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.

Nikon 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.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

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.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

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.

Cruise Control

We had some striking light one evening, so I went out to photograph it.

Strange Evening Light

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?

Strange Evening Light

I got a nice photograph of my two cars with the Nikkormat.

Looking Over my Car

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!

Capped Soft Selfie

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.

1971 Chevrolet

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.

Washington at Meridian

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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50 responses to “Nikon Nikkormat EL”

  1. Carl Simmerman Avatar

    Well done on the review of the Nikkormat EL. I really wanted a Nikkormat as a kid. I worked as a stringer for a local newspaper and all the staff used Nikons. For such an “old” camera the images and ability of this gear is still amazing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What’s fun about living in the modern era is that all those cameras we lusted after back in the day are inexpensive on the used market! Most of them, anyway.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    No way around it, Nikkormat’s were great. Every pro I knew had one or two, even if they only used them on the weekends.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It seems like Nikon could do almost no wrong in the ’70s!

    2. Paul Winger Avatar
      Paul Winger

      I have twp ELs that are both working fine. One is black, the other is a silver EL-W. As far a lens recommendations Non-AI lenses work perfectly on the EL. They are often the same formulation as the AI varieties at a much more attractive price. My 45 year-old non-ai 105mm 2.5 is still producing great images even on my Sony A7ii.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Great to know that the pre-AI lenses work!

  3. John Gateley Avatar

    I was just out shooting with my EL last Sunday! I mounted my older 20mm f:4 Non-Ai on it, loaded in a roll of Portra 160, and set the shutter dial to A. Other than the fixed prism, I think the EL might be my ideal 35mm SLR. The size is comfortable for my larger hands, the viewfinder works well even with glasses on, it takes an easy to find battery, and I can run it in Aperture Priority. If I need a waist level finder, like at car shows where I prefer a low angle, I pull out the F2.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh wow, a 20mm lens, what fun! I like the EL, but I don’t see myself reaching for it very often. I like my Pentax ME too darn much. It’s not as smooth as the EL, but I love it anyway.

  4. Sam Avatar

    Jim, excellent review on an excellent camera!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a fine machine!

  5. dehk Avatar

    One of my favourite camera , and one of the best sounding shutter.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve encountered a lot of sentiment just like yours around the Internet. I had no idea people enjoyed this camera so much!

      1. dehk Avatar

        I didn’t know till I used one !

  6. arhphotographic Avatar

    Hi, just wanted to say a big thank you for your review. It provided the final motivation I need to purchase one for the handsome sum of £20 on eBay .Have used it for about a month now with a 500mm nikkor reflex, 28mm and 80-200mm zoom. What fun!. Thanks again

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Excellent! My nefarious plan is working!

  7. Jon Avatar

    Hi Jim, I must have missed this first time ’round. Another good review, and funny. I just bought one of these, hot diggity, what a camera. I love it. Funny how everyone is different, Ive had no luck with Pentax at all and love the Nikon family… Thanks again.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I deliberately sneaked this one by you! ;-)

  8. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    I just bought one for $49 this week. I am still on my first roll. My camera says Nikomat on it and I learned that is what was sold in Japan. I have never used a camera with a coupling pin. I will let you know how well the camera works.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah, the coupling pin. A throwback to be sure. I look forward to seeing your results with your EL!

  9. retrocrank Avatar

    Just today a like-new condition EL arrived from KEH, bought for not much money. I put a 50 mm f/1.4 on it and went out with a roll of Fomapan 100. Developed the negatives this afternoon and will scan them tonight. As a long-time Nikkormat FT (and more recently F3) user, I am really impressed with this instrument. I hope you keep and enjoy yours…I might have found a new favorite.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      These lovely Nikkormats sure can be had for reasonable prices. And they’re solid instruments. Good luck with yours!

  10. Mike Eckman Avatar
    Mike Eckman

    Somehow I missed this the first time you posted it.

