Nikormat FTn

This article is about the Japanese Nikkormat FTn 35mm film SLR camera.

My fifth Nikon and my third quality metal Nikon. This is a pre-AI camera (in common with my other two metal Nikons) which means that it needs a lens with a ‘rabbit ears’ prong to communicate the lens’ aperture. Without the rabbit ears, the camera will still work but you must use the stopped down procedure to get the right exposure – or use a hand-held light meter. My other Nikon cameras are 1) the professional F2 Photomic, 2) high end amateur Nikkormat EL (both made from metal) 3) plastic F301 and 4) plastic F601. Only the F2 and Nikkormat EL are a joy to use. In 1970, Wallace Heaton (a photographic retailer in London) was offering this camera for £176-9-6 with the ƒ/2 kit lens. I was earning £18 per week at this time so this was ten weeks gross pay for me (which is why I did not buy one!)

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount (vanilla flavour)
  • shutter: vertical metal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/1000 s + B
  • flash: 2 off PC sockets
  • film size: 35 mm

As is my wont, I shall describe the camera starting with general notes and then details starting with the top plate. The camera measures 146 by 95 by 45 mm and weighs 745g with no lens or film attached. The camera is covered with black leatherette with stainless steel top and base plates. The body is made form die cast aluminium.

The top plate is mostly as you would expect. On the far right is the film advance lever. This is cut metal and has a slight serration on the tip to provide grip. This lever has two rest positions. When parked on top of the top plate, the electronics are switched off. When pulled out by about 30º, a red dot is exposed and the electronics are switched on. The lever moves through around 130º to advance one frame. There is no ratchet involved so the lever must be moved in one go.

To the left of the film advance lever, near the front of the top plate, is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and sits within a chromed metal collar. The shutter button is threaded for a standard cable release. In the centre of the right hand portion of the top plate is the frame counter window. This has nice, large, easy to read numbers. The counter is set to S in usual Japanese fashion by opening the back of the camera. The first three positions of the counter are in red. The initial position is S and is followed by a and 0. 0 is the sort position. For the rest of the counter, only even numbers are displayed with odd numbers represented by dashes. All of this is in black apart from 20 and 36 which are in red to indicate the common film lengths in use in the 1960s. After the frame counter reaches 36, the counter will move one more, unmarked, position where it will remain even if more frames are advanced.

At the front of the top plate, hard. by the pentaprism hump, is a metal button. This is a depth of field preview button. Pressing this closes down the lens’ aperture to its set value so that you can see the effect of the aperture.

In the centre of the top plate is the fixed pentaprism. The eyepiece for the viewfinder is at the rear and is round with a rectangular window measuring 14 by 10 mm. Inside is the focus screen. This is a matte Fresnel screen with a central disc of of micro-prisms. Around this is a larger circle which denotes the area used by the light meter for centre-weighted metering. There is no split-image focus aid with this camera.

At the bottom of the focus screen are three numbers – the central one is white and the other two are yellow. These are the set shutter speed (in white) and are illuminated by the light coming in the lens. On the right hand side of the focus screen is the light meter read-out. This is the centred needle type. If the aperture/shutter speed combination would result in under exposure, the needle will be above the centre and if the aperture/shutter speed combination would result in over exposure, the needle will be below the centre.

The image on the screen is reasonably bright and clear and focusing the image is quite easy – even in the absence of a split-image centre that most amateur SLR cameras seem to have.

Just to the left of the pentaprism hump is a small (8 by 4 mm) window which is a duplicate meter read-out – useful for when the camera is on a tripod. just behind this is the serial number. This starts with FT as it is Nikon’s habit to have separate serial number sequences for each camera model. In front of the meter window is an ‘N’ to indicate that this is the N version of the Nikkormat FTN. FTn serial numbers ran from 3500001 to 4700001 – that is a range of 1200000. Assuming steady production (not a good assumption) that is 150000 camera each year. The serial number of my camera is FT3531832 which would be in the first few months of production. Even allowing for my poor assumptions, this is an early production camera – made in 1967 or perhaps early 1968.

On the left end of the top plate is the film rewind crank. This is the usual small fold-out crank.This crank lifts up to facilitate loading or unloading film cassettes. Unexpectedly, lifting the crank further does not unlock the camera back as seems to be the case with most Japanese SLR cameras. There is a separate catch for that. On the left edge of the top plate are two PC sockets for flash. The front one is marked M in red and the rear one is marked X in black. The M socket is for flash bulbs. There is no synchronisation speed for the shutter – all speeds up to 1/1000 can be used. This is academic now as flash bulbs are no longer available but types M, FP and MF flash bulbs could be used with this PC socket. The X socket is for electronic flash. As the electronic flash is so brief, it is necessary to use a slow enough shutter speed that the shutter split is the whole frame. This means a shutter speed of 1/125 of slower. This will still freeze motion as the flash is brief enough.

The front of the camera has the lens mount. This is Nikon’s F mount as introduced in 1959. Later versions of the mount have adaptations such as electric contacts to control the lens and an autofocus ‘screwdriver’. This version of the mount only has the addition of a ring around the mount connect to ‘rabbit ears’ on the lens. This is to tell the camera’s metering system which aperture value has been set.

Index prong located in the lens’ rabbit ears

The way that this works is you rotate the ring clockwise as far as it will go and set the lens aperture to ƒ/5.6. On fitting the lens, the ‘rabbit ears’ will locate around the pin on the ring around the mount. The photographer must then set the lens’ aperture to its minimum (largest ƒ/number) and immediately to its maximum (smallest ƒ/number). This needs doing each time the lens is changed. On the right side of this ring is a short scale from 1.2 to 5.6. When this indexing process is carried out, a red dot beside this scale will point to the maximum aperture. this is not so much to show you the maximum aperture of your lens – looking at the aperture ring on the lens does this better – but more as a check that the lens has been ‘indexed’ correctly. If the indexing has not gone right, light metering will be off.

Just inside the lens mount, on the left, is a lever. The camera uses this lever to close the lens’ aperture just before the shutter opens.

Another aspect to this version of the mount is not really a part of the mount. Most SLR cameras have a shutter speed dial on the top plate but that is lacking on this camera. Instead, there is this ring around the mount which is rotated to set the shutter speed. There is a lug on the left side of this ring (as when using the camera) to aid in setting the shutter speed. The only other camera I have seen this on is my Olympus OM1. Available shutter speeds are from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds plus B. Speeds from 1 second to 1/125 seconds are in black and these are the speeds that you can use use with electronic flash. Speeds from 1/250 to 1/1000 are in red and can be used with flash bulbs, but not with electronic flash. The index mark for the shutter speed is on the top right of the mount is consists of a black dot. Also on this ring, at the bottom, is the film speed setting. This runs from 12 ASA to 1600 ASA. ASA is functionally the same as ISO speeds (but it is calculated differently) but older. This is set by a black slider.

Above the lens mount, the pentaprism hump protrudes forwards to be flush with the lens mount. This protuberance contains the mechanical linkage of the metering system which interacts with the pin on the ring around the lens mount.

On the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. This is circular and large enough to be accessible. Pressing this in retracts a small pin in the lens mount and allows the lens to rotate. Above this lens release button is a stepped rectangular slider. Pushing this down raises the mirror – mirror lock up or MLU – which is used when the camera is mounted on a tripod and is being used for critical purposes where the slight vibration caused by the mirror slapping up prior to an exposure cannot be tolerated.

On the other side of the lens mount is the self-timer. This is of a pretty standard design. To use, you rotate the lever anti-clockwise about 45º. When you then press the shutter release button, this timer winds down for eight seconds and the the shutter fires. This process automatically uses MLU (see above) without involving the slider mentioned earlier.

The base plate has a tripod socket. This is likely to be the 1/4 inch Whitworth standard – the modern ISO 1/4 inch UNC standard did not come in until 1973 (of course, the camera makers could have unilaterally used the modern standard before ISO formalised it). Also on the base plate is the battery compartment. This should take a mercury cell but these have been globally banned now. I have fitted an L1560F (LR9 or PX625A) alkaline cell which is 1.5 volt rather than the 1.3 volt cell intended. This will have an effect on exposure but I generally find the effect to be well within the exposure latitude of most films.

At the other end of the base plate is the button to allow rewinding of the film. Once you have started rewinding the film, there is no need to hold this button in. This might seem like a small thing but rewinding on those cameras where one hand holds the camera, one hand presses in the button and one hand winds the crank rapidly run out of hands.

The camera is opened by a sliding catch at the bottom of the left hand edge of the camera. Inside, the camera is as you would expect it to be.

The film cassette goes on the left. This camera was made many years before Kodak thought of DX coding so there are no electrical contacts in the cassette chamber. The shutter is in the centre. this is a vertical travel, metal bladed, shutter – the shutter blades move downwards. There are three blades in each curtain and these blades are connected to each other by pivoted straps. What is unusual is that these straps are on the inside of the camera, in the mirror box, and not visible from the open back. This makes no difference to the operation of the shutter but it is the first time I have seen this. This shutter is entirely mechanical and does not rely on battery power for its operation.

Right of the shutter is the sprocket shaft followed by the take-up spool. This spool is clear (unpigmented) polythene and has two slots for attaching the film leader. The inside of the back has the sprung pressure plate for keeping the film snug and a chromed spring to hold the film cassette steady. As a Japanese camera, light tightness of the join between camera body and camera back is achieved by the use of foam light seals. These have degraded to uselessness and need to be replaced before this camera can be used. This is a simple DIY job.

Using the camera:

This camera is heavy at 745g, not the heaviest but still heavy. This weight imparts stability and also means that a solid grip is essential. A good right hand grip is easy with the forefinger falling naturally to the shutter release button. The weak point for me is the film advance lever – this does not fall so easily to my thumb. For single shots, this does not really matter as you can, and probably will, advance the film once you have lowered the camera from your eye. But for shots with a moving subject you are likely to want to take several shots with the camera to your eye. Not easy with this camera.

The left hand has to cup the lens. While this is the usual photographic stance, it is critical here. The left hand alters the shutter speed via the lug on the ring around the lens mount. For hand held speeds – 1/125 to 1/1000 seconds – this is easily done with the left thumb. For slower speeds, the photographer is likely to be using a tripod so the awkwardness of selecting slower speeds will not matter. The left hand also has the job of selecting the aperture – again, assuming that the photographer is metering with the camera to their eye, this is quite easy to do. You get a visual display of shutter speed in the viewfinder, but not the set aperture. Setting a particular aperture this way is not possible but it works well for shutter speed priority metering where you set the shutter speed and then just adjust the aperture until the meter needle is centred.

While using the camera, I was not always sure I had achieved good focus. This is not helped by the fact that I wear bifocal glasses. Looking at some of the images from the test film, it is clear that I had not, indeed, achieved good focus. This is either a lens problem or, perhaps, the focus screen has become slightly displaced over the years. Yet some images are fine.

My test film was Agfa Vista 200 ISO film which is a couple of years past its best-before date. A couple of years should not really matter and in fact does not seem to be a problem here. The negatives are all rather thin which I will put down to the fact that I was using a 1.5v battery in a camera designed for a 1.3v battery. But they are not too thin to be useful as the images below show. I am including a few images from the test film, the first of which clearly shows the lack of good focus.

Poor focus around the white building.

Author: John Margetts

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: