Project Nikkormat FT-2

Project Nikkormat FT02

This project started several months ago when I picked up a reasonable condition Nikkormat FT-2 and a couple of lenses at a local second hand store for what I thought was quite a bargain. The two lenses were a 28mm wide angle and the other a 43-86 zoom - both non-AI Nikkors.

I had a couple of LR44 batteries on hand, so after a quick clean of the battery compartment of the FT-2 in they went. Of course, having a mechanical shutter and aperture, the Nikkormat FT-2 can be used manually without batteries as they are only needed for the exposure meter. However it was reassuring to see the meter spring to life when I pulled the film advance lever away from the body to power it up. The meter readings were a little bit jumpy and therefore suspect, but I figured with a basic understanding of the sunny 16 rule I could work exposure out if I needed to.

After a quick cosmetic tidy up of the body and lenses I put them into a cupboard while I finished the film that I had in my Zenit ET. That took longer than expected!

Therein lies a major difference between shooting film and shooting digital. It took me best part of a month to get through a 36 exposure 35mm film in the Zenit - but in less than 2 minutes I could get through the same number of shots in my digital camera. I'm not sure if shooting film takes so long because I am more selective in what I take or because I have the cost of film and processing at the back of my mind.

But back to the FT-2. And remember this is not a review of the Nikkormat FT-2 as many experts, and others, have reviewed, and posted about, this fine camera before and a simple Google search will turn them up. 

Anyway the FT-2 came out of the cupboard a couple of weeks ago and in went a roll of colour film.

The only functions on the FT-2 that didn't work were the 2 slowest shutter speeds - 1 second and half a second - but I felt I would have no reason to go to such slow speeds. And while the exposure meter was a bit jumpy as mentioned - it seemed to work, apparently reliably, about 90 percent of the time. The good news is though, when I was half way through the film, I spotted on Facebook some anecdotal evidence that jiggling the shutter speed and aperture dials on an FT-2 back and forth several times often settles the metering down - presumably by cleaning contacts the meter setting relies on. I tried it - and it worked! Great!

The Nikkormat FT-2 is not a camera I would wish to take on holiday with me. With the 43-86 zoom lens on the front the whole setup weighs 1.275 kilograms. Compared with the 850 grams of my Nikon D5100 and 18-55mm lens - the Nikkormat FT-2 is a real heavyweight! And of course it is bound to be as the body is made from cast aluminium, finished with chrome externally - so it is solid - really solid. Like the Zenit ET the FT-2's shutter makes a reassuring ka-chunk as it fires, and the film advance is positive and smooth.

For a camera that is 41 years or more old - Nikkormat FT-2 cameras were made between 1975 and 1977 - I was astounded that everything (apart from the 2 aforementioned shutter speeds) worked as they should. In fact when I contacted a camera repair engineer about the cost of a CLA for it he basically said "if it is still going strong- don't open it up". It's that old adage - if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

What did I like about the Nikkormat FT-2 after using it for the first time? I loved that solid feel and the sound of the mechanical bits and pieces working away inside the body when clicking the shutter or winding the film on. Even the shutter speed and aperture adjustments felt good and sound. I like the results - but maybe a non-budget film would give even better results.

What didn't I like? The use of the film advance lever as the on-off switch for the meter. It's no biggie - but I have to use  my left eye for the viewfinder as I am blind in my right eye, and the film advance lever was always jammed into my right eye when the metering was switched on..... uncomfortable!

And as for the results...well here are some of the photographs from the FT-2. Most, if not all of these photos, were taken with the much maligned Nikkor 43-86 f3.5 lens, which over the years has developed a bit of a cult following.  The film was Fujicolor C200 which was processes at my local lab - Buckley Photos - who scanned the negatives to TIFF, which I subsequently converted to JPEGs and resized.