Why didn’t Nikon just call its non-pro line of cameras Nikons from the start? As they eventually learned, everyday people would pay for the cachet of the Nikon name. Yet Nikon insisted on calling its lesser SLRs Nikkormats (or Nikomats in Japan) in the 1960s and much of the 1970s.
Those Nikkormats became more and more sophisticated over time. By 1972 Nikon had developed its first camera with an electronic shutter and automatic exposure, and gave it a Nikkormat name. Here it is, the Nikkormat EL.
Large and heavy, the Nikkormat EL offered a reasonable complement of features. Its shutter operates from 4 to 1/1000 sec. It offers depth-of-field preview, mirror lockup, and a self timer. A stubby 6-volt 4LR44 (aka 476A, A544, and PX28A) battery powers it all. It goes in a slot behind the lens mount, under the mirror. Use the mirror lockup lever (left of the lens mount) to move the mirror up. Then lift the battery cover and insert the battery. I thought I’d have trouble seating the battery in that tight space but I snapped it right in with my index finger.
The Nikkormat EL’s viewfinder is fairly big and bright and features an easy-to-read match-needle system for the aperture-priority autoexposure. There’s no on-off switch; to activate the meter, pull the winding lever back. The EL’s focusing screen offers a central split-image rangefinder ringed with a microprism. It works beautifully. The white button left of the viewfinder checks the battery. Press it in with your thumbnail. If the battery is good, the amber light glows.
With this Nikkormat Nikon moved closer to the classic 1970s SLR idiom by moving the shutter speed selector to a dial atop the camera, next to the wind lever. (Early Nikkormats placed the shutter speed selector on a ring around the lens mount.) And as you can see, the EL takes films from 25 to 1600 ISO.
I’ve reviewed one other Nikkormat, by the way, even though mine carries its Japanese name, the Nikomat FTn. You might also enjoy my reviews of straight-up Nikon SLRs: the F2, the F3, the FA, and the N2000. You can see a list of every film camera I’ve ever reviewed here.
Nikon finally got the clue when it updated this camera for 1977: it became the Nikon EL, the first Nikon SLR without removable prisms and focus screens. The Nikkormat line died quietly.
This EL was placed on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras by John Smith, who generally buys his gear in top shape. The EL is said to be prone to electronic gremlins, but this one works fine.
I dropped some Fujicolor 200 in, mounted my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, and got to shooting. I love to do close-up work and the Micro-Nikkor enables it so well. Yet it’s a fine lens for shooting things at greater distance. These are the reading glasses I keep on my desk at work.
And here’s a gripping photo for the annals of all-time greats: the cruise-control switch on my Toyota. I love it that the Micro-Nikkor lens lets me contemplate details like this.
We had some striking light one evening, so I went out to photograph it.
This light lasted just a few minutes, before the setting sun and the clouds rolling in obscured it. How often do we get light like this but forget it because it is so fleeting?
I got a nice photograph of my two cars with the Nikkormat.
The challenge with owning so many fine cameras is that it can be years before I shoot the same one again. That’s not great for old gear. When I picked it up again a few years later, its shutter was capping. Edit: I’ve learned that this is not shutter capping — but the battery door working its way loose. If you see this in your photos from a Nikkormat EL, try pushing the battery door securely closed!
I shot two rolls before I learned this. I cropped the black area out and made the best of the scans. These color shots are on Agfa Vista 200 through my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens.
16:9 seemed to be the aspect ratio that worked best, so I cropped to that most often. The Nikkormat was otherwise as it always was: sturdy and sure. These black-and-white shots are on Fomapan 100, still through the 35-70.
Ignorance is bliss. Not yet knowing all of my shots were compromised, I had a nice time with the Nikkormat. It really is a good camera.
For more photos, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.
Metal, mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs are my favorite kind of camera, and aperture priority is my favorite way to autoexpose, so of course I enjoyed shooting with the Nikkormat EL. I didn’t enjoy shooting it any more than any of the other mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs I own, though. I suppose it says a lot about the general goodness of SLRs from the 1970s that a camera as capable and well made as this one doesn’t rise above the rest.