SLRs

Nikomat FT2 review: Because photography isn’t complicated enough – by Aaron Gold

March 13, 2020

If you’re a die-hard Nikon fan—not someone who merely enjoys Nikons, but one of those folks who absolutely refuses to even look at any other type of camera—then do me a favor and go away. For the love of all that is holy, please, I beg of you, do not read any further.

Don’t worry—Nikon’s reputation will escape this review intact. I plan to tell the world that my Nikomat FT2 is an outstanding camera. But I also plan to talk about the ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated way this relic of an SLR goes about its business, and you’re probably not going to like that.

So spare yourself. Spare us. Go read Joe Monat’s Leica M6 review so you can understand how inadequate you make the rest of us feel.

Are the Nikon-heads gone? Good. Now we can talk.

One of the first photos I made with the FT2, when I was still trying to figure out how the damn thing worked. I’m kind of amazed it came out. Shot on Kodak Tri-X @ 400.

Welcome to my review of the Nikomat FT2, and if by some chance you think I’m spelling the name wrong, I’m not—Nikomat is the name applied to Nikkormat cameras sold in Japan. So HAH!

Oh, sweet Jesus, I’m turning into one of those hyper-annoying Nikon owners already. Damn my eyes.

And now I’ve written 200 words and haven’t told you anything. I really am turning into a Nikon owner!

Nikkormat was Nikon’s consumer line of cameras from the early days when they didn’t want to sully the pro-level Nikon brand, before they figured out that a bit of sullying would sell a crap-ton of cameras. My Nikomat was one of a bunch of SLRs my friend Mark gave me when he learned I was getting back into film photography. The FT2 was the second-oldest camera in the box, and yet it was in the best condition. It looked like it hadn’t been used much, and that should have been my first clue. Why would someone who had such a good camera avoid using it?

I now know why: Because it is, I am pretty sure, the strangest SLR ever produced by a mainstream camera manufacturer. I’m not entirely convinced that Rube Goldberg wasn’t the chief engineer. (Youngsters: Wikipedia time.)

Let’s start with the shutter speed, which is set not by a dial up top but by a collar around the lens. The idea, as explained to me by an Olympus apologist (most of the OM-series cameras use the same setup), is that you can adjust the shutter speed with your left hand without taking your finger off the shutter button. Well, that makes sense.

The FT2’s shutter speed adjustment collar

Except this totally doesn’t apply to the Nikomat, because the dial is too stiff to use with your fingertips. I was taught to support the camera with my left hand and set exposure and shoot my right, but the only way to adjust the FT2’s shutter is to transfer the weight of the camera to the right hand, grasp the shutter adjustment firmly between your thumb and forefinger, muscle it into position, then the shift the weight back to the left hand to take your picture. I’m used to it now, but it still slows me down.

Incorporated into the shutter speed collar is a small, precision-engineered device apparently designed for the express purpose of destroying fingernails. Coincidentally, it also sets the film speed.

The Nikkormat FT2 is seriously heavy—and remember, this is coming from a guy who owns a Pentax KX. With a 50mm lens on the front and no neck strap or film, the FT2 weighs a staggering two-and-a-third pounds. For those of you not in ‘Murica, that’s just over a kilogram of camera. My Pentax MX weighs three-quarters of a pound (360g) less. Hell, my car weighs three-quarters of a pound less.

Even the usually-simple task of opening the back is unnecessarily difficult. Instead of pulling up on the rewind lever (which you have to do anyway to provide clearance for the film cassette), there is a tiny metal latch on the camera’s edge. Anyone lacking decent-length fingernails will be unable to load the camera—and that’s every FT2 user, thanks to the aforementioned film-speed adjustment gizmo.

The FT2’s film door release. Those without intact fingernails need not try, and those who have successfully set the film speed probably don’t have intact fingernails.

But the strangest thing about the Nikomat FT2 is the way you mount the lens.

You may have noticed those little “rabbit ears” on Nikkor lenses. All of the Nikkormats, save the short-lived FT3, make use of those. They engage a meter-coupling pin on the camera body to tell the camera what aperture is selected.

In order to mount a lens, one must first set the lens aperture ring to f/5.6, then push the coupling pin on the camera clockwise as far as it will go—otherwise the pin and ears won’t line up. Next, you put the lens on the camera and twist it… backwards. Nikon lenses turn counter-clockwise to go on and clockwise to come off, opposite of everything else in your life (bottle caps, volume knobs, nearly every other 35mm SLR camera lens, etc).

If you’ve never seen Nikon’s infamous “rabbit ears” in action, well, here you go. They engage a pin to communicate the selected aperture to the camera.

Now the lens is on, but you’re not done—you have to twist the aperture dial as far as it will go in one direction and then the other. This “tells” the camera the lens’ minimum and maximum aperture, the latter indicated by a little red dot on the side of the lens mount. (It’s kind of cool to see it pop into the right place.)

Now you can finally start the process of focusing the camera and setting your exposure, provided your subject hasn’t moved. Or died of old age.

To be fair to the Nikomat, the rigmaroles required to use it become second nature after a while. (I find myself racking the aperture dual back and forth on my Pentaxes, because it’s kind of fun.) I initially regarded them as quaint traits of an older camera, along with idiosyncrasies like the need for a silver-oxide (S76) battery instead of easier-to-find LR44 alkalines.

But then I discovered it isn’t an older design. The Nikomat FT2 was produced from 1975 until 1977, same as my Pentax KX, which has the shutter-speed control in the proper place, takes LR44s, and uses lenses that twist in the correct direction.

So why would I put up with this overweight, overcomplicated, fingernail-killing brick of a camera?

Because I love it.

Meet Wooden Dave, who stands guard at our friends’ Dave and Dori’s ranch. He looks a lot like Human Dave. The 2019 Saddleridge fire burned right to the property line, but Wooden Dave held it back. FT2, Kodak Tri-X @ 400.

You probably think I harbor a deep disdain for the Nikomat FT2, but the truth is the exact opposite—I am deeply, hopelessly, blindly in love with my Nikomat, to the point that I’ve shot more rolls with it than any other camera I own.

Why? What the hell is wrong with me?

Maybe it’s the pride one feels in mastering something that is difficult, or in possessing knowledge that few others have. Owning one of these cameras is like belonging to a secret club. If you don’t know how to position the meter-coupling pin, you don’t get to come to our meetings.

Maybe it’s the fact that the Nikomat FT2 is a mechanical camera, which I find vastly superior to electric cameras (something upon which I’ve already pontificated in my review-of-slash-loving-ode to the Pentax KX). The FT2’s shutter and winder have a very distinct feel, smoother and lighter and more refined than my other (Pentax, Minolta, Ricoh and even other Nikon) cameras.

The creepy lagoon at the former Zzyzx Mineral Springs Resort. If you’ve ever driven between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and passed the sign for Zzyzx Road, this is what lies at the end of it. Ilford HP5 @ 400.

Maybe it’s the fact that the Nikomat FT2 is something of a contrarian, and so am I.

Or maybe it’s just that it makes beautiful goddamn pictures. Mark gave me the camera with an off-brand 39-85 zoom that made ominous crunching noises when I turned the focusing ring, but happily I had some genuine Nikon manual-focus lenses—a Nikkor 50/1.4 and 28/3.5. That fast 50 in particular has become a favorite, and I consistently get good images from it.

Don’t tell the Nikon fanatics—their egos don’t need any expansion—but they really are on to something when they drone on and on about the superiority of Nikon lenses. And I don’t think there’s a much more cost-effective way to get into classic Nikkor glass than these old Nikkormat (and Nikomat) cameras. I regularly see FT2s like mine selling on the ‘Bay for $50 or less. Ditto the earlier FTn, which lacks a hot shoe, and later FT3, which eliminates the lens-mounting dance but can’t use some of the older lenses. Those lenses can be a bit dear—Nikon, y’know—but it helps that the Nikkormats (except for the FT3) can use early non-AI units that are incompatible with later-model Nikons.

