Nikkormat, Brutish & Beautiful

If you happen across an old Nikkormat in a junk shop etc, you might wonder, what the hell is this?!

It doesn’t SAY Nikon but it has a Nikkor lens and the name plate reads “Nikkormat,” or “Nikomat.”  Is this some sort of cheap Nikon knock-off?  But it’s weighty and machining is quite handsome.  What is going on?

A family photo; My wife’s and my Nikkormat bodies & favorite Pre-AI lenses with period accessories

Back in the ’60’s, the suffix “mat” was ultra hip.  There’s Spotmatics, Yashica Mats, one hour photo labs were called PhotoMats.  And of course, there’s the Nikkormat.  I believe that “mat” was short for “automatic,” which has been the Holy Grail for consumer photography for decades.  Yet early “automatic” cameras were fully manual cameras by today’s standards.  Things like auto return mirrors and automatically resetting frame counters or having a built-in light meter were considered automatic in the ’60’s but became standard into the ’70’s.

The Nikkormat line are, in fact, official Nikon cameras but they didn’t get the “Nikon” moniker because they were intended to be consumer grade offerings with fewer features than Nikon F cameras.  Chiefly, Nikkormats do not have interchangeable viewfinder/meter heads, (earlier models) can’t accept motordrives and the series received auto-exposure before the F series, at a time when pro’s didn’t trust automation.  Nikkormats and Nikomats (as they were called in Japan), were Photo 101 cameras before the K1000 was created.  They weren’t intended to be taken very seriously.  Even today, Nikkormats usually sell for about half the cost of a K1000.

Ironically, though, Nikkormats are probably some of the most dependable, capable, and FUN 35mm SLR’s ever built.  Nikkormats have near full access to Nikon’s extensive, decades old professional F-mount lens line.  And we all know that lenses are what take the photo.  Forget that passé act of screwing the lens into the body, that 1960’s Pentax, Mamiya and many cheaper brands required.  Nikkormats rock the bayonet lens mount, just like a pro body.  Also, unlike Pentax’s cheaper 1960’s SLR’s, you can meter on a Nikkormat WITHOUT STOPPING DOWN!  And what’s this?  You get a meter display on top of the camera AND inside the viewfinder!  You don’t even need to turn on the meter with a separate switch!  Metering was not an afterthought with the Nikkormat, it is a as much a part of the design as the film advance.

Nikkormat FT2:  The top plate meter display consists only of a glued-on plastic window to a simple swing needle display that is coupled to the one in the viewfinder.  Check out my generously brassed rewind crank!

Nikkormats also feature DoF preview if you care about that,  but more importantly, they have Mirror Lock-Up.  It’s not until the 1972 Olympus OM-1 and not in many other 60’s or 70’s consumer level SLR’s that MLU is present.  This and the availability of cheap but super high resolving Nikkor Micro lenses make a case for the Nikkormat as a well-equipped, budget macro image machine.

When you hold a Nikkormat, it feels like the whole camera was carved from a single solid block of steel.  It’s not as jagged in the hand as an Argus C3 “brick” but it does maintain the feel of a veritable block of metal.  Design is austere and utilitarian without looking cheap.  Tolerances are reasonably tight and fit is very consistent.  What probably makes the Nikkormat construction feel good in the hand though, is that no components were made any smaller or lighter than they absolutely needed to be.  Everything is big and spacious with large expanses of flat, non-contoured quality-grade metal.  Leatherette is tightly applied, both around the body and atop the prism head.  Finishes are enduring.

My Photo 101 camera was the Pentax K1000.  And I love K1000’s to this day, but the first time I handled a Nikkormat, I felt like I’d been missing out.  Nikkormats are cheaper than K1000’s, tougher than K1000’s and, really, can produce higher quality or more varied results with a wider and more nuanced lens system.

Nikkormats are absolutely brutishly beautiful cameras to use, abuse and enjoy.  They are everything that Leica is not in terms of grace, style and compactness.  And just as Leica was once a war camera, so was the Nikkormat.  Ask Greg Marinovich, photojournalist and member of the Bang Bang Club.  When people over-use cliche classic camera descriptors like “built like a tank” and “bullet proof,” of all the cameras I’ve ever used, I cannot help but think the Nikkormat line are where these phrases were born.

