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Yashica Electro 35 - Affordable rangefinder


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Merlin Basic Member
Wed 17-Jan-01 11:20 AM

Ever considered an old rangefinder as a quiet alternative to your SLR? Sick of the sound of a mirror banging up and down? Do you get hit by cold shock when you look at used Leica prices? No connected enough for a Nikon S-3? This might be exactly what you’re looking for…

Let’s get one thing quite clear: a Leica it’s not! But the trusty Yashica Electro 35, introduced back in April 1964, managed one of the longest production runs in recent camera history. Millions were produced during fourteen years, the model names changed slightly – GT, GS, GTN, GSN and so on - but the camera remained basically the same. The “G” stands for gold, refering to the surfacing on the electronic contacts, “T” means a black body, “S” is for a silver version, and “N” applies to the “New” version that came out mid seventies, with a few minor mods including making the flash shoe on top hot.

The Yashica Electro 35 rangefinders have to rank amongst the world’s most under-rated cameras. You’ll see them change hands for very little money on e-bay, in fact the low price might even put you off getting one. After all, if it doesn’t cost a lot, it can’t be much good, can it? Wrong.

Pick one up for the first time, and you’ll notice it’s pretty heavy and chunky by today’s standards. In those days, camera makers hadn’t yet learned to build their products out of the flimsiest plastic they could get away with, with a built-in expiry date. This Yashica belongs to the old school, where quality was important, and the Yashica folks built these to last a LONG time. Solid metal, the top and bottom plates are brass, either matt chromed or black. Play with the camera a bit… wind the film and squeeze the shutter. Notice the solid feel of real gears and cogs driving snugly together? Notice how quiet the shutter is? Now turn the aperture ring – did you feel how smoothly the f-stops click into place? Look at the lens: a fixed, 45mm f-1.7. Let me tell you, f-1.7 is pretty damned fast, even today! Back in those days… well, read on…

It’s a leaf-shutter rangefinder camera. Unlike an SLR, there’s no mirror mechanism to crash up and down, which makes it quiet enough to use without bothering anyone. In fact, people just don’t notice the camera going off – great for candids and theater work. Look through the viewfinder and you’ll see a small, yellow diamond shape in the center with a ghost image of whatever’s in the middle of the scene. This is your rangefinder. To focus, twist the focusing ring on the lens until the two images merge into one, and your shot will be sharp. This takes a little thought and practice, but after a while it’ll become second nature to you. In fact, in low light situations, it’s actually easier than trying to focus a manual SLR. The wide based rangefinder, which also automatically corrects for the inevitable slight parallax error, is fast and accurate. 45mm is a little wider than the “standard” view you get from a fifty, but not really wide enough to qualify as a wide angle. In practice, you’ll find it a natural choice for most general photography. The exception is head and shoulder portraits of adults – the effect isn’t pleasing because noses tend to be a tad too big and ears a tad too small. For this kind of job, you’re better off with another focal length, from 70mm upwards. Oddly, this doesn’t apply to babies, whose faces are flatter than adults and less prone to this effect.

There are two rings around the lens barrel. One is the aperture ring, the other has only three different positions: AUTO, Flash, and “B” for long, manual exposures. The Electro 35 is an aperture-priority camera, which means you set the aperture and the camera sets the appropriate speed for you. To help you with this, two warning lights are provided in the viewfinder. If the orange light goes on, you’re using a speed slower than 1/30th , which won’t prevent the picture being taken but you might want to consider using a tripod. Maybe you can open the aperture a stop or two. If you get a red, you’d need a speed faster than the maximum of 1/500th, so you’ll have to stop the aperture down till it goes out. No lights – no problem! If for some reason you need a fixed shutter speed, the only real option is to set the ring to “flash”, giving you 1/30th.

Where this camera beats most SLRs hands down is in outdoor situations where you want to use a fill-in flash. Since leaf shutters synchronize at all shutter speeds, daylight fill flash is a breeze! Just set the f-stop to one stop smaller than the auto setting on your flash, and you’ll get perfect results every time!

Ever tried looking at the frame counter in a dark room, and trying to see how much film you’ve got left? Well, Yashica found the answer to that. Pressing the battery test button on the back lights up the frame counter – neat, eh?

Results? In a word, outstanding! The lens is a high performer that can easily match any non-multicoated SLR prime lenses. Don’t forget, even Nikon didn’t start multicoating their optics until the seventies, a fact that bothered nobody. Okay, a Leica it’s not, but for enlargements up to 11 x14 you’ll not be disappointed. When I first got one, I was skeptical about shooting slide film with it, thinking, how can such a primitive built-in automatic metering system possibly be good enough to get on-the-money slides. Well, I can promise you it works just fine. You won’t have to worry about it. Everyone knows what TTL metering is, Yashica’s idea was ATL: Above The Lens. A little sensor, positioned above the lens, gives an average reading for the same scene as the lens, and it can easily handle tricky, backlit situations without being fooled.

But they don’t make batteries for it any more, I heard someone cry. No, but it doesn’t really need the original 5.4 volt battery in order to work. According to the workshop manual, anything between 4.6 and 6.5 volts will do fine, so you can just pop a 6 volt lithium battery in the chamber, and off you go. A tip, if you’re bidding on one on eBay… “Don’t know if it works” usually means it’s FUBAR, but the owner thinks that because you can’t get the special batteries any more nobody will ever know. Wrong - getting an Electro 35 running again is no problem with a six volt battery, so if you put 6 volts in and it doesn’t work, it’s not you that caused the problem!

The “flash” setting on the second ring will give you a fixed speed of 1/30th. If you take the battery out completely, the camera will still operate but only at its fastest speed of 1/500th. The Seiko electronic shutter can handle exposure times of up to about 15 seconds on automatic, depending on the film speed setting.

Accessory wide angle and telephoto lenses were built for this camera, but frankly they don’t do a lot for you. These auxiliary lenses, which come with a dinky little finder that slots into the flash shoe on top, screw onto the 55mm filter thread. However, you have to focus with the rangefinder, then make a note of the true distance, read off the correction on the accessory lens’s distance scale, and transfer it back to the main lens. This all takes too long, and you’d probably have been better using the shoe-leather zoom principle. (Need a tele? Walk forward. Wide angle? Move backwards…) In short, forget the auxiliary lenses. On the subject of filters, you’ll have to correct for the filter density by dialing in a slower ASA number on the light meter, because the ATL system isn’t reading through the filter. If, like me, you use a red filter for cloud effects in black and white, you’ll need to set the ASA to about 25 when using 100 ASA film.

A classic? Maybe. Good ones can still be found at bargain prices. It’s certainly not in the Leica M3 category, but you’ll be getting 90 % of the image quality at less than 5 % of the price.

The bottom line? A big, well designed, easy to use, semi automatic camera with no vices and plenty of charm. I have three of them – an older 1970 GS and two nice GTNs from about 1977. They’re a joy to use. I base my high rating not on personal prejudice, but on performance, build quality, ease of use and truly amazing value for money. If having only one lens doesn’t bother you, the Yashica 35 Electro is probably the best deal in town. Now watch the prices go up…


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