Nikkormat FT3 35mm SLR Film Camera

Film Camera Review: Nikkormat FT3

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Nikkormat FT3 35mm SLR Film Camera

'A robust and well-built vintage all-metal mechanically controlled 35mm SLR film camera worth the collector's keep'

Introduction and Overview
The Nikkormat FT3 (Nikomat FT3 in Japan), the last iteration of the Nikomat / Nikkormat F series from Nikon, is definitely one of the cameras for the keep. The all-metal and mechanically controlled manual focus 35mm SLR film camera series with match-needle exposure control was manufactured by Nippon Kogaku K. K. (Nikon) from 1965 to 1978. The series was well endowed with extremely robust mechanicals and excellence in design and built.

Nikkormat FT3, Nikkor Ai 50mm F1.4, right front view

The FT3, launched in 1977, was also the first Nikomat / Nikkormat camera to be fitted to use the newly introduced Nikkor AI (Auto Indexing) lenses. The system does away with the need for the lens-to-body coupling via the 'rabbit ears' link, as the new Nikkor AI lenses come with a cam coupling connection to transfer the aperture index information to the camera's exposure metering system.

Operationally, the FT3 comes with a vertical travel metal focal-plane shutter with a speed range from 1 to 1/1000 second and B, X flash sync at 1/125 second and accepts film ISO speed range from 12 to 1600. The FT3 is also fitted with a mirror-lockup and stop-down capability, a multiple thread release cable socket, and an 8-10 seconds self-timer.

Metering is TTL center-weighted, powered by an alkaline or silver-oxide 1.5-volt button cell, up from the now-banned 1.35-volt mercuric-oxide which was the standard on the original FT.

Nikkormat FT3

Everybody will tell you that Nikkormats are the Nikons to avoid, they even don't say Nikon in the name plate and that must be for a good reason. In fact how ...
The FT3 is backward compatible with Nikkor non-AI lenses. Exposure metering, however, is done and set manually using the stop-down button. The series, starting with the FT (1965 to 1967) and FS (1965 to 1971), FTN (1967 to 1975), and FT2 (1975 to 1977) shares basically the same built and mechanical configuration, with feature enhancements.

The FTN supports the newly introduced center-weighted (60/40) exposure reading and sports the addition of a new hot shoe, while the earlier FS was an early iteration without the light meter and mirror lockup feature.

Nikkormat FT3, Nikkor Ai 50mm F1.4, left front view

Note: A few items that you might not want to miss out on getting a better understanding of the Nikomat / Nikkormat series includes the location and function of the meter window, which duplicates the TTL exposure reading display as seen on the camera's viewfinder, the pull-down latch release for the film back, and the half-turn release and lock battery chamber cover. All of these fine design details are not normally seen or found on later eras 35mm SLR film cameras.

Basic Camera Features

Acknowledged for its superior built and robust handling, the Nikomat/Nikkormat does not only pride itself as an excellent consumer-grade camera, but as well as a strong companion of the professionals for its fundamentally compact form factor, exceptional build quality, top-rated mechanicals, and extremely reliable metal-blade Copal Square focal-plane shutter, which is known for its high X-speed, durability, and accuracy.

Nikkormat FT3, front

The front of the camera, as with the rest of the series, is rather spartan with the lens mount housing off-center to the right of the front plane, the self-timer rocker switch to its left, and the lens release button on the right edge of the lens mount.

On the lens mount housing, on the right vertical that abuts the body is the mirror-lockup slider switch while on the left is a small hump with a pointer dot to indicate the shutter speed setting. The shutter speed and film ISO speed dial are concentric on the camera lens mount itself.

Nikkormat FT3, top

On the top plane, from left to right, is the film rewind knob and pull-up film canister release, a small duplicate meter window that reflects the TTL exposure reading, the pentaprism with a built-in hot shoe. To the right of the pentaprism, the depth of field preview button, the shutter release button, film counter window, and the film forward crank.

Nikkormat FT3, back

On the back, at the top plane level, is the viewfinder eyepiece, with the rest of the back occupied by the non-interchangeable hinged film back, with its latch release mechanism located on the left shoulder of the film back, with the flash sync socket located above it.

Nikkormat FT3, bottom

On the bottom plate, the battery chamber with a half-turn release and lock cover, tripod socket, and film rewind release button.

Nikkormat FT3, film box

The film box, with the film back release latch located on the left shoulder of the camera back, is a Nikon quick-load system with the standard film canister chamber, shutter window, film advance gear, and the multi-pin take-up spool configuration.

Film Loading and Rewind

The film roll is loaded into the camera by first inserting its canister into the left-most chamber, pulling the film tab end right across the back, and inserted into one of the inner slots of the take-up spool. The film is wound in the opposite direction of the film crank swing, with the emulsion side up.

Before closing the film back, make sure that the film is properly tensioned across the opening, and the perforations on the film edge are properly aligned with sprocket gear. Do the standard 2-blank shots after closing the film back to forward the film to frame 1, and you are ready to go.

To rewind and unload, press the rewind release button on the camera baseplate, crank the film rewind lever clockwise until the film roll is fully rewound into the film canister. Release the film back and remove the film roll for processing.

Viewfinder Readout

Nikkormat FT3, viewfinder readout
The FT3 is fitted with a 'Type K' matte Fresnel field with central microprism/split-image rangefinder screen, with the 'center-the-needle' exposure control system display located on the lower right side of the viewfinder screen, and the shutter speed display on a bar below the screen.

Metering is center-weighted TTL, biased towards the center of the screen, and is turned on when the film advance lever flipped out at 20 degrees.

The Meter Window

The meter window, a small glass-covered opening located to the right and aft of the film rewind crank, replicates the exposure reading as displayed in the viewfinder. This small gadget is a great assist, for example, when you have the camera mounted on a tripod for landscape or posed group shots where you can do the final exposure setting without having to squint your eyes through the viewfinder.

Nikkormat FT3, partial top view

DoF (Depth of Field) Preview and Mirror Lockup

Aside from the meter window, the FT3 (just like the rest of Nikomat/Nikkormat F the series) is also fitted with DoF (Depth of Field) preview, activated by a button located on the top plane of the camera, and mirror lockup, designed to facilitate the use of Nikkor Fisheye lenses, which can also be used for long-exposure photography.

Battery

The FT3 is powered by a 1.5-volt SR/LR44 button cell.

Camera Body Weight

The camera body weight is a hefty 750 grams without batteries.

Battery Chamber Cover

A unique design feature of the FT-series, not easily found on other camera make and model, is the half-turn to open and lock battery chamber cover. The cap is engraved with the letter O and an arced arrow to show the clockwise half-turn direction to unlock the cap, which pops out for easy replacement of the cell button battery.

Once a new battery is inserted, the cap is pushed in slightly and turned half-around in the anti-clockwise direction to lock. A misunderstanding of this method of use may lead to the cap breaking its lock stay and rotates freely around and falling off at specific spots of the turn, as seen on a couple of mismanaged units.

In Use

With such an excellent built, superb mechanicals, and exemplary finish, it is rather superfluous to keep on saying that in your hands, the camera does gives you that built-for-ever feeling, with just the right amount of smoothness of shutter actuation and mirror flap as you release the shutter button. Smooth as silk, you might say, without even a hint of body shake or vibration.

Nikkormat FT3, partial bottom view
Film forward is equally smooth, with both hands and finger functions from adjusting the shutter speed ring with your left thumb, to releasing the depth-of-field and shutter buttons with your right index finger distanced ergonomically correct.

If your camera is on a tripod, you'll find how useful the meter window on the top panel is. For close-up work or other technical applications, mirror lock-up is all but an asset worth having.

While a few might be at odds with the camera's angular form factor and body weight, the Nikkormat FT3 is a very enjoyable camera to use, equally easy to learn and master even as a beginner camera. With a built is virtually unbreakable even under very regular use, the camera should last you for a while yet.

The Restorespect

Excellent as it was, the fave for the FT3 did succumb to the redirection of SLR users then, which was towards compact SLR designs in the form of the Olympus OM and Pentax M series and the like. While later models of the series produced to replace the F series were the electromechanical EL-series, which includes the EL, ELW, and EL2, the production of the FT3 lasted only for a couple of before it was replaced by the Nikon FM.

Nikkormat FT3, Nikkor Ai 50mm F1.4, view

With the limited production run, finding an FT3 on sales and auctions sites may not be as easy acquiring earlier FT, FTN, or FT2 models (with either Nikomat or Nikkormat nameplates). These models are designed for use with Pre-Ai lenses, and the 'pin and claw' lens mounting system.

This might as well adds up to the fact that the FT3 you see being offered is likely to be in excellent physical or user condition, lightly used, well maintained, and may be worth the few extra bobs you have to pay for its acquisition, as mine is. Get one with just an Ai lens (which will cost you a lot less than a Nikkor Ai-S), and you are the happy user, for now, and the keep.


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