Camera Reviews

Yashica MG-1

If this camera looks like a Yashica Electro 35, it’s because it is. Sort of. It shares the Electro 35 body but not its name and not all of its features. But it undeniably has Electro 35 bones. Built from 1975 to 1980, the Yashica MG-1 ended the Electro 35 era, which began in 1966.

Yashica MG-1

The MG-1’s 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.

Yashica MG-1

Focusing 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 and one for all other shots.

Yashica MG-1

What sets the MG-1 and its Electro 35 brethren apart is its stepless 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 or buy a same-size alkaline battery on Amazon. Or you can do like I did and order custom battery adapter from Yashica Guy, who is a devotee of all things Electro 35.

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This, by the way, is a large and heavy camera and feels substantial in the hand. It’s about the same size and about the same weight as my Minolta Hi-Matic 7.

If you’re a Yashica fan, by the way, check out my reviews of the Yashica Electro 35 GSN, the Yashica Lynx 14e, the Yashica-D, and the Yashica-12. If you like big fixed-lens rangefinder cameras, check out my reviews of the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 and the Konica Auto S2. Or have a look at every camera I ever reviewed, here!

I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and took the MG-1 to explore New Augusta, Indiana, a former 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 a mile or so to the east 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 I saw less of the street and the roof’s peak was in the picture.

Salem Church

The same goes for the top left corner of the brick building in this photo. It’s a real pet peeve of mine when a viewfinder isn’t accurate. The brick building was once New Augusta’s post office and the red frame building was Wagle’s Grocery, by the way.

Downtown New Augusta

A lawyer and an accountant hang their shingle from the brick building today. Look at how much sharpness that lens delivers.

Accountants and attorneys

The whole point of New Augusta was to provide a stop for the train. Here’s the station, confusingly called Augusta. Trains don’t stop here anymore and the station is private property now.

Augusta Station

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.

Tracks

These are almost all of the photos that turned out on my 24-exposure roll of film. The rest turned out blank. It turns out that hearing a click upon pressing the shutter is not enough — you have to keep pressing until you hear two clicks. The first click enables the film to be advanced and the second actually fires the shutter. I didn’t figure that out until late in the roll.

I didn’t get on well with the MG-1 and so I never managed to shoot it again. That’s how it goes with old cameras sometimes.

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36 thoughts on “Yashica MG-1

  1. I always enjoy your pictures and old camera discussions. Parallax always a bugaboo for me. Even with point-and-shoot I do better with the vidscreen than I do with the viewfinder.

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    • Lone Primate says:

      Only two of the digital cameras I’ve ever had didn’t have LCD screens and viewfinders only. But even so, I used the viewfinder all the time I had the Kodak 4800; I routinely turned the screen off to save power. At some point when I had my first S80, though, I noticed I was lining shots up with the screen and not the viewfinder… I think it was because cameras were getting small enough that looking through the tiny viewfinder meant you were just smearing nose-grease all over the screen. The last camera I bought, the HX5V, doesn’t even have a viewfinder. Except for my DSLR, I haven’t used the viewfinder on any camera in about four years. It’s funny how your habits adapt to the technology.

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  2. Michael says:

    Glad you still like to play with film. I care not to deal with it anymore. Merrie got Sam some ultra cheapo 35mm at Goodwill to play with and my first reaction was he can use the cheapo digital we have if he wants to take real pics.

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    • You know, I’m not particularly in love with film. I have plenty of fun with my Canon S80 digital and when I screw something up, I just take the shot over again until I get it right. I prefer that! But I love the old cameras for all the design and engineering in them. I run film through them just to experience them!

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  3. Lone Primate says:

    “…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.”

    That’s GENIUS. Whoever came up with something that clever deserves accolades beyond the beyond. :)

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    • I dunno … I don’t think I have a distinct preference. I just enjoy experiencing them all. I think my favorite camera in my collection, however, is my Canon Canonet QL17 G-III.

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  4. Just bought one of these and I’m waiting for some Black & White film to try in it. I had to ‘manufacture’ a battery to get it to work, but I’m looking forward to trying it out.

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    • I wouldn’t know. Best way to find a camera’s value is to go to eBay, search for the camera, click the “sold listings” checkbox, and see what they’ve sold for recently.

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  5. Bill Barry says:

    The Electro 35 was on my short list of possible purchases in 1972 when as a high school sophomore, I bought my first “real camera”. I wanted an SLR so I bought a new Ricoh Singlex TLS (which I still have) for just a few dollars more than a new Electro 35.
    Yashica must have realized that it was selling a very nice rangefinder for the same price as some entry level SLRs entering the market, so in order to keep the platform viable, a little de-contenting was in order to lower the price. Thus the MG-1. I have both a chrome GSN and a black MG-1. I find both cameras to be equally user friendly. Of course, the MG-1 loses that faster f1.7 lens for an f2.8 and some niceties like the the battery check/film counter illumination. Moving the light meter sensor from the top plate to the lens barrel would be a benefit when using filters or hoods. I knew very little about the MG-1 when mine showed up on EBay about ten years ago. The price was right so I pulled the trigger. At first, I was kinda disappointed, when comparing it to an Electro 35. I have is since come to enjoy and respect that bargain Electro.

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    • Bill, since I wrote this I picked up an Electro 35 GSN and shot it. Both of these cameras are quite capable. It’s easy to be taken in by a faster lens, but unless you’re doing lower light work, the MG-1’s lens is fine for pretty much any situation!

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  6. Marc Tenret says:

    Hello,
    I just bougt a Yashica MG-1.
    I payed 30 euro.
    I still have to test it,while I am waiting for my battery.
    I think it looks very nice!

    Like

  7. Pingback: Yashica MG-1 – Olli Thomson Photography

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