    The answer to why Nippon Kogaku didn’t brand the first Nikkormats as Nikons is they were SO worried that anything less than their absolute best would somehow tarnish the reputation of the Nikon F.

    Nippon Kogaku first dabbled in the consumer line of cameras with the Nikkorex series, but they outsourced the production of those cameras to Mamiya. For the NIkkormat, they thought that by giving them a unique name, that it would be obvious this was a different line of camera than the F.

    But as you noticed, despite their best efforts, Nippon Kogaku was not capable of half assing anything, and the Nikkormats turned out to be outstanding cameras and actually became popular with pros as a backup body to the F.

    They would continue using the NIkkormat name until 1976 when they released the Nikon EL2, which was just an updated Nikkormat EL.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I did know Nikon was trying to protect the F. I just wrote an opening paragraph meant to draw readers in!

  11. Paul Winger Avatar

    My first Nikon related camera was a new Nikkormat Ftn I purchased in the early 70s. I used it with a 35mm 2.8 and the legendary 105mm 2.5 for a few years and then sold it to help finance the acquisition of a used Nikon Ftn. I sold the Nikon a few years ago when I began shooting digital cameras. I began using the 35 and 105 again via adapters on my mirrorless Sonys. I also picked up a few more non-AI Nikkor lenses (24, 28, 200 and a few Nikon F mounts by Vivitar, etc. I also acquired vintage lenses from other brands. A few of these lenses came with film cameras attached so after a long hiatus I decided to shoot some film again. I found I really enjoyed reliving the joy I had shooting film and wanted to use the Nikkors with film again. As almost all of the Nikkors (except for the Series E 50mm 1.8) were non-AI, I decided to bypass converting the lenses by picking up a silver Nikkormat EL that also had a non-AI 50mm 1.4 attached. I then came across a black EL-W body at a bargain price that I couldn’t pass up. So far no electrical or mechanical problems. Both of these built-like-a-tank bodies shoot like they did when new almost 50 years ago. No worries about Nikon’s reputation here. They are middle-aged wonders and will never leave my camera collection.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have film in my FTn right now! It’s a beast. I have a 50/2 Nikkor H-C on it.

      I’m happy to hear you’ve picked up film cameras again. So much truly great gear was made in the 70s and 80s.

  12. addison geary Avatar

    I was lucky enough to find two EL’s at my local Thrift. I replaced mirror bumper, light seals and battery. Everything works on both with the exception of the battery check lights which I can do without. Good to have two identical bodies. I keep a 35mm f/2 on one and a 135 3.5 on the other.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s awesome! What a lucky find. And I’m a little envious of your 35/2!

      1. addisongeary Avatar

        Better yet the 35mm has history. It was owned by Photojournalist Leif Skoogsfors who covered protests, civil rights movements, disasters and conflicts in Northern Ireland, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bosnia, Haiti and more.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Oh that is awesome. A lens with great provenance!

  13. randy Fernandez Avatar
    randy Fernandez

    How do I download the nikormat el owners manual?
    Please help me. My father left me the camera and lens.
    I’m a professional photographer. I shoot film and digital. I do fairly well, but I know that this camera has the capability to capture much better photos in the hands of a photographer that has a more comprehensive knowledge with the camera. If you can please email me the manual.
    Thank you in advance

    randy-Prestge Photography

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’d start by Googling “Nikkormat EL manual”! I did that just now and got this result:


  14. randy Fernandez Avatar
    randy Fernandez

    Great site

  15. Adam Singer Avatar
    Adam Singer

    Your site is a welcome and entertaining read, thankyou. But a thought on the Nikkormat EL, for context. If I rember the EL was if not the first, one of the first Nkon auto exposure cameras, it was apperture priority, and went up against Canon’s EF another early auto exposure camera that was shutter priority; back then this was a big debate. Wot semi pro SLRs with auto exposure?!? Thats the end of the world as we know it. Then there was the reams of religous debate, for “verily to sets one shutter before one’s apperture is heresy” , or the other way round, either way “burn the witch” an issue not resolved till some one invented prgramme mode. This was a big thing, this was a sea change in photo kit, and the EL contained some of the genetic seeds of the F3 with it’s auto exposure apperture priority. I say all this as the EL was not just another 70s SLR. It was harbinger of a new era.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What a solid historical perspective you offer. I write these primarily as experience reports against a backdrop of the wide array of vintage gear available today. The history of camera development sure is fascinating though, and I thank you for sharing this camera’s place in that history!

