5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Nikkormat – By Greg May

February 28, 2018

My neighbour called around a few weeks ago with a box, a big box, full of cameras. They belong to her father who, as with many things, is moving inexorably onward in time. No longer what he once was he’s moved into care with other people and his possessions are moving on to other homes. From what I know of him he was an avid photographer, and the box I was handed “to see if there was anything worth keeping” was a veritable treasure trove. A Contax 2, a Nikon F2 with 7 pro lenses, an old Brownie Mk1, and among other things a Nikon Nikkormat.

It needed some persuasion to get going. As it turned out, a roll of film was still embedded in the housing and took some… coaxing to come free. Luckily, a few shots were saved from this ancient roll of Kodak Gold. But that is for another post.  It took a while before I could source a compatible battery for the light meter, and that it worked was a joy, having read many reports saying it would constantly underexpose due to modern batteries being more powerful. Last time I checked, voltages and currents haven’t changed much from the SI units of old.

Grabbing a roll of tried and tested Kentmere 400 I went for a lunchtime wander around the streets of Manchester, and later my home town. The Nikkormat is a joy to use. Simple, intuitive as only a basic film SLR can be, and relatively lightweight.  The lens, a 50mm f2, is great.

The Nikkormat is decent enough that any image errors were down to my home processing rather than the camera itself. It’s one I’d happily pick up for myself if I saw it going cheap while out and about. Now, to run a few rolls through the F2, and fix that Contax2, oh and the Brownie…..

All photos, Kentmere 400, home developed in Ilford chemicals, scanned on a Plustek 8200i.

Website – https://gregorymay.ie
IG – https://www.instagram.com/gregory.c.may/

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  • Reply
    February 28, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Nice camera! The original Nikkormat Ftn was my first serious camera. As for the light meter battery, you really do need to use one with a constant 1.35 volt output. That is why mercury cells were so common in camera use from the 1960s through the early 1980s; they had a highly steady voltage output. Try the inexpensive hearing aide batteries. When you activate one, only uncover one of the air holes, and the cell will last months. Have fun.

  • Reply
    Peter Boorman
    February 28, 2018 at 11:56 pm

    That brought back some happy memories: I spent seven months working with a pair of Nikkormats in the desert in Northern Iraq in 1983-’84. Extreme temperature variations, lots of dust, and they never gave me the slightest trouble, continuing to feel silky smooth the whole time.

    Mostly happy memories – thanks to IS some of the objects and places I photographed with them now exist only as those photographs, and I have no idea what has now become of the happy, smiling, tough Yezidi Kurd workmen we employed out there.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      March 1, 2018 at 7:10 am

      I must say I was really impressed at how it handled as a “basic” camera. It just felt….right.

      That would be an interesting story if you still have some of those images! Get onto Hamish.

      • Reply
        Peter Boorman
        March 1, 2018 at 12:01 pm

        I have the ones I took as personal shots (mostly on a Pentax Spotmatic or a Kiev 4a) but not most of the ‘work’ ones from the Nikkormats. How long it would take me to find them is a different question, however!

  • Reply
    March 1, 2018 at 12:59 am

    Interested on how you get on with the Contax II, I have a Contax III which is the same but with a selenium meter on he top and I didn’t really get on with it. Debating whether to give it another chance or just sell it on.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      March 1, 2018 at 7:08 am

      Do it! Worst case you shoot a roll of film and you get nothing back, not the end of the world really. FWIW, I tend to use the meter to clarify my choice…and I don’t always agree with it 🙂

  • Reply
    Tom Aspin
    March 1, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    People may accuse me of heresy, but once I’d started shooting with my FT2, My NikonF spent a lot more time on the shelf.
    The Nikkormats just feel so good in the hand, and the position of the shutter speed dial around the lens is just inspired.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      March 16, 2018 at 8:44 am

      It’s simple, and it works. What is not to like. But you’re correct about the way it is laid out, it works well.

