surpasses what most of us bring to the art. Based on experience so far with the EL, I might end up changing my mind on that recommendation. For the same money as a good FTn one gets AE, an attraction for those who have never known anything other than digital cameras and iPhones.

  • I bought the Nikkormat FT Black Body from the Navy Exchange— couldn’t/wouldn’t have afforded it otherwise!), and used it first as a hobbyist and then as editor and chief photographer of a rural Vermont weekly paper more than a decade later, swapping between a 50mm Nikon lens and and 135mm and 400mm off-brand lenses with adapter. I was squatting down, shooting a 4th of July parade with a long lens, when a horse skittered out of the parade line and into me, stepping on the Nikkormat.

    I thought that my camera (and therefore my ability to keep my job) would be a complete write-off. It wasn’t— the Nikkormat body ended up with a slight dent, and the film wasn’t even exposed.

    That was one impressive camera body.

  • My first Nikon was a Nikkormat FT, bought in 1981 for £45 body only. I saw it in a dealers window, no body cap, just a worn leather strap wrapped around it. It appealed and I bought it. Later got a 50mm f2 lens for it. Took it all over. Meter was faulty so I bought a Weston Master V. Yet the camera still works fine. I’ve now got a vintage strap on it and a Tamron AD2 Mount for Nikon F. The absence of the metering claw does not matter because my meter does not work. I have a selection of coloured filters for monochrome and meter through the filter before attaching it to the lens.

  • My first camera was a Nikkormat FT-2. It is one of the cameras I wish I hadn’t sold. It’s shutter ring was a bit easier to turn than the FT-N’s. I’m on my 2nd FT-N now. It’s Cds metering system is fairly accurate- with-in 1/3 of a stop of both the FE-2 and FG. Still love the swinging metering needle. It came with a 50mm 1.4 S.C. and a 135mm 3.5 “Q”. Both are gorgeous lenses. The extra weight of the FT-N body allows me to get away with a LOT in the way of slow hand held shutter speeds.

    I had an EL-W for a while, but the shutter kept the camera going back for warranty repair. I got tired of not having a working camera and accepted a credit towards a new FE…

    If you get a chance at a FT-N or FT-2, they are worth the modest investment.


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James Tocchio

James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio