- Brand: Yashica
Model: Electro 35 GSN
Type: rangefinder, fully coupled to lens, built-in parallax compensation
Lens: 45mm, f/1.7, helical focusing. Minimum focusing distance: 2.6 ft/0.8 m. 55mm filter thread. Apertures: f/1.7 – f/16
Shutter speed: approx 30 sec to 1/500 sec. “Flash” and “Bulb” settings. Flash sync at all shutter speeds
Metering: CdS cell, aperture priority, over-exposure and slow-shutter-speed indicators
Battery: 6V PX32A; or 6V PX28 alkaline (with adapter, purchased or homemade) (originally designed for discontinued mercury battery PX32)
Shutter release self-timer
Flash: hot shoe, PC cable connection
The Yashica Electro 35 GSN is my favorite rangefinder camera, and the only rangefinder I own that currently gets any use. While reviewing my images on my hard drive, I’ve come to realize that I only seem to shoot black and white with it! I know I’ve shot at least one roll of color film, but it apparently had no images worthy of scanning. For whatever reason, the Yashica always seems to get paired with Kodak Tri-X (ISO 400) film, pushed either one or two stops for a gritty, grainy look.
This camera has a lot going for it from a rangefinder standpoint. It’s relatively easy to focus, and has a fast f/1.7 lens. It has a built in light meter that seems to be pretty accurate, although of course it’s not through-the-lens (TTL) metering. The light meter reads through the black window under the film advance lever (see below). Film ISO can be set from 25 to 1000 in 1/3 stop increments. It has a auto-timer, a battery check light, low and light and overexposure LEDs. Other than normal “Auto” mode (which is really aperture-priority mode), there is a “bulb” mode, and a flash setting with shutter speed of 1/30 s. However the camera has a leaf shutter as opposed to a curtain shutter, which means the flash will sync at all shutter speeds when set to “auto”. The light meter will adjust the shutter from as fast as 1/500 sec to around 30 seconds or so. At least on my camera, the shutter must be held down the entire time for long exposures. Releasing the shutter button early closes the shutter. However for long releases one would normally use a tripod and cable release anyway, but it does require some thought to keep the button down until you hear the shutter close again.
The Electro 35 is a very quiet camera, mostly because of that leaf shutter. Curtain shutters, used almost exclusively by SLRs and also some rangefinders, throw a lot more mass around inside the camera. This creates noise. A leaf shutter is very quiet though, sort of a “tick” sound and that’s it. So who cares about a quiet camera? Street photographers!
Time for a short trip into the ‘way back’ machine…
When I first rediscovered photography, I had a goal of becoming a really good street photographer. I bought a number of rangefinder cameras to accomplish this, mostly after reading this rather irritating – and strangely captivating - manifesto on street photography. Never mind I couldn’t afford a Leica, I was determined to become a street photographer. That has yet to happen! I still have not gotten over my reluctance to photograph strangers. For some odd reason, I like to introduce myself first. None the less, I’ve seen my share of rangefinders over the years (alas, never a Leica). While the camera lacks the macho full-manual capabilities of some rangefinders, it is certainly an ideal candidate for street photography. If you have the guts.
So the downsides: the major problem is that the battery this camera needs is no longer made. Not only is it no longer made, but there is no replacement made in the same size. This is less of a problem than it may appear, because you can use a small spring, or create a funky little device like I did that involves a short section of wood dowel, a little wire and some electrical tape…I should have gone with the little spring! See the photoethnography.com link at the bottom for more info.
My camera has a bit of a sticky shutter button too. The shutter itself fires just fine, but the button sometimes sticks down until I wind the film. No big deal.
Also, since the camera is essentially full-auto, it’s inconvenient to do things like over- or under-expose an image. For example if you’re shooting a subject against a white wall, you’ll want to overexpose a little so that the wall doesn’t come out gray. You have to lower the ISO setting to accomplish this, which can be a bit fiddly. Also another exposure issue, I sometimes find it difficult to remember to hold the shutter release down half way to make sure I’m the shutter speed range the camera can handle for a given aperture. I get used to just firing away, since the camera is “automatic”. And I think the “slow” arrow should light up sooner, as I can sometimes get motion blur in images, when I thought the shutter speed was going to be ok.
Like many rangefinder cameras, it is entirely possible to shoot a whole roll of film with the lens cap on! That’s because you don’t look through the lens to frame a picture. And the camera doesn’t meter through the lens, so will happily expose for the scene in front of you. If you get an Electro 35, or any rangefinder, you might consider getting a lens hood for it—if the hood is small enough that it doesn’t block either the light meter or the viewfinder. While not covering the lens itself, a hood has the dual advantage of reducing flare and also recessing the lens to where it is protected from most stray knocks and dings. Or just develop the habit of taking off the cap every time you put it to your eye, as I do.
Those minor details aside, the Electro 35 is a quiet, light, sharp and usable camera. Hmm, maybe it’s time I loaded it up with film again!