Have you figured out yet that I don’t always know what I’m doing when I’m shooting with my vintage cameras? I’ve had some good results, but I’m just as likely to muck something up. I jammed film inside one camera, misloaded film in another, and have taken plenty of underexposed photos. But by far, I am most likely to end up with poorly framed photos. I’ve tried to shift blame, claiming one camera’s viewfinder was too tiny and another’s viewfinder was faulty. Another time I realized too late that a camera automatically corrected for parallax while I was doing it manually.
After shooting a roll with a Yashica MG-1 I recently bought, I think I just need to own up to it once and for all – I am slow to figure out my cameras’ viewfinders. Oh, the shame. I’ll show you how I bollixed framing some shots with my MG-1 in a minute.
The 1975-1980 Yashica MG-1 was the last in the respected Electro 35 series, which began in 1966. It’s the only camera in the series that doesn’t have “Electro 35” stamped somewhere on the top plate. Some collectors argue that means it’s not part of the series. But it looks and works like every other Electro 35.
Well, almost. The MG-1 differs in a few key features. Its 45mm f/2.8 Yashinon lens, of four elements in three groups, is a little slower than the f/1.7 lens on all of the other Electro 35s. Also, while other Electro 35s automatically correct for parallax, the MG-1 doesn’t. And while later Electro 35s, namely the GSN and GTN, accept film of up to ASA 1000, the MG-1 holds to ASA 800. And unlike every other Electro 35, the MG-1’s shutter has no “bulb” setting for timed exposures.
But like the Electro 35, the MG-1’s CdS light meter, the little glass bubble above the lens, is coupled to an aperture-priority automatic exposure system. When you load film, set the camera to your film’s speed using the selector on the bottom of the lens barrel. Then to take a picture, first set the aperture by rotating the lens barrel’s outer ring. If you’re not great with the intricacies of f stops, just choose the symbol closest to your conditions: sunny, cloudy, or “window” (indoors and, I suppose, very overcast). Next, frame your shot and press the shutter button down part way. Here’s where things get clever. If a red arrow lights inside the viewfinder, or the Over light glows on the camera’s top plate, the MG-1 can’t find a shutter speed that won’t overexpose the photo; choose a smaller aperture and try again. If a yellow arrow lights inside the viewfinder or the Slow light glows on the camera’s top plate, the MG-1 had to choose a shutter speed so long that camera shake will be a problem; either mount the camera on a tripod choose a larger aperture so the MG-1 can choose a faster shutter speed. The red and yellow arrows even point in the direction you need to twist the aperture ring.
F0cusing the MG-1 is simple and works like every other coupled rangefinder camera I own. While looking through the viewfinder, twist the lens barrel’s focus ring until the rangefinder’s ghost image lines up crisply with the viewfinder’s image. The viewfinder is large and bright, and contains two sets of framing marks, one for closeups that corrects for parallax and one for all other shots.
What really sets the MG-1 (and all the Electro 35s) apart is its stepless shutter. Most shutters can fire at any of several speeds, such as 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15 (and so on) second. But an electromagnet controls this nearly silent Copal leaf shutter; it fires at any speed between 1/500 and 4 seconds. If 1/78 or 1/459 second gives the best exposure at the chosen aperture, that’s what the camera uses.
All this electronic trickery requires a banned PX32 mercury battery. You can use springs and cardboard to adapt other batteries, but I skipped that frustration by ordering a custom battery adapter from Yashica Guy, who is a devotee of all things Electro 35.
Armed with all this information, I loaded a roll of Fujicolor 200 into my MG-1. It’s a large and heavy camera, the same size and about the same weight as my Minolta Hi-Matic 7. It felt substantial in my hands. I took it and my sons to explore New Augusta, Indiana, with it. New Augusta was a small town in what is now northwest Indianapolis. Funny story – the people who founded New Augusta had been living about two miles east, in a town called Augusta on the Michigan Road. I’ve written about Augusta before; an 1832 brick house and a log cabin still stand. When the railroad went in, residents left Augusta behind and built New Augusta on the railroad, hoping for better prosperity. Much of the town, including a small downtown, remains.
This is New Augusta’s Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, completed in 1880. You will notice that the top of the building is cut off. I knew I wasn’t going to get all of the tower in the photo; I couldn’t back up any farther. But when I framed the shot, the roof’s peak was in the picture.
The same goes for the top left corner of the brick building in this photo. A visitor to my Flickr space reports that the brick building was once New Augusta’s post office and the red frame building was Wagle’s Grocery.
A lawyer and an accountant hang their shingle from the brick building today.
Fortunately, this shot of the New Augusta train station didn’t suffer from poor framing. I’d sure like to know why the sign doesn’t say New Augusta, though.
I don’t live very far from New Augusta. These tracks run south from here to about a mile behind my house. Even though the main line looks well used, I hear train whistles only about once a month.
I made one other mistake with my MG-1 and it caused me to lose the first seven shots on this roll of film. In pressing the shutter button, I stopped when I heard a faint click. It turns out that faint click was a mechanism that allowed the film to be advanced. I needed to push the button a little farther to actually fire the shutter. I stumbled across it by accident or I would have sent an entire unexposed roll to the developer. So lesson learned – two clicks takes the photograph.
Like so many of my old cameras, my MG-1 came to me with some issues. The light seals are sticky goo, so I wrapped the film door in electrical tape to avoid light leaks. And the rangefinder is misaligned, which I discovered early on when the rangefinder insisted that a subject across the street was only seven feet away. I just focused manually through this roll of film. Fortunately, Yashica Guy explains how to fix these and other common Electro 35 issues. And because of such excellent support on the Internet, I’ll correct these problems and try another roll in this camera again soon.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.