Yashica Electro 35
I was looking for a camera among the rangefinders and realized that there are Yashica Electro cameras everywhere. Six of them. I remember where I got two of the lot, where one was the first in my collection. Till now I had not looked closely at them, and it seems that although they carry different model definitions, they all look similar. So now is the time.
Yashica was generous in using the ‘Electro’ camera name. There are 43 cameras that carry this name in one variation or another, which I believe was for legacy and name recognition. After discounting the SLR and mini Electro cameras, there are 18 rangefinders and two viewfinders. The six I have are of four models, so I had to rely on Google for information about the rest.
Entering ‘Yashica Electro 35’ in the search field, Google presented me with “About 525,000 results (0.51 seconds)”. It is impressive indeed, but in reality, it means little.
So I dove into the 525,000 entries, and subsequently came up with the following insights:
- While Google reports half a million entries, it presents you with a meagre seven pages that its algorithm deems are good for you. Only after you comb through these pages, it graciously affords you a sight into more search results pages, abruptly ending at the 17th page. So much for ‘About 525,000 results’.
- First on the search results are the usual Wiki pages, where entries are copied from one Wiki to another. Thereafter pages containing much meaningless copy, usually in large fonts, not sure why, and images galore. Now come the Pinterest and it’s sisters, YouTube and ‘for sale’ pages, most stale, but as nothing is lost on the net. This is followed by more pages that make you wonder how they made it into Google’s selection.
The pages that contain useful and valid information are far and few between. Some are pages by the Church of the Camera Grand Cardinals, such as Mike Ekman and Ken Rockwell, as well as other pacesetters who take pride in their research and present chewable information. Other pages may contain some observations, but nothing that was not discussed by the Grand Cardinals. In short, getting real and useful information is a grand task.
- Online information on everything Yashica, including the Electro camera line, come from far and wide, but all boils down to two original sources: the Yashica Guy and Yashica TLR. Some cite these sites as a source, others just shamelessly copy or quote information thereof. What it means is that you may save much Google time and go right there. The only downside of these sites is the byzantine navigation, but once align with the authors’ mind you may score.
- Looking at the images presented in some of the sites reminds me that I am a hopeless photographer. Some images shown are stunning, I assume that is why they were posted. In comparison, my images are, well, pathetic. Guess this goes back to high school time where I had to pick an extracurricular activity, and the camera club was one of the few options that did not involve chasing a ball. There was a benefit though, as the camera club was run by the vice-principal, who kept the material in his room. As he got tired of it I was handed the darkroom key and later on his office key as well. The vice-principal office was connected to the school office, where the exam sheets were printed on a Gestetner machine and the discarded stencils ended in my hands. Needless to say that my popularity was running high, at least until a wise teacher figured how come that in some tests all got stellar marks, while wholesale failing on others.
- The Yashica Electro line is referred to as a ‘poor man’s Leica’. I have an issue with this term, in this specific case and in general. The Electro line and the Leica line have probably two things in common, both are rangefinders and both are made of metal. That is where the comparison ends.
The term ‘poor man’s’ bugs me as from the time I drove a RIP Ford Crown Victoria (that caught fire and burned down my garage and a Volvo that was parked by it). Driving it I kept getting consolation remarks that it is a ‘poor man’s Cadillac’. It wasn’t. Further, when I did look into a Cadillac I ended up with a Lincoln Continental that was superior to any Cadillac. Nevertheless, even with the Continental, I kept getting the ‘poor man’ remarks. Go figure. I even sinned myself once, when I saw the (presumably) only Ford Capri in North America, a car that was actually designed as a poor man’s Mustang, and apparently offended the owner.
- The subjects that raise most in the Yashica Electro reviews are batteries and ‘pad of death’. There are as many battery suggestions as camera reviews and a confusing array of replacement batteries of all denominations, that ends up being different names for the same battery. The pad of death is widely discussed, seemingly a common peeve to the Electro owners.
Yashica Electro Legacy
The Yashica Electro line began in 1965, the last model introduced in 1975 and was sold till the early 1980s.
- The first model, the pretty Electro half viewfinder, was a part of the Yashica Half family, being a step-up of the half 17. It is the first model to feature the indicator light system in addition to the ASA selector dial, making it a foolproof semi-automatic camera with a fast lens to boot. The alternatives at the time were the Olympus Pen and the Canon Demi, with the Fuji Half and the Ricoh Auto Half lagging behind. All were introduced at about the same time. The market segment leader was the Pen, sold in different variants from 1959, where the last model was introduced in 1973.
