Nikkormat FT-2: Small changes, big improvement

Nikkormat FT-2 front
Nikkormat FT-2 front view. (Daniel J. Schneider)

About the same time I tested the Nikkormat FTn, a Nikkormat FT-2 dropped in my lap. While it’s very similar, it is set apart by several big improvements.

I’m going to start this review off with a shout-out to Glen Barber at The Denver Post. He brought the FT2 to work one day after finding it while cleaning out the attic or garage. It was his girlfriend’s, but she hadn’t used it in years and was happy to see it go somewhere it would be used. I’ve enjoyed trying it out — thank you, Glen’s girlfriend!

Next, I’m going to add a prominent link to my Nikkormat FTn review, because the FT-2 is so similar (read: nearly identical) outside of the updates. I’m going to focus here on the improvements rather than rehashing all that.

About those updates

For those who skipped reading the FTn review (I kind of knew you would), here’s a super-quick recap:

  • Fully mechanical vertical-travel metal focal-plane shutter with speeds from 1-to-1/1000 plus Bulb.
  • CdS-cell light meter with center-weighted metering and displays both on the top cover and in the viewfinder.
  • Non auto-indexing (Non-AI) lens compatibility; requires “Nikon Shuffle” to index lens for open-aperture metering.
  • Solid cast-aluminum alloy construction with chrome finish (or black enamel); weighty and comfortable, similar to Nikon F2.
  • Depth-of-field preview, self-timer, mirror lock-up and advance lever stand-off position to enable meter.
  • Non-interchangeable viewfinders, focusing screens, and film backs; no available motor drive unit.

You can also look at the manual for all the basics.

Nikkormat FT-2 lens mount
Nikkormat FT-2 lens mount and aperture-indexing mechanism. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The FT-2 features four important changes from the FTn: the batteries, a locking film speed selector, the focusing screen, and the flash/accessory attachment options.

The switch from the long-popular 1.35-volt PX625 mercury batteries to a single 1.5-volt silver-oxide SR44 battery is the “killer app” with the FT-2. If you have a choice between an FT-2 and an FT or FTn, it’s a no-brainer. Compatibility with modern batteries, cheap and readily available, is kind of a big deal.

Of course, that’s only for the light meter — a non-essential function, to my mind. Thanks to the mechanical shutter, you can use Sunny 16 rules, a handheld light meter or smartphone app (I use this one), or even just eyeball it. Which for me often goes something like:

“Well, it’s definitely f/11 and 1/1000 in the sun, but it’s probably three stops darker in the shade. Which I always think and always lets me down, so I should probably assume it’s 5 stops darker. That’s f/5.6 and 1/125. Let’s bump that to 1/60 just to be safe.”

Nikkormat FT-2 viewfinder
Nikkormat FT-2 viewfinder. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Three weeks later: “Damn, why are these so underexposed??”

Note to self: Use the stupid light meter app more — it was free and it works great.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the other big difference: they added a hot shoe.

Not just a cold shoe — a hot shoe, with a standard center contact for use with the scads of electronic flashguns available at the time.

They retained only one of the two PC-sync sockets on the left shoulder of the camera, and offered no option to switch from X-sync to M-sync. Instead, the camera is X-synchronized for electronic flash at 1/125 and any slower speeds, and M-synchronized (for flash bulbs) at 1/250 and above. The new PC-sync socket is a threaded type, as well, expanding its compatibility.

It’s worth noting that when the FT-2 was introduced in 1975, the professional body was still the Nikon F2, which had only a 1/90 flash sync speed. The FT-2 offered a bit of an increase for those who needed it, and won some of its popularity for that fact alone.

Nikkormat FT-2 top
Nikkormat FT-2 top. From left: Rewind knob, top-cover meter display, updated pentaprism housing with hot shoe, depth-of-field preview button, frame counter, shutter release button, and film advance lever. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The film speed selector — a sliding tab on the underside of the shutter speed ring — was stiff and difficult to operate on the FTn, but making it much easier would risk making it too easy to knock out of position during normal use. The FT-2’s solution was to add a lock. The adjusting tab on the shutter speed ring has a secondary tab on its tip which, when pulled, unlocks the film speed selector. Unlocked, the selector tab is very easy to adjust.

The FT-2 was supplanted in 1977 by the FT-3, which added compatibility for the new auto-indexing lenses, but the FM also was release in 1977. The FT-3 was in production for less than a full year — reportedly the shortest production run of any Nikon SLR — as in 1978 the FE and EM were introduced. The Nikkormat EL and ELW had already been discontinued by mid-1977, and with the sudden halt in FT-3 production, the Nikkormat line passed into history.

Visually, though, the Nikkormat’s evolutionary design changes simply continued onto the FM/FM2n/FE/FG, etc. The big difference there was a serious reduction of size and weight, not unwelcome to photojournalists who often carried a camera on each shoulder and a backup or two in their bag.

Aspen in autumn
Aspen leaves in autumn colors, Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Nikon’s K-type focusing screen, a staple of the late-1970s and well into the 1990s, made its way to the FT-2, as well. The K-type has a large split-image focusing aid in the center, surrounded by a narrow microprism ring. A circle of matte Fresnel glass surrounds that, and plain ground glass composes the rest. The combination of focusing aids is excellent.

On the FT-2, several minor design improvements surfaced, as well. Rather than the sharp-edged design of the FTn, the rewind knob has a chamfered edge to soften its lines. It kept its knurled edge, though — a feature retained only on the F2 (and for just three more years) after the Nikkormat line’s demise.

The FT-2 also upgraded the design of the collar surrounding the shutter release button, making it a little more comfortable on the fingers, and a little more elegant in profile.

Lastly, the lens release button changed slightly, making it smaller in diameter but taller. It travels further into the body before unlocking the lens, though, and so retains similar security. It’s easier to know you’re operating the newer button, though, as on the FTn it travels only about 1 millimeter, making it hard to tell when it’s moved in far enough.

Aside from the altered shape of the pentaprism housing — to accommodate the hot shoe — the FTn and FT-2 are very difficult to distinguish from one another without a very close look.

Allenspark Lodge
Antlers adorn the exterior of the historic Allenspark Lodge. The lodge was built by local high-schoolers under the tutelage of their shop teacher in the early 1930s. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Nikkormat heaven

Taking the FT-2 out for testing was truly great. It’s an excellent camera and feels very at home in my hands. The similarities to the F2 are many, and all to Nikon’s credit. The impression of quality and precision is quite visceral with a Nikkormat.

Truly, the distinction between a Nikon and its competitors in the 1970s and 80s was well-earned, and can be felt simply by picking one up (which I strongly encourage). That’s not to say the others weren’t good, and that there weren’t true standouts from other makers, but in my opinion, Nikon’s consistency of quality is without equal in the 35mm SLR market segment.

I could use this space to gush for six or eight more paragraphs about how great the FT-2 is, but you can read about all that in my FTn review, too. Functionally, there’s almost no difference.

If I had any real complaint about the FT-2, it would be only that the bayonet-type battery cover was retained. I still find it difficult to get it aligned securely and I don’t really trust it. It hasn’t failed me yet, but there’s an annoying compulsion to check on it frequently when carrying the camera around because of my mistrust (or paranoia).

Demolition in Cherry Creek
Demolition in Denver’s Cherry Creek North shopping district, which has been undergoing major changes as 1- and 2-story buildings are rapidly replaced by 6- and 8-story mixed-use construction. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The upgraded focusing screen is probably the functional change I noticed most from the FT. It feels very precise, as I’m used to with my FM2n (which also has a K-type screen). With the big f/1.4 lens, too, the viewfinder is brighter than that of the FT (although putting that lens on the FT reveals it to be quite bright, as well).

The frame counter, however, I’m thrilled they retained. The heavy red and black enamel marks on the bright, white enameled surface are easier to read in both low and extremely bright light. The fact that the marks are rather huge compared to the FT-2’s successors doesn’t hurt, either.

And that’s about it. The Nikkormat FT-2 is a brilliant buy. Given that you can get an FT-2 for (literally) just a few dollars more than an FTn, and more of the FT-2s seems to have the stellar 50mm f/1.4 lens equipped, this is really the way to go.

Here are some more test photos from my FT-2 adventure, all taken with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 using expired Kodak Ultra-Color 400 and fresh Kodak Tri-X 400:

Four Mile House
The name “Four Mile House” refers to the waystation’s location, four miles from the end of the Smokey Hill Trail in Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Four Mile House historic park in Denver
Four Mile House historic park in Denver provides frontier life learning for schoolkids around the Metro area. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Aspen trees in Allenspark, Colo. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Copeland Falls
Copeland Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Creek in Rocky Mountain National Park
A small creek in Rocky Mountain National Park near Copeland Falls. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Voorhies Memorial columns
Columns and shadows at Voorhies Memorial in Denver’s Civic Center Park. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Crabapple trees
Crabapple trees near the Voorhies Memorial in Denver’s Civic Center Park. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Allenspark cabin
Once part of the Allenspark Lodge property, the nearby cabins have been slowly sold off over the last 80 years. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Another Allenspark cabin
Another Allenspark cabin. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses off the central promenade in Denver’s Civic Center Park. (Daniel J. Schneider)
City and County Building flag
The American flag flaps in a stiff breeze in front of the Denver City and County Building. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Cherry Creek North doorway
A doorway in Denver’s Cherry Creek North shopping district. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Nikon Nikkormat FT-2 35mm SLR camera
Author Rating