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 is one of my favorites. Shot hand-held in dim room light on Ilford HP5+ @ 1600. The depth-of-field is super shallow.

I had a broken Nikon FE that I’ve since had repaired, so I now have an alternate way to shoot through those Nikon lenses, and I really should put the FT2 on a shelf. It’s in lovely condition and I don’t want to risk anything happening to it. But I know I won’t, because I love shooting with it. The Nikomat FT2 infuriated me with my first roll of film, but it’s since become a genuine favorite and a camera I’m happy to recommend to others. After all, who wouldn’t want an SLR that will confound them, delight them, and build their biceps, all at the same time?

Just don’t tell the Nikon fanatics how much I love the Nikomat FT2. And if they ask, tell them I’m off shooting with my $10 Ricoh KR-10 Super.

Nikomat FT2

“When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain. When you’re strange, no one remembers your name.” — The Doors

A quick post script: Our proprietor, Hamish Gill, reviewed the Nikkormat FTn and came to pretty much the same conclusions that I did. I swear on a stack of Kodak Darkroom Dataguides that I didn’t read his review until after I wrote mine. Even die-hard Nikon fans will, when pressed or threatened with torture, admit that these are bizarre-o camera.

See more of my pix on Flickr.

© 2020 Aaron Gold

Support 35mmc

For as little as $1 a month, you can help support the upkeep of 35mmc and get access to exclusive content over on Patreon. Alternatively, please feel free to chuck a few pennies in the tip jar via Ko-fi:

Become a Patron!

Learn about where your money goes here.
Would like to write for 35mmc? Find out how here.

39 Comments

  • Reply
    Alexander
    March 13, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Haha, I enjoyed reading this!

  • Reply
    Ross Attix
    March 13, 2020 at 11:15 am

    Aaron-I love the whole cantankerous thing you did here. You used it to mimic the personality of this Nikon, lovable but only once you overcome the obstacles cooked into it.

    I had an FT3, which as you mentioned is very similar but will automatically index to the lens when mounting.

    I got rid of mine years ago because it’s meter stopped working and I did not want to shoot it in that condition. Although heavy, there was a great “precision built” feel to it. That differentiated it from many other 35mm cameras in the same way a V Series Hasselblad was unique among many MF competitors. I can still “feel” the action of the Nikkormat when I would advance the film. That one feature was what attracted me in the first place.

    I’m glad you have grown to enjoy using yours. Reading this brought back great memories.

  • Reply
    Lou
    March 13, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Nikomats (Nikkormats) Rule

  • Reply
    Terry B
    March 13, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    What a hoot of a review! Gave me a good laugh on this cold and cloudless day. Warms the cockles, as we often say in the UK.
    I left my views of the FTn on Hamish’s original post, so I won’t go into more detail here, except to reiterate that I don’t like the shutter setting procedure Nikon adopted for the very reason(s) you point out. Otherwise, lovely cameras, with little to go wrong as long as they have been treated reasonably well during their lifetime.

  • Reply
    Clive W
    March 13, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    It happens, Aaron; after decades of thinking Pentax was all the SLR I’d ever want, I turned into a Nikon owner too, and it was one of these that did it. Mine was an FTN, but like you I rather enjoyed the in-joke of the indexing mechanism, if not the ISO setting. I did always feel the shutter speed ring turned the wrong way, though; turn it in one direction and the exposure needle moves in the other. But whatever you think of the ergonomics, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer solidity and functionality of the machine.

    I’ve just offloaded my FTN, but not before it led to an FE – and an FM2N, and an FG (of which, controversially, I like the FM2N the least, which may be material for an article some time.) See, it turns out I do value portability; the bulk of the FTN was its main reason for getting left at home once the smaller, newer cameras arrived.. But I also kind of like the way those scalloped ’60s Nikkor-S and -H lenses misbehave in the sunshine, which their more disciplined ’70s and ’80s descendants do not. I can use them in stop-down on the FE, of course, but I may yet go back for an EL to make a rabbit-eared mini-kit, but with aperture priority too.

  • Reply
    Nick Lyle
    March 13, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    I used a Nikkormat FTN as my sole camera for 25 years. It is an excellent machine, except for the weight and that fingernail breaking ISO tab. I used a key to adjust the ISO on that ftn. I now use an FT2 that a friend gave me and there is a secret release on the end of the shutter speed tab that allows the ISO tab to slide easily when you pull it out. I am puzzled by your difficulty with the shutter dial, which should turn easily without changing your grip. Your dial may be defective, you may be prone to exaggeration, or perhaps you have very weak hands. Are you holding the camera with your left palm underneath the lens? You should be able to control the shutter with your thumb on the shutter speed dial tab. The main thing that makes me veer towards other cameras is the great weight of the Nikkormat.

  • Reply
    David Hill
    March 13, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    I’m not a Nikonhead, but lissen. The thing about those Nikkormats and that shutter speed ring — (1) if its that stiff, it needs cleaning and lubrication. Muck gets under the shutter and pin rings, and eventually the contacts under the mount fail and the meter won’t pick up the shutter setting. (And for gods sake find a tech who knows what he’s doing – an amateur can mess up the contact brushes under there awful easy. Ask me how I know, or why my FT2 meter will never ever work again.)
    (2) The Grip: Most people seem to hold an SLR with the lens cradled in the web of the left hand, thumb underneath, fingers on top of the lens. That’s handy for focus and aperture, but its not terribly solid, and as you note, its hopeless to handle the Nik shutter speed ring. I won’t presume to assume how you’re holding your camera, but the /proper/ Nikormat Grip is reversed — camera sits in the left palm, thumb on the left side of the lens, fingers wrapped beneath to the right side. The thumb falls right on the Nik shutter adjuster, and moves easily to aperture or focus. If the camera is in good condition, the shutter ring moves easy under a thumb.
    . The Grip is a solider platform – the camera rests right on the butt of your palm instead of suspended in the fingers. Get used to it 🙂 The Nikkormat isn’t the only design that expects this grip: witness the Minolta SRT line–with that depth of field preview button under the lens mount–which falls right under the third finger if you’re using the bottom-side hold.
    . And yeah, I love lens mounting with the pre-Ai Nikons.. f/5.6, align the pin, lock in, wind on/off/on. Such a signature move, and so elegant when done smoothly 🙂 They /are/ lovely cameras, quirks and all.

    • Reply
      Aaron Gold
      March 13, 2020 at 6:48 pm

      Thanks for that tip, David, I will try that modified grip. You may well be right about the camera needed a cleaning, though when I voiced my concerns about my Pentax MX’s stiff and hard-to-use shutter speed dial, I had a bunch of people tell me I was wrong. I did have that camera serviced, and it turns out *they* were wrong — the MX simply has a lousy shutter speed dial.

      • Reply
        Chris
        March 14, 2020 at 6:15 am

        I would absolutely try a CLA. I have zero problems setting the shutter speed on my FTn with one finger.

  • Reply
    Jon Campo
    March 13, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    Good review, and nice pictures. I think you hit the nail on the head, these are great cameras for contrarians.They are the Saab 900 of the camera world. One gets used to the weird control setup and backward-focusing lenses pretty quickly, and after hauling one of these around all day you feel like you have really suffered for your art.My repair guy thinks these are the best deal going in film cameras today.

  • Reply
    Brian
    March 13, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    The Nikkormats use the Copal Square Shutter: rather than gave a complex linkage to a shutter speed dial on top of the camera, the designers chose to keep the speed selection simple. Anyone using a Kodak Retina or other leaf shutter based camera was used to this. The FT-2 has a release for setting the film speed, much better than the earlier FTn. And- best of all, the FT2 and FT3 use easy to find 1.5v button batteries. The Ftn used 1.3v Mercury. The FT3 has a flip-up Ai coupling pin, can be used with older non-Ai lenses in using stop-down metering. The F5.6 shuffle: “semi-Automatic indexing”, the original method of indexing a lens to a Nikon Photomic T, Nikon Photomic Tn, and Nikkormat FT: you had to set the ASA based on the maximum aperture of the lens. This was at a time when Canon, Pentax, and others relied on Stop-Down metering. Opening the back: most cameras of in the 60s work the same way. The Nikkormat is basically an updated Nikkormat FT. Zeiss is the reason for “Nikkormat” being used outside of Japan, Zeiss argued that Nikomat sounded too much like Ikomat.

    Weakest spot: tendency for shutter to lock-up, especially using “B” and advancing the film too quickly.

    My FT2 has been going strong for the last 45 years. The FT3, I’ve only had for 25.
    Now- what you need is a Nikon F2Sb. Or get a Nikomat EL, shutter speed and ISO on top deck. Mine is the ELw, takes the AW-1. AW stands for AWful.

  • Reply
    Roger B.
    March 13, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    Congratulations: You’ve mastered the Five Six Shuffle! Now you’re ready for an F Photomic Tn.

  • Reply
    Flashknappen
    March 13, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing your view! I too have a favourite heavy-weight SLR and prefer its heft to other lighter bodies.

  • Reply
    Lee
    March 13, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    Disclaimer: I own a Nikkormat FT2 and really like using it. I enjoyed reading your review but it made me wonder how familiar with Nikon cameras you are because you came across not knowing that the rabbit-ears and metering prong lens indexing was a defining feature of other, earlier, professional Nikon cameras like the F and F2 when paired with metered viewfinders. You failed to mention that the FT2, unlike previous versions of the Nikkormats/Nikomats like the FT and FTn, has a split prism focusing screen, making for very precise focusing. And the FT2 does take a single 1.5v LR44 battery to power the meter, rather than impossible to find mercury cell batteries. These are distinct advantages of the FT2.

    I also own an FE2 and can definitely attest to the heftier size and weight of the Nikkormat by comparison, but it does allow you to mount some seriously nice, less expensive Pre-AI glass. I bought a Pre-AI 105mm f/2.5 specifically to pair with my FT2. By the way, I also have a 28mm f/3.5 AI lens that I absolutely love for walking around and for landscapes. The Nikkormats also have a mirror lockup switch which is very useful if shooting longer exposures or on a tripod. The Nikkormats have a lot going for them, the FT2 in particular. They have a high value coefficient because you get a lot for what you pay, as your review accurately asserted. Nikon fan know this, appreciate this, and take advantage of this. Keep that FT2 rolling!

    • Reply
      Aaron Gold
      March 13, 2020 at 6:58 pm

      Lee, you are correct, I am new to Nikons and was surprised to learn how many other folks were as unfamiliar with the Nikon Shuffle as I was. Good point about a single battery and I have updated the review to indicate the need for just one. But I do believe you are incorrect about that battery being an LR44 — Da Book says silver oxide. Oddly, though, Da Book says “1.5-volt silver oxide battery” when, as I understand it, silver oxies are 1.55v while alkaline LR44s are 1.5v. Maybe they figured that Nikon awesomeness would overcome any problems with voltage throwing off the meter…

      Thanks Lee (and everyone) for the comments. This was a fun one to write.

      • Reply
        Nick Lyle
        March 14, 2020 at 2:05 pm

        The Nikkormat FT2 works fine with a range of modern batteries. Older models do not.

  • Reply
    Patrick Abe
    March 13, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    In the late 1960’s, I had just put aside a Canon FP with a malfunctioning 50mm f/1.8 FL lens and was looking for something else. Nikon F? That’s out of a college student’s budget, period. (The Photomic T finder? Maybe later, when I have more money.) I chose the Nikkormat FTN because it fit a “spend money on film and keep it simple” approach. I purchased the body, then added lenses as time and money would allow.
    I ended up with an unusual prime lens set: 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, and 85mm f1.8, which was fine for “wide to medium range” vistas. I had a 43-86mm f/3.5 zoom lens briefly, but found it didn’t focus close enough, was “less than sharp,” and optical distortion was slight but noticeable. This camera took a while to get used to, and my Canon FT-using classmate thought that the “f/5.6 to mount, close down and open up” meter coupling hand exercise was slower than the “just mount it” ethos of Canon or Minolta.
    As for the “around the lens mount shutter speed ring,” one got used to it, since I didn’t use other SLR cameras. Setting the shutter speed (and hoping the film speed slider on the bottom stayed put) was a one finger thing with time, though two fingers was a better practice. Like most cameras of the era, it endured the usual rough and tumble wear of the student photographer into the middle 1970’s, when the Nikon FM arrived, along with AI indexing.
    As a “look to the future,” I’d had all my Nikon lenses upgraded to AI/ADR as soon as possible, since buying new lenses was out of the question.
    I’d passed the Nikkormat FT2 and FT3 variations, since they weren’t major upgrades or I was set on the Nikon FM completely.
    Would I buy it again? Probably, since the Nikkorex F wasn’t available, and Nikkormat have a flair all their own that the Minolta SRT and Canon FT series didn’t. I could (in theory, at least) use Nikkor lenses that Professionals used for that “Life magazine/National Geographic look.”

    • Reply
      Roger B.
      March 13, 2020 at 7:14 pm

      Patrick: Beware the Nikkorex: It’s a Mamiya product with questionable reliability.

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    March 13, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    What a delightful read!

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    March 14, 2020 at 3:27 am

    Oh Jeez,
    I’m worrying about toilet paper, I just blew up the still where I was cooking up some hand sanitizer and then decided to sit down, drink a Corona w/lime and read you review. Talk about camera flashbacks…
    My first Nikkormat was the FTn model. It looked like it was milled from a solid block of special Nikon aluminum alloy. It equaled the Nikon FTn. I used it with the one oh five nikkor (silver barrel.) The Leica M2 was fitted with a 35mm Summaron. Both tough enough to be wrapped up in a towel or skivvies and tossed into a rucksack. Shot lots of Tri-X. My second Nikkormat was the ‘refined’ FT2. By refined I mean it’s like the tough kid getting a tattoo removed. I think it had a split-image focusing screen, it was painted black, and sported the 35mm f/2.0 Nikkor. The M2 by then has a 50mm Summicron. I loved locking the Nikkor on the camera. It was like shooting a bolt action rifle. There was authority to the action. (relax, those days of firearms & shooting are long, long gone.)
    Jon got it right when he compared it to the Saab 900. And, I’ve still managed to hold onto got the M2 (a VW Bug?)

  • Reply
    Gil Aegerter
    March 14, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    If you think an FT2 is too complicated, then I’d hate to introduce you to the complexities of the average chair or pencil.

    I thank god that I learned photography in the era before cameras weighed less than helium and required more onboard computing power than a space shuttle. My FT3 and F2 (the standard by which I measure all other film cameras) are happily clicking along, more than four decades after their birth.

    I once dropped my FT3 on a crowded bus in Tahiti and watched it bounce down the aisle to the rear. The other riders issued a collective gasp, but I assured them, “Pas de problem … c’est un Nikon!” They sighed and nodded their heads, and I collected the camera and went on shooting.

  • Reply
    Michael Hill
    March 14, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    Finally, a camera reviewer that can write! Cheers!

  • Reply
    George
    March 14, 2020 at 6:42 pm

    Leica is clinical and Nikon film cameras are more natural and produce softer images. Better for people and life. It’s similar to Sony vs Panasonic on color. Sony is colder (silver/blue) than Panasonic (more like Kodak Vision 50D film) seen on motion picture professional cameras. If you think 35mm film stills are challenging, try 35mm film at 24 FPS. 🙂

  • Reply
    Steve Ember
    March 15, 2020 at 4:13 am

    Thank you for both an informative – and entertaining, well written – introduction to this era of Nikon SLRs (even if they don’t say Nikon on the front!). I actually do remember that Nikon “shuffle” with the rabbit ears and the indexing pin – practiced by many Nikon practitioners who haughtily looked down at the kid screwing beautiful M42 Takumars into his humble Spotmatic, as they flourished their experienced wrists 😉
    I finally made the move from Pentax M42 mount cameras to Nikon in the mid-80s with the FE2 and a used FM as second body. But more recently I’ve expanded the Nikon fleet – nothing older than the FE – until I got curious about an EL2, which I take to be a functional forerunner to the FE. It’s not as heavy a beast – or as cantankerous to operate – as your Nikomat FT2, but there’s just something about that more massive feel…So naturally your review now has me thinking about trying out a Nikkormat or Nikomat of the type you described, especially as some other commenters have indicated the controls in question aren’t stiff by design. The more menu-driven it all gets out there, the more I’m attracted to the “comfort food” experience of a built-like-a-tank, built for the long haul, hefty monster with some classic Nikon glass up front.
    P.S: Loved your black and whites. And the classy shots of your “beast.”

  • Reply
    Andy Umbo
    March 15, 2020 at 11:01 am

    Back in the day (a term I use often now), it wasn’t unusual to find 35mm “pros” who used Nikon, with a few Nikomat/Nikormat bodies in their case, as well as the usual, just for knocking around! I had a few myself, mostly because I wasn’t a 35mm “pro” (made all my money with 4X5 and 8X10), so wanted to shoot 35 for myself without a lot of fuss and muss. As you said, the Nk/Nkr’s were “Nikon tweaky”, but I can say they all could stand a “professional” CLA from someone who knows them intimately; as they have little pins and levers that can easily get bogged down. Not unusual for a non-serviced-body to get a lens stuck on because some some pin on the inside didn’t retract. Great street camera, tho, stick a 35mm f/2 on and go to town! Also easy to bop someone in the bean who’s trying to rob you, it weighs a ton!

  • Reply
    Huss
    March 16, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    Very fun review! My FT2 has an easy to turn shutter speed dial. But my Pentax MX’s is too stiff and yes they all are like that.
    The film advance lever on the FT2 is delightful – much nicer and more solid feeling than the sloppy mess on the much vaunted Nikon F3 (and I have two of those..)

    Why you no mention the cool meter readout on the left side of the top plate? Kinda groovy that you can meter from the waist and so be all set before bringing the camera to eye.

  • Reply
    Neilson
    March 17, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    I had a couple of FT2s and an FT3 a few years ago when my GAS was at its worst. They were so cheap it was hard to resist buying them. The FT2 was my favorite for the features that Lee mentions: split prism focusing screen, modern battery, and the ability to use all the pre-Ai glass as well as any newer lens with rabbit ears. Buying the FT3 was pretty silly seeing as how I owned an FM2n but what can I say, I had GAS!

    Eventually I got rid of them. I never really warmed up to that shutter speed ring and I discovered that it’s pretty easy to either buy old lenses that have been Ai converted or get it done myself. I went back to my first love, the FM2n.

  • Reply
    Warren Heitzenrater
    May 1, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    I bought an FG later on, but only because i found a cheap motor drive somewhere that fit It was quicker than my ft2, but never felt as good. Nobody has mentioned that you could use a flash at 1/125 with this machine, because of the vertical metal shutter – completely different than the Nikon. I bought one with three lenses as my first SLR (after shooting for years with a Kodak pony and learning how to guess exposures), and then bought one for my brother. I thought you were SUPPOSED to hold a camera like that. I bought an Ftn too, because it was black. I koved having to index the shutter. The way that it sounded and the way that it felt. It wasn’t until I played with a friend’s F2 that i realized you could put shutter speed on top. I still have both if them, and those first three lenses.

  • Reply
    Paul
    May 1, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Back in the mid ’60’s I had a Nikon F. While traveling around Asia with the US Navy I saw a (at the time) brand new Photomic finder and just HAD to get one. It had the same prong/slot arrangement that your Nikormat had, actually it was Nikon’s original idea on how to couple lens and meter. By the time your camera came out the system was getting long in the tooth and more integrated versions were being brought to the market. That first Photomic finder hung over the lens enough that setting the f was a pain. After a while I got tired of being on the bleeding edge, took it off and went back to the sunny 16 rule.

