Nikkormat FTn: A competent companion for the consumer

Nikkormat FTn front view
Nikkormat FTn front view. (Daniel J. Scneider)

As the Nikon F dominated the professional market, the company brought the same level of quality to the advanced amateur with Nikkormats. The second generation of these was the FTn.

Made from 1967 through early 1975, the FTn featured several improvements over its short-lived predecessor, the FT, which was made from 1965 to 1967. A meter-less version, the FS, was launched at the same time as the FT and remained in production until 1971.

Chevrolet 6400 grill
Side-angle detail of a 1956-58 Chevrolet 6400 2-ton truck in the Baker neighborhood. (Daniel J. Schneider)

It was the FTn that introduced the “Nikon Shuffle” for lens aperture indexing. On the FT the process was similar, but more complicated (described roughly on Wikipedia). For the FT: set the lens aperture to f/5.6, slip it into the mount with the indexing fork aligned over the pin, twist the lens until it locks, and immediately run the aperture ring to the smallest, and then the largest, openings. The technique would survive more than a decade and through a number of models before AI (“Auto-Indexing”) lenses were introduced in 1977.

The other noteworthy improvement over the FT was a change to the metering method, from an all-over averaging to the center-weighted pattern that remains among the most popular metering modes even in today’s top digital cameras. Compared to the F and F2, the FTn lacks interchangeable viewfinders, accessory motor drive compatibility, and the split-image aid on the focusing screen.

The Nikkormat offered a considerable savings over the F2 — 30-50 percent depending on options — and yet sacrificed very little. The construction is similarly high-quality and the Nikkormat is compatibile with all the same Nikkor lenses.

Visually, the Nikkormat line established most of the design cues that would continue through the shift to AI lenses as the advanced amateur models moved from Nikkormat to the Nikon name. The design heritage can be seen on the FM2n, EM, FG and other models well into the 21st century.

Specifications

Built around a fully-mechanical, vertical-travel, metal focal-plane shutter, the Nikkormat FTn keeps up easily with competitors such as the Pentax Spotmatic and Canon’s FT series.

Nikkormat FTn front controls
Nikkormat FTn front controls and aperture coupling. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Center-weighted, open-aperture metering with a CdS cell (the only thing requiring the camera’s mercury battery) took 60 percent of its reading from the viewfinder’s 12mm center circle, and the remaining 40 percent from the rest of the viewfinder area. A match needle is visible in a window on the left-hand side of the top cover, as well as in the viewfinder.

A 4mm-diameter microprism focusing aid is visible in the center of the viewfinder screen, and the meter’s 12mm center sensing area is marked with a ring farther out. At the bottom of the viewfinder the selected shutter speed is visible in white (clear) with the next-higher and next-lower speeds seen to either side with a yellow tint. The viewfinder offers 92-percent coverage of the image area.

The shutter speed selector is a ring at the front of the lens mount, just behind the lens’s aperture ring. A complex mechanism, the shutter speed ring can be rotated by a knob at the lower left, and displays the speed on the top right of the ring. Speeds from 1/1000 down to 1 second, plus Bulb, are available.

Nikkormat FTn lens index mark
When the lens is indexed properly, the red mark on the Nikkormat FTn will indicate the maximum aperture. This is an f/2.0 lens. (Daniel J. Schneider)

On the top left of the ring, the maximum aperture of the lens is indicated by a small red dot along a scale marked from f/5.6 to f/1.2. After the Nikon Shuffle is performed, the dot should match the marked maximum aperture on the lens, or else the lens will have to be removed and re-mounted.

The bottom of the shutter speed selector ring features the film speed setting, which is also coupled to the light meter. Speed selections from ASA 12 to ASA 1600 are available and are selected by sliding a small silver tab one way or the other along the scale until the desired speed is visible in the center of the tab.

On the left side of the lens mount are the lens release button and the mirror-up switch, and to the left is a 10-second-maximum infinitely-variable self-timer lever.

On the bottom cover a standard tripod socket is flanked by the battery cover and take-up spool release button. The rewind knob on the left-hand end of the top cover features a flip-out crank handle, but is also knurled around the edge and can be turned without opening the crank and can be pulled up to disengage the film cassette. On the edge of the top cover below the rewind knob are two PC sync sockets for M- and X-sync.

Nikkormat FTn viewfinder
Nikkormat FTn viewfinder, showing the light meter match-needle and shutter speed display. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Just to the right of the viewfinder housing is a depth-of-field preview button. Farther out the frame counter is a white disc with red and black markings under a slight magnifying lens. In front of the frame counter is the shutter release button (with a release cable thread) and to the right is the film advance lever.

The single-stroke advance lever pulls out about 25 degrees to turn the meter on and moves in a 135-degree arc to advance one frame, automatically incrementing the frame counter (up) each time. The frame counter resets automatically when the film door is opened. The back cover latch is on the bottom left corner of the camera and pulls down to release the latch. Film loading is straightforward.

Visually the earlier FTn was indistinguishable from the FT aside from the “N” marking in front of the top-cover light meter display. Some updates in 1971-72 added an updated film advance lever with a plastic tip, the plastic-tipped self-timer lever and an improved focusing screen with a split-image focusing aid in the center, surrounded by a microprism ring.

Nikkormat FTn top view
A top view of Nikkormat FTn showing (from left) the rewind knob, top-cover light meter display, pentaprism housing, depth-of-field preview button, frame counder, shutter release and film advance. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Nikkormat Experience

Using the FTn is hard to remark upon critically, to be completely honest. Aside from the limitations imposed by the lack of interchangeable viewfinders or motor drive attachments, it’s very similar in operation to the Nikon F2 or Pentax K1000. The major difference, functionally, is the shutter speed selector ring, which took some getting-used-to.

