Nikon EL2 (also comes in black, runs on one 6V 544 battery, shoots 35mm film, 28.1 oz./797g with battery and film, about $50 used) and Nikon NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4 AI-s. enlarge. My biggest source of support is when you use any of these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Please always use these links when getting any of your gear so I can continue to share what I know. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. Thanks for your support! Ken.
NEW: Nikon Df (2013-)
Nikon FM3a (2001-2006)
Nikon FE2 (1983-1987)
Nikon FE (1978-1983)
I've been getting my film directly from B&H and Adorama ever since the 1970s; you've never been able to get pro film at local retail stores. I use NCPS to process and scan all my film. If you're reading this you have a mailbox and can get all the film and processing you need; B&H and Adorama ship worldwide, and NCPS does mail-order work from around the world every day.
Rear, Nikon EL2. enlarge.
Top, Nikon EL2. enlarge.
Bubble Gum Wall, San Luis Obispo. 11:31 AM, 11 April 2012. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1997 Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AI-s, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/2.8 at 1/30, process and scan at NCPS, Perfectly Clear.)
Pipe, Best Western Casa Grande, Arroyo Grande. 3:31 PM, 11 April 2012. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1990 Nikon 135mm f/2.8 AI-s, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, process and scan at NCPS, split-toned print.)
Green, Montaña de Oro, 3:23 PM, 12 April 2013. bigger, (1977 Nikon EL2, 1986 Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AF, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/2.8 at 1/90 hand-held from bridge, process and scan at NCPS, Perfectly Clear.)
Best Western Casa Grande, Arroyo Grande, 9:52 PM, 12 April 2013. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1990 Nikon 20mm f/2.8 AI-s with no filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/5.6 at two seconds hand-held while sitting in a comfy chair, process and scan at NCPS, Perfectly Clear.)
Nikon's first-ever SLR with a fixed prism and fixed focus screen, the Nikon EL2 is an all-metal electronically-controlled mechanical beauty. It is extremely well-made, with a list price at introduction for the body-only of $2,000, in today's dollars.
The Nikon EL2 was announced at PMA in the spring of 1977, along with the lower-priced Nikon FM and the state-of the art Nikon F2AS. The same show debuted automatic-indexing (AI) lenses, which continue to be made and sold today as Nikon's finest.
In the EL2's AUTO mode, you pick the aperture, and it sets the shutter speed electronically from 1/1,000 to 8 full seconds or more. Focus is manual, and exposure is either aperture-preferred AUTO or manual, all with a superb full-range analog needle in the finder both for the meter and for indicating manually-set shutter speeds.
The Nikon EL2 is a great-shooting camera. Unlike when I carry run-of-the-mill digital cameras like my LEICA M9 or Nikon D4, almost every day I carry my EL2 some stranger will walk up to me and say "Nice camera!"
This EL2, which sells for about $50 on eBay, does pretty much the same thing as the far more expensive Nikon FM3a. For use with lenses faster than f/2.5, the EL2 even has a better focus screen which lets you see the real depth-of-field of fast lenses.
The only features missing from the EL2 are minor:
No aperture displayed in finder (no big deal, you can set this by feel counting clicks)
It has mirror lock-up missing on newer cameras, but the diaphragm doesn't stop down until the shutter opens
There's no shutter cocked indicator, missing on all other Nikons and LEICAs, too.
No film box-end holder.
No locking-pin hole in the hot shoe for use with the newest flashes; no big deal, they just won't lock.
Otherwise, it has strongly center-weighted metering, a huge auto exposure range and I get 39 perfectly-exposed shots on each roll of 36.
It even has auto-exposure lock: just press and hold the self-timer lever towards the lens.
The Nikon EL2 is relatively unique in that there are two power and lock switches: the usual pull-out the wind lever switch, and a unique lever around the shutter button, either of which will turn on the EL2 for you.
No battery? No problem! With no battery, it just shoots at a fixed manual 1/90 of a second.
1972-1976: Nikkormat EL
The previous Nikkormat EL was almost the same operationally, except optimized for traditional Nikon F-mount lenses.
The EL used a CdS light-meter cell.
1977-1978: Nikon EL2
This new Nikon EL2 changed the brand name for this "consumer" camera from Nikkormat to Nikon (just like Nikon's pro cameras).
The biggest change is the new lens mount that's compatible with the new automatic-indexing (AI) lenses.
This EL2 adds a wider ASA range, adds an exposure compensation dial, replaces the EL's CdS cell with a silicon photo-diode (SPD) light meter cell, adds a manual 8 second speed (the EL only went to 4 seconds in manual), and adds a unique shutter ring lock switch for use with the new AW-1 winder. There's also a new battery removal helper.
The EL2 stops down the diaphragm all by itself when using mirror-lock-up; the EL required you remember to do this manually with mirror lock-up.
The EL2 takes-away the manual setting for M (flashbulb) syncchonization and does it automatically at higher speeds.
