Updated: Jan 22, 2019
It's vintage, it's inexpensive, it looks cool as hell and I love it. There it is, summed up quickly and without hesitation. For some of you, that might be enough to run out and buy it, but if you need a little more convincing then by all means read on.
The Yashica Electro 35 is a brilliant reminder of innovation and classic designs of the past and well worth your consideration if you are at all interested in film and taking your time with photography. Of course, there are always quirks with any technology that is over 50 years old, but just like anything you love, you tend to see past the small imperfections in favor of the overall beauty, dependability and timelessness.
Yashica introduced the Electro 35 Rangefinder in 1966, followed closely by the 35G, 35GT/GS and 35GSN, as well as a couple of rarely found editions. They are all pretty similar, but with each new release, Yashica upgraded small things like the circuitry and the film speed (ASA) range of the camera, etc. The "G" in the "GT" and all later models, actually stands for "Gold", because they upgraded the internal electronic contacts with gold plating. I always thought that the gold-plating sounded so damn cool and was honestly one of the reasons I bought this camera in the first place!
The body style and body paint also changed slightly with each new version but all Yashica Electro 35's feature the same lens and metering system, not to mention incredibly cool branding and lettering throughout the camera. All these things make this camera a fantastic option for anyone who wants to shoot film with a vintage camera, because it's got it all.
The camera itself has a super rugged metal body with nice hold and feel, if not slightly heavy. Lugging this thing around all day could get a little tiring, but for most shooting situations I have never found the weight to be a problem. The focusing ring works very smoothly 50 years on but does take some getting used to. Make no mistake though, this camera is truly a pleasure to use and the second you put one in your hands you feel the love that was put into making it a true classic.
As I mentioned earlier, the Electro 35 is a 35mm Rangefinder film camera, which is much different than the SLR's that you are most likely used to. You don't focus directly through the lens, but through a separate window that has a parallax focusing system. Simply put, there is the main image and a "ghost image". When you align the main image and the ghost image, that's when you are in focus. It can be more time consuming than a "through the lens" focusing system at first, but over time you get better and better at it and ultimately it is far more satisfying because you put the work, love and attention into it. I know quite a few street photographers that prefer the rangefinder system because they say that for them it is actually quicker and easier to frame their subjects!
The Yashinon 1.7 45mm lens, is really the star of the show and the gem that you are getting for an absolute steal on this beautiful camera. It is a highly capable lens that is incredibly sharp all the way through and produces fantastic color and contrasty black and white photos. It is very fast for a fixed lens, produces great depth of field and bokeh and I love it. I am absolutely fascinated by the build quality and design of older lenses. The saying "they really don't make them like they used to" is far from cliché with this camera. To get a new lens these days with the speed, quality and build of the Yashinon 1.7, you would probably be paying in the ballpark of $1500 for the lens alone!!
Every Yashica Electro 35 comes with the 1:1.7 45mm Yashinon lens. Later model Electro 35 lenses come with the distinction "Color Yahsinon" because Yashica wanted to assure the public at the time that lens was corrected for the new and booming color film culture, but it is, in fact, the exact same lens that is on all Electro 35's.
Photos from my first roll with the Yashica Electro 35GT
The metering system on the Electro 35 is brilliant and ahead of it's time. It uses a very simple "in-viewfinder" system with two arrows (one red and one yellow), as well as two arrows on the top of the camera (should you need them) to indicate "under-exposed" or "over-exposed". If neither arrow is lit up then you have the proper exposure. I have always found it efficient and a breeze to use. I wish some of the other older film cameras I have used such an easy and logical metering system.
The Electro 35 is a "Aperture Priority" camera, meaning that you choose the F-Stop and the camera will calculate the shutter speed for you. Changing the F-Stop is the only way to change the exposure on this camera and although that doesn't give you many options, it also simplifies the use of the camera. Which brings me to a couple of the tiny quirks of this particular camera. The first of which is, because you cannot fully manually control the settings of this camera (aka the camera is only electronically controlled), the camera will not work without a battery. Technically the camera WILL fire without a battery, but only at one fixed shutter speed, which doesn't help you out much.
Secondly, the battery for this camera is no longer made. Back when these cameras originally came out, the batteries were filled with Mercury which are long gone by now due to them being a massive safety hazzard. Not to worry though, there is a simple workaround, that easily brings this beauty back to life! You can buy an adapter to work with an alkaline battery that is available almost anywhere. I personally use a battery adapter from the Yashica Guy, which is incredibly well made and a one time buy that you can just keep switching batteries in an out of. At the end of the day the battery issue is just a minor inconvenience rather than a huge problem which is nice and makes the Electro 35 an incredibly viable option.
As I'm sure you are well aware by now, I think the Electro 35 is a perfect camera for anyone trying to get into film, if you want to break into the world of rangefinders, if you love street photography, if you want to take a really cool film camera on vacation with you or if you just want one of the coolest cameras ever made to be on your shelf. Whatever the case, this is definitely a camera to add to your permanent collection.
Finally, some of the best advice I can give you would be, if you are interested in buying the Electro 35 and giving it a try, don't get misled by any seller out there claiming it as "RARE" and jacking up the price. These aren't even close to rare (they were one of the most popular and most sold rangefinders ever made and for good reason) and I would never pay more than $50 for even the most mint version you can find. I personally got mine through goodwill for about $20. Twenty Dollars!! Everything worked perfectly after I got the battery adapter and a new battery. They can still readily be found on eBay, goodwill and in your local thrift store. Twenty dollars for this kind of power and class is the deal of a century. SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?