Camera Reviews

Nikon Nikomat FTn

Until the late 1970s, Nikon-branded 35mm SLR cameras were designed, built, and priced for pro photographers. But Nikon figured amateurs would buy SLRs, too, if they were priced right. But Nikon feared diluting their brand, and so gave consumer cameras other names.

Nikon’s first go, 1960’s Nikkorex, never caught on. Nikon simply guessed wrong at what features amateurs wanted. Moreover, Nikon outsourced manufacture, and whispers of reliability problems hurt sales. So Nikon tried again with an all-new camera built in Nikon factories. The Nikomat (in Japan, Nikkormat in the rest of the world) was born, starting with the 1965 Nikomat FT. Recently, a Japanese Nikomat was generously donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. It’s this 1967-1975 Nikomat FTn.

Nikon Nikomat FTn

Consumer SLR photographers, it turned out, wanted through-the-lens metering, fast shutters, and interchangeable lenses. The Nikomat/Nikkormat line obliged, and could take the entire range of Nikkor lenses that were designed for Nikon’s professional F-series cameras. But the Nikomats lack the F’s interchangeable viewfinders and focusing screens, and can’t take motor drives. Also, there’s no hot shoe. A clip-on accessory shoe was available, though, and a flash can be plugged into M (flashbulb) or X (electronic flash) terminals.

Nikon Nikomat FTn

But much like the venerable F, the Nikomat FTn is built like a tank. It feels more substantial than either of my Nikon F2s. It boasts a mechanical vertical focal-plane shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/1000 second. You set shutter speed on the lens barrel, and the speed is visible in the viewfinder. It also features center-weighted average through-the-lens metering. Pull the wind lever back a little to activate the meter, and then adjust shutter speed and aperture until the needle in the viewfinder is between the + and – symbols. Alternatively, you can use the meter display on the top plate next to the rewind lever. Adjust exposure until the meter is centered in the o symbol. The FTn also offers depth-of-field preview and mirror lockup. It takes film from 12 to 1600 ASA.

A dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery required to run the meter. Fortunately, everything else about the FTn functions without a battery. I substituted an alkaline 625 cell. To heck with everybody who says this will result in misexposures. As you’ll see, it wasn’t an issue at all.

If you’re into metal, mechanical Nikons, also check out my reviews of the F2 (here) and F3 (here). You might also like my review of the Nikkormat EL (here), the Nikon FA (here), and the Nikon N2000 (here). You can check out all of my camera reviews here.

I usually test a new-to-me camera with inexpensive color film. But some cameras, this Nikomat among them, feel like they want to be tested with black-and-white film. So I loaded my next-to-last roll of dear, departed Arista Premium 400 and took this camera out and about. I used the 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C lens that came with the camera. And oh. my. gosh. what results I got.

My sons and I went Downtown to Monument Circle for dinner at Potbelly’s, my older son’s favorite place. This duo provided a little live music, right next to the soda dispenser.

Music at Potbelly's

I stepped back a little for this lonely shot of the guitarist. The FTn’s focusing screen offers only a microprism, which makes out-of-focus images look jagged. My middle-aged eyes prefer split-image focusing, but I managed to get focus right in every shot with the FTn.

Music at Potbelly's

Monument Circle was packed to the gills with people and motorcycles that evening. It was some sort of big biker event. It clogged up Downtown; the closest parking we could find was about five blocks away.

Bikes

But the extra walking didn’t matter, because we wanted to walk around Downtown anyway. We walked along Massachusetts Avenue, one of Indy’s four diagonal streets. It’s become quite the night spot in the past ten years or so. Stout’s Shoes is one of the last regular retailers remaining here. It’s the oldest shoe store in America.

The oldest shoe store in America

I brought the FTn along when Margaret and I surveyed the wayfinding signs along the Michigan Road in Marion and Shelby Counties. The Allied Appliances storefront in Wanamaker is a real throwback, and clearly it gets regular love to stay looking this good.