1978-1983: Nikon FE
The newer Nikon FE again is mostly the same as the FE, swapping the battery-check light bulb for a battery-check LED and the EL2's engraved shutter-speed dial for a printed metal one.
Most importantly, the FE adds a window to display the lens aperture in the finder and uses the new MD-11 and MD-12 motor drives, but loses full-time mirror lock-up.
The FE takes two S76 button cells on the bottom of the camera, instead of the larger 6V battery under the EL2's mirror.
1983-1987: Nikon FE2
The Nikon FE2 again is the same as the FE, with a faster shutter to 1/4,000 and TTL flash metering, but with no battery check.
The FE2 adds the first laser-cut screen optimized for f/2.5 and faster lenses. It's usually brighter, but you can't see precise focus and depth of field anymore with lenses faster than f/2.5. This brighter screen can be put in the FE, if you set the meter compensation accordingly.
The FE2 draws more power from the batteries to support its faster speeds (even if you don't use them), and the deal-killer on the FE2 for me is that it always shoots frames 00 and 0 at 1/250 without metering, so they are wasted. Nikon did this to help fast loading, but I prefer to shoot these frames.
2001-2006: Nikon FM3a
The Nikon FM3a is the same as the FE2, but with an even better focus screen, we again can shoot frames 00 and 0 in AUTO, and oddly, a very unique shutter that's electronic in AUTO, and mechanical (no battery needed) in manual.
Sadly, manual speeds only go to 1 second, not 8 seconds, but AUTO speeds still go to minutes if you need it.
Stairs, Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, 10:26 AM, 11 April 2012. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1990 Nikon 20mm f/2.8 AI-s, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/2.8 at 1 second hand-held (I braced myself on a railing), process and scan at NCPS, Perfectly Clear.)
Older, non-updated F lenses (1959-1976) work fine, but require pressing the stop-down button when metering. If you do and use the AE lock lever, you even get auto exposure with these ancient lenses.
The cheap new G lenses without aperture rings only will work at minimum aperture (about f/22), and also require stop-down metering. Avoid them.
For details, see Nikon Lens Compatibility.
Infinity, Avila Beach, 8:20 AM, 12 April 2013. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1982 Nikon 85mm f/2 AI-s, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/4 at 1/90 at 3 feet, process and scan at NCPS, Perfectly Clear.
24 x 36mm image size.
Silicon photodiode (SPD) light sensor.
Vertical metal focal-plane.
1/1,000 to 8 seconds plus BULB in manual.
1/1,000 to virtually unlimited in AUTO.
2 FPS with optional AW-1 autowinder.
Standard threaded cable release.
Meter and Exposure
Trees at Chorro, San Luis Obispo, 7:54 PM, 11 April 2012. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1997 Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AI-s, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/1.4 at 1/2 second hand-held (no bracing; just standing in the street), process and scan at NCPS.)
Silicon photodiode (SPD) light sensor.
Heavily weighted inside the 12mm circle seen in the finder.
Analog electronic meter and shutter.
ASA 10 ~ 3,200.
Exposure compensation -1 to +2 stops, works at all ASAs.
Both X-sync at 1/125 and slower, FP (flashbulb) sync at 1/250 and faster.
Glass prism, central split-image rangefinder and microprism collar.
It has a real matte field optimized for f/1.2 and other fast lenses. The FE2 and newer cameras have screens which are brighter with lenses of f/2.5 and faster, however with lenses faster than f/2.5, the new screens don't get any brighter and can't show you the actual depth-of field (or focus as precisely) as does the traditional matte screen in the EL2.
One 6-volt 544 alkaline, silver-oxide or lithium battery (same as L544, 4LR44, PX28L, 2CR-1/3N etc.).
If you get stuck in the field, look for them in the garage-door opener section of a hardware store.
Rated for 10 hours of continuous open shutter time.
The separate AW-1 autowinder (not reviewed here) takes six AA cells.
Made in Japan.
28.100 oz. (796.6g) with battery and film (no strap rings).
27.320 oz. (774.5g) without film or rings, but with battery.
Nikon rates it at 27.5 oz. (780g), empty.
* NYC retail prices. Most people didn't know any better and paid much more at local retail back in the 1970s.
I love the heavily center-weighted meter. It's always perfect for putting over a mid-toned region to get perfect exposure.
Cambria, 13 April 2013, 7:53PM. bigger. (Nikon EL2, NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4 AI-s, French-made 52mm CROMOFILTER P2 rotating tobacco grad filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/8 at AUTO 4 seconds, NCPS scan, Athentech Perfectly Clear plug-in.)
My exposures are all perfect, from 1/1,000 to many seconds. In fact, it will make automatic exposures far longer than 8 seconds, even though it's only rated to 8 seconds on automatic.
When I have made 32 second automatic exposures they seemed a little dark, but that's because I forgot to compensate manually for Velvia 50's reciprocity failure.
Sunset, Cambria, 7:28 PM, 12 April 2013. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1986 Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AF, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/8 at 1/60 (set manually to ignore the sun's bright disk), process and scan at NCPS, Perfectly Clear.)
