Electro 35 was a popular series of film cameras produced by Yashica around the 1970’s. They are fixed-lens rangefinders with 45mm 𝑓1.7 Yashinon optics, an electronic shutter which fires in aperture-priority mode between 1/500ᵗʰ and 30 seconds.
Electro 35 is not just one camera. There were a whole range of models made under that label. There’s the “original” ‘35, which was followed by the G-series (stands for gold-plated): G, GS, GSN, GTN. There is also GL, CC, and CCN. I’ve owned and used G (the still “Made in Japan” device with a maximum accepted film ISO of 500) and two GSNs (just as well-made bodies from Hong Kong with still-Japanese lenses that take up to ISO 1,000). GL, CC, and CCN have slightly-different optics and body shapes, but they do operate in a similar fashion.
The ubiquitous G-series models require an extinct 5.6-volt mercury battery. Luckily, it could be replaced with two LR-44s and a 3-volt CR2. Just stack ‘em. You could operate this camera without a battery, however, the shutter will always fire at 1/500ᵗʰ of a second.
Electros are very fast and comfortable to use. The exposure is measured for you, though you still have your full creative control over the depth of field and the focus. It isn’t difficult to change how fast the shutter fires by changing the aperture, however, the camera will not tell you what speed it clicked at. If you have a good feel for light stops you can make difficult lighting shots by compensating with the ISO dial.
All of the G-series tend to over-expose in very bright light by about one stop. I usually tweak the ISO dial when outside in the full sun. Letting it think that the film is more sensitive than it really is (say switching from the rated 400 to 800) will make the camera darken the scene, exactly as you would expect. Same works in reverse, though neither is very intuitive you can get used to operating it that way with time.
All of the three Electros I’ve owned have sharp, fast and well-balanced lenses. It feels as if they add a bit of a purple tinge under certain situations, which in some cases is good and in others not so much. I only wish they used a focus notch like the one on my QL25, instead of the awkwardly-placed tabs. The first “G” version has a nicer integrated grip which I think the makers should’ve stuck with.
The appeal of a fixed-lens rangefinder is the fact that fiddling with a bag full of options and a new world of purchasing decisions is no longer part of the experience. In some cases, this also adds to portability, though GSNs certainly aren’t small. You could choose to get GL, CC, or CCN if portability is a concern.
In any case, Electro does not look like a typical DSLR and is quiet enough to sneak in some candid shots.
The clockwork-like ticking while winding the film, the ornate yet streamlined design of the top panel, the reassuring frame-lines of the bright viewfinder with a yellow rhombus patch, and, of course, the lights indicating battery usage and exposure warnings all entice me to shoot more. These design features are hard to forget.
Fixing Electro 35 cameras.
Whatever the condition of your Yashica is, it feels like a treat to hold and operate. They are well-designed machines that fit well in your hands, give you just enough creative control, yet let you concentrate on shooting more and fiddling with your settings less. Being over fifty years old, however, these cameras can and do have issues.
My first Electro came from a Thai flea market. It seemed fine at the first glance, however, once I took it home the grime that penetrated it through every crevice became evident. Whatever lived inside of it has left a trace that took days to get rid of and a mountain of cotton swabs.
Getting rid of the fungus is a fairly straight-forward job of taking the lens apart, washing the elements with soapy water and cleaning them with an alcohol solution. This nasty stuff grows inside the optics of cameras which live in damp basements, but it hates the sun so if you use yours often enough it shouldn’t have any. The trouble is, getting to the rear element is exceptionally difficult. I would also suggest to only use a proper lens spanner tool, patience and, possibly, a Liquid Wrench solution to help you open up old lenses which may feel as if they are welded-in after all those years.
✪ A word of warning: some may advise you clean your lenses with a white vinegar solution. I’ve (over)done that, which ended up dissolving the lens. Although this shouldn’t usually happen, it can and it did.
All-but-one of my Electros suffered from “pad of death” problem, which is very common on the G-series. Some consider it to be the end-of-the-line, which is far from the truth. You can fix it yourself if you got a lens spanner (you’ll need it to remove the film winder and ISO dial), a micro-screwdriver set, a double-sided foam tape and a duct tape. The last two items I used to create a new pad (by leaving one side of the foam tape sticky and covering the other with a couple layers of a duct tape). I then carefully manoeuvred into its place with tweezers according to this video tutorial.
Yashica Electro 35 is no “poor man’s Leica.” Costing an approximate equivalent of today’s $700USD when sold new it was never made for the broke. It also says “Yashica” on the camera and on the box it came in 😏. With that out of the way, this is an easy to source camera with excellent optics, design and features.
Whilst it does come with its limitations, bing a large size, no manual exposure, etc., those things shouldn’t stop you from taking great photographs.