Allied Appliances

We lingered in Founder’s Cemetery at Wanamaker’s southern outskirts. A few gravestones are fenced off. I moved in close to one of the posts and got this great shot. It was a blisteringly bright day, the kind that makes some of my cameras struggle. But the Nikomat handled the light with aplomb.

Fencepost

I took the FTn on one of my three (!) trips to the Indiana State Fair this year, which is where I finished the roll.

Moo

On a later outing I loaded some Fujicolor 200 to see how the Nikkor H-C lens rendered color on this film I know so well. It muted the colors somewhat, for a very interesting look.

One Nine Five

But it’s a very interesting quality, epecially with these delicate spring tree flowers against the dark background.

Tree flowers

Maybe I should call the look vintage. Whatever, it is an intriguing quality.

Salem Cemetery

Here the Fujicolor 200’s normal color signature comes through. The lens captures all these details well. But this isn’t supposed to be a review of the lens, but rather the camera itself, and it continued to behave well in my hands. It and I never became one — its heavy controls never let it disappear in my hands.

Eagle Creek Park

To see more photos from this camera, click here to see my Nikomat FTn gallery.

There’s a stiffness about all of the 1960s 35mm SLRs I own, this Nikomat FTn included. Maybe they all need a cleaning, lube, and adjustment. Maybe they’re just built that way. Who knows. Truth is, my 1970s and 1980s SLRs work much more fluidly and are slightly more pleasant for me to use. But this Nikomat FTn wasn’t so stiff as to be unpleasant, and these outstanding results make me want to shoot it again and again.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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32 thoughts on “Nikon Nikomat FTn

  1. Thanks for the history there; I didn’t know much of that.

    You’ve got some really great results, even with that strong back lighting that you had to contend with in the first couple of shots.

    *repeats to self* ‘ I do not need another camera. I do not need another camera. I do not need…..’

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  3. Wow, you have a never-ending collection, and great talent for seeing. This particular blog post impresses me more than others. I was given one of the last great cameras in this series by my friend who was dying. I need to shine it up and honor his memory. This particular version has a 6-volt battery under the mirror. I remember my fellow J-school students owning cameras like the model you feature here. Good to see it still works. Camera technicians are rare these days.

    • Thanks so much Bill. I’ve actually been in a mode of divesting the cameras I don’t like and won’t use again, but I seem only to be treading water as more and more gear finds its way into my home.

  4. nick says:

    Jim,
    thanks for bringing that camera up!
    And also for sharing some very nice pictures; really great fence at the cemetary!

    I’ve got a bag full of lenses for that kind of camera and never thought of getting the original device to it.
    You’ve got me on the hunt again…

    Nick

    • That cemetery fence photo got picked up on Flickr Explore! What fun.

      Yes, this is a fine camera. If you’ve got lenses, go get yourself an F-mount body and have some fun.

  5. Great shots.

    They should have realised from the beginning that amateurs want the same features as pros, if not more. That’s why the pro dslrs sell so well these days.

    • It seems so obvious now!

      I don’t frankly understand why an amateur would want a big, clunky pro DSLR, but to each his own. I get great results from my Canon S95 all the time, and it fits in my jeans pocket.

  6. Jim, great post, awesome camera and shots! I agree with you, this camera feels more substantial than even the F2. In fact, when I first got mine I was amazed by how solid it felt. And the best part, I got it for $30, and even today you can find them very cheap for such a quality camera, especially the “Nikomat” version.

  7. I love those old cameras! They are so much more fun to use than more modern cameras. And on top of that I really like how these old all metal lenses look. :)

    That said … I haven’t taken out my Minolta SR-1s for a while.

  8. Barry Strum says:

    The Nikkormat FTn screams VIETNAM !!! I used one there in 1968 and 69….built like a pro9verbial tank…and I’ve used ever since…..cleaned a few times..NEVER MISSED a shot. They will be around forever !