Everything just goes; see Usage for details.
To shoot, pick it up, pull out the wind lever to turn it on, and go.
When you put it away and push-in the wind lever, it turns off the meter and locks the shutter button all by itself.
The meter, display and automation system make this camera. The needle shows the entire range instantly, and if you shoot manually, a green transparent needle shows you the camera's shutter-dial setting.
Rewind works great; the solid and smooth rewind crank lets me rewind a 36-exposure roll in only 11 seconds.
Even numbers are shown, odd numbers are dots.
0, 20 and 36 are in red-orange.
It stops counting at frame 36, while the EL2 continues to shoot.
The Three Stacks, Morro Bay, 4:54 PM, 12 April 2013. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1983 Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AI-s, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, process and scan at NCPS, split-toned print, Perfectly Clear.)
This "consumer" Nikon EL2 is much better made than any of Nikon's plastic cameras today. While the D4 uses plenty of plastic, the EL2 is all metal, complete with an engraved and filled shutter-speed dial.
The strap lugs are solid brass, with stainless steel inserts to prevent wear.
The lens mount is solid stainless steel.
The only slight whine I have is that the window for the exposure counter appears to be an externally glued-on piece of clear plastic.
The rewind crank is marvelous: it's solid metal, well-knurled for traction, the lever pops-up perfectly, and has a rotating tip for fast rewinds.
See Nikon's EL2 instruction manual for loading and more. It loads as you'd expect.
The 6-volt 544 battery is hidden under the mirror inside the camera; remove the lens and lock-up the mirror to get at it.
It's easy to keep a spare in your bag.
To check the battery, press the rear button and look for the bright amber light next to it.
The power switch is pulling-out the wind lever. If the meter is ON, you'll see a red dot uncovered. With the lever pushed-in, the shutter button is locked.
It turns on this way, too.
A unique feature is you also can switch it on and unlock the shutter by turning the lever concentric with the shutter button to the left. You'll also see a red dot uncovered.
I like the new shutter-button power switch to let me turn on the camera while it's already pressed against my head in close quarters without having to try to pull out the the film wind lever. If using this secondary meter switch, remember to turn it off or you'll kill the battery. It really is intended for use with the AW-1 winder, but it also seems very similar to new (since 1996) Nikon SLR's power switches - except that it goes in the other direction.
No battery? No problem! With no battery, it just shoots at a fixed manual 1/90 of a second.
The wind lever springs back, but wind is not ratcheted. If you make a partial stroke, you'll still need to push it all the way to advance to the next frame.
It's heavily weighted to inside the 12mm circle shown in the finder.
Auto Exposure Lock
Auto exposure lock is so easy it's not marked: simply press and hold the self-timer lever towards the lens.
Use with original F-mount lenses (made 1959-1976)
To use with original Nikon F-mount lenses made before automatic aperture indexing, simply remember to press the little button on the aperture-coupling ring and move the little lever out of the way so the older lenses will mount. Once mounted, press the field preview lever when making meter readings. For auto exposure, no worries: press and hold the preview lever and shoot — or use the exposure lock to hold the reading before you release the preview lever.
When shooting with flash in AUTO mode, watch the shutter speed and keep it at 1/125 and slower. If it goes higher, and it will, you'll expose the flash across only part of your image. In other words, unlike new cameras, there is no interlock if AUTO selects, or if you set, speeds faster than 1/125 with electronic flash. (FP flashbulbs work fine, but you're not likely using them.)
I like using my tiny SB-30 flash for knock-around use. It's tiny, and has a non-TTL Auto mode that works great for fill. Set the SB-30's AUTO switch for an aperture one-stop bigger than the one you're using (set the Auto aperture of the SB-30 at 2.8 and shoot at f/4, for instance), and the fill-flash level will be one-stop darker than the main ambient exposure.
Red Fence against Green, San Simeon Creek Road, 5:25 PM, 12 April 2013. bigger. (1977 Nikon EL2, 1990 Nikon 135mm f/2.8 AI-s, Nikon A2 (81A) filter, Fuji Velvia 50, f/4 at 1/250 at 1.3 meters, process and scan at NCPS, Perfectly Clear.)
The Nikon EL2 is an extremely competent camera for any kind of shooting.
It was only made for a year before the Nikon FE came out, which was in turn made for many years, therefore, there are about ten times as many used Nikon FEs out there as this EL2.
I wouldn't go out of my way looking for this Nikon EL2 instead of getting the newer Nikon FE, unless you really need the full-time mirror lockup of this EL2.
Personally, I prefer the FE, but since I was given this EL2, I'm going to shoot with it and enjoy it.
This Nikon EL2 was overhauled by Gus Lazzari. If yours needs service, Gus does an awesome job at a very reasonable price. He's not fast because he's very careful, and getting very popular.
If you've found all the time, effort and expense I put into researching and sharing all this, my biggest source of support is when you use any of these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Please always use these links when getting any of your gear so I can continue to share what I know. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere.
Thanks for your support!
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