Following up on my previous post about the Yashica Electro 35 GSN that I purchased, I’ve now had enough time to use the camera and write a full review.
The “Poor Man’s Leica”
The Yashica Electro 35 is a camera with a long history and many iterations. First developed in the 1960’s, it saw improvements across numerous successive models and has endured with a “classic” rangefinder look. It even made a cameo in one of the Spiderman movies!
The GSN is the final, and arguably most popular, iteration of the camera. It was the last one in the line and has the highest ISO range as well as a convenient hot shoe.
The Electro 35 has also garnered a quiet reputation as the “poor man’s Leica”, as a serviceable rangefinder camera that takes higher-than-average quality photos on a beer budget. I found this to be true, but more on that in a moment.
Build Quality and Feel
I lamented in my previous post about my run in with the original Electro that was beyond repair, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I found a GSN and ultimately it’s a better camera.
What you immediately notice when you pick up the Yashica Electro 35 GSN is that it isn’t small. This isn’t a dainty camera, and it’s basically on par with my Canon Ftb in size, although it’s definitely lighter. It’s a combination of metal and plastic, and hardly feels cheap, although strangely the fixed 45mm lens has a little play or “wobble” inside the chassis and that is a known “feature” of the camera?
The Electro 35 GSN really excels in a number of areas. I took these photos in a nearby park to run a test roll (Fujifilm C200) through it. It was a bright but consistently overcast day, so the light was mostly even.
Not the most exciting photos, I know. But they illustrate some of this camera’s strengths.
That Yashinon 45mm f1.7 lens is PIN SHARP. I had seen some impressive photos online, but to have all my photos come out this sharp when I had never actually used a rangefinder before (you line up a yellow “patch” to align a double-image) was impressive. It still doesn’t steal the crown from my Canon FD 50mm 1.4, but it’s more than adequate. When the lens is wide open you can get some decent, gentle, bokeh.
The Electro nailed correct exposure on every frame of my test roll. Every. SINGLE. FRAME.
Keep in mind I had this CLA’d, but for a camera using late 60’s/early 70’s technology, it’s pretty impressive how accurate the things light meter is. It’s a simple system of red & yellow lights with corresponding arrows that appear in the large and bright viewfinder. Red is “overexposed” and Yellow is “underexposed” and you simply crank the aperture until the arrows disappear. This is an aperture priority camera, so it takes care of figuring out shutter speed for you.
Ease of Use
Loading and unloading film is easy and pretty much identical to any standard film SLR. As I mentioned above, the Electro 35 is aperture priority so it takes a lot of guesswork out. You focus where you want, half-press your shutter to activate the meter, dial in your aperture and fire. A big reason I wanted one of these was to get away from my fully manual SLR’s. When I’m being a try-hard and want to tinker I have those available. When I don’t want to think, I grab a point & shoot or my Instax. This is a nice “bridge” camera that is a bit more flexible without killing all spontaneity by having to adjust for the entire triangle.
Not without its faults, I’d warn everyone that any Electro 35 you find, GSN or otherwise, will probably be broken in some way. It has a number of parts that wear out including the “pad of death” which is a foam pad that renders the camera essentially useless when it goes. It also requires an adapter or jury-rigging for a battery. That said, it takes a pretty standard alkaline, which is better than mercury. I’d also say it doesn’t provide the level of control that an SLR does, so don’t think it will.
This camera wants to take good pictures.
It was designed as a mass market consumer camera, so I don’t expect I’ll be doing as much off-the-wall creative photography with it. But again, that’s not why I bought it. I wanted something that took consistent, high-quality film photos that had better sharpness, and nicer bokeh than a Point & Shoot.
Finally, and this is a TINY quibble, but it was engineered for right-handed people, and the non-centered viewfinder threw a southpaw like me off a bit. But I’ll get used to it.
If you’re in the market to add a classic rangefinder to your camera collection, you could do much worse than the Yashica Electro 35 GSN. They’re plentiful and can be found in excellent cosmetic condition for $40 USD or less, which means you could get one gussied up with a CLA and still be under $100 to buy a roll of film and maybe a milkshake.
It’s not a conversation piece like a Leica, but it’s pretty enough that I got a few compliments from local photogs in the park that day, and the thing is a budget work horse. Overall I’d recommend it, and I look forward to getting more comfortable with mine and seeing what I can do with it.