Nikkormat EL

This is my first proper Nikon camera. I have Nikon F301 and Nikon F601 cameras already but I cannot consider these ‘proper’ – made from plastic, digital readouts, nearly everything automatic. This Nikkormat EL is metal and manual (although it does have automatic exposure if I want it) even though it is from Nikon’s amateur range. (I now have a Nikon F2 Photomic as well).

It is heavy at 780g (my Zenit E is 700g which is my benchmark for 35mm camera weights) which means that it is easier to hold steady

  • lens: Cosina
  • focal length: 28-210mm
  • apertures: 3.5 to 16
  • focus range: 2.5m to infinity plus macro
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount – pre-AI
  • shutter: metal focal plane
  • speeds: 4 s to 1/1000 s
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC
  • film size: 35mm

The body is die cast aluminium with brass top and base plates. The whole camera is painted black with black leatherette. This camera was made between 1972 and 1976 so this camera is between 44 and 48 years old. That is a veritable age for any machine. The Interweb tells me that Nikkormat serial numbers started at 5,000,000 and that 500,000 cameras were made over five years. If we assume that production was even over the five years (not a safe assumption) that would suggest that my camera, serial number 5 208 996, was made in the second year – 1973 – but perhaps 1974.

Layout of the camera is pretty much standard for an SLR camera. Most of the controls ar eon the top plate. Starting on the right is the film advance lever. This is brass with a plastic cover on the tip (it is easy to see the materials used due to the wear in the black paint). This film advance lever has two rest positions. When the tip of the lever is flush with the body, the camera electronics are switched off and the shutter release button is locked to prevent accidental exposures.

The second rest position is when the lever is at 30º to the body. At this position, the camera is ready for use – meter is on and shutter release button is unlocked. When advancing the film, the lever moves through 105º (I got the angle from Nikon’s printed manual).There is no ratchet so the lever must be moved in one sweep – 105º is easy enough. After advancing the film, the lever returns to the 30º rest position ready for the next shot. When in the 30º position, there is a red dot revealed on the top plate. I am not sure of the point of this as the lever sticking out is easier to see than the red dot.

In front of the film advance lever is the window to the frame counter. In standard Japanese fashion, this frame counter is reset (to S) when the camera back is opened. S is actually -2 to allow for the wastage of two frames of film to move the film past the part that is fogged when loading the new film. Even numbers are in white, odd numbers are represented by dots. Zero, 20 and 36 are in red – these were the standard lengths of films in the 1970s. Film can be advanced beyond 36 frames but the frame counter will no longer increase.

Next to the frame counter is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for an industry standard cable release. This thread is inside the button. There is a second thread around the shutter release collar. This second thread is not industry standard but, presumably, a Nikon peculiarity. Around the shutter release button is a black painted brass collar.

The next item along the top plate is the shutter speed selector dial. This offers 13 shutter speeds from 4 seconds to 1/1000 seconds plus B. Between 4 seconds and B is a large, unmarked gap. If you set the speed dial to the centre of this gap, you get a shutter speed of 8 seconds (timed by my watch). This must be by design but I assume that it is unmarked because either Nikon or the shutter maker (Copal) did not like it for some reason.

As well as the shutter speeds, there is the option of A. It was Nikon’s expectation that this camera would be used in A most of the time – A stands for Automatic exposure. In A mode, all the photographer does is select the aperture and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed – more later. The shutter speed dial is also used to set the flash synchronisation. This is done by lifting the dial and turning. There are two settings: a white bulb or a red lightning flash. For flash bulbs, the shutter speed can be any available speed but for electronic flash, the shutter speed must be 1/125 or slower – this speed is marked in red.

Just left of centre on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is an accessory shoe. This has a central contact and so is a hot shoe. At this age, there are no secondary contacts for specific flash guns. On the back of the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This unscrews to allow for replacement by correction lenses for glasses wearers.

Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. There were two of these available. The one in my camera is plain ground glass. In the centre is a 12 mm circle. This circle does not do anything but indicates the area where the majority of the light measurement occurs – this is called centre-weighted measurement. In the middle of this 12 mm circle is a second, 3mm, circle. This has micro-prisms as a focus aid.

On the left hand edge of the focus screen is the light meter readout – this consists of a vertical scale of shutter speeds with A at the top. As mentioned earlier, Nikon’s expectation is that you would use this camera in A mode. In this case, there is a green pointer which sits at the top of the scale, marked A. There is a second, black, pointer which points to the shutter speed that the camera has selected. You can vary this selected speed by altering the lens aperture.

When the user is using manual exposure, the green pointer indicates the shutter speed the user has selected and the black pointer indicates the shutter speed that the camera would like you to use.

On the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small foldout crank. Again as is usual on Japanese cameras, this crank double as the catch for the back. Not so usual is the presence of a catch to release the catch so the back cannot be opened accidentally. I have never seen this before but then I have not seen other Nikon cameras of this vintage. This secondary catch consists of a small black tab on the left of the rewind crank which must be pulled towards the rear as the crank is pulled up. This needs two hands so cannot be done unintentionally.

Around the rewind crank is a film speed setting ring. This is in ASA only (no DIN speeds) and runs from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. To set this, a chrome tab must be pressed in while the outer ring is turned. The selected film speed is indicated by a red dot.

On the back of the top plate, behind the rewind crank, is a small white button recessed in a chrome surround. Next to this is a small orange lamp. When the button is pressed, the lamp is lit if the battery is good. On the left end of the top plate is a PC socket for flash. This will take the usual push-in PC cords but it is also threaded for a Nikon specific flash cord. On the front corners of the top plate are strap lugs.

The front of the camera is dominated by the lens mount. This is Nikon’s famous F bayonet mount.This mount has been in use since 1959 but has been changed subtlety in that time. The big change in the mount was AI or Automatic Indexing. I am not going to go into the (confusing) details of the various flavours of the F mount. The important part is that this camera was made before the AI system and needs to use pre-AI lenses (later lenses can be used but with varying degrees of loss of camera function).

Pre-AI lenses have ‘rabbit ears’ or a prong on the top of the mount. This prong sits by the ƒ/5.6 on the aperture ring. When fitting a lens to the camera, this prong fits around a pin on this camera’s lens mount. As the aperture of the lens is changed, this prong moves with the lens’ aperture ring and moves the camera’s pin. This tells the camera’s light meter which aperture has been selected. Because the lenses are not Automatically Indexed, this needs to be done manually every time the lens is changed. This involves turning the aperture ring to the smallest aperture and then to the largest aperture. Simple to do but slows down the changing of lenses.

When fitting a lens, the lens needs to be set to ƒ/5.6 and the pin on the camera rotated as far clockwise as it will go. When the lens is fitted to the mount, the camera’s pin will fit into the lens’ prong. The lens needs to be rotated anti-clockwise to lock the lens.

The ring that the camera’s pin is fixed to has a legend on the lower left hand side which reads 5.6—2.8—1.2 . Once a lens is fitted and manually indexed as above, a red dot indicates on this scale the largest aperture of the lens. If this is incorrect it is an indication that the manual indexing needs doing.

Inside the throat of the lens mount there is little to see.There are no electrical contacts yet at this age and there is just the one mechanical linkage. This is the lever that a closes down the lens’ aperture when the shutter release button is pressed. In the centre is the reflex mirror – the silvering on these is quite delicate and should not be touched. The battery compartment is inside the mount throat at the bottom. To get at this, you need to manually raise the mirror (details later) and flip up the battery compartment cover. This is a bit fiddly as is inserting the battery but is achievable.

While looking at the front of the camera, there are two items on the right of the mount. The top item is a knob which raises or lowers the reflex mirror. Doing this avoids some vibration when taking critical shots. Needless to say, using this requires a tripod to be used. The lower button is the lens release button.

On the left of the lens mount is another button. This is the depth of field preview button – pressing this closes the lens’ aperture to the set value. This is also required when using an AI lens to enable the meter to calculate a stopped-down exposure value.

Below the depth of filed preview button is the self-timer lever. Pulling this anti-clockwise through 90º sets the timer. When you press the shutter release button, this slowly turns and the shutter fires when it returns to its rest position. This gives, on my camera, a delay of nine seconds. This lever has a second function – it locks the automatic exposure system. So, when you are shooting with the shutter speed set to A, and you want to avoid a lot of bright sky upsetting the exposure, you point the camera down slightly (or, at least, get the bright part away from the 12mm circle in the viewfinder), push the self-timer lever towards the lens and hold, recompose your picture and press the shutter release button.

Inside the camera is very plain. The film cassette goes on the left, the film gate is in the centre followed by the sprocket shaft and then the take-up spool. At this age, there are no DX contacts or rapid load system. The inside of the back has a nice large pressure plate and springs to keep the film cassette steady.

In common with all Japanese film cameras, the back fits into a groove in the body. To keep this joint light tight there is a foam light seal in the groove. After 48-odd years, this foam has degenerated into a sticky mess – the seals will need to be replaced before this camera can be used – a simple DIY job.


This camera came as just a body – a growing trend which makes buying old cameras problematical. So – I now need a lens. I had the same problem when I bought my Nikon F301 – in that case I needed an AI-S lens with an aperture ring. That lens, unfortunately, will not work with this camera with full functionality. I now have a compatible lens which is an AI-S lens with the pre-AI ‘rabbit ears’. This means it will work on all three of my Nikon cameras.

This new lens is actually NEW – flam new as they say in Cornwall. It came in its original box and packaging. The lens is a Cosina 28-210 mm ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/5.6 MC macro lens. Cosina are a great lens maker – they subcontract to Zeiss to make Zeiss lenses – so I am more than happy with the make. The focal length range is very useful for either a carry0around lens or for landscape work. The maximum aperture is not outstanding but as I rarely use wider than ƒ/5.6 this is not an issue. The only concern here is the fact that the maximum aperture varies with the zoom setting – ƒ/3.5 @ 28 mm becomes ƒ/5.6 at 210 mm. When I fit the lens and manually index the lens (see above), the camera sees an ƒ/3.5 lens. When I zoom to 210 mm, the aperture ring still says ƒ/3.5 and the camera thinks it is ƒ/3.5 but it is actually ƒ/5.6. This must have an effect on the camera’s meter but I cannot think my way through this.

There is only two controls on the lens – a combined zoom/focus ring and the aperture ring. Zooming is achieved by pulling/pushing the ring. The 28 mm setting is with the ring close to the camera body and the 210 mm setting is with the ring away from the body.

The aperture ring is close to the mount and has two copies of the aperture range. The outer, larger, range is for the photographer when looking at the lens and the inner, smaller, range is for when looking through the viewfinder when this facility is available (not with this camera). The ‘rabbit ears’ prong is fixed at ƒ/5.6 and the aperture on the lens must be set to ƒ/5.6 when fitting or removing the lens. ƒ/8 is in blue and ƒ/22 is in green. These colours are replicated as curved lines on the lens barrel. These indicate depth of field in conjunction with the focus scale.

Focus is from 2.5 m to infinity. There is also a scale in feet. The throw of the focus ring is around 70º which makes for fast but not accurate focusing. Critical focus is quite difficult. When zoomed out to 210 mm, there is a further ‘macro’ focus range which focuses down to around 750 mm. This is not true macro which gives a life-size image, but gives an image that a is 1/4 life size at best. Still useful, mind.

Filter size is 72 mm – I hardly ever use filters and do not have any of that size. The glass is, of course, multi-coated.


I now have my test film back. Before I used this camera, I had to replace the foam light seals as the original ones had turned to sticky goo from age. It is clear that I did not do a very good job of this. The top and bottom of the frames are fine as is the short side by the hinge of the camera back. The short edge by the back’s catch , though, is leaking a lot of light. This can be seen in the following photographs as a orange to white vertical bar on the left of each picture. Remember, film negatives are reversed top to bottom and left to right so the left of the film gate appears on the right of the final print. The intensity of the light leak depends on the time between shots – the longer the time between subsequent presses of the shutter release, the more light will leak in.

I live very close to where the RAF’s Red Arrows display team are based and it is common to see them practising their displays, hence the first two photographs.


Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

2 thoughts on “Nikkormat EL”

  1. The outer thread on the shutter button allows the fitting of Nikon’s AR-1 soft release button over the standard one.
    This makes the pressure required to release the shutter lower (presumably because of the increased surface area of the wider button) and is designed to reduce camera shake at slower speeds.


    1. Thank you, Jonathon. A lot of my descriptions are based on ignorant observation. It would help if Nikon had mentioned this thread in the handbook but they don’t.


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