Camera Reviews

Yashica TL Electro X

A long time ago I bought a Yashica TL Electro, an M42-mount 35mm SLR built like a brick outhouse. When I got around to loading film into it, I found out that it was broken in a couple fundamental ways. I paid just five bucks for it, so I wasn’t broken up. But I’ve never forgotten it. Not long ago I came across its forebear, the Yashica TL Electro X, in very good condition. I scooped it up. This time I paid all of $35.

Yashica TL Electro X

Upon its 1968 introduction, the TL Electro X was significant as the first commercially successful 35mm SLR with an electronic shutter. That allows the shutter to operate steplessly. Shutter-speed settings from 1/1000 sec. (top speed) down to 1/30 sec. all click into place, but you can leave the shutter-speed knob in between two speeds and the camera figures out the fraction of a second to use. Shutter speed settings of 1/15 sec. and slower do not click into place; the dial operates continuously in this range.

Yashica TL Electro X

The TL Electro X was one of the first SLRs to use lights in the viewfinder, rather than a needle system, to indicate exposure. Two red arrows, → and ←, sit at the bottom of the viewfinder. Press the stop-down button, which is on the side of the lens mount panel, and when exposure is not right one of the arrows lights. When you see →, turn up the aperture or shutter speed until the light turns off. When you see ←, turn down the aperture or shutter speed until the light turns off. No lit arrows means you have good exposure. It’s intuitive; you turn the aperture ring or shutter-speed dial in the direction of the arrow until the arrow disappears.

Yashica TL Electro X

Otherwise, this is a typical SLR of its period. It’s large, heavy, and solid. The shutter button is solid and sure. The winder, rewinder, and shutter-speed dial all require mild force to operate. By the late 70s, camera makers had figured out how to make SLR controls operate with a much lighter touch.

The TL Electro X was designed to take a 544 mercury battery, but those are banned. My camera came with a 28L lithium cell inside. The silver-oxide 4SR44 and alkaline 4LR44 batteries are the same size, and I hear they work fine in this camera.

Do you like classic SLRs like this one? Then check out my reviews of the Canon FT QL (here), the Minolta SR-T 101 (here) and SR-T 202 (here), the Nikon Nikomat FTn (here), the Nikon F2A (here), the Nikon F2AS (here), and the Pentax K1000 (here) and KM (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I first loaded a roll of Kodak Max 400 into the TL Electro X, but set the ISO guide to 200. I like this film overexposed by a stop. Fulltone Photo developed and scanned the roll. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll.

Flower box

The TL Electro X handled a little ponderously, but that’s not uncommon with large, heavy, stop-down SLRs of this era. The controls all took deliberate action, and of course the body is large and heavy. The 50mm f/1.7 Auto Yashinon-DX lens focuses smoothly but with more effort than I’m used to. I don’t like ponderous handling, but I accepted it as endemic to this kind of camera and kept on shooting.

Whitestown

The way the lens renders things through the viewfinder delights me; it’s such a classic old-lens look. But on the scans it was clear that the lens delivers mild barrel distortion. You can see it in the parallel lines of this photo. I corrected it on other photos where it was apparent — it was a +4 correction in Photoshop.

Window

However, the lens is sharp and contrasty, and renders color well. It leaves a nice smooth background and a subtle but pleasant bokeh. It also focuses in reasonably close, to about six inches. I like that.

Red and green

In my TL Electro X, the arrows are hard to see under very bright conditions. → is noticeably dimmer than ← and can be hard to see under any conditions. Also, I find the meter to call exposure good over a fairly wide range of settings. It didn’t inspire much confidence as I used the camera. Yet my exposures were generally fine when the images came back from the processor.

Chalkboard sign

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200. Because I had more money than time, rather than developing this roll myself I sent it to Fulltone Photo. This isn’t the most interesting image from the roll, but it shows the sharpness and contrast I got. My younger son gave me both of these drinking vessels as gifts, one when he was not yet ten more than half his life ago, and the other for Father’s Day this year. The Father’s Day gift perfectly represents his offbeat sense of humor.

Drinking vessels

I coaxed a little bokeh out of the lens in this shot.

Cottage

I coaxed a little more bokeh out of the lens on this photo of an ash branch.

Branch

This tire isn’t an interesting subject, but the silky sidewall texture sure is compelling.

Eco Plus

I took the TL Electro X on a number of walks around my neighborhood and in downtown Zionsville. It’s heft made it less than an ideal companion when slung over my shoulder for a few miles.

Mail station

To see more from this camera, check out my Yashica TL Electro X gallery.

About halfway through the roll of Fomapan, I grew weary of this camera’s ponderous ways. I shot images of whatever to just get it over with. That’s my main beef with 1960s SLRs — most of them are fatiguing to use. During the 1970s, camera makers figured out how to make all-manual cameras lighter with smoother, easier controls.

But I have to hand it to this Yashica TL Electro X — it’s built like a tank, and will probably work even after I don’t anymore.

Standard

28 thoughts on “Yashica TL Electro X

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I had bought into the Contax / Yashica system back when I was a freelance. Eventually gave it up because I did practically zero 35mm, and the camera bodies were battery controlled, so every time I DID do something, the battery was dead. Carl Zeiss C/Y mount lenses were the best I ever owned! Have to say, tho, the Yashica built equipment was all top notch, and altho I mostly shot the Carl Zeiss lenses, I had the chance to use Yashica glass and was very impressed, especially at the price point. The Zeiss stuff all had that T* coating, which gave everything that Zeiss “look” in color, but as people can see from your pics, the Yashica stuff is no slouch, and has pretty nice color!