- The next model in the family were rangefinders, Electro 35 and the Electro 35 Professional. Two identical cameras save for the complexion, the Pro was black. A full 35mm format rangefinder, positioned against other Japanese makes, where no true American model was left. Even the models sold under American banner were all imports. The Electro was well received. Well built, simple to use, solid feel, good looks and well priced. All that drove sales of this model and its successors to just under 10 million units. Well built – as mentioned, I have six cameras, a mix of G, GS, GSN and GTN. One has been abused, one requires attention and the rest were just wiped clean, rust cleared from battery chamber and now all operate as new. The body shape borrowed from the Canonet line and features were similar to the Electro half. A bigger battery compensated for the power drain by the electrically operated shutter, so Yashica had a winner in their hands.
- Next came the Electro G line, similar to the plain Electro, with gold plated contacts. Marketing ruled again and this model came in several almost identical flavours:
- G, with ASA selection to 500 instead of 400 at its predecessor.
- GT, the same as the G but in black.
- GS with ASA to 1000, no test lamp, test button just lights the frame counter.
- GT 2nd version, ASA to 1000 and the back door opens by pulling the rewind crank.
- GT Gold Mechanica, as the GT but with perceived pedigree. With added hyphen could be a British army officer.
- The Electro M5 came on board in 1970. A cheaper and simpler version of the G line. Done away with the meter cell on the forehead, repositioned within the lens barrel as will be all Electro cameras henceforth.
- The Electro CC and Electro CCN Wide came to market in 1970 and 1971 respectively. With the same wide 35mm lens on both. The CCN is titled ‘wide’. The CCN has some minor superficial improvement over the CC, else they are indistinguishable. Both were made in black only.
- A viewfinder, the Electro MC, introduced in 1972, carried over most of the previous line’s features, in a smaller, cheaper and lighter package. No high/low lights, just a green battery check light. The battery has gone back to a smaller size.
- 1973 saw two identical models, back to the traditional Electro shape. The GTN in black, the GSN in chrome. Added a hot shoe, the PC port remains. save for some internal newly designed parts they are identical to the GT / GS.
- A special edition, the Electro 35 Gold Special was made in small numbers.
- Another budget model, the Electro 35 FC, looking like a lost brother of the Canonet 28, introduced in 1973. Offered with 2.8 / 40mm or 1.7 / 50mm lenses. Black or chrome bodies, no name difference as were its predecessors.
- Back to mainline Electro, the GL in chrome and GL Gold Mechanica in black launched in 1974. ASA range to 1600, to match the faster films offered at that time. 1.7 / 40mm lens.
- MG-1, offered in 1975, presumably to rehash the brand sales with a slightly better-dressed camera. Offered in black and chrome, with a choice of two lenses as the FC.
- In the same year the Electro 35 GX, an updated version of the FC, in black, was the last of the Yashica Electro cameras offered.
Using the Yashica Electro camera
The Electro cameras were similar to each other throughout the line, with slight variations as it evolved. Naming convention hinted to a larger offering than what was available, using varying names to identical models. See the table that lists the camera models. The information below refers to the classic Electro cameras, the 35, G, GS /N and the GT /N
The Electro cameras are semi-automatic, aperture priority, with little manual options. The primary attraction was the over / under indicator lights that appear in one form or another across the models’ lineup. While other cameras of that era have offered coupled or uncoupled light meters as well, using such cameras involved setting dials and matching needles to get a correct exposure.
Here, all needed is to set the aperture dial to the desired F stop, and the camera does the rest. If exposure is out of the optimal range the camera would blink. The red light meant over exposure, and yellow meant under exposure, slow shutter. Not to be undone, a battery check button a lit green light if the battery is alive. The battery check button also illuminates the frame counter, which is surprisingly bright for a light source made decades prior to the intense modern LED lights. Note that on later models the green light was dropped, where the frame counter light confirmed battery power.
Further, if selecting the aperture value is too complex, the F values on the dial are complemented with ikons showing sun, clouds and indoor options.
The finder window, large and bright, showed similar red/yellow indicator lights. Further, parallax crop lines shifted south/east as the focusing dial is trained to closer distance.
Mechanical self-timer is mounted on top of the lens assembly, at an easier reach compared to other cameras that used to hide it. The classic Electro lenses were fast and sharp at 1.7 / 45.
The GS / GT lenses were marked ‘color’, for which there are several schools of thoughts. One opinion holds that the ‘color’ definition was just a buzzword at the time, similar to everything ‘digital’ of today. Others hold that while the black and white films were forgiving, the three or four emulsion layers on colour film necessitated a better focusing lens, otherwise colours would appear smeared. I cannot judge.
On early models, the Electro 35, G and the early GT version the back opened via a latch on the camera side. These models have an indentation on the back, for easy grip. From 2nd version, GT back opens via pulling the rewind crank.
Setting the camera is simple. After loading the film, the user sets the ASA speed on a dial, mounted on the top cover. This dial operates two half masks, triangularly notched, moving against each other, over the meter cell. High ASA value corresponds to smaller opening and vice versa. Metered value, together with the aperture stop would generate the shutter speed. Shutter speeds are continues, with no fixed stops, from a few seconds to the max speed as per the camera model, see table. This is much like the continues CVT automatic transmission which does not use fixed-ratio gears. Additional settings are flash sync, /30, and B. If no battery the shutter defaults to /500, no matter what ASA speed or what aperture is selected. The meter masking applies to the early models with the meter mounted on the top. Will elaborate on the models where the meter lens is within the lens barrel. have two models on the way. Between the holiday season, Covid and eBay shipping, it may take long before it will land here. The one size fits all manual from the Yashica Guy is a good reference to have.
Batteries are a sour issue with the Electro line. The classic styles used 5.6 mercury battery, now discontinued. There are many solutions to that. Battery adapters using CR44 1.5V batteries are widely available and are easy to make. I used a 1/2″ PEX tube, $3 for 10’, and a 1/2″ wood dowel, $2 for 4’, total investment $5. Enough for a lifetime supply of adapters. Cut both to size, drive a brass screw through the dowel to close the circuit and it is done. Four CR44 batteries = 6v drop in as if they are made for that. Such batteries are dime a dozen and freely available. Another option is using a 4CR44 battery, which as it is named, four CR44 in a sleeve. This option is both too thin and too short, so taping the battery to make it thicker and using a spring to make up for the length will do. In a pinch, rolled aluminium foil could make up for the length.
A sign of good health is the famous click that sounds just when you pull the winder. If the click is there you will surely hear it. If it is silent it can be fixed, see article.
Yashica Electro 35 model list
|Electro Half||Chrome||1965||PX640||CdS on front top||12 to 400||Cold||Latch||120 – /500||1.7/32||30.5mm||512|
|Electro 35||Chrome||1966||4 ea
|CdS on front top||12 to 400||Cold||Latch||30 – /500||1.7/45||55mm|
|Electro 35 Professional||Black|
|Electro 35 G||Chrome||1968||CdS on front top||12 to 500||Cold||Latch||30 – /500||1.7/45||55mm||700|
|Electro 35 GT v1||Black||1969|
|Electro 35 GS||Chrome||1970||CdS on front top||25 to 1000||Cold||Winder||30 – /500||1.7/45||55mm||700|
|Electro 35 GT v2||Black|
|Electro 35 GT Gold Mechanica||Chrome|
|Electro M5||Chrome||1970||PX28||CdS in lens assembly||N/A||Cold||Winder||N/A||2.8/45||600|
|Electro 35 CC||Black||1971||PX28||CdS in lens assembly||25 to 400||Hot||Winder||8 – /250||1.8/35||550|
|Electro 35 CCN Wide||1.8/35|
|Electro 35 MC||Black / Chrome||1972||PX28||CdS in lens assembly||25 to 1000||Cold||Winder||4 – /500||2.8/40||365|
|Electro 35 GSN||Chrome||1973||4 ea
LR44 or 4LR44
|CdS on front top||25 to 1000||Hot||Winder||30 – /500||1.7/45||55mm||700|
|Electro 35 GTN||Black||1973||CdS on front top||25 to 1000||Hot||Winder||30 – /500||1.7/45||55mm||700|
|Electro 35 GTN Gold Special||gold||1973||CdS on front top||25 to 1000||Hot||Winder||30 – /500||1.7/45||55mm||700|
|Electro 35 FC||Black / Chrome||1973||25 to 800||Hot||Winder||30 – /1000||1.7/50
|Electro 35 GL||Chrome||1974||PX32||CdS in lens assembly||25 to 1600||Hot||Winder||8 – /500||1.7/40||55mm||665|
|Electro 35 GL Gold Mechanica||Black|
|MG-1||Black / Chrome||1975||4 ea
LR44 or 4LR44
|CdS in lens assembly||25 to 800||Hot||Winder||30 – /500||1.7/40
|Electro 35 GX||Black / Chrome||1975||CdS in lens assembly||25 to 800||Hot||Winder||30 – /500||1.7/40||580|
Electro MC and Electro Half are viewfinders. Rest are rangefinders.
PX28 = A544 6V can be used with an adapter.
Tributes, at no particular order: