Repair: Nikkormat EL

Hello, everybody! Today, I found some nice things at the “¥100 shop”. I found some good rubber bands and some naphtha for my camera repair. I usually buy tools, solvents and other small things there. Their quality isn’t great but they’re fine for my purpose. I have to save money because I am getting taxed more in my current job and penny-pinching is going to be normal for me from now on. Speaking of ¥100, I’ll show you one thing that I got for ¥100 and it’s something that I will consider to be a real “junkpot”.

Introduction:

Today, I am going to introduce to you the Nikkormat EL! This is going to be the first in my new Nikkormat series (Nikomat in Japan) and I’ll aim to cover every production model so long as it’s financially possible because running this blog isn’t cheap. The Nikkormat EL is Nikon’s first true electronic camera and it has Aperture Priority as its automatic mode. It was introduced around 1972 and it quickly become the backup camera of professionals. I would like to point out that this is very typical of the Nikkormat series of cameras, they’re so tough that pros love using them as backup cameras. One of our readers (Jerry) told me a story about a pro who somehow shorted his Nikon F3 while shooting at Hong Kong but he had a backup camera, one that will not short easily and that is a Nikkormat FT3. They are legendary for their toughness and the key to this is their solid build and the reliable and tough shutter by Copal, the Copal Square shutter. Despite being made and marketed to amateurs and prosumers, the Nikkormat is every bit as tough as the F-series and I will even go further by saying that the Nikkormats are even tougher because it has less parts to go wrong. “Simple is best”, that is my motto in life.

IMG_2297It’s pretty shabby but still presentable in some way. The most important thing is all of its functions still work properly. It’s an electronic camera so the shutter is less likely to give the wrong speed since there’s less mechanical parts and the timing is governed by a tiny quartz crystal (I suppose) within it.

IMG_2531To be honest, I actually prefer this to the Nikon FE series because it feels more like a real camera in my hands than the smaller but more advanced ’80s cameras. This is my setup when Moriyama Daido sensei told me to “gambatte” in the streets of Shinjuku. I will not sell this camera and lens because of that and it has acquired a sentimental value now.

It has speeds from 4s to 1/1000s and the all-important A mode. I love shooting it like this because it frees me from worrying about my exposure settings. Despite having 1/1000s as its fastest speed, I find it more than adequate for my needs because I mostly use slower speeds for my photography. It uses the harder-to-find 4SR44 as battery and this camera is going to deplete it really quick! If you ran out of power, the camera can still be operated in 1/90s as its native mechanical speed. Always bring spare batteries with you when you are shooting with older cameras because older electronics tend to deplete batteries much faster than modern ones partly due to the aging components and the size of the wires.

The Nikkormat EL series is also the first and only Nikkormat to break-away from the old styling of the mechanical Nikkormat model in that they have the shutter speed dial in a more conventional place. It did retain that awkward aperture coupling mechanism that I don’t like so much but that’s not really a big deal to me, just cumbersome at times.

One of the things that I love about the Nikkormat EL is that it uses a conventional match needle in its meter. I’m more into needles than LED lights but it can be difficult to see at night with the tiny viewfinder. Despite the viewfinder being smaller than the flagship F cameras, it does offer a decent view but it’s not 100% like their bigger brothers.

So, why would you want a Nikkormat? Well, they are very charming cameras despite the quirky operation. They are also cheap these days depending on the model and for a small amount of money you can get a tough and rugged camera that you can use at places that you think is too dangerous for a more expensive camera.

What are the things that you should look for in purchasing a Nikkormat EL? You’ll want to have a clean viewfinder because cleaning it isn’t easy. All of the speeds should work, it should sound right and the shutter and mirror should be snappy. Check the batteries and open the battery compartment below the mirror and check for corrosion.

This video was made for the mechanical Nikkotmats but should be relevant to this model in some ways so I am linking it here. Check out my other videos just in case.

That’s all for the introduction, let’s begin with our partial CLA article!

Before We Begin:

If this is the first attempt at opening a lens then I suggest that you read my previous posts regarding screws & driversgrease and other things. Also read regarding the tools that you will need in order to fix your Nikkors.

I highly suggest that you read these primers before you begin (for beginners):

Reading these primers should lessen the chance of ruining your lens if you are a beginner. Also before opening up any lens, always look for other people who have done so in Youtube and the internet. Information is scarce, vague and scattered (that is why I started this) but you can still find some information if you search carefully.

I highly recommend that you also read my working with helicoids post because this is very important and getting it wrong can ruin your day. If I can force you to read this, I would. It is that important!

For more advanced topics, you can read my fungus removal post as a start. This post has a lot of useful information here and there and it will be beneficial for you to read this.

About Me:

I am a photographer based in Tokyo who scours the junk section of the camera shops here on a regular basis. I started this hobby of fixing old lenses and cameras because I kept on getting scammed before when I purchase online. This turned out to be a blessing because I now buy junk lenses for a fraction of the price and then fix them to add to my now-growing collection. This allowed me to buy gear that were otherwise off-limits to me if I were to get them in better condition.

I was a scale modeller before who built models for other collectors for a very longtime, got an education as a dental prosthodontist (but didn’t pursue dentistry) and growing up in a watch repair shop gave me the useful skills that would help me in this craft. Fixing my car also contributed some know-how.

Having mentioned the above, I will tell you now that I am not a professional repairman! So please take what I do with a grain of salt and I will never be held responsible for anything wrong that will happen to you and your project. I hope that the pros would guide and teach us but nobody is writing anything.

As my collection of repair notes grew, I get requests from people with similar interests and from professionals who just needed some notes just in case. Now, I am sharing my library with you for your entertainment and reference. I hope that you find my work useful.

Disassembly:

I always hated cleaning Nikkormats. All of them have viewfinders that are a pain to clean because you will have to remove so many things just to disassemble the viewfinder. The mechanical Nikkormats also have a shutter speed display that is operated by pulleys and cord. That is even a bigger pain to work with because putting it back can be difficult and if you snapped the cord, you’re in for a hell of a time. The Nikkormat EL isn’t too difficult if you have experience working on cameras but I’ll never encourage a beginner to open one. Leave this to the experienced repairmen, I don’t think they cost a lot to service and I can also say that the Nikkormat EL is tough so there’s not a lot of things that can go bad. I am aware that the needle of the meter can get stuck sometimes but how it got that way is a mystery because there’s no way you can mechanically jam the needle from outside. It’s probably caused by something else, I will update you when I know more about it.

IMG_2311Th bottom cover can be removed by removing a few screws. If your camera won’t fire or advance, this is the first place I that I will look into (depending on camera). Mine is firing properly so I don’t have anything to check here apart from cleaning away lots of dirt. It’s sometimes essential to lubricate the moving parts here. Only use fine oil for watches or launa oil. Dilute it in naphtha and use a syringe to apply it in small amounts. After the oil and naphtha mixture touches a seam, the naphtha will carry the oil into the small spaces and leave the oil residue there after the naphtha evaporates. The naphtha will also flush away any dirt that’s small enough for it to dissolve.

IMG_2313To remove the top, we begin by removing the shutter speed dial. Set it to familiar speed so you will have a point of reference. Remove the 2 screws in the picture to remove the dial. Be careful, there’s a spring underneath it.

IMG_2314The shutter speed dial assembly can be broken-down into these subcomponents. Clean it properly with naphtha or isopropyl alcohol.

IMG_2319You can now unscrew this collar with your fingertips.

IMG_2315Next, remove the advance lever assembly by beginning with the cap. I am not sure but if I recall it properly, the cap is a left-handed screw. That means it can be loosened if you turn it clockwise. Use a rubber cup for extra friction. The retainer underneath it should also be removed. I’m not sure if mine was glued into place.

IMG_2316The advance lever now be removed. Do note that this thing is connected to the other end of a coil spring so be careful as you go or you may damage the spring The spring is there so that the lever will return to its position after you have cocked your shutter.

IMG_2321There’s another retaining collar here, unscrew it.

IMG_2317To remove the rewind lever, stick a small rod into the rewind fork and then unscrew the rewind lever by turning it counter-clockwise. Be careful not to snap the fork! I use small wooden chopsticks for this if I have some available.

IMG_2318Here’s how the rewind lever assembly comes off. Be careful of the small parts!

IMG_2320The film speed selector can be removed by unscrewing these 2.

IMG_2322Underneath it are 3 more screws that you will need to remove.

IMG_2323And the crown should come off just like this.

