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Yashica Electro 35 GSN

17

Yashica Electro 35 GSNYashica introduced its Electro 35 line of leaf shutter, aperture priority, coupled rangefinder 35 mm cameras in 1966. The Electro 35 entered a crowded field, as rangefinder cameras were all the rage in those days. Two features distinguished the line: its big, bright 45 mm, f/1.7 Yashinon (and later, Color Yashinon) lens and its stepless shutter. Most shutters operate at defined steps – 1/500, 1/250, 1/100 second, and so on. But the Electro 35′s shutter is controlled by an electromagnet (hence the camera’s name) that allows any shutter speed  between 30 seconds and 1/500 second – 1/78 or 1/459 or even 12 1/19 seconds, whatever gets the right exposure.

I bought the related Yashica MG-1 a couple years ago – check it out here – but still wanted a genuine Electro 35. These cameras often go for more than my usual $50  limit, so I quietly loitered around eBay’s dusty corners for several years before finally finding the right bargain on this Electro 35 GSN. Its dented filter ring may be why I got it for so little. No matter; I seldom use filters.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

Yashica evolved the camera over its 14-year run, adding letters to the camera’s name with every set of improvements. The Electro 35 G came out in 1968, the GS in 1970, and finally the GSN in 1973. You can also find GT and GTN versions of the latter two cameras, which differ from their counterparts only in that their top plates are black.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

Looking at this camera from the top, you can see most of what you need to know about using it. You can focus it down to 2.6 feet, set the aperture from f/1.7 to f/16, and set film speed from ISO 25 to 1000. When you press the shutter button halfway, the red and yellow lights tell you about your exposure. The red light glows when the shot is overexposed. The yellow light glows when the shutter speed will be less than 1/30 second, making camera shake a problem when you shoot handheld. (Solve that by either increasing the aperture or mounting the camera on a tripod.) When neither light glows, exposure is right and the shutter speed is fast enough to avoid camera shake. Red and yellow arrows inside the viewfinder perform the same function, so you can set exposure on the fly. Finally, you can attach a flash to the hot shoe, but be sure to rotate the lens barrel’s outer ring to the flash symbol, and remember that the shutter operates only at 1/30 sec.

The one thing you can’t see from here is that the camera takes a banned 5.6v PX32 mercury battery. The camera works without a battery, but the shutter fires only at 1/500 sec, limiting the camera’s usefulness. My MG-1 takes the same battery, and I had bought a custom battery adapter for it that lets me use a readily available alkaline battery, so I dropped it and a roll of Fujicolor 200 into my GSN and got busy.

So many of my old cameras are quirky to use. It’s part of their charm, actually. In contrast, the Electro 35 GSN worked so smoothly that it almost disappeared in my hands. The viewfinder is big and bright; while peering through it I moved the lens barrel’s focusing ring with my left hand’s index finger. The shutter button slides easily and has a good amount of travel – just long enough that you won’t fire it by accident, but no longer. The button sometimes stuck down after the shutter fired, but pulling the winding lever always made it pop right back up, so it was no worry. I had a great time shooting with my Electro 35.

It was Christmastime, and I drove up to my hometown, South Bend, to spend the holiday with family there. I stopped at a McDonald’s in Logansport on the way. It was an unusually warm, bright day, and lurking behind Mickey D’s was an old building with this great wall.

Wall

The building houses Linback Garage – or perhaps housed, as it wasn’t clear whether this was a going concern. Their sign and door made for another nice composition.

Linback Garage

I spent a gray afternoon in downtown South Bend. I love to shoot the Jefferson Blvd. Bridge. A riverside trail takes you right under it.

Jefferson St. Bridge, South Bend

South Bend was very fortunate to have George Kessler, a principal of the City Beautiful movement, be involved with the design of its park system and many of its bridges. You don’t have to build bridges that look this good. Kessler left a legacy of beauty in South Bend.

Jefferson St. Bridge, South Bend

Standing on the Jefferson Blvd. bridge, I took this shot looking north along the St. Joseph River into downtown. The orange di Suvero sculpture is at left. The plain Colfax St. bridge is at center; it obscures the lovely La Salle St. bridge.

Downtown South Bend

Signs of Christmas were everywhere downtown.

Mistletoe Market

As usual, I burned off the last couple shots on the roll in the parking lot at work. (I worked quickly to avoid having someone call the cops on me – read that story.) The anonymous office building in which I work is a frequent subject. After all the muted shots I got in South Bend, I was glad to see bold colors here. I wasn’t so glad to see lens flare, though, on the right.

Anonymous office building

See my Electro 35 GSN gallery here.

Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!

17 thoughts on “Yashica Electro 35 GSN

  1. Mike

    Very nice write-up on that interesting camera. It shares much of the technology of a couple other lines from the same company, but this one has great style. I doubt we’ll see that atomic icon used again though.

    1. Jim Post author

      Thanks Mike! I can see how Yashica reused its technologies across its rangefinder line. I’d love to have one of their rangefinders with the f/1.4 lens.

  2. ryoko861

    Love those pics of that building! You should frame those!
    Never heard of Yashica. Seems they made a nice camera but couldn’t shine through the bigger names.

  3. Ted Kappes

    I remember back when I got the money to buy a serious camera that I debated between the Yashica TL Electro X SLR and the Yashica Electro GSN. The SLR won out and set me on a path of using SLR’s for a long time. About a year ago I got nostalgic and picked up a GSN on Ebay. My experience with it has been similar to yours. It is a wonderful camera so it doesn’t surprise me that some call it the “poor man’s Leica”. Yashica did make some great cameras that sold for reasonable prices.

    1. Jim Post author

      I’d heard that Yashica used the Electro technology in at least one SLR, but I have never actually seen one. You were probably right to go the SLR path back then, as it’s the way the whole world went starting in the 70s.

  4. Tom

    Thanks for the great post. I just bought one of these off ebay and received it today. It still had film in it. I’m really curious to see what I get, if anything, when I develop the film. (Luckily it was a C-41 process film so I can develop it myself.) The other thing that was a little interesting was that the previous owner had engraved his name and his social security number on the bottom plate. How many of you here can remember when people thought that was a good idea?

  5. zorgor

    Really like that photo of the wall in Logansport. Such bright light with stark shadows, small as they are… Something about old walls is very picturesque…

  6. trishulpani

    Thanks for the great write-up ! You still shooting with yours?

    I recently acquired taste for film photography – and picked up a used Yashica 35 GSN from eBay. Its dead simple to use and I really like how non-intrusive it is. Am not done with even my first roll yet but I already have a feeling that I’d be spending considerable time with this beauty.

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