The 110 guy reviews the Yashica Electro 35 GSN

 

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My Yashica Electro 35 GSN

I was browsing the shelves of a thrift store I frequent here in Birmingham, Al when I came across a Yashica Electro 35 GSN in great shape for $20 so, needless to say, I bought it. I took my new camera home and changed the light seals, glued the red light meter lens back in place on the top housing, cleaned the viewfinder and body and put in a fresh battery from B&H. So all-in, I got a great looking GSN for under $50 including film and, as a bonus, that same thrift store GAVE me an original packaging box for it a couple of weeks later!

 

First impression of this camera is that it’s big for a rangefinder, even bigger than their FX-2 SLR. It’s chunky and funky and in every way that Yashica could have possibly made it sleek, it’s not sleek. But with its multiple windows for rangefinder, viewfinder and light meter and a big ole honking 45mm f1.7 fixed lens hanging slightly off-center, it has a sort of groovy, retro-coolness about it. The faux leather is grippy in the hand and the rounded edges feel smooth to the touch. The strap is a bit disappointing, it seems to be made out of that same plastic people used for cheap belts in the 70’s and 80’s; it holds the camera, but I just have trouble trusting it. The body feels sturdy if slightly heavy, the controls are smooth and mostly free of play and overall the build quality seems to be very good on this 40 plus year old electro-mechanical work horse. One exception you may find is the glue, I have read online that the glue used on these cameras does tend to fail over time as it did with the small, red lens in the top cover of mine. But anyone with some degree of mechanical ability, simple tools and access to the University of YouTube should be able to repair the most common issues these cameras tend to have.

 

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Unadjusted photo of a Dogwood tree. Leeds, Al

 

 

A trip we had planned to Louisiana got delayed so I waited until the dogwood trees bloomed in central Alabama to try out my new super-sized rangefinder. I loaded it up with some fresh Lomography 100 Color Negative film and headed toward Cheaha Mountain to do some shooting. Loading the film is typical of era cameras, if a bit fiddly, you pull up on the film rewind crank and the back pops open. You drop the cartridge in on the left and pull the film leader over to the film take up sprockets on the right, you then pass it over one and under the other, tuck it in and advance. The iso is selected by a dial on the top of the camera and the aperture by a ring on the lens, there is no shutter speed selection as this is an AP only camera. Since the light sensor is not on the lens barrel, you can pretty easily use the ISO dial to compensate for any filters you may want to use.

Shooting with the Electro is pretty straightforward and simple which is no surprise as it was designed for the masses. Looking through the viewfinder, I could see why photographers and reviewers alike praise it. The view is huge and bright, with nice clear frame lines, the parallax correction was spot on accurate at every distance I shot and the rangefinder patch is clear and contrasty in nearly every light. The metering LEDs are also bright in the finder (and on top of the body, if you want to pre-meter your scene) and easy to see. This view finder is so big and bright, I can even wear glasses while shooting this camera. The Electro may honestly have one of the best view finders in my collection. But the first pull of the film advance really began to show just how non-ergonomic Yashica’s overall design is, especially when compared to similarly priced offerings from other manufacturers in that era. The advance lever itself is plastic covered metal and smooth so that your thumb easily slides beneath, but the throw swings so far around the side of the body that it is not comfortable to swing in one fluid motion. And once you acclimate to that, you still have the ridiculous shutter release. The shutter button controls both the shutter and the light meter through multiple points in its travel. As you press, the red light/arrow first lights, if needed, to tell you the shutter speed is above 1/500; once corrected, you continue your press of the release until you pass point 2 which will light the yellow light/arrow if the shutter speed is slower than 1/30 sec. and then, finally, the shutter quietly fires. Surrounding the shutter release is a shutter lock knob which also serves as a power switch. I personally like this feature, but if you forget to unlock your camera, you could miss some shots. Focusing is accomplished in the typical manner by turning a ring on the lens barrel. There are two raised plastic pieces on the focus ring meant for your fingers, these make locating the focus ring by feel rather simple but I personally prefer the focus “tab” style (as used on the Canonet, for example). The focus throw is rather short, making for quick focus and the coupled rangefinder is very accurate.

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Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Al. I love the colors in this photo but I pushed the vibrance and saturation a bit in post to help them pop.

 

 

It took me several days to snap a roll of film with this camera, but why? With the initial popularity of the Yashica (some 7 million sold) and its cult-like following of hipster-esque fan boys, one would think it would have eaten up film with the same gusto as my other cameras. So why didn’t it? The answer is simple, I didn’t really enjoy shooting with it. It’s big and chunky, the range of motion on the controls is unnecessarily large, the included strap is cheap and uncomfortable, the film loading is fiddly and I just plain don’t like the meter.

 

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A farm house on Cheaha Mountain. I pushed the vibrance and saturation a bit here, too.

So what about the results? How were the photos? Well, they were good-not-great. Many images looked flat and lackluster with washed out color and soft detail. I did not see the much touted “tack like sharpness” said to be produced by this particular Yashinon lens. Areas outside the plane of focus simply looked out of focus; I would like to have opened up the aperture to see the bokeh this lens is said to produce, but with a max shutter speed of 1/500 sec, I couldn’t. I may try another roll in some better light and see what this lens can do, but it just seemed anemic. As for exposure, my camera overexposed nearly every shot but as both Yashicas I own overexpose slightly, I think this just may be a design quirk with their models of the era.

 

I wanted to like this camera, I really did. I looked at the Electro online for months, read review after review, picked out one in great shape, loaded it with new film and even sent of the roll to be developed so that I could give it the best chance to produce the best possible images. And? I don’t like it. Let me be clear, I don’t hate it or even actively dislike it; I simply don’t like it. Will I shoot it again? Probably, but with other cameras on my shelf to choose from it may be a long time coming.

 

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