IMG_2324The name plate should be removed as well.

IMG_2325Finally, carefully unscrew the power check button from the top panel.

IMG_2326The top panel can now be safely removed. Be careful though, the wire for the flash is still soldered to the top panel and you don’t want to damage this part.

IMG_2327You can either unsolder this or carefully disassemble the whole assembly.

IMG_2349The moving parts here should be lubricated when needed using the naphtha-oil solution that I taught you earlier in this blog post. Just make sure that you don’t put too much oil.

IMG_2328To remove the prism, you must first remove these 2 screws. Be careful not to lose those 2 washers. Those aren’t just any washers, they aren’t conductive.

IMG_2329The PCB can now be lifted to reveal what’s underneath. There are 2 other washers here. I wasn’t careful and I almost lost these. The brace looks really dirty!

IMG_2330Removing the 2 retainer springs should free-up the brace. Clean it thoroughly with some alcohol, it also looks corroded and you will have to get rid of that as well.

IMG_2331We are nearly there! The 2 CDS cells can be removed by picking them off with your nails. Just be careful not to damage these because they are delicate. There are 2 screws here for you to remove. The screws atop the black plastic parts secure the housing of the CDS cells or photodiodes, the ones on top of the grey metal parts (left) are for something else.

IMG_2332The housing can now be removed, clean it very well.

IMG_2333Thank goodness, we can now remove the prism! All that effort just for one prism!

IMG_2334The shim for the prism can now be removed. Be careful with the shim and don’t lose it. It is used for calibrating your viewfinder image.

IMG_2348There are more things deeper inside this hole! They can be a bit tricky to reach.

IMG_2350To get to the fresnel screen and condenser lens, remove the prism’s basket.

IMG_2351We have a problem here. The galvanometer’s needle is in the way, this is very typical of the Nikkormats and we have to remove it to proceed.

IMG_2352Remove the galvanometer and its housing by unscrewing some screws. Be careful while removing this, the needle can be very easily bent!

IMG_2353Here it is, see how thin the needle is? There is also a printed acetate scale underneath it. It looks fine here but I accidentally crumpled mine! I don’t recall what happened exactly but it felt more like an accident than anything.

IMG_2354Once all the obstructions are cleared, you can now remove the screen assembly.

IMG_2356Mine was very dirty, there’s fungus and other sorts of crud here.

IMG_2357Remove the optics from the housing with your hands but make sure to touch it only at its corners and edges when possible. The fresnel screen can be easily damaged so be careful while handling it. The smallest scar will show as a black spot inside the finder.

IMG_2359It comes in 3 parts, the condenser lens at the top, a fresnel lens at the bottom and a shim between them. Do take note of their orientation before you separate it.

IMG_2361Yuck, just look at that fungus! I cleaned it the same way I do with my fungus lenses. See how I do it by reading this article.

That’s all for our partial CLA. You don’t fix what’s not broken and in this case, the camera is only dirty but everything works properly. Compared to the Nikkormat Ft series, this is a bit more difficult to clean because there are many electronic parts inside that you will have to be careful with. It’s not as complicated as later electronic shutter cameras but it’s still complicated enough to keep you occupied.

Conclusion:

Before you reassemble everything, make sure to clean and replace all of the foam inside the camera that’s accessible to you. Foam that’s close to the prism can be substituted with black electrical tape or strips of black vinyl. I cut scraps of black plastic from a notebook.

Be careful when putting back electronic parts. Cameras this old tend to have brittle PCBs and they can crack under pressure if you’re not careful. The solders can also come-off if you’re not careful. I hate soldering and this is one of the reasons why I hat working on all electronic equipment since the ’80s!

IMG_2364This spring needs to be wound-up before you put back the winding lever. The hook at the end of the spring can be annoying to position so I tired it with a thread.

IMG_2365The thread will help you pull that hook into position once you have reinstalled the lever.

IMG_2366Success! It’s up to you how on how much tension you want. So long as it comes back into place after winding then it should be fine. The string trick is the easy way to do this. This is something that I improvised on-the-fly or else I would’ve wasted plenty of time.

IMG_2367It’s now time to clean the old foam in the channels and the best way to do this is to use a wooden toothpick or wedge. Wrap it in lens tissue and saturate it with solvents.

IMG_2368Carefully remove the old material until it’s all clean. Only when you’re sure that it’s clean can you begin putting on new foam. Read my article on how I replace old foam. The way I do it is the most common way here in Japan when it comes to old-school repairers. You may have your own preferences but I find this to be the cleanest and easiest way. Foam is used as some kind of a dust seal and is there more to keep dust out than to keep it light-tight. You can do without it but if you want to do a proper job the you’ll have to replace it.

IMG_2565After all that work, this camera is now functioning properly. Amazing considering that I got this for less than $1.00! One man’s junk is another man’s treasure! Seen here is a nice lens for this camera, the Nikkor-O 35m f/2 lens, a great combination.

I appreciate feedback from out readers and Henry has this to say:

“I discovered the the prism and its frame and retainer springs can and should be removed as an assembly. Because the circuit board lead wires are too short to allow room to re-hook the springs, it was much easier to hook them to the frame outside of the the camera and insert the entire assembly. Be aware once again that the wire leads going to the top circuit board can be shorter than the camera in this particular presentation, and may not allow as much room to work underneath the circuit board. Finally, it is not necessary to extract the meter needle assembly as far out of the camera as in this presentation. It is only necessary to pull it out enough to clear its slot. Be extremely careful and use a very close magnifier. The EL is very much more difficult and tedious to work on than an FTN.”

If ever you find anything wrong or have a suggestion that you think will be helpful, don’t hesitate to notify me.

Thank you everybody for supporting this blog. I wrote this article by request so I hope it will help somebody. I think there were 2-3 people who asked me to make one. Initially, I was thinking of writing another lens repair article but this seemed to be more urgent. If your camera has a bigger problem then I am afraid that this article will be of no help to you. Send it to a real repairman, that’s the only way to get that thing working. Just make sure he is competent enough. See you guys again next time and as always, share this with your camera group if you liked it and if you really really liked this then you can also do a small donation to the blog via paypal. See you guys again soon, I’m going to publish more articles in the coming days! Again, thank you all for the support. Ric.

Help Support this Blog:

Maintaining this blog requires money to operate. If you think that this site has helped you or you want to show your support by helping with the upkeep of this site, you can simple make a small donation to my paypal.com account (richardHaw888@gmail.com). Money is not my prime motivation for this blog and I believe that I have enough to run this but you can help me make this site (and the companion facebook page) grow.

 

 

Buy me a roll of film or a burger?

Thank you very much for your continued support!

$2.00

Helping support this site will ensure that this will be kept going as long as I have the time and energy for this. I would appreciate it if you just leave out your name or details like your country and other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous it is at all possible. This is a labor of love and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can. Ric.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bob
    Jun 04, 2018 @ 22:52:54

    Were you able to remove the collar under neath the film advance lever by hand, or by using tools?

    Reply

  2. Henry Finley
    Jul 15, 2018 @ 07:31:46

    First of all this was a good and handy presentation. I doubt I could have repaired my ELW without it. Corrections: In photo 21, the circled screw in the upper left to remove the viewfinder eyepiece is the wrong screw. It should have been the one below it. 2) Those aren’t diodes. They are the CdS cells. 3) I discovered the the prism and its frame and retainer springs can and should be removed as an assembly. Because the circuit board lead wires are too short to allow room to re-hook the springs, it was much easier to hook them to the frame outside of the the camera and insert the entire assembly. Be aware once again that the wire leads going to the top circuit board can be shorter than the camera in this particular presentation, and may not allow as much room to work underneath the circuit board. Finally, it is not necessary to extract the meter needle assembly as far out of the camera as in this presentation. It is only necessary to pull it out enough to clear its slot. Be extremely careful and use a very close magnifier. The EL is very much more difficult and tedious to work on than an FTN.

    Reply

  3. Vincent
    Sep 08, 2018 @ 13:51:45

    I found this very interesting my focus has always been the brute f2 but recently picked up a few elw’s and el2’s due to my age and the weight they are easier to handle with a winder. I did have and issue with a el the shutter will not fire I opened the base plate and I can fire it from the but it will not fire from the shutter release is the release electronic or manual the release on top seems to be jammed

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Sep 16, 2018 @ 22:26:50

      I think something got stuck at the top. I don’t know but I find working on Nikkormats to be very tiring at times. The Fs are easier to service. Ric.

      Reply

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