    It’s interesting as back in the day, there were the obvious “pro” 35’s, like Nikon and Canon (and of course, Leica if you had doctor/lawyer money), then there was the second tier, which is where your Pentax and Minoltas were hanging out. Then there were the “others”, like perfectly well built and serviceable stuff like Yashica and Petri. You never saw many of them around, but I never knew anyone that bought a Yashica that didn’t like it. I probably saw way more Yashica Electro 35 rangefinders, than ever saw 35mm SLR’s. Thanks for this look at a very nice camera from a solid company.

    • My favorite Yashicas are my TLRs, hands down. I didn’t love the Electro 35, unlike most. I’m not likely to keep using this SLR because I don’t love stopping down to meter – but if I had to, I could use just this SLR and make lovely images for the rest of my life.

      • Brett Rogers says:

        How much of a gap there is between the under and over lights illuminating varies from camera to camera. Unfortunately there is some component drift that often crops up. A good example can show half a stop or less between “over” and “under”, but many are wider. I’ve had probably 3 or 4 over the last 12 years, most were not particularly accurate despite cleaning resistor tracks, solder joints, battery contacts etc. I do have one in really good order: a black ITS which functions correctly in all respects.

        It’s possible to stack four button cells in series to operate these. If the battery check light illuminates you’re good.

        On the subject of batteries the model does have a bit of a reputation for eating through these. There’s a very easy solution to that though. The Copal shutter involved (which was ground breaking at the time) uses an electromagnetic latch to delay the release of the second curtain. The principle is quite simple. The battery charges a capacitor that powers the magnet. Varying the time is just a matter of altering the resistance to the capacitor. But without a battery fitted the camera operates mechanically at 1/1000. No electronic delay is employed at the 1/1000 setting. Hence—power to the circuit is cut. When not in use, make it a habit to set the shutter to 1/1000 and batteries will last much longer, as they won’t be constantly feeding the capacitor.

        Although the dial is only marked to 2 seconds, it’s usually possible to get timed exposures to at least 4 seconds from these before the resistor contact runs off its track.

        In my view the Yashica is the ultimate M42 camera for technical photography. It may use stop down metering, but those arrows remain easily seen no matter how long and slow your lens is (or how much bellows extension you employ). It’s one of only three M42 bodies I know of to have an actual mirror lock up which can be a plus for highly magnified subjects. I think they are an underrated design and, frankly, superior to the Spotmatic series which are quality, but in contrast to the Yashica, somewhat overrated—they’re prone to shutter inaccuracies and meter malfunctions as they age—far from alone in these respects, of course, but these points are frequently overlooked

        Thanks for this review, it was enjoyable.
        Brett

        • This is very useful information, thanks. I’d say mine isn’t pinpoint accurate — the range between the arrows is at least 1, up to 2 stops. Thank heavens for film’s exposure latitude.

    • tbm3fan says:

      I read his review and do agree that craftsmanship on their SLRs was second to none. They are a pleasure just to look at. All business, no excess fluff. remind me of a 1966 New Yorker 4 door.

  2. I feel the same way about similar SLRs of this period…Nikkormats and Minolta SRT variants. Funny how the Pentax Spotmatic, sold around the same time, doesn’t feel big and heavy at all. At least to me. Great shots though–especially the first one!

  3. I had a Yashica J-5, which is a similar SLR, as a ‘second body’ for my Pentax system. The Yashicas were slightly less expensive and nearly as sturdy. And as your photos prove the lenses were on par with the Takumars.

  4. tbm3fan says:

    Fatiguing to use!? You really need to go to the gym and do some arm exercises. Might I remind you that pros in Vietnam sometimes carried three Nikons around their necks. I was at Hoover Dam some months back and carried four cameras in a bag on my shoulder. I think the heft of the 60s SLRs are fine by me. I have all of those made by Minolta, Miranda, Yashica, Ricoh, Nikkormat, Nikon, Topcon, and Canon. I will admit that I did carry a Nikon F with Photomic head around San Francisco one day in the 70s for about six hours. My neck was a little tired from the camera strap around it. Also it is not a flat city.

  5. The Electro X was the first camera that I bought when I got out of high school and had the money to spend. I still have it and it still works fine. I did get the idea after I had it a while that I needed a better camera to be a better photographer so I upgraded to a Canon F1. Looking back on it I probably could have done fine with the Yashica.

  6. Thanks Jim, the TL Electro X was my first “good” SLR, and I used it happily for maybe a decade before trading it for my Contax 139Q in 1984. Mine was silver like yours, and I remember it as a basic but competent camera. I did manage to get another one, (black) for my collection a couple of years ago, but it has a broken mirror, and the shutter fires as soon as you advance film, so I am not sure if it is repairable…..

  7. Nice job, these are excellent photographs! The lens is certainly no slouch in any way. I’m impressed that a 1968 electronic camera still works correctly.

    My little Yashica Electro 35CC rangefinder camera uses the same left and right arrows to show if you are outside of the safe handholdable zone, but the shutter is automatically timed. It will make exposures as long as 15 sec., which I have occasionally used.

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