The Savvy Consumer’s Guide To Pre-Owned, Collectible, And Vintage Cameras; Gather Ye Nikons While Ye May: Best Bets In Nikon Film SLRs

While I am hardly a charter member of the anti-digitist (I shoot about 70 percent digital these days, mostly with a Canon EOS 20D, and I'm currently nursing a bad case of 5D lust) I will confess to being a long-time Nikon nut. When I acquired my first Nikon F in the early 1960s, I thought I had died and gone to heaven, and there are at least half a dozen Nikon cameras on my "world's greatest" list. I therefore had a lump in my throat and maybe a wee bit of mist in my eye when I read Nikon's mid-January press release that it was ceasing production and sale of all film cameras save for the flagship F6 and the pleasantly unassuming, entry-level, manual-focus FM10. While I commend Nikon for soldiering on with two 35mm SLRs--long may they wind and click--it surely marks the end of a noble era characterized by remarkable achievements, both in technology and camera design.

Where does this all leave collectors, lovers, and users of Nikon 35mm SLRs? Pretty much in the same boat they were before. It's no secret that the prices of even some of the most esteemed and desirable 35mm models have taken big hits in the wake of the digital dreadnaught, and, overall, 35mm SLR prices have never been lower than they are right now. No, I am not anticipating a sudden stampede by Nikon film SLR fanatics causing prices to skyrocket. However, I believe prices will not erode significantly in the near term, and I do feel that manual-focus Nikon SLRs in particular will continue to hold their present value remarkably well. There are even a few models that will probably go up in value due to increased demand among users and collectors, their relative scarcity, and the fact that they're out of production. In short, if there's a manual-focus Nikon SLR that you've always hankered for, the time to snag a pristine example is now.

Exactly which manual-focus Nikon SLRs am I talking about? Well, all of them, actually, but this month we'll concentrate on some of the best of the enthusiast-aimed models, namely Nikkormats and the highly esteemed Nikon FM series, which includes some of the nicest Nikons ever.

Deal Of The Month!
Canon A-1 With Canon 50mm f/1.8 FD Lens
$129.95 In E+ Condition

A truly incredible machine for its era (it's hard to believe it debuted back in '78!) the robust, ruggedly handsome Canon A-1 can still go toe-to-toe with current SLRs in terms of sheer picture-taking performance and features. The first 35mm SLR with electronic information processing, its six-mode exposure control system offers Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Speed Priority, plus stopped-down AE, Manual, and Autoflash. Other features include:
Cloth focal-plane shutter with electronically-timed speeds of 30-1/1000 sec, comprehensive digital LED viewfinder read-outs displaying shutter speeds, apertures, manual metering indications, and warning signals. You can even mount a Motor Drive MA or Power Winder--a feature that made it the darling of pros who often used it as a back-up camera. Noted for its rugged construction, dependability, and solid feel, the Canon A-1 is a great user-collectible for enthusiasts, and at its present bargain price it's likely to hold its value better than most of the 35mm SLR breed.

Note: This month's Deal of the Month was found at Adorama ( However, this model can also be found at comparable prices at other stores that advertise in Shutterbug.

The Nikkormat Saga
The Nikkormat that debuted in '65 was Nikon's first serious attempt (after a series of lackluster fixed- and interchangeable-lens Nikkorexes, said to be made by Mamiya) to provide amateur photographers with a durable, high-quality 35mm SLR body with an F-mount that was far less costly than the posh, professional Nikon F. In this, they succeeded admirably, and the hefty, rugged, Spartan, mechanically-based Nikkormats felt like Nikons, sold like hot cakes, and performed well enough to be used by pros as back-up bodies.

A Nikon for the masses? Not exactly, but the Nikkormat FT was a solid, honest machine that appealed to amateur enthusiasts and established the identity of basic manual Nikons for decades to come. Shown is the Japanese market Nikomat FT, identical except for the nameplate.

The mechanical models FT ('65), FTN ('67), FT2 ('75), and FT3 ('77) are all solid, rugged, fixed-prism, manual-everything SLRs incorporating vertical metal focal-plane shutters, with speeds of 1-1/1000 sec plus B arrayed on a shutter speed dial situated concentrically behind the lens mount--a signature Nikkormat F feature. The FTN featured center-weighted metering and worked with non-AI (Auto-Indexing) lenses. The FT2 had an ISO-type hot shoe contact and sync terminal with built-in automatic M-X switchover, and the FT3 was basically an AI lens version of the FT2. Although sold under the Nikkormat marquee, the Nikkormat EL ('72), winder-compatible ELW ('76), and EL2 ('77) were all electronically-controlled shutter cameras based on a different chassis. Despite their solidity, none have the visceral appeal of the mechanical models, and the original EL was a known battery eater.

Don't mess with success! This Nikkormat FTN of 1967 was virtually the same as the original best-selling FT except for the addition of center-weighted (instead of averaging) metering and semiautomatic aperture indexing.The model shown also sports the Nikomat nameplate.

Prices for used mechanical Nikkormats vary wildly, but models in E (Excellent) condition hold their value. At this writing, Adorama ( was offering two V-condition bodies at a mere $59 and $79 respectively, whereas B&H ( featured a pristine collector's FTN with mint 55mm f/2 Nikkor and case for $479! KEH ( was right in the middle, listing an E black FT body at $165, an E+ one in chrome at $172, an E+ chrome FT2 at $205, and an E+ FT3 in black at $286. The Achilles' heel of mechanical Nikkormats is the variable resistor in the metering circuit, so be sure yours is working 'cause they're nearly impossible to replace. Oh yeah, Nikkormats were called Nikomats in Japan and versions so marked occasionally show up here. It is said that Nikon had to add the "r" to satisfy Zeiss Ikon, who was miffed that "Nikomat" was too close to "Ikomat," a name found on rollfilm classics and mediocre 35mm SLRs.