Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon Nikkormat EL

1971 Chevrolet

It was the last of the Nikkormats (or Nikomats, as they were called in Japan): the EL. It was also the first Nikon SLR with aperture-priority autoexposure. Nikon made them from 1972 to 1976. They’re well-built cameras that can take years, even decades, of heavy use.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

This one was a latecomer to my SLR party; by this time I’d settled on my favorites. While I liked this camera fine when I shot my test roll with it I kept reaching for my usual cameras after that. The test roll was Fujicolor 200, and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens was mounted. This photo from that roll is of two cars I used to own.

Looking Over my Car

This is a fine, capable camera. Perhaps that’s why I waited until near the end of Operation Thin the Herd to shoot it: I expected I’d like it and keep it. I plopped in some Fomapan 100, mounted my guilty-pleasure 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, and went to town.

McOuat

I also laid in a fresh battery, a stubby 4LR44. Thank heavens for Amazon, because you can’t get these batteries at the corner drugstore. The battery slips neatly in below the mirror inside the camera. Use the mirror lock-up button to get at it.

Founders Cemetery

Fomapan 100 is far from my favorite slower b/w film, but this roll had been moldering in my fridge for a long time and I decided to shoot it up. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever gotten from this classic film. Highlights are on the light side but at least they’re not blown out, which seems to be this film’s signature move.

Shelbyville on the Public Square

The EL’s tactile experience falls short of luxurious, but everything feels rock solid under use. If you send a Nikkormat EL out for CLA, it will outlast you. That’s what I need to do for this one. Every single frame on the roll showed shutter capping. I’ve just cropped it out of all the photos I’ve showed you before this one. Now you know why some of these photos are 16×9 rather than 4×3.

Capped!

The shame is, you don’t know a shutter is misbehaving like this until after you’ve shot the roll and had it processed. Unfortunately I shot two rolls of film in the Nikkormat before sending them off for processing. The second roll was Agfa Vista 200. Cropping saved many of this roll’s images, too.

Capped Soft Selfie

I brought the Nikkormat out for a day on the Michigan Road. This pizza joint is on the square in Greensburg.

Slices

Half the 35-70’s split prism focusing aid was black on this bright-sun day, a not uncommon problem with zoom lenses. I had to guess focus, and I frequently got it wrong. Between that and the shutter capping I got nine usable images on this roll, which I shot entirely on Greensburg’s square. Not a great day with the Nikkormat.

On the Square

You don’t expect to find a tiki bar in the heartland, but here one is nevertheless. It’s in what used to be Greensburg’s department store, Minear’s.

Tiki Bar

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

The Nikkormat EL is a competent and capable tool, its shutter issues notwithstanding. I didn’t dislike using it, but I wasn’t falling in love, either. Its size and weight is similar enough to my Nikon F2 or F3, which truly delight me to use, that I’ll probably always reach for those cameras first. I’m going to pass this Nikkormat along to its next owner.

Verdict: Goodbye

Standard

17 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon Nikkormat EL

  1. Using a zoom lens – pah! You’ll get banned from flickr for that! :-D

    Some great shots Jim, it’s always interesting to see how people feel certain cameras – it’s amazing how many I used I didn’t get one with that have fantastic reviews elsewhere, yet I’ve loved shooting old clunkers that are supposed to be rubbish.

    Each to their own as they say.

    • I love that stupid little 35-70! Even though it distorts pretty obviously on the wide end.

      Yeah, who knows why any of us fall for the cameras we do? I have my Pentax ME on my desk right now, it’s the SLR I’ve shot most often and the first I reach for when I want some fun.

  2. P says:

    That’s a shame about the shutter capping. Still, you managed to take some very nice images, even with having to crop. Do you still have a CRT TV floating around? If so, there is a quick and dirty way to check to see if focal-plane shutters are roughly accurate and whether they have curtain issues. This can be extremely helpful before burning a roll (or more) of film only to find the shutter is misbehaving after paying for developing. Let me know if you want me to forward you some information. I sense that maybe Fomapan 100 is growing on you just a little bit?

    • Our last CRT TV went away this year, so I’m left to just find out about shutter capping after processing the first roll. Soon I’ll be processing my own – maybe the ticket is to shoot cheap b/w in new-to-me old cameras and process as many issues will show right up on the negs. If all is well I can shoot another roll of a more interesting film.

      I was pleased with the results on foma but I’m not sure the 100 will be a go-to film for me, ever. The 200 is very, very nice for the price — still a little lacking in midtones but not nearly as much as the 100.

      • P says:

        Since the CRT trick isn’t an option, shooting a cheap roll, or even just a few frames from the roll and cutting them off in a changing bag, and then developing to uncover potential issues sounds like a good plan.

        Once you start developing yourself, give Fomapan 100 another go. It looks great in dilute Rodinal with minimum agitation. The compensating effect can help you bring out those midtones and shadow detail, without blowing the highlights. The grain structure is also very nice.

        Out of curiosity, are you going to be using plastic or stainless steel tanks/reels?

        • I don’t mind blowing an entire roll to find out, not really. Especially if I can shoot it real fast on la-de-da subjects, and process/scan it myself right away.

          I’m looking forward to trying stand development in Rodinal.

          I’m using plastic reels and tanks.

        • P says:

          I use stainless tanks/reels simply because it’s what I started with, but I actually think the Paterson or AP style plastic ones are probably easier to use. I was just curious because they do hold different volumes of chemistry. The plastic ones have more volume and require more chemistry per roll. But that actually works to your advantage when using developers at high dilutions. There is a minimum quantity of developer required to ensure it doesn’t exhaust prematurely. With Rodinal, Agfa presently states this quantity is 10 mL. However, I believe they historically said 5 mL, so I think they’re being overly cautious today. Plenty of people use as low as 5 mL without issues, and have for a long time. I’m assuming your plastic tank is a 120 (or double 35mm) one and holds about 600 mL, so you should be more than fine going as high as 1:100 dilution without trouble. With 240 mL single-roll 35mm stainless tanks this would obviously be an issue though. I wanted to mention this just in case it might be a concern for you. But it doesn’t sound like it will be! I’m still looking forward to your results!

        • Good to know. The tanks/reels were a gift so I went with what I got! I do intend to do stand development because I’m all about putting things on autopilot and letting them run.

  3. jon campo says:

    You got some good shots anyway Jim. I have one of these but if I’m in the mood to lug a huge heavy camera the F2 usually wins. Mine is in for repairs right now. Have you tried Fomapan 200? I really love that film.

    • Foma 200 is my favorite inexpensive b/w film. My only complaint about it is that its midtones could be richer — but at least they’re sort of present. The cheap 100s tend to be very high contrast, lacking middle tones almost entirely, and that’s my big beef with them.

      • jon campo says:

        That’s right Jim, I remember when I was looking online for shots made with the 200, one of yours came up right away.

  4. Had an EL while stationed in Japan back in the mid-70s. Great little box. I should probably talk you out of it so I can display it with my more memorable cameras on the book shelf.

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