  • Reply
    Karl Valentin
    March 2, 2018 at 2:05 am

    Took me a while to run into a real jewel Nikon made a long time ago.
    All thoughts were fixed to a mechanic camera as a “real” inspiring thing
    but on the other side I sometimes missed the right moment rejusting
    the settings – the Nikkormat EL changed that.
    Timeautomatic is a pleasure to use and this piece Nikon created still
    workes after decades like a swiss clock.
    Togther with a hand of these old primes this is and will always be my first pick.
    Nikkor Q 3,5 135 as a sample of outstanding bokeh and razorsharp at its full open
    Nikkor P 3,5 55 Micro as a universal tool for almost everything
    Nikkor N 1,4 35 is a beast hard to handle but if you can the results are just a dream

    • Reply
      Greg May
      March 16, 2018 at 8:44 am

      Interesting, I’ve not tried the Nikkor N – why such a beast?

      • Reply
        Karl Valentin
        May 11, 2018 at 6:54 am

        The Nikkor N 1,4/35 or Nikkor S 1,2/55 are really something special.
        If you use them wide open at full aperture you just have a thing line
        of DoF and for me it must be exact at the point or the picture fails.
        Also the character of these lenses dramatically change if you stop
        down a few steps to 4,0 or 5,6 like it would be a complete difference
        I love street, concerts and portraits and for the last task a 50mm
        isnt really my first pick – even worse a 35mm wideangle with its
        distortion – but again breaking the rules sometimes can work and bring
        you outstanding results if you know how to handle it.
        Composition – DoF – Background – Expression must fit together !

  • Reply
    Karl Valentin
    March 14, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Any thoughts why the Nikkor H 2,0/50 has this positive reputation ?
    Every time I tried one it dosnt seem so sharp or special like people
    talk about it even the Bokeh isnt great at all compared to the Nikkor
    S 1,4/50 or the outstanding Nikkor S 1,2/55……

    • Reply
      Greg May
      March 16, 2018 at 8:43 am

      It’s not all about the Bokeh. Not even close. One does not always shoot wide open.

      Each and every lens has its own character. Lenses are like people. We all do not look for the same thing in our lenses as we do in our partners. Hence why we are so varied in what we chose to enjoy, or rate as attractive. How a lens renders an image is as personal as this choice. Some you may like, rate and enjoy, others… not so much.

    • Reply
      Flavio Colker
      December 13, 2018 at 10:57 pm

      The 50 f2.0 has less distortion, higher contrast and lighter weight; I suspect it´s also sharper also than the 1.4 and 1.2.
      But I don´t care about bokeh: i want zero distortion and good handling from lenses.

  • Reply
    August 14, 2018 at 3:07 am

    I’ve used a NIkkormat FTn for 44 years. Easy, reliable. Over those years I’ve added others (F, F3, FM, FE, other Nikkormas), each with their own charms. But the FTn remains the best allrounder, rivalled perhaps by the EL.

  • Reply
    August 14, 2018 at 3:15 am

    Moving on to lenses:
    I find that the 50 f/2 on an FTn (or an FT) is a near-perfect combination. But I also use the Nikkor O 35 f/2 not infrequently….Fomapan 100 / green filter / the Nikkor O on an FT or FTn in the park is a particular favorite combination, especially if there is just a little fog about. Develop in D76 1:1 for 8.5 minutes and I scan the negatives, no maniipulation.
    On the Nikkormat EL, the 50 f/1.4 feels more at home. Just a difference in the cameras. I think how we see starts with the camera, no different than the way one rides a bicycle or drives a car – the machine does make a difference in how one views oneself in the context of surroundings, and as photographers we are engaged in capturing that context. Yes, it’s all about the optics, but I find that the choice of lens often follows which body feels right for the day’s mood.

  • Reply
    December 10, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    Nikkormat FTn is a tank camera. Very simple and easy. When I opened first Nikkormat (to repair) I was curious what can break there back then. It was always easy fix. Nice and good built camera. mmmm . Anyway, for every Nikon non ai shooter, I would recommend to try (at least) Nikkor O 35mm f2 lens (or O.C. version – more kinda coated :D). I must say, I was blown off by capabilities of this lens. Honestly, I have never seen better colours from any Nikkor pre-ai glass after shooting Portra 800 with it. Yep, stop talking, write review for site. Got it. 😀

  • Reply
    May 11, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    don’t ask me how it all started out, I absolutely can’t recall. I must have snatched an EL in one of the numerous camera shops in Amsterdam, early seventies. I just didn’t use anything else for decades. It was as if there only existed 1 camera in this world. Those days are gone, yet should be revived. I can still feel the weight of my EL (actually, EL’s; I bought a 2nd one for the ease of not having to switch lenses) in my hand. I loved its simplicity, and I guess I still do….

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