In the hand, the Nikkormat feels like a slightly less-polished version of the Nikon F2 in almost every way. The size and shape are very similar, and the weight is nearly as impressive. As if to proof the adage about Nikons’ solid builds, my FTn looks very much like it was actually used to pound in a nail or two.

Courtyard
Courtyard at an apartment building in Denver’s Baker neighborhood. (Daniel J. Schneider)

When it came to me (and I probably overpaid for it) I didn’t think the dent in the top of the pentaprism housing would be any trouble, but it turns out that the deformation of the housing extended down the front face enough to alter the alignment of the aperture coupling apparatus.

I had to remove the nameplate from the front in order to clean, lubricate and adjust (read: tap gently with a block and hammer) the complex mechanism whose binding-up problem made it impossible to remove the lens, or adjust the aperture to anything other than f/16 or f/11. After my “adjustments,” the aperture indexing works correctly and apertures larger than f/11 can be used again, and lenses can be put on and taken off again without issue.

Puddle reflection
Reflections in a puddle after a rainstorm in downtown Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The shutter release is well-positioned and operates smoothly and responsively. Not mentioned above, I find it interesting to note that while the shutter release button is drilled and threaded for a standard cable release in the button itself, an externally threaded collar around the bases of the button can also accept a Leica nipple. The FT and FTn were reportedly favored as second or back-up bodies by photojournalists using the F2, so accommodating the nipple makes sense so photographers don’t have to carry two releases in their bag.

The depth-of-field preview button is very conveniently located and easy to operate, as is the mirror lockup button. The self-timer lever’s look, feel and placement all appear identical to the F2, though the lever actually is slightly longer on the F2. Changing the film speed can be very, very difficult. The slider is tough to move and hard to get a grip on, as well.

The film advance lever is standard Nikon fare — a relatively short stroke and that comfortable stand-off position you can hook your thumb behind. Popping it out to turn on the light meter is easy and convenient, and being able to turn off the meter positively is excellent for conserving battery power.

The viewfinder is big and, while not as bright at the F2 or FM2n, fairly bright overall. The light meter display is easily visible, well-marked and easy to use. The shutter speed selection display is useful, though to my eye it would make more sense to highlight in yellow the selected speed, rather than using the yellow to indicate the speeds to either side.

Paramount Theater marquee
Paramount Theater marquee in Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The shutter speed selector ring, similar to Olympus OM-System cameras, is abnormal enough to throw you off for a bit if you don’t use this camera regularly, but not hard to get the hang of. It does get a little difficult to move back once you’ve slowed down to 1 second or Bulb, as the tab your finger moves to turn the ring moves over the edge of the lens mount, making it more difficult to get a finger behind it.

One minor complaint is the battery door. While the tripod mount and take-up spool release button on the bottom cover work simply enough, the battery cap uses a bayonet-type fitting rather than a thread. It most be rotated a quarter of a turn to move the cap’s tabs to match gaps in the fitting, and it can be rotated either way with ease, meaning it has to be aligned just right to stay snugly in place, and that sweet spot can be overshot a little too easily for my taste.

Fortunately, the battery is only needed for the light meter and the shutter works at any speed without a battery. Sources disagree on whether the FTn has a bridge circuit and can therefore return accurate meetings even with the increased voltage of a silver-oxide battery. Mine doesn’t seem to work at all.

All in all, a worthy competitor for the K1000 and other all-manual workhorse 35mm SLRs of the 1970s, and a solid addition to the Nikon line.

Here are some more test images:

Scooters for hire
Scooter rental has been ramping up in Denver with groups like this parked in several spots near the Colorado Convention Center. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Side yard
Curious cat and wicker furniture in a Denver side yard. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Arsenal burn
Blackened ground from a brush fire at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Coal chute
Cocherell coal chute door on a historic Denver home. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Fall color at the Arsenal
Fall color at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Daniel J. Schneider)
1963-67 Ford C-600 truck front
1963-67 Ford C-600 truck front. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Fall color at on the plains
Fall color on the plains. Daniel J. Schneider)
Wish You Were Here
Wish You Were Here, the name of an exhibit of neon sign art at a Denver gallery. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Fall color at on the plains
More fall color on the plains. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Aztlan Theatre
Denver’s Aztlan Theatre — formerly the Santa Fe — was built in 1920. (Daniel J. Schneider)
16th Street alley
A familiar alley off the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Architectural detail
Architectural detail. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Nikon Nikkormat FTn 35mm SLR camera
Author Rating
41star1star1star1stargray
  • Solid review. I had a similar experience with my FTn. But like so many other solidly built 35mm SLRs of the era, they are hard to kill, and you could make wonderful images with them for the rest of your life if you so chose.

    • Thanks, Jim. It’s true — most of what I’ve reviewed is pretty unkillable like that. Maybe that’s why it sometimes feels like “they just don’t make things like they used to.”

  • David Murray

    The Nikkormat cameras have been used professionally by quite a lot of photographers over the years. One famous chap is Toby Deveson who has used the same lens – a Soligor 24mm f2.5 and a series of Nikkormats since he was 18. He mentions that the weak spot is the inbuilt meters. I have owned and used three and not had a reliable meter. It’s best to take any battery out, the meter needle flickering about just distracts you. I use a Weston Master V as it’s light powered and no batteries to worry about.
    When I go abroad I take a Nikon F plain prism and an FTN ‘mat. Weston V and 24/35/50/85 all pre-AI lenses in a Billingham 335 bag. They let me take this bag on the plane, even though it weighs more than 5kg.