    Barry Strum
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  9. Well, Jim, I bought one tonight at a local thrift store, came home and did a Google search and guess what came up? :) Your awesome website, as usual. Looks like a great camera! Yes, a tank for sure! The Nikomat I bought was originally purchased by its owner in the Tokyo Airport, and it’s in like-new condition. I can’t wait to use it!

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  11. Eric risse says:

    Great camera, looks like yours has the EP diamond on the reqwind knob, that signifies that the camera was originally sold in a Military PX, which is how most of the Japan market nikomat versions of this camera got to the USA. My nikomat FTn also has the EP diamond, I got it at a garage sale for $20 complete with 1.4 lens, works just fine, I don’t shoot so much with SLRs, but this just might become my main SLR.

    • Hey, thanks for sharing that tidbit of knowledge about the EP diamond! Makes sense that this was a PX purchase. That and direct “eBay importing” are pretty much the only two ways Nikomats make it to the US.

  12. I swear to God, James, we are two people who went to separate high schools together!!

    About 6 months ago I picked up a used Nikkormat Ftn from a friend i Japan. It cost me $20 plus $25 for shipping! Well worth the money. Currently I have my old faithful 43-85 zoom on it but I also have the 80-200mm f4.5 zoom which is another Nikon winner. Life is good!!!

    I wish I’d had the Nikkormat Ftn when Peppermint Patti and I traveled to New Orleans (NOLA) to visit our daughter, Maja (an absolutely astounding photographer…..taught her everything she knows!) who lives and works in the Quarter.

    Instead I took my Nikon FG, MD-14 motor, 43-86mm f 3.5 zoom and a 50mm f2 normal lens. Took some great shots but thinking back on the trip I certainly wish that I’d had my “new” Nikkormat. My original Nikkormat I gave to Maja many years ago and she still uses it occasionally, although like many of us, she’s “gone digital” for her professional photography.

    Thanks for posting this, Jim. Man, I gotta meet you and share a cup of coffee so we can spend some times telling “lies” to each other!!

    • This Nikomat hasn’t had its turn yet in Operation Thin the Herd, but its time is nigh. It’s a lovely camera, but I wonder if it will get to stay in the collection when I already have so many lovely Nikon SLRs?

      How lovely that your daughter has taken up photography too! My older son has dabbled in it, so I gave him a Pentax K1000 and a Pentax ME to play with.

  13. David Winskill says:

    Hi Jim.

    Many thanks for the fine review and excellent pictures.

    It is difficult to overstate the heft of these cameras: they seem to be hewn from a solid block of metal. The only other cameras that I know that share this monumental feel are the Canon EF and F1.

    Does anyone know of any others?

    David

    London

    • You put your finger right on it: a solid block of metal. This camera feels like it’s made of one piece. My Nikon F2 feels much the same way.

  14. The advantage of the Copal vertical shutter is that it allows fast X-synch speed. The Nikon F’s top synch speed is 1/60th of a second. The Nikkorex F (note the name: X synch) and the family of Nikomat/Nikkormats all have a top synch of 1/125 of a second and slower. This is helpful in removing ambient light from electronic flash pictures.

    I bought my Nikkorex F “almost new” in 1963. I had a problem with film advanced that was repaired. After that I ran hundreds (a thousand?) rolls through it without a problem. I sold it around 2003 (40 years later). It still worked beautifully.

    • That’s very helpful information. I don’t do any flash photography so I have never delved into the various flash sync schemes.

      You got your money’s worth out of your Nikkorex!!

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  16. Don Corwin says:

    I loved my black Nikkormat FTn, (my 1st new 35mm, purchased in 1973 with the 105/2.5 Nikkor-P), that I still remember it’s serial #. I still have the very same 105 Nikkor after all these years and use it on both my F2s and stop down on my other Nikon.

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