Film Photography – Nikkormat EL and Nikon F

A trip to Lymington and a visit to an old photo haunt – Throop Mill in Bournemouth was the testing ground for these 2 classic Nikons.

The Nikkormat EL was released in 1972 and was Nikon’s first electronic auto exposure camera and thus required a battery to power the shutter and the ‘match needle’ TTL meter. The EL was in production until 1976 running alongside the Nikkormat FTN and replaced by the Nikkormat ELW to which an autowinder could be attached, closely followed by the Nikon EL2 which saw the end of the ‘Nikkormat’ name.

The EL was manufactured in black / chrome and all black, it still required Nikkor lenses with the ‘rabbit ears’ prong to tell the meter which aperture is selected so that an appropriate shutter speed would be chosen for correct exposure. In ‘A’ aperture priority auto a black needle indicates the shutter speed in use but there is no indication of the aperture in the viewfinder. This match needle system really comes into it’s own in full manual mode. A green needle indicates the shutter speed selected and the black needle indicates the speed the camera thinks should be set for correct exposure. You have the choice to align both or ‘compensate’ by choosing a shutter speed slower or faster than suggested.

I’m finding this ‘back to basics’ control fascinating, it makes you think about exposure especially as there is no screen to chimp. I find myself composing – metering – adjusting – composing again and then waiting to ‘capture the moment’.

In the following images the camera is shown with the  Nikkor 28mm F3.5 attached.

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I used both the Nikkor 50mm F1.4 that I bought with the Nikon F and the Nikkor 28mm F3.5 for the images below. The screw in polariser filter caused slight vignetting in the corners when used on the 28mm. The resultant dark corners could be removed easily in photoshop, either by slight cropping or cloning. I have chosen to leave them ‘as shot’ for illustration purposes. The 50mm F1.4 is super sharp – see the lobster pot close up and Puffin Cruises sign. Shot on Fujicolour C200, developed and scanned as usual by Snaps Photo Services. Every exposure near perfect, with just a little saturation and contrast boost in Lightroom.

Blog Collage-1393691371382And so to the Nikon F. Some of you may remember from earlier posts that a TV documentary about the war photographer Don McCullin in which the Nikon F featured heavily, ignited the spark for my interest in classic Nikon film cameras which pre dated my early years in photography. Soon after watching the programme I purchased a Nikon FE2 and then obtained quite a few of the cheaper Nikon film cameras easily found on ebay. All the time I was hankering after an F, but decent ones can be quite expensive. I found one which had reached about £90 with a day or so to go. It included the FTN metering prism and a Nikkor 50mm F1.4 lens.The images and description weren’t very good and it did feel like a bit of a gamble.
The price didn’t change as the auction was nearing it’s end and I had to decide the maximum I was willing to pay (I think it was about £125) and bid with about 5 seconds remaining. To my surprise I won with a winning bid of £106.

The camera arrived about 2 days later and I couldn’t believe the condition. It looks like it has been kept in a half leather case, so the bottom plate and back was virtually as new. There is a very slight depression in the prism head and a couple of very small nicks in the chrome. The lens is also virtually unmarked.

Although the shutter is completely mechanical, the FTN meter prism does require 2 batteries. As with the Nikkormat FTN, the mercury cells are no longer available so Wein air cells are the alternative. Ordered from The Small Battery Company, they arrived next day.  I loaded them with some trepidation as I wasn’t sure if the meter would work. Sure enough it did work exactly as it should. It is a very simple needle which moves left and right to indicate under / correct / over exposure, either by adjusting shutter speed, aperture or a combination of both.

One noticeable difference is the back of the camera slides down and completely off, unlike most which are hinged on one side. Apart from that everything else functions in typical Nikon style.

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The F handles like the classic it is. A big, bright viewfinder and the simple needle informing you of the correct exposure. The shutter speed is visible but the aperture isn’t. It’s just simply about taking photos with so few decisions to make, all the concentration can go into subject matter and composition. Film used in the F was Fujicolour Pro 400 H. Once again, 36 perfectly exposed images!

At the time of writing I have just purchased a Nikkor S 35mm F2.8, this combined with the F is a perfect combination for ‘street’ photography. Can’t wait to try them out together!

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About Dave Jackson Photography

Lifelong photographer based in Dorset, specialising in Landscape and Wildlife Photography
This entry was posted in Film Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Film Photography – Nikkormat EL and Nikon F

  1. dehk says:

    The EL is one of the best camera with the best sounding shutter.

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