Yashica Electro 35 is a family of once-popular 35mm film rangefinder cameras with great controls and a sharp lens. The brand took the photography world by storm in 1966 with its first-generation model that had a signature “atom” logo and capable, easy-to-use optics.
Not long after, Electro 35 was released as Pro, G, GT, GS, GTN, and then GSN with various minor upgrades. The most notable changes were gold-plated wiring in all models with “G” in their name (to prevent oxidation) and the all-black models that look hella slick. Other changes, starting with the GT series, were assembly location (from Japan to Hong Kong) and acceptable film ISO speeds (up to 400 for the original and the Pro, up to 500 with G and up to 1000 for GT-onwards). GTN and GSN cameras also came with a hot shoe for your flash.
I’ve used my Electro 35s extensively for years, having tried G, GT, and GSN versions. There isn’t much difference between those versions in terms of image quality or operation. The only difference is the acceptable film speed which limited choices slightly on the earlier models. Besides that, they are the same camera; thus, this review covers all of those versions.
✪ Note: GL, CC, and CCN Electro 35s are different cameras built with distinct optics, chassis, and electronics.
In this long-term review of the Electro 35 series, I will cover the camera’s fantastic lens, exposure metering, ergonomics, and common issues/repairs. I will also advise you on finding a good, working camera for a reasonable price.
These Yashicas were built for outdated mercury batteries that are no longer in production; I will share a few tips on using these cameras with the easy-to-find LR44 + CR2 cells.
Electro 35 controls and ergonomics.
All Electro 35s come with a quiet and versatile leaf shutter that could take exposures anywhere between 30 and 1/500 seconds.
Weighing nearly 700g, these cameras aren’t exactly pocketable. But with that heft come practical features like a large viewfinder, fast lens, easy controls, and comfortable subdued light operation.
Electro 35s were built before DX coding was a thing, and thus, after loading your camera with film you’ll need to set its ISO so that the camera knows how to expose your scenes properly. Thankfully, this is a fun and easy task of rotating the retro-futuristic dial on the top plate to match your film’s ISO number; Yashicas call it ASA — which is the same thing.
Winding the film on Electro 35s is loads of fun, too; as you advance to the next frame, the winder makes a ticking sound reminiscent of mechanical watches. The frame counter is in a tiny window next to the winding lever; it even lights up when you press and hold the “battery check” button — which is very helpful in subdued light.
The shutter button has a fairly long travel distance and a medium-strength spring. It’s easy to get used to and, combined with the ultra-quiet leaf shutter, you’ll be able to take shake-free photos in most light conditions. The ring around the button can be rotated to lock it for preventing accidental exposures.
You’ll also find a pretty red tab on the lens that could be pulled down to set a 10s self-timer. Helpful for selfies and shake-free photos on a tripod if you don’t have a cable release (that this camera also accepts).
There’s also a bulb mode for those ultra-long exposures.
The viewfinder on Electro 35 is very comfortable, particularly for a camera of this age. It has bright lines with parallax correction.
Being a rangefinder, this camera has a manual-only focus. But Electro 35 is a beginner-friendly camera, and thus you should be able to grasp the focus patch concept fairly quickly with your copy.
Electro 35s feature an “Electric Eye” coupled light meter that operates the camera in aperture priority mode. This means that you are responsible for choosing an appropriate lens aperture before taking each shot while the camera adjusts its shutter speed to ensure that your exposure is correct.
Yashica makes the task of selecting a correct aperture easy: note the “over” and “slow” lights in the viewfinder and on the top plate. As you adjust your aperture for the shot, the lights will guide you to an appropriate setting where the “slow” indication will have you rotate the aperture ring to the left (when you have your lens pointing towards your subject) and “over” will have you do the opposite. There are even helpful colour-coded arrows so that you don’t have to memorize anything.
Exposure compensation with Electro 35s.
The light meter on Electro 35s is very good. It works in virtually all lighting conditions and is famously accurate. However, there are some situations when it can’t give you the exposure you want.
If you are taking a photo of a backlit subject or would like to change the default exposure on your Yashica, there is a “hack” for you to do that: change the film ISO.
For example, if you’d like to increase the exposure by +1 stop while shooting an ISO 100 film, you can change your film’s ASA setting on the camera to 50. Or, if you want to compensate your exposure by -1 stop, change your ASA to 200. The large and accessible dial on the top plate makes this task quick and easy.
Yashinon lens and image quality.
Yashica’s Yashinon lens that comes fixed to all Eletro 35 cameras is quite sharp, has lovely image properties, and has a minimum focus distance of .8m or 2.6”.
Yahinon renders medium-strong contrast with minimal chromatic aberrations. It does flare (but not excessively), a distortion you can further reduce by getting a lens hood with your camera.
The 45mm focal length is in the “normal” territory, which means that this lens will have a similar angle of view as the human eye. Good for portraits and general photography. This configuration, along with the corrections, ensures minimal or absent barrel distortion.
Electro 35s can give you lovely bokeh at larger apertures, particularly if you focus on something up-close. There isn’t much swirl in the out-of-focus areas; in fact, this lens seems to render those kinds of images like a modern camera.
Yashinons produce no noticeable vignetting.
The lens barrel build quality is very good. I found it to be even better put-together than the camera’s body — which is already above average. It has a 90° focus throw, making quick adjustment a breeze.
However, I didn’t particularly enjoy the plastic tabs mounted on the focus ring as they aren’t in a very intuitive location for the fingers.
The barrel also features a DOF calculator and an aperture control ring with clicks — all good, standard things.
If you use filters, this lens has a 55mm thread.
Finally, a ring to switch between the bulb and auto modes is at the very front of the lens. The flash sync is the other option — you should also know that this camera can work with flash at all shutter speeds.
Close-up and “zoom” lens filters.
There are close-up and focal length extension filters available for Electro 35 cameras. Meant to let you get closer focus or a tighter framing on far-away objects, these accessories aren’t that great in practice. Cumbersome and not impressive optically. But they’re out there, so if you need to take those kinds of shots on film and your Yashica is the only means, they may do the job.
Batteries for Electro 35.
Electro 35s can work without a battery; however, the shutter will always fire at 1/500th of a second. You must also use an external light meter or a Sunny 16 rule to set the aperture.
For proper operation, these cameras need a 5.6-volt mercury battery — which is no longer in production. Instead, you can find an adapter on eBay to use with modern batteries.
Or, get two LR-44 batteries and a 3-volt CR2. Then stack them, 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.
Electro 35 common issues and repairs.
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 that 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 — you’ve got a problem.
Some consider it an end-of-the-line issue, 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). Having done that, carefully manoeuvre it into its place with tweezers. This procedure is demonstrated in this video tutorial.
How and where to find a good Electro 35 that works.
If you’re shopping online, product photos can reveal many issues with the camera. For example, fungus-infested and cloudy lenses are usually a no-go unless you’re willing to do some cleaning yourself. But scratches on the front element shouldn’t have much of an effect on your images.
Check that your camera looks clean — outside and inside (ensure that you see photos with the film door open).
You will also need to ask your seller two questions: 1) does the rangefinder show reasonable contrast? 2) does this camera suffer from the “pad of death” issue (see above)? Both of these questions may be answered with a listing or a seller promising that the camera is fully functional (but check their rating/reputation).
While Electro 35s can be bought virtually at any vintage camera store (they are that common), most good copies are still being sold from Japan on eBay. Even in 2022, when shooting film is getting more expensive, those cameras shouldn’t set you back more than $100 or $200 for an all-black version, as seen in this article. Of course, those costs will depend on the camera’s condition and whether it’s film-tested.
One last thing: don’t forget to get a battery adapter!
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Yahica Electro 35 camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!