Yashica Electro 35 GL

Jeremy Rosenberger <jlr4@cornell.edu>

My Electro 35 GL, shown with rarely-seen Yashica lens hood.

Plenty has been written about the classic Electro 35 line of rangefinder cameras from Yashica. The GL was one of the later models, appearing around 1973, and was apparently one of the less common among the series, as it is rarely encountered on the Web today (at least in English pages :-) and is even more rarely found for sale, e.g. on eBay. I am fortunate enough to own one of these beauties and thus feel that it's my civic duty to write a little bit about it. :-) I'll try not to wax prosaic or repeat too much of what's already been written.

As is generally known, the Electro 35-series cameras feature aperture-priority automation with no manual override. Some photogs would find such operation too limiting, but it suits my style perfectly. (Even when I have a choice, as with my Zeiss Ikon, I find myself using aperture priority more than 90% of the time.) I could probably learn to be as fast with a (metered) manual camera with the shutter speed dial on the lens barrel (as many 70's-era rangefinders have), but I've found that using a top-mounted shutter speed dial (as on the Leica M6, for example) just slows me down too much, even when I "set and forget" the aperture dial.

The Electro 35's take aperture priority to the extreme: Not only does the camera set the shutter speed for you; but it doesn't let you know what speed was chosen. On the one hand, this is understandable given that the shutter speeds are stepless (the camera could choose 1/55 sec as easily as 1/50 sec); on the other hand, showing even an approximation of the chosen shutter speed would be useful. In practice, again for most of my shooting, the actual shutter speed isn't too terribly important, as long as it's not too slow as to be affected by camera shake (slower than 1/30 sec, which is indicated by the "slow" indicator) or too fast for the camera (faster than 1/500 sec, indicated by the "over" indicator).

Yashica Electro 35 GL, 40mm f/1.7 on Kodak T-Max 400 at EI 1600

So far I haven't said much to distinguish the GL from the other Electro 35-series cameras. It has the most in common with the Electro 35 GX, with which it shares (as far as I can tell) the same 40mm f/1.7 glass. Other cameras in the series offer a slightly longer 45mm f/1.7. But the feature that sets the GL apart from the other Electro 35's--and from every other fixed-lens rangefinder of the day--is the ASA 1600 setting. The lack of this feature is often the one thing that stands between most 70's-era rangefinders and the ideal (or close to it) "available darkness" (usually more euphemistically referred to as "available light") camera. Many cameras max out at ASA 800 or even 400; a handful will allow ASA 1000, but I don't know of another fixed-lens rangefinder with a 1600 setting.

My copy of the GL doesn't seem to produce photos as sharp as some that I've seen from other Yashicas. Obviously I don't expect ultimate sharpness at f/1.7 on T-Max 400 pushed two stops, but even Tri-X 125 at f/8 hasn't produced the results I had expected. I currently have the camera in the shop for a CLA, so perhaps the results will improve afterwards. In the meantime, I'm well aware that critical sharpness isn't necessary to produce a great shot, as the photo to the right (hopefully) illustrates!

Since then, I had the camera CLA'd by Dean Williams of Dean's of Idaho. He did an excellent job, and the adjusted rangefinder seems to have improved things a bit. It truly is an example of the quality the Electros are known for. However, I might be convinced to trade it for a black GX :-)

If you're interested enough in the Electro 35 GL enough that you've read this far, you've probably already found the better-known Yashica-related sites out there. But just in case you haven't, here are some excellent sources of more information on Yashica rangefinders in particular and classic cameras in general: