Hands on with another FT2

I’ve written a fair bit recently about the KMZ FT-2 but you will notice that the FT2 of today’s title has no hyphen. That’s because it is neither a swing-lens camera nor a panoramic one. It is however still a 35mm camera. You’ve no doubt realised by now the titular camera is a Nikkormat FT2. Introduced in 1975 the FT2 has been dubbed “the poor mans Nikon F”. Whilst the Nikon F series were aimed at professionals the Nikkormat FT series were squarely targeted at the amateur market. With a build quality comparable with the Nikon F series however the Nikkormats were no slouches and can still hold their own today.

Like my KMZ FT-2, the Nikkormat FT2 is a very idiosyncratic camera, I guess that’s another thing the two have in common. The layout of the camera controls on Nikkormats is, to put it mildly, unconventional. Rather than a shutter-speed dial, Nikkormats feature a concentric shutter speed ring located around the lens mount, whilst ISO settings are selected using a sliding dial situated at the bottom of the lens. That said it is so well thought through that it can still be operated without removing the camera from my eye. ISO is set once whilst loading the film. My left hand is used for focusing (manual no auto focus here), changing the aperture (which I typically set before I start frame up the picture) and I can change shutter speed with a single finger (there is also a basic display in the viewfinder showing the selected shutter speed).

Negative > Positive

I haven’t really used any of my SLR cameras since I picked up the Horizon S3 ten months or so ago. The odd roll here and there but nowhere near the number of rolls of film that have been through the Horizons and most recently the KMZ FT-2. It was a misunderstanding from Phil on Twitter that prompted me to dust off the Nikkormat; until then I’d not noted the similarity between the camera’s names nor indeed that both were quirky in their own right.

Fear not, I’m not about to launch into a review of a 45+ year old camera, it’s not my style and it wouldn’t actually make much sense. Instead I’m going to share some images from a couple of rolls of HP5+ that I have used over the last few days and ruminate gently on the joy of using a fully manual camera.

The FT2 has a metal focal-plane shutter with vertical (downward) movement; speeds from 1 to 1/1000 sec., plus Bulb mode. Compared to the 30 seconds to 1/8000th of the mighty Nikon F5 this is fairly mundane BUT I’ve yet to find a need for anything more. If I’m using a shutter speed below 1/30th I’m most likely on a tripod anyway and Bulb is just as easy to use as a dedicated 30 seconds option on the dial.

Tactile. If you like tactile you would enjoy this relatively hefty camera. It’s has a comforting weight (almost two pounds without a lens) and bulk that reassures you it’s in your hand. Mine doesn’t currently have a strap (most of my cameras are devoid of any strap) which saves my neck! Everything, as you’d expect, is set on the camera itself as we’ve seen. Aperture via a ring, shutter speed via a lever on the lens itself.

As for metering, It has a through-the-lens CdS meter, centre-weighted at full aperture. In terms of informing the user, there is a needle which is visible in the viewfinder but also, and this is a useful feature for tripod users, on the top plate. The camera will not set anything itself, but silently let’s you know what it feels is the correct combination of aperture and shutter speed. Usefully, the camera does not need a battery to be used. A dead battery simply removes the safety net of the exposure metering system. I’m well used to metering for myself but having checked the onboard meter against a handheld I’m confident enough to trust that the camera isn’t steering me wrong.

Cheers!

I’ve been using 35mm single lens reflex cameras since the mid-1970s and whilst I’ve used fully electronic marvels I still gravitate towards the more manual cameras. I like doing everything myself it seems. Used in fully automatic mode there’s not much difference between using a fully modern electronic SLR and a digital camera. I’ll just leave that there and wait for the flak!

I mentioned how tactile the FT2 is and this is the most compelling reason for me choosing to use what is in effect a manual camera. I enjoy the full experience; from choosing and loading the film, setting the aperture and shutter speed appropriate to my vision, tripping the shutter and winding on the film – pure ASMR to this photographer. I even enjoy rewinding film manually (not least because this way the film leader doesn’t disappear).

For John Martin

So, there we are. Some random thoughts on the Nikkormat FT2 and some even more random images!

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