Nikkormat EL
5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Nikkormat EL – By Stephen Curzon

January 15, 2022

About a year ago I was contacted, via my wife, by a friend of hers whose friend (hope you’re keeping up here!) had an old camera she was looking to sell. Somehow, I have the reputation of someone who will buy such things. It turned out to be a Nikkormat EL, in pretty good shape. It also came with a Nikkor 50mm F1.4 lens, and a Sigma zoom. I offered what I thought was a fair price, and after a little haggling, a deal was done. In truth, I probably paid a little more than the kit was worth, but it’s a nice chunky SLR from the 70s, and I do like it. The zoom, not so much, but it’s there if I need it.

Of course, the battery had long expired, so there was a certain amount of trust that everything worked as it should. Now, where to put the battery? Eventually after scouring the internet, I find that it is tucked inside the lens opening down below – very strange! In went a new battery, and everything worked perfectly. I loaded up some Kodak Ultramax 400 and away I went happily snapping. Or, at least for around 15 frames. Then, I’m sorry to say the camera sat in a display cabinet for the next 12 months.

The EL was one of the first from the Nikon stable to have aperture priority, I believe. I didn’t use this to begin with, trusting fully manual in preference. It really is a lovely camera to handle. It’s quite heavy, really substantially put together, and it has a reassuring heft to it. Another slightly idiosyncratic feature is the frame advance lever also acts as the on/off switch. That is, you pull the lever out a tad to switch the camera on. I believe this caused some consternation to left-eyed photographers, in that when they raised the camera to their left eye, the lever stabbed them in the right eye! As happily I’m right-eyed, this didn’t affect me.

A couple of weeks ago the EL managed to catch my eye (not with the frame advance lever!) whilst sitting forlornly in the display cabinet. I dusted it off, and resolved to finish and develop the film, this time utilising the aperture priority mode. So, I took some more shots around the house and garden and ordered some Bellini C41 chemicals. On last Thursday evening I developed the film.

I was very pleased with the results. First a word about the Bellini chemistry. It is a breeze, and as quick to use as a B&W developer. The temperature needs to be higher of course, and to maintain 38 degrees C you need to have a system (I use the Cinestill TCS-1000 and a “sous vide” tank), but the results are excellent. The Kodak Ultramax 400 film was also a revelation. It had the slightly muted colours I so admire in the “classic chrome” film sim on my Fuji digitals. The 50mm F1.4 Nikkor is also an absolute delight. Sharp, but with lovely creamy bokeh when wide open.

A path meandering through misty trees

Sunlight through misty trees

A path through an autumnal scene

A gnarled tree with misty background

A ditch with two trees in the mist as background

As said above, the camera is a joy to use. I wouldn’t be put off by the weight – in fact I think it helps to keep the camera steady for slow-ish, say, 1/30th shots. It seemed to produce very well exposed images with both the manual and the aperture priority modes. I would thoroughly recommend the EL if you get the chance of picking one up… Unless you are left-eyed of course!

Steve Curzon Photography
Steve Curzon – Flickr
Steve Curzon – Instagram

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  • Reply
    ben heijermans
    January 15, 2022 at 10:27 am

    My first camera, I bought 2 of them, being a student: black and silver. Still have them. The emotional attachment is quite strong 🙂

    • Reply
      Stephen Curzon
      January 15, 2022 at 9:15 pm

      I can see why this camera would elicit an emotional attachment. 👍

  • Reply
    January 15, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    Lovely photos Stephen! It’s hard to tell, but I think I see a slightly yellow tone in the lens glass. If it does look a bit yellow, then it may be one of the radioactive 50/1.4s of the era. My own FE2 lens (a bit “newer” than yours) is definitely yellow, and it does set off a Geiger Counter guite nicely! The “yellowish” Pentax 50/1.4 of the same era does the same. Just a note of caution!

    • Reply
      Stephen Curzon
      January 15, 2022 at 6:14 pm

      Thanks Dave! Yes, I have a couple of Zuiko 50mm F1.2 as well. Could probably power the house! 😊

      • Reply
        Kurt Ingham
        January 15, 2022 at 8:07 pm

        There is more danger from dropping it on your foot than fro the negligible amount of radiation generated by this lens and ones like it

  • Reply
    5 Frames with a Nikkormat EL – By Stephen Curzon - Traxense
    January 15, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    […] post 5 Frames with a Nikkormat EL – By Stephen Curzon appeared first on […]

  • Reply
    Fred Nelson
    January 15, 2022 at 5:56 pm

    Nice write up. Love the photos!

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    January 15, 2022 at 8:06 pm

    You put it to good use!

  • Reply
    Castelli Daniel
    January 15, 2022 at 9:37 pm

    I bought it’s brother – the Nikon EL with my first paycheck from my first teaching job in 1977! I didn’t realize how good they were; traded it for a Nikon F. It’s still a great camera!

  • Reply
    David Hume
    January 15, 2022 at 9:45 pm

    Nice shots Stephen – which I’d say is more a result of your eye than the camera, but that’s by the by. The EL was my first Nikon too, in the late 80s already pretty old. I’m left handed/left eyed, and I bought the AW (auto winder) that sat on the bottom and and solved the poke-problem. Actually this may have been for the EL2 – I can’t remember. I bought the EL2 mainly because it said “Nikon” on the front instead of “Nikkormat” and I thought that looked more pro. How shallow of me. The rendering of the lens in those shots looks really nice – are they wide open? I must say the 50 1.4 does not suit me. I way prefer the 50 2.0 or 1.8. I find the 1.4 really slow to focus and a bit soft and low contrast wide open, but there you go. It might be because my early Nikons just had the 2.0 and it’s what I was used to.

    • Reply
      Stephen Curzon
      January 16, 2022 at 8:32 am

      Thank you David. I think some of the shots were wide open – for example the one with the tree in the foreground, as I wanted to throw the background into bokeh.

  • Reply
    John Austin
    January 16, 2022 at 1:20 am

    It’s funny. Just an hour ago, before I saw this article, I was just thinking about my EL-2. I already had an Fe-2 but stopped using it despite the more modern features, in favor of my EL-2. Why? The heft of the camera made me believe I was using a sturdier and more professional camera. Sure, we all know that neither camera was a pro level F3. At the time and with my budget, it was good enough for me, especially since both cameras use the same glass that I now use on my F3 (which I bought used, later when I had the money).
    I loved my EL-2 until I started using the F3. After that, it sat on the shelf where it remains today. Perhaps I should dust it off and give it some love?

  • Reply
    January 16, 2022 at 4:53 am

    Your photos taken in mellow light are absolutely superb. Well done! That Nikkor 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens is one of the best from that era. All the major companies were competing to make the best ƒ/1.4 lenses that they could, including the Leitz 1.4 R lens, Pentax SMC Takumar, Rokkor, and Canon. Even today, unless you are a pixel-peeper, I doubt you could see any difference on normal prints or on web display between any one of these 1970s/1980s ƒ/1.4 lenses and one of the contemporary 15-element behemoths.

    Oh, and great camera. It is another example of Nikon’s meticulous craftsmanship and materials.

  • Reply
    Stephen Curzon
    January 16, 2022 at 8:35 am

    Thank you! Lovely comments, much appreciated.

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