Yashica Electro 35 GSN

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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ check it out here โ€“ 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. 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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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. 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 Blvd. 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

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 โ€“ 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

On a later outing with the GSN, I loaded good old Kodak Tri-X and walked around downtown Zionsville.

One Nine Five *EXPLORED*

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.

The Wellington

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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28 responses to “Yashica Electro 35 GSN”

  1. Mike Avatar

    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 Avatar

      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 Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I have to admit, I really like the photo of the wall.

      1. ryoko861 Avatar

        It’s excellent! Go ahead and have it matted and framed! Be proud of that puppy!

  3. Ted Kappes Avatar

    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 Avatar

      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. gaycarboys Avatar

    Great photos but I love the smell of old cameras. There is something about them which has been ruined by the digital age.. Thanks so much for the shots.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I know what you mean about an old camera’s scent. My old folders give it off the strongest.

  5. Nicole Gelinas Avatar
    Nicole Gelinas

    Wow! These look really great!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! The Electro made it easy.

  6. Tom Avatar

    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?

    1. Jim Avatar

      Good luck developing the old film! Yeah, I remember when we used to put our SSNs on everything. Such naive days those were.

  7. zorgor Avatar

    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…

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! I was really pleased with how that one turned out, too.

  8. trishulpani Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I haven’t shot my 35 GSN since this test roll! I’m fickle, always darting from camera to camera. But you’re right, it is a gem.

  9. turterunsfast Avatar

    How do you think this camera performs in low-light conditions? I have one and the yellow light is always on when I shoot indoor. Is it normal?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I haven’t tried this camera in available light to know for sure. Your best bet is just to experiment and find out how yours behaves!

  10. turterunsfast Avatar

    Thank you! : )

  11. Andre Avatar

    Hey, I came across your post while searching for articles about the Yashica Electro 35 GSN. It’s good to see you’ve had great results with your roll of Fujicolor 200. I tried using one I’d acquired recently, also with a roll of Fujicolor 200 but without a battery . After shooting the roll, winding it back up, and dropping it off to get processed, it turned out to be blank! That was a bummer. But I definitely learned my lesson as a newbie. I should’ve checked to see if there was a corroded battery before buying and whether or not the camera was working before using film. I’ve found a good article on how to test the camera, so I’ll be doing that soon to hopefully find out what exactly isn’t working.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hunh, you should have gotten shots without a battery. The shutter works manually at 1/500 sec. Maybe your shutter is stuck.

  12. SilverFox Avatar

    My Electro 35(s) is/are next on the list to post about :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I look forward to it!

  13. tbm3fan Avatar

    Still sticking down at times? The “pad of death”.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know! It’s been a few years since this camera has gotten any exercise.

  14. Tom Miller Avatar
    Tom Miller

    The first rangefinder I purchased at a popular auction site. I replaced the light seals, got the battery conversion kit, but now it sits on a shelf while I play with a Canonet QL19. The Yashica was a good deal since it came with Yashica flash and the auxiliary lens kit. Heavier and bulkier than the Canonet. What stops me from using it now: no manual override when the battery fails.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It so happens I have film in this camera right now and my chief complaint about it is that the focusing ring is hard to find with my hand when the camera is at my eye. I bought the Yashica Guy battery adapter for mine.

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