Yashica was* a well-known Japanese brand that produced a series of Electro 35 cameras featuring fast glass, great usability, and decent build quality. These cameras were made from 1966 until the early ‘80s. Having sold over eight million copies, they are truly a classic rangefinder; to this day, they maintain an ample fan base and can still be serviced by a few skilled masters.
This review focuses on the G-series, featuring 45mm 𝑓1.7 Yashinon lens and aperture priority metering. I will also go into some detail on how to use the camera with modern batteries, fudge the camera to under- or over-expose your scenes, and fix the common “pad of death” issue.
Electro 35 is not just one camera. There was a whole range of models made under that label. There’s the “original” ‘35, 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” with a maximum accepted film ISO of 500) and two GSNs (just as well-made bodies from Hong Kong with Japanese-produced lenses that take up to ISO 1,000 film). GL, CC, and CCN have slightly different optics and body shapes, but they do operate in a similar fashion.
Today, the brand name Yashica is operated by a holdings brand and is known to produce disappointing, sub-par products.
Electro 35 in use.
All Electro 35s come with a quiet and versatile leaf shutter that could take exposures anywhere between 30 and 1/500 seconds in various lighting conditions. The cameras accepted film ISO maximum input of 500~1000 — depending on the model, which has to be set on a retro-futuristic top-plate dial by rotating its bezel until the red mark matches the number.
The G-series Yashicas aren’t small; weighing nearly 700g, they aren’t exactly pocketable. But with that heft came practical features like a nice, large viewfinder, fast lens, easy controls and comfortable night-time operation. These cameras were marketed for shooting in subdued light, which is still challenging for many modern cameras in 2021.
These cameras were made for everyone, which means that they had to make the challenge of measuring and messing up the exposure a thing of the past for its novice users. Yashica did just that by permanently featuring “slow” and “over” lights on the top plate and inside the viewfinder window to warn the photographer when the Electro’s “Electric Eye” thought they were about to either under- or over-expose the scene.
If the user-set ISO and aperture bring in more light than the camera can compensate for with its top speed of 1/500, a red warning light, “over,” will light up along with an arrow pointing to the right. Which should be interpreted as “rotate your aperture barrel to the right.” This is made even clearer by the red right arrow on the lens barrel.
The under-exposure yellow warning light, “under,” directs the photographer to rotate the barrel to the left. It lights up when Electro determines that the shutter needs to fire at speeds slower than 1/30th of a second to expose the scene properly. You can ignore this light if you’re shooting with a tripod, unless your exposure will take longer than 30 seconds. In which case, you should switch to Bulb and use a shutter release cable.
Electro 35s use a continuous shutter with no fixed stops. Meaning that it would have no problem firing at 1/93 (or absolutely any number between 30 and 1/500) if that’s what it determines would compensate for the light best.
A convenient shutter lock switch is directly under the shutter button, rotating, which will prevent accidental exposures. To the right of it is a frame counter window that lights up green when you press the battery-check button — serving a dual purpose in dark spaces. The Hong Kong-assembled GSN models feature a hot shoe for flash accessories; an earlier version “G” had a cold shoe.
The lens barrel of the Electro 35 cameras has a focus tab, distance marks, and an aperture ring, a self-timer lever, and a Bulb switch. It may seem like a lot at first, but the only two functions that you’ll find yourself switching constantly are the focus and aperture. I only wish they used a focus notch like the one on my Canon Q25 instead of the awkwardly-placed tab. The first “G” version has a nicer integrated grip which I think is better.
Some reviews complain of a faint rangefinder patch, which is sometimes the case with these cameras, though I think that it’s just a product of time. Given that it may not be as good as that of Leica M3, it’s bright enough for most situations, and I really enjoy its rhombus shape. It’s more fun than the more common square and just as easy to work with.
For the reader who’s new to rangefinder cameras: all you need to do to focus is to make the picture inside the patch align with the surroundings. You can check whether you did it right by looking at the lens barrel to see if the distance marked on it resembles reality.
Winding the film on Electro 35s is loads of fun. I love how it sounds; its ticking reminds me of old mechanical watches. The shutter button on the G-series has a relatively long travel distance; it could take a while to get used to it for extra precise shots, but it’s possible to memorize the exact position it triggers the quiet leaf shutter for those extremely-well-timed shots.
The only real downsides to using this camera I found are its weight, size, and a sub-par ever-ready case made of cheap pleather. Everything else is just right, including the looks. Surely there could be “better” cameras out there — depending on what you’re looking to shoot — but all the Electros are incredibly versatile, affordable, and fun cameras everyone who shoots film should try at least once.
Electro 35’s Yashinon lens quality.
The lens is good. It’s sharp when stopped down with minimal aberration and zero vignetting. It does flare — a lot in some situations — and it isn’t nearly as contrasty as the 28mm G-Rokkor — but it costs less than 10% of the TC-1.
Yashinon optics are very well corrected; they produce no swirly bokeh, typical of some older lenses. The out-of-focus renderings look quite “modern,” with the only exception being slightly lacking contrast — which isn’t difficult to fix in post unless you’re about to print your negative in RA-4. Even then, I would say the images still look good; none of the sample photos in this review had any contrast or level adjustments applied.
In my opinion, colour film is, in general, the best type of emulsion for this camera. There’s something special about how this lens renders reality, and monochrome tends to take that little bit away from the final images. Perhaps that could also be fixed in post, corrected with filters or maybe I wasn’t using the right black and white film with my Yashicas. You be the judge of that — below is my sample gallery for your examination:
Exposure compensation with Electro 35’s ISO dial.
The exposure is measured and set for you in aperture-priority mode by the “Electric Eye,” though you still have your full creative control over the depth of field and the focus. However, the camera will not tell you what speed it fired the shutter at.
In case you want to compensate for the lighting of your scene, you can do so by adjusting the ISO/ASA dial as follows: rotate it clockwise towards larger ISO numbers for less light in your photographs and counter-clockwise for more.
All of the G-series tend to over-expose in very bright light by about one to two stops. I usually twist the ISO dial when outside in the full sun towards higher ISOs than what I have loaded to get better exposure. Yashicas do relatively well in the subdued light, but you may benefit from letting yours take a bit more light.
Of course, these sorts of fine adjustments are only needed for limited dynamic range films like the E-6 slides and may differ depending on your copy. I suggest you experiment with something cheap first.
Fixing the Electro 35’s outdated mercury battery requirement without spending a cent on mods and gadgets.
When I got my first Electro, I wanted to use it right away. Unfortunately, it requires an extinct 5.6-volt mercury battery. I could operate this camera without a battery; however, the shutter will always fire at 1/500ᵗʰ of a second — not ideal.
There are various third-party tools available on eBay to remedy the situation — but there’s no need to wait another week for delivery. All you need to do to make your Electro 35 work is two LR-44 batteries and a 3-volt CR2. Just stack ‘em, tape them and place them in the battery compartment as if it was one. Make sure that you align them properly and add tin foil if needed as a spacer.
Fixing Electro 35 cameras.
My first Electro came from a Thai flea market. It seemed fine at first glance; however, once I took it home, the grime that penetrated it through every crevice became evident. Whatever lived inside 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 straightforward 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 stored in damp basements, but it hates the sun, so if you use yours often enough, new strains shouldn’t grow.
The trouble is, getting to the rear element is exceptionally difficult. I would suggest only using 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.
All but one of my Electros suffered from the “pad of death” problem, which is very common on the G-series. You can diagnose it by listening to the winding noises of the camera. There should be a click at some point there — if it sounds sharp and the camera doesn’t open its shutter blades when triggered.
Some consider it to be the end-of-the-line, which is far from the truth. You could 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 duct tape.
The foam tape can be moulded to create a new pad (by leaving one side of the foam tape sticky and covering the other with a couple of layers of duct tape). Then carefully manoeuvre it into its place with tweezers, according to this video tutorial.
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