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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I coaxed a little bokeh out of the lens in this shot.
I coaxed a little more bokeh out of the lens on this photo of an ash branch.
This tire isn’t an interesting subject, but the silky sidewall texture sure is compelling.
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.
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.
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