Yashica 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 rangefinders had for some years been the highest-quality way to shoot 35mm film. That was starting to change, however; the SLR was beginning to become more popular. There was still a big place in the market for a good rangefinder camera, however.
The Electro 35 was plenty good. 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 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.
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. 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.
By the way, if you’re into rangefinders of this era, also check out my reviews of the Yashica MG-1 (here), the Yashica Lynx 14e (here), the Konica Auto S2 (here), the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here), the Canon Canonet QL17 G-III (here), and the Canonet 28 (here). If you like Yashicas, I’ve also reviewed the Yashica-D (here) and Yashica-12 (here) TLRs. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
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. The GSN was along, Fujicolor 200 on board. 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.
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.
I spent a gray afternoon in downtown South Bend. I love to shoot the Jefferson Blvd. Bridge. 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.
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.
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.
On a later outing with the GSN, I loaded good old Kodak Tri-X and walked around downtown Zionsville.
I made these photos several years later. I just hadn’t used the GSN as much as I thought I would. 35mm SLRs had captured my attention and so it is likely ever to stay. The GSN performed well even after years of neglect.
And on a chilly day, to boot. 50+ year old cameras often don’t like the cold, but the GSN soldiered right through.
I’ll wrap this up with a photo from Broad Ripple in Indianapolis. The Wellington Pub was a small bar with just a few seats, but it was a favorite watering hole and I miss it since it closed.
See my Electro 35 GSN gallery here.
If you find a Yashica Electro 35 with any letters after its name in good nick, you won’t go wrong if you buy it. As you can see, its lens is sharp and full of character.