My wife’s and my Nikkormat FTn’s; notice the perfectly flat, simple advance lever & Spartan top plate fitted with precisely machined controls including a glass frame counter window with chrome bezel

I discovered my first Nikkormat, an FTn at a pawn shop when I was still only dating my amazing wife.  It was only $50 and had a 50/1.4 SC mounted.  WOW.  Coming from the FM world where the body was about $150 and the 50/1.4 AI was another $150, this was unbelievable.  I grew to love the outfit and so I had the body CLA’d for paid work and continue to use that same pawn shop special 50/1.4 SC, my favorite 50mm Nikkor, on my F2sb today.  I picked up several FTn’s and pre-AI lenses with time and learned that my favorite Nikkormat is the FT2.

Most people prefer the FT3 and it is the most expensive of the Nikkormat line as a result of the usual internet over-hype.  But as a working photographer, I’ll tell you that the FT2 is more practical because it accepts both pre-AI and AI lenses.  The FT3 allieviates the need for the Nikon Shuffle but therefore, cannot take pre-AI lenses, which, in my view, is a tragedy.

Oh wait, the Nikon Shuffle?  Did I forget to mention this classic Nikon dance move?!

So in the 60’s, as I mentioned, it was unusual for an SLR to have a built-in light meter that didn’t require stop down metering or some other compromise.  Nikon’s compromise is that the photographer has to INDEX the aperture of the lens when it is mounted.  Since the meter doesn’t “know” what the aperture range of any particular lens is, we have to “tell” it what it is.  So to mount any Nikkor lens to a Nikkormat FT, FTn, or FT2 (among others), one must first select a lens that has an Indexing Prong on the aperture ring.  Then, one must set the lens aperture to 5.6 and slide the Indexing Pin on the Nikkormat all the way to the right until it stops (right while facing the front of the camera.)  Mount the lens as you would any other bayonet mount lens but while doing so one has to allign the Indexing Pin on the body with the Indexing Prong on the lens so that they are engaged/coupled.  Twist the lens to lock it into the mount like any other bayonet lens.  BUT THEN, you do the Nikon Shuffle.  Rotate the aperture ring of the lens to it’s largest then its smallest aperture.  You should only have to do this one but I honestly, go from end to end two or three times every time I mount a Nikkor lens to a body.  Sometimes I find myself doing it on an AI (Auto Indexing) body like the FM2n too, just out of habit from using the Nikkormats and F2sb.

Nikkormat FTn: Note the “crab claw” Indexing Prong positioned at 5.6 on the lens aperture ring is engaged with the Indexing Pin on the lens mount

This may sound like a pain in the ass.  Newer Nikons obviously don’t require the photographer to shuffle and even pro body Nikons from the pre-AI era like the F2s and F2sb only require the shuffle, not the set the lens for 5.6 step.  But it’s really not a big deal and any old Nikon shooter will tell you that it just becomes a habit.  For me, personally, when I mount a Nikkor to a pre-AI body and rack the aperture back and forth, I get a sense of manly confidence like I just loaded a damn machine gun.


Another thing that makes Nikkormats fun is the shutter speed dial.  Instead of being positioned atop the camera, the dial is wrapped around like lens mount.  Olympus later copied this on their OM line but this method has been surprisingly left behind by SLR designers otherwise.  What’s nice about the shutter speed control is that your left hand needs only to work along the lens barrel for adjustments, making your right hand solely in control of the shutter release.  It’s a little faster a shooting method once you get down with it.  And so that you don’t have to keep turning the camera around to see the shutter speed, Nikon smartly included an optical shutter speed display in the viewfinder.  Again, something else the K1000 or similar consumer grade bodies do not feature.

A real head-turner for me too is the addition of a light meter display on the top plate.  Many cameras have the display only on the inside of the finder or only on the top of the camera (if only in the form of an accessory meter.)  But the Nikkormat features both, allowing the photographer to check exposure, perhaps for candid shots, without lifting the camera to the eye.  On the FT2/3 they also added + and – symbols to the top plate display which is quite a nice, albeit small refinement that the FT and FTn lack.  If you own/use a Nikkormat and habitually don’t make good use of that top plate display, I recommend trying to incorporate it more, I think you’ll like it.  It’s much like shooting with a DSLR.  Very forward.

The only drawbacks to the Nikkormat are the limiting top ISO of 1600 and the often jumpy swing needle.

Nikkormat FTn: ISO dial located sort of under & on the side of the lens mount.  Grow your fingernails out to assist adjustment.  The FT2/3 have a nice locking mechanism for the the ISO slider but it probably isn’t necessary on the FT/n where the slider is very firmly dampened.
The FTn’s through the viewfinder of the Nikkormat FT2: Note shutter speed display at the bottom, & upside down + – swing needle to the right.  The FT2/3 have split screen finders where the FT/n have matte focus only

As a guy who shoots some 60% of his work at 6400 ISO, bodies like the Nikkormat, Olympus OM series, Pentax M series, etc that stop at 1600 really bug me.  I find that shooting P3200 and Delta 3200 with the Nikkormat ISO setting pegged just over 1600 is great for rating these films at 3200 though so I still kept them in use for paid work for some time.

The Achilles heel though, for me is a service problem that is maybe just part of living in a more humid area of the world.  With age, the Nikkormat swing needle meter displays tend to get “jumpy.”  They flit back and forth to extreme readings when only the slightest adjustment toe the aperture is made.  Apparently this has something to do with a corrosion that builds on the electronics.  A simple cleaning cures it.  But if you live in a more humid region such as on the coast etc, the issue will likely return, as it has with every one of the five Nikkormats I’ve owned.  The meter is still accurate, but you just need to be patient with the needle as it flies out of control and then will land back in the right spot.  This is fine for slower shooting.  But it’s no good for the weddings that I used to carry my FTn’s and FT2 to.  Sadly, my small feet of three Nikkormats has largely become grounded, having been replaced with newer, less fun bodies with more stable electronics.

Yes, despite all the dependability and robust construction I patron in the lines above, there is this one nagging issue for those of us who feel we need a meter.  But, the Nikkormats and I have had some fantastic times together and while I’ve owned five over the years, I don’t think I’ll let these last three leave my collection in the foreseeable future.  They see use as back-up cameras, fun cameras and disposable cameras in harsh weather such as the rainy Matt & Kim concert that Steph and I photographed last year.  I’d always recommend Nikkormats to anyone looking for a cheap Nikon body who maybe lives in the midwest (!) and enjoys the haptics of full manual shooting.  Below are some of my favorite Nikkormat images.

D.C. Metro – Nikkormat FTn | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 SC | AGFA Vista 400
New York Times Best-Selling Author Jill Santopolo – Nikkormat FTn | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 SC | Kodak Tmax P3200
Tricia‘s Wedding –  Nikkormat FT2 | Nikkor 85mm 1.8 AI’d | Kodak Portra 160
Model, designer, Vivica Hallow – Nikkormat FT2 | Nikkor 135mm 2.8 Q | Kodak Ektar 100
Old International truck – Nikkormat FT2 | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 SC | Fuji Acros 100
My wife & photographer, Stephanie Lee – Nikkormat FTn | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 SC | Kodak Tmax P3200
The first girl I ever photographed with a manual camera back in high school, I later did Teresa’s family photos – Nikkormat FT2 | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 SC | Kodak Portra 400
Nikkormat FTn’s are great for Macro due to their heavy weight and Mirror Lock-Up feature -Nikkormat FTn | Nikkor-P 55mm 3.5 Micro | Fuji Pro 800 Z
Author/Editor Liesa Abrams & James Mignogna‘s Wedding – Nikkormat FTn | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 SC | Kodak Tmax P3200
Animal Planet Producer, Patrick Keegan – Nikkormat FT2 | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 S | Kodak Portra 400
My wife is cheating on me with her Nikkormat FTn!  Fair enough.

What Nikkormat model is your favorite?  Considering buying one?

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Contact Johnny Martyr 


31 thoughts on “Nikkormat, Brutish & Beautiful

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  1. You are preaching to the choir here. I recently found some old photo magazines from the 70’s in a junk shop, and was surprised at how inexpensive the Nikkormats where. I grew up in an upscale university town, and i remember if you had a Nikkormat, you really had it going on. My personal favorite is a worn black “Nikomat” FTn. I prefer the flat advance levers for some reason. It hasn’t gotten out much since I discovered the FM-10, but after the novelty wears off, I’m sure I’ll get back to it. Great pictures by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this very well written and informative piece. Picked up an FTN recently and love it ( almost more than my Olympus OM1n ). Your title sums it up. This camera is a joy to use.
      Enjoy your images too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is interesting to see that a Nikkormat is/was used for Professional work. I picked up an FTn new in the late 1960’s, and used it until the Nikon FM arrived. A college friend who had been using a Canon FT made some noise about the “Nikkormat shuffle,” but I countered that open aperture metering made up for that. My college go-to duo were the 35mm f/2 and 85mm f/1.8 Nikkors, with a Soligor 90-230mm f/4.5 to reach out. A travel-study program in the Summer of 1970 took me to Japan, along with reloaded Kodak Snap-Caps full of High Speed Ektachrome (ASA 160). I should have packed some Kodachrome-X, but what I really needed was an ASA 100 slide film. I did try Fujichrome and Sakuracolor R100, which have faded away over time, while the Ektachromes are/were still OK. Film speeds back then barely reached E.I. 1600, using Tri-X Pan souped in Diafine or Acufine. Kodak 2475 was sorta available, if you didn’t mind curled up strips of processed film. As for color film, ASA 400 wasn’t yet available, since Kodak kept Kodacolor-X at ASA 80 and GAF’s Anscochrome 500 was more like 250-320. Great times, even if the film was (relatively) slow, the cameras were fast workers.