  • Reply
    SPii
    May 1, 2020 at 11:36 pm

    I cut my photographic teeth on a Nikkoermat FT and FTn in the late ‘60s. They were cheap, well built, and used Nikkor F mount lens. I credit them with my understanding of the so called exposure triangle and other photographic lore (Weston zone metering?). Anyway, loved them….

  • Reply
    n3eg
    May 2, 2020 at 2:04 am

    Seems like this would be what you got if Russia had made a Nikon clone…

  • Reply
    A
    May 5, 2020 at 2:56 am

    I owned the earlier version the FTN (or Ft1). Everything you wrote about the FT2 is equally true for the FTN and yet I love it in every way and got great shots with it. The key: Have long sturdy finger nails on your left hand index finger. Also it is a good idea to develop strong muscles in that finger.

  • Reply
    Jeremy
    May 5, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    If they weren’t bizarre, they would be expensive. (like FM2Ns are now) I have an FTN and I like it despite myself. I lost the battery cover, which didn’t thread in properly anyway, so now there’s no need to set the film speed and shred my fingernails. No need to “Do the Nikon Dance” when attaching lenses either, and I can use my AF-D lenses without worrying that they don’t have The Claw. I’m getting better at Sunny 16, so that’s ANOTHER way my FTN makes it more complex.

    I keep thinking about getting an FM before they get too expensive, but I just can’t justify it with this $30 FTN in the arsenal.

    By the way, I just sent out my FE2 for service. Seems it is actually true that the 80s electronics are not as reliable as a good mechanical camera that has had a modicum of exercise.

  • Reply
    Aaron Gold
    May 5, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    “I just sent out my FE2 for service. Seems it is actually true that the 80s electronics are not as reliable as a good mechanical camera that has had a modicum of exercise.”

    Jeremy, this has been my experience as well — I inherited and FE that did not work at multiple shutter speeds (which I had repaired) and an FG that is DOA (so far have not).

    OTOH this might be a Nikon thing. I have Ricoh, Pentax, and Minolta cameras of the same era with electronic shutters (you’ll read about the Minolta soon) and all work just fine. I have heard other tales of Nikons of the early-mid 80s being unreliable, more so, I think, than with other cameras. All anecdotal, of course.

    Aaron

  • Reply
    Goofyfoot
    May 7, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    Bought my FTn in Baden Baden at the CA PX. , in 68. It replaced a Kodak 35. Came with the 50mm 1.4. Still think it was a great camera and was almost as good as my Kodak Belows w 127 film. Miss using them since film developing became so difficult.

  • Reply
    Robert Kay
    May 7, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    He should see the Nikkormat FT. It is even more fun to use. It was my first camera and introduction into photography, which lasted (professionally) over 25 years.

  • Reply
    Daniel
    May 10, 2020 at 2:23 am

    Terrifica article! I have a Nikkormat FT2 and agree with everything the author says: it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, but I love it! I got this camera a s a gift from someone who knew I had started to occasionally shoot film again with my trusty 1974 Minolta STR-T-303. With the Nikkormat came two lenses: a 50mm 1.8, and an 85mm 1,8. While I think the camera is great, I find the Rokkor lenses I use with the Minolta to be better optically. I think it has to do with the lens coating Minolta applied back then. In black&white it’s less obvious, so the Nikkormat is my b&w camera.

  • Reply
    Phil
    May 14, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Honestly, you think the FT2 is confusing, try using the original FT which has no lens indexing system, you have to dial in each lens’ maximum aperture using the ring on the mount, then mount each lens to the coupling pin at F5.6. I have both the FT and FT2, the FT2 is the easiest of the two. I like them both for slowing me down and making me think about photography, but I wouldn’t recommend either for a newbie to photography. The FT 2 was the first SLR I ever used, back in the late 70s, it still is my Dads camera, and brings back many memories.

  • Reply
    Phil
    May 14, 2020 at 10:36 am

    While I’m here, just a little correction; the FT3 will take older pre-AI lenses, it’s lens mount is like the first FM, you can flip up the little tab, meant for the AI and AIs lenses, and mount non-Ai glass, however to meter you need to stop the aperture down.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.