Every type of camera has an entry point model. For rangefinders there is a number of them, with one of the most popular being the Yashica Electro 35 range. There has been a number of iterations of this camera, all with very slight differences, with the Electro 35 GL being a bit of a lost model, mainly due to a very short production run. Don’t mistake this as a quality issue, as this model is as much value for money as they get. Produced about 1973, quite a few of these are still going strong.
Yashica was a Japanese company started in 1945 as Yashima Seiki Seisakusho (Yashima Precision Works) originally making, of all things, fuses for gun shells. The first camera it produced was in 1953 and starting off with Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) cameras. The name was changed a few times until it was called Yashica in 1958, adopting the name of their main brand of camera. The Yashica brand was discontinued in 2005 when the parent company since 1983, Kyocera, halted production to this famous, but generally mid-range, camera brand.
Yashica entered the 35mm market with the Yashica 35 in 1958. The company continued to make both 35mm and medium format (mainly TLRs) cameras. In 1965 the first camera with the Electro name appeared in the form of the half frame Yashica Electro Half. The following year the first full frame Yashica Electro 35 made an appearance. These were the first Japanese cameras commercially available with an electronic shutter. Models following include the very popular Yashica Electro 35 GSN. All Electro 35 models included a common exposure function, that being only Aperture Priority cameras.
By 1973 Yashica was a very large player in the camera production industry backed with a lengthy experience in electronic cameras. Whilst partnering with Carl Zeiss to produce the Contax brand of cameras, they continued with the Electro 35 range, and that year saw this particular camera produced, the Yashica Electro 35 GL.
The Electro cameras where created based on an important Yashica innovation, due to the fact that they use unique automatic all electronic step-less shutters, utilising an Electro-Magnet to control the speed. This is why these models are called the “Electro”. Interestingly, according to Yashica Guy, this is shared by some Polaroid Land cameras. When in 1960 the Polaroid Land 120 was introduced, it was manufactured in Japan by Yashica.
The Electro GL model includes a few features that set it apart from the other Electro 35s, which incidentally had some of these features removed from the superseding models. As such I personally see the GL as the most complete model of the Electro 35 series. These features include film speed increase to 1600 ASA from 800, a slightly wider lens at 40mm from 45mm, slightly downsized body and an exposure meter moved to inside the 55mm lens filter thread, to allow the camera to meter exposure even with filters on.
Being such a short run, this model is a little more difficult to find, but as I have found by using it, well worth the effort.
The Yashica Electro 35 GL is a rangefinder camera in a very classic rangefinder shape. It has a much more European luxury look to it over the parallel produced GSN, prompting the question on the meaning of GL, which may stand for Luxury. It also has a AE/AF label in the lower right hand side of the camera, but this is not Auto-Focus, which was not available then. This is Auto-Exposure/Auto-Flash. The auto-exposure is what tends to polarise users of this camera.
The exposure is set by the camera, based on the aperture and film speed you have selected. It’s shutter speeds are step-less, so the camera can be quite precise. It can expose from 1/500th of a second through to 1 second, but some reports say that it is possible for it to be as long as 8 seconds.
It has a fixed lens with a 40mm focal length, and maximum aperture of f/1.7. The lens is marked as being Color-Yashinon DX, which is saying that it has been optimised for colour. Sounds a bit silly now, but think how many people are buying lenses which are “optimised” for digital, and you can see how the marketing works on this. If you look closely you will notice the little round hole above the lens but within the filter thread. This is the meter, allowing metering to occur even when filters are attached to the lens.
The aperture settings are on the lens barrel and range from the fast f/1.7 through to f/16. These are stepped, making it easier to adjust while keeping the camera to the eye. The film speed is also set on the lens barrel, via a little lever on the side, and ranges from ASA (ISO) 25 through to 1600.
The viewfinder is very bright and self adjusts to compensate for parallax as the focus ring is turned. The guide lines are fairly bright and focus is achieved through a small circular yellow focus patch in the centre. It is quite reasonably sized, and copes with most lighting conditions. Also seen in the viewfinder are the arrows which warn you when you either over expose or too slow for hand holding. So for instance, you have the camera set at f/11, and the camera determines that this will cause the shutter speed to be too slow to hand hold, it will light up the yellow arrow which signifies that you need to twist the aperture ring in that direction to a wider aperture allowing in more light. This corresponds to the circular disc on top of the camera which also displays the arrows as per the viewfinder.
The camera focuses from 80cm through to infinity and is marked in both metric and imperial. The focal range is also marked on the lens, with guides based on apertures to allow for zone focusing and depth of field review. Also on the lens are some markings based on lighting conditions which I would not be sure on how these could be useful except to relate aperture to lighting conditions.
We’ve covered the Auto-Exposure part, the Auto-Flash refers to the use of the Yashica Strobe. If you look at the hot shoe, you will notice a third contact. This is for the Yashica strobe AUTO-ES 220, to be used with an ASA setting of 100 and the aperture set at ƒ 4.0. This will allow automatic exposure distance of 5 meters (16 feet) utilising the camera’s light sensor. The ASA setting lever when placed opposite the flash symbol, will bring the aperture to ƒ 4.0, in case you forget the setting. A PC socket is also implemented on the camera.
Another interesting feature is the battery test button on the back of the camera. It lights up the frame counter green, so you can easily see how strong the battery is. It also helps see the frame counter in low light. Speaking of batteries, this camera uses the old PX32 5.6-volt mercury battery. As these are illegal in most counties, I have bought an adapter off eBay, which is machined into the same shape and takes the 4LR44 6-volt battery which works wonderfully.
Finally, there is also a lock lever around the shutter release, which helps avoid accidentally exposing while in your bag.
When I bought my copy of the camera, it was stated that it had been serviced and restored by the seller. When I received it, I was very happy to see that the seller was very accurate in their description. The only area I can fault the camera is a small crack on the disk where the exposure arrows live, but considering it is a 43-year-old camera and you can’t get these parts, it is in great shape.
Something that surprised me is when I held it up to my eye, is the viewfinder is very bright and clear. In-fact it is brighter than a lot of more expensive rangefinders from the era. As I used it in the streets, it was nice and clear and allowed for focusing with minimal fuss. The focusing is quick and allows for focus in one movement.
As I used this camera, I found that it became a very automatic process of taking a picture. It helped clear the head of what settings to use, because apart from the aperture all other functions were taken away from me. It allowed me to focus (pun intended).
The one part of using the Electro 35 GL which did not encourage me though, is that when it warns you that you are over exposing or too slow for hand holding, it still allows you to make the photograph. This, to me, if very counter intuitive. If you create a machine that is all about ensuring the camera decides the exposure, then why allow it to fire a shutter, when it knows it is not correct? In any case, I got caught a couple of times on this, and ended with rather blurry or dark photos.
One other thing that surprised me was how loud the camera is. For a rangefinder I expected it to be more quiet, but you can definitely hear this camera. It’s nothing to worry about, in general city noise no-one unless quite close can hear it, but it still surprised me.
Now what is the quality like? Starting with the lens, it is very sharp. The details that it captures, and the tonality is superb, obviously with a dependence on film chosen. Sharpness is very well produced across the whole frame.
I mostly shoot black and white, and most of that on Ilford HP5+. When I scan the pictures I get a real sense of the why I wanted to capture this scene. Details come across very well. Bokeh at wider apertures is also quite pleasant. Colour is obviously a little more objective, but I feel that it is capable of capturing very well the subtleties that films like Fuji Pro400H and Kodak Porta offer.
There is very little fall out of the exposure on this camera, as tends to be on a greater number of quality fixed lens rangefinders. Being fixed lens allows the manufacturers to really tune in that lens to the camera. There is some slight fall out at f/1.7, but by the time you reach f/2.8 it very much gone and by f/4 there is no fall out at all. I also did not find that I had many issues with flare apart from some minor occasions when shooting fairly straight into the light source, and I don’t have a hood for this camera. All in all, I think the lens is very well coated.
The metering has been very accurate in all sorts of conditions. I have been very surprised at this, based on expectation against cost of the camera. I have even shot with some backlighting and the camera has performed well. Just have to remember to not press the shutter all the way until I have checked the arrows for the exposure!
It can be frustrating, though, when you do decide to override, that you don’t have that option. That can definitely take some getting used to.
I have really enjoyed this camera, and will continue to do so. It is one to pick up when heading out and I want something to use easily but will also produce top notch results. I would recommend this to anyone that wants a rangefinder that is easy to use, or one of its cousins like the Electro 35 GSN, GX etc.