While preparing to write this post, I kept asking myself a rather simple yet somehow difficult question: "What I can say about this camera that hasn't been said elsewhere already?". Indeed it is a difficult question to answer; because, well, this camera I'm about to review appears to be quite legendary. I don't need to create any fake suspense, you have already seen from the title that I'm writing about the Yashica Electro 35 GSN: avery interesting rangefinder camera from the 1970's that shoots in aperture priority mode with a fast 45mm f1.7 lens.
Before I even started collecting cameras, I had heard a lot about the Electro 35. Mostly on forums, people referred to it as the poor man's Leica. I must admit I always found that description to be quite funny. Leica you say? I mean, is the Electro 35 really that good? Honestly, I may not be the right person to answer this question since I've never shot with a Leica. Regardless, that leica comparison and the sample shots I had sen made me place this camera on some kind of pedestal — at least as far as performance goes. Since, as the say, the sweetness of the pudding is in the eating, my novice's experience with the Electro 35 made me realize how awesome this camera actually is.
Love at first sight
I remember when I picked up my Yashica MG-1, I thought, for some reason, it was an Electro 35. I'd heard and read a lot about those Yashica cameras, and I hadn't even bothered to find out what the different model names were. Visually, they looked very much alike. Their iconic rangefinder look had been inextricably burned in my brain such that I couldn't easily tell them apart. Although the similar looking, and slightly inferior MG-1 — created as a cheaper alternative to the Electro 35 — hadn't been the Electro 35 I was expecting it to be, I wasn't disappointed in it. After all, it was the first ever rangefinder I shot with. That said, deep inside, I haboured a yearning for the Electro 35, a yearning that'll be ultimately satisfied — in a weird way by an experience at a local flea market.
As these things always go around, I pounced on a pretty Electro 35 GSN at the stand of one of my reliable camera suppliers. Excited by what I was seeing, I quickly reached for the camera, I tossed it around in my hands for a while and I took a peep through the viewfinder. To complete my assesment, I went ahead and performed the most important test: the shutter tripping and film advance lever winding. Everything on this camera worked. It looked, felt and sounded so right that I instantly fell in love. All of a sudden, my trip to the flea market just felt fruitful.
Without much hesitation, I tried to find out how much it was going to cost me to own the camera. And that was when my bubble of excitement was burst. Apparently, the camera had been partially sold. It turns out someone, who for some reason decided not to carry cash to a flea market, had shown great interest in the camera. But who wouldn't like this camera? It's a beautiful camera. Anyway, I was told the person was on their way to get some cash from the pricey flea market ATM to pay for it. I asked the vendor what will happen if she didn't return. Those ATMs in the flea market are pricey. So, I was secretly hoping she would see the hefty ATM charges and change her mind about the camera. Those few minute of waiting felt like an eternity. How long do we have to wait to make the important decision that the prospective buyer had bailed? Well, it seems we didn't have to decide that because she returned, grinning from ear to ear, paid for the camera, and danced right off. I was sad. I was heartbroken. My whole trip to the flea market suddenly became depressing. For a weird reason, although I didn't own the camera, it felt like a priced possession of mine had been taken from me. It was then I knew I just had to own one of those.
The eBay Hunt
The quest to own the Electro 35 led me someplace I'd sworn never to go — eBay. Sure, eBay is definitely one of the best places to go if you want a large variety of cameras to choose from. But, for a while, I had a principle to purchase cameras locally. It just felt right to purchase them the good old fashion way — when you physically exchange cash for goods. This time however, the old fashion way wasn't guaranteed to work for me. I had no idea when another Electro 35 will show up at any of the places where I purchase my cameras. The best thing to do now was to break my own rule, go to eBay, and try to see if I could get any. If you know your camera eBay, you'll know I wasn't disappointed. A long list of Electro 35 offerings was presented with my search, and I simply sorted them by price,low to high of course, and purged the list of all auctions with the "Buy now" button.
The pad of death
From eBay, I picked up the cheapest Electro 35 I could find for around 30 bucks (plus shipping). The vendor, who appears to know a lot about cameras, informed me about a "Pad of death" issue with the camera. He said it could be fixed with some work. True to is word it was very easy to fix. With a little googling, I got all the information I needed to perform my first successful major surgery on a camera. It turns out the "Pad of death" was quite easy to fix. There's an actual pad in the camera that wears out with age. Once that pad is worn, the camera doesn't shoot with predictable accuracy at its low speeds. It's easy to replace this pad after removing the lens plate in front of the camera. With the pad replaced, and the camera all cleaned up, I placed the same weird batteries from the MG-1 into the Electro 35, so I could take the camera out for a spin. And, boy did I love it!
Out in the world, the Electro 35 was just awesome. It's bright viewfinder with a diamond shaped patch was clearly visible both indoors and outdoors. The viewfinder doesn't supply much information other than two arrows that show the direction in which to turn the aperture ring whether an image is either over-exposed or under-exposed. In addition to the viewfinder, the camera has a self-timer and a very useful switch for locking the shutter. One thing I love about this camera is the location of the ISO dial. Unlike the MG-1 which has the ISO dial at the base of the lens barrel, the Electro 35's ISO dial is directly on top of the camera. This means I'm going to be accidentally adjusting the ISO while trying to focus.
I shot almost 4 rolls of film through this one. The shooting experience and the results I was getting just kept me shooting. I was really impressed by the quality of th images the camera produced. The lens is a great performer, even in low light, and the metering was really accurate. Maybe those that called this the poor man's Leica were unto something. I see the prices of these babies just rising. If shooting film is your thing, and you get one of these for cheap, grab it. It totally worth it.