    1. It’s not only the “Nikkormat Shuffle,” but the “Nikon Shuffle.” I have to do the same thing with my F2sb. But I am happy to do it!

      I’ve certainly used my Nikkormats for paid work but so have many noteworthy photogs. First who comes to mind is Greg Marinovich of “The Bang Bang Club.”

      Sounds like you’ve got some fantastic stories and experiences to share! Thanks for reading/commenting!


  3. You are preaching to the converted, I own three FTns, one FT2, one FT3 and a pair of EL’s. The Nikkormat line is a nice solid no nonsene cameras, that can achieve greatness within their constraints (jumpy meter and only going to 1600 ISO).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The wisdom of the internet is that the FT and FTn require expensive battery adapters or Wein cells in place of the mercury originals. Well, my experience is that my FTn meters just fine with a modern 1.5V alkaline LR9 / EPX625. That’s even with the 100 ISO slide film I mostly use. I check it occasionally against a modern camera or an iPhone meter app and it never seems to be more than a half-stop off. Certainly good enough for a camera that cost me £50.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clive, that’s cool to know. I have heard this about various classic cameras. Alternative battery options are certainly good to know about and glad it’s worked for you. Until I see an electrician or camera repair technician recommend using something other than the manufacturer’s recommendation though, I can’t endorse this to others or use a 1.5 in place of a 1.35 myself. For me, it’s not too much trouble to support Wein Cell and I don’t want to provide inaccurate information to the film community. I’m quite sure the 1.5’s work fine in most, if not all cases though! Thanks for your comment.


  5. JM – my “go-to” is a beater plain-prism F. Recently started using an FT (pre-FTn, so no Nikon Shuffle, and simple field metering). I’ve done nothing to it since getting it “as is” from KEH other than re-foamed it and put in a Wein cell, meter seems to work, agrees with my LunaPro.
    Other than the few obvious differences in handling, it’s like using the F with a built in meter. Same solid brick that uses great glass. What a treat. It will need to see more use.


    1. Hey Retro, I’m a bit confused. Are you talking about a Nikkormat FT? So far as I understand, the Nikkormat FT is the same as the FTn but has an averaging meter instead of center weighted and a few other small differences. One still needs to do the Nikon Shuffle to mount a lens with this camera, else the meter would not “know” what the aperture range of the lens is.


  6. FT, not FTn. You are correct about the metering (averaging vs. center weighted). And the frame counter does not have a metal ring surround, just a glued-on lens, and no shutter speed display in the viewfinder. And no Nikon Shuffle…it’s a manual indexing system (I think that’s why FTs are really dirt cheap even compared to FTns). Instead of the ratchet indexing ring attached to the indexing prong, there is a aperture scale on an underlying ring between the shutter speed ring and the prong ring (my guess is, the ring that carries the rheostat wiper), and a matching ASA scale on the prong ring. These scales are on the right upper quadrant when facing the lens/camera. When changing to a lens with a different maximum aperture, the user pushes a little metal tab (lower left quadrant) and rotates the two rings relative to each other to line up the max aperture with the ASA. What you’re doing is setting the correct relationship of the prong to the rheostat wiper on the metering system. It sounds more complicated than it is. Probably only a hassle if rapid lens changes are part of your gig. None at all for me since especially since I generally lean of a couple of f/2 lenses (50mm, 35 mm), and my shooting is not at all hurried (I’ve got digital for that).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Retrokrank, I too own an FT (not FTn) and love it! Do you know how to step-down meter on it with a Nikkor D lens? I heard that the prong should stay aligned to the red dot (my ring actually clicks in that position, so this feels right) but should the max aperture also be alignment to the iso as usual? I find that when I meter this way I get an incorrect reading… Thoughts?


  7. Lamberto – With any F-mount lens lacking the external metering shoe, you have to do stop-down technique to use the internal meter. Two things have to happen – first, tell the camera how much light the lens can maximally deliver – rings should be indexed to the maximum apeture of the lens in question (smallest f/stop number), the position the prong at the red dot, as you suspect. Second, you have to tell the meter how much light you plan to use so that it can give you a reading. For this you hold down the stop-down button (next to the prism, in front of the shutter release button) and turn the aperture ring until the needle lines up where you want it. As you go to smaller apertures of course the image will get darker since you’re letting less light in.

    The prong/shoe arrangement moves the rings on a rheostat, telling the meter what aperture the lens will close down to when the shutter fires; setting to the red dot means the meter “believes” the light is being delivered by the indexed maximum aperture (what you set using the tab). If you’re not familiar with the full-aperture metering mechanism on Nikons, do two things. With no lens on the camera, fire the shutter at some slow speed like 1/8, while looking into the camera towards the mirror. To the left of the mirror you’ll see a lever that moves down/up exactly as the mirror moves up/down. Pushing the stop-down button also moves that lever. Now look at the back of the lens (any Nikon lens as far as I know), you see a small tab (3-4mm) on the right side as you look through the back of the lens. Gently move that spring-loaded tab – the diaphragm is held full closed by a spring until you move that tab and overcome the spring, opening the diaphragm to full aperture (so you’ll see no change at the smallest f/stop number, and the diaphragm close as completely as possible at the largest f/stop number). When the lens is mounted on the camera, the lever inside the camera holds that tab so the diaphragm is full open. When you fire the shutter, the lever moves the tab to let the diaphragm close down to the set f/stop aperture, then returns to rest position to re-open the diaphragm, all in the amount of time the mirror is up.

    Cool, isn’t it!

    This kind of mechanism was still not universal in the early 70s when I got into photography. There were still common SLRs sold that either required stop-down metering or only opened the diaphragm when the film was wound/shutter cocked, although all Nikon SLRs right from the start had the full automatic full-aperture metering feature. I felt so lucky to get a Nikkormat and have the latest technology!

    Buon Natale!


  8. My wife still has her FTN from university 35 years ago, I bought one recently and re-covered it, and bought a non-working EL to harvest some screws from, to make mine nearly perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I have 3 nikkormats. 2 FT2 and one FT3. I bought my first one in 1976 while working in Amsterdam. I still have the same camera today. I recall buying the 200mm F4 lens for it which I also still have and it takes perfectly sharp images. Superb lens for portraits. I should know I have hundreds of my daughter. I recall years ago talking to a Nikon repair guy as he was going to repair my Nikon FM2 with a failed shutter. I asked him what was in his opinion the most reliable Nikon made at the time. He said the model that never needs a repair is the Nikkormat. 44 years later my FT2 still looks good and works perfectly. I only changed the seals. I even checked the shutter speeds with a electronic speed tester and they are still good.
    All of my 3 Nikkormats the 120th speed measures around 100, and the 1,000 measures around 750. All speeds from a 60th to 1 second are actually just about perfect. Considering they are 100 % mechanical I say it is a credit to the Nikon engineers of the day.
    If you see one for sale dont ever be afraid to buy it.
    Final comment, I have a Leica MP and everyone talks about the smooth film advanced, the Nikkormat film advance feels every bit as good as a Leica. I would never say the Nikkormat is a poor mans Nikon. Brass body, precision build and a marvel of analog gears and springs.


    1. Oddly, it’s unusual to find these cameras for sale serviced, probably part of the reason for their low price point. Definitely good to have them CLA’d though. The FT2 is my favorite model, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! Oh and btw, the “foam cushion” is actually a light seal also!


  10. Very interesting review and comments. Back in December, I bought another FT2 off ebay, but it didn’t arrive before I left town for a few months. Now I’ve returned and opened the box to find it in really excellent condition, just a few marks on the baseplate, with a 50mm f2 in mint condition. It even arrived with working battery and some film already loaded! I now have three of these bodies, with this one seemingly in the best condition (will have to shoot some with it to be sure). I bought these originally to use with my non-Ai lenses. Now they compete with my F2 for attention. Nice to pair with my D5500 for use of those old lenses.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Along with my F2’s I also own several Nikkormats, FT2, FT3, EL and EL2 bodies.
    All are terrific reliable cameras. The EL series are especially underappreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

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