  16. Rayn Cauba Avatar
    Rayn Cauba

    I got a nikkormat el, but I want to upgrade the lens. I heard something about mounts for lenses, what should I use?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ryan, you want a Nikon F mount lens, specifically an Ai or Ai-s Nikon F mount lens.

  17. Kent Teffeteller Avatar
    Kent Teffeteller

    A note: Nikkorex. First built by Mamiya, the tools and dies were later sold to Ricoh, and later became known as the Ricoh Singlex (for many the best Ricoh SLR ever made) and their first SLR.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I didn’t know about the Nikkorex-Singlex link!

  18. Can Pain Avatar
    Can Pain

    Is nikkormat el body made out of brass ?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

  19. addisongeary Avatar

    Word of caution. Make sure EL battery door is closed completely. I just shot 2 rolls in which the battery door was open blocking 1/3 of every frame. Of course everything looked fine in the viewfinder as the door is below the mirror.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh my — I never thought of this. I’m betting this is what was happening on the last roll I shot in this camera. To wit:


      I thought it was a problem with the shutter.

  20. addisongeary Avatar

    Jim, yep same shape as battery door and at top of image meaning blockage was at bottom of camera.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I sold the camera, or gave it away, I forget which — I didn’t want to deal with what I thought was a shutter fault! Oh well, live and learn!

  21. […] take my word on the Nikkormat EL, you can check out the reviews by other awesome camera reviewers! Down the Road – Nikon Nikkormat EL Review Johnny Martyr – Nikkormat, Brutish & Beautiful Casual Photophile – All about the […]

  22. […] T2 prices for a room in a shared house in the inner north of Melbourne and shooting film on a Nikkormat EL with broken electronics, a sub-par lens and an ache in my shoulder from lugging a hunk of metal […]

  23. steve marino Avatar
    steve marino

    Thanks for the article on one of my favorite cameras. I especially enjoyed your really good sample photos. Thank goodness Nikon put the shutter speed dial on top where it belongs, you almost need 3 hands to work the previous Nikkormat shutter speeds. The only issue I have is that they “ping” when you fire the shutter, unlike the earlier Nikkormats. Which is a shame, since their shutters have one of the most pleasant sounds you can find. The ping seems to come from the mirror box, but for $15, I can live w/ it on my newest purchase.

    Nikons are my preferred choice for shooting Leica R lenses w/ an adapter, they seem made for each other. The weight of the Leica lenses is balanced by the weight of the camera, and Nikon light meters are more accurate than the Leica R bodies. These and many other Nikons will meter very accurately w/ 3rd party lenses in stop-down metering mode. I think these were actually referred to as the Japanese Leicaflex back in the day.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I didn’t realize that there were adapters for Leica R lenses! Not like I own any. But it’s good to know.

  24. Frank White Avatar
    Frank White

    Just purchased a Nikkormat EL-W with a Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 at a local thrift store for $10. Wiped it down, pulled the lens and put a battery in under the mirror and “it’s alive”! Kept poking around and found a tray of Nikkors (8 priced from $4-5 each) and a camera bag with a mint F2AS (sporting a MD-3) and a bunch of accessories for another $30, including a 2fps winder for the EL… I think I’ve died and gone to heaven! Now my FE, FT3, and F3P will have company in the showcase after I run a couple of rolls of Tri-X thru it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You have had some incredible luck lately Frank! You scooped up some great gear for a pittance.

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