Friday, July 3, 2009


I finally found our very own first SLR:


The Yashica Electro 35 was one of the most popular consumer 35mm cameras of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Yashica Electro 35 was very advanced, being electronic, when it came out in 1966. It was made though 1977, and sold at close-out until stocks ran out about 1980. Please note the space-age atomic symbol on the front. The Yashica Electro is the Apollo of Japanese consumer 35mm cameras. (Of course I'm kidding; Japanese cameras have nothing to do with the Apollo program. The official cameras are Hasselblad and Zeiss, while the Kodak Instamatic 104 was the official camera of the American people of that era.)

The Yashica Electro 35 is a solid metal camera. It has a big, clear viewfinder and rangefinder. It has a much clearer finder than the Nikon manual rangefinders of the 1950s that fetch astronomical prices from geriatric collectors.

The Yashica Electro 35 was designed for consumers, but the great news for serious photographers is that the advanced features it had in 1966 are just what we need, and it doesn't have any of today's junk features that just get in the way.

The Yashica Electro 35 is an aperture-priority camera. Pick your aperture, and the Yashica Electro 35 selects the shutter speed, from 1/500 up to thirty seconds or more!

It has a silent electronic leaf shutter. It's quieter and and has less vibration than any of the clumsier focal-plane shutters of Leica and Nikon rangefinders, and no flipping mirrors like every DSLR.

The only gotchas are that the Electro 35 has no auto-exposure lock and it's an almost all-auto camera. It only has three manual shutter speeds, and that's stretching it. It is designed for a no-longer available mercury battery, however modern alkaline replacements work fine.

This Yashica a solid metal camera. It is a joy to carry around compared to my hulking Nikon D3, but still has to be carried over-the-shoulder.

The Electro 35 has always been inexpensive. In 1977 they sold new for $100, which is $350 corrected for inflation in 2008. In 2008, they sell used for $5 to $20 at garage sales. A dealer will ask more.

It's solid and well-made, but not as precise or as fine as a Leica, or even as nice as the less-useful Nikon rangefinders of the 1950s.

Since you're not looking through the lens, these cameras are especially useful for black-and-white and infra-red photography. This is because even with a dark filter on the lens, the finder remains clear.

Lens: 45mm f/1.7. It's identical to an SLR lens. Yashica brands it as YASHINON. "COLOR-YASHINON" was added in 1968 for marketing, since color film was just starting to become barely affordable to amateurs. It's the same lens. "COLOR" was a buzzword of the day as "Digital" is today. Think this is silly? How many of you pay extra for "Digital" filters?

Optics: 6 elements in 4 groups, just like almost every SLR lens. Single-coated in amber.

Diaphragm: 5 blades stopping down to f/16.

Filter Thread: 55mm. (Optional 57mm slip-on hood.)

Close Focus: 2.6 feet (0.8m)

Finder: Always-bright framelines lit through a separate window. Auto corrects for parallax.

Meter: CdS cell above lens, not TTL. You must compensate filters by setting the ASA dial accordingly. Red OVER light means you're at 1/500 second or more. Yellow SLOW light means you're at 1/30 or slower; hold still or use a tripod.

ASA Range (ISO): 1966-1973: 12~500. 1973-1977: 25~1,000.

Shutter: 1/500 - about 30 seconds. Stepless electronic leaf shutter. The slowest speed will vary with aperture: it can go longer than a minute at smaller apertures but only 3 seconds at f/1.7.

Maximum Speed with Flash (sync): 1/500. X-sync at all speeds, better than SLRs.

Power: One PX32, E164, V164PX, TR 164, HM-4N, 4NR52 or 1404M 5.6 Volt mercury battery. Works with today's alkaline replacements. My Electro 35 has a 4LR52, EN164A, A32, PC164, TR164A, 1404A alkaline in it. These are made with four stacked LR52 or 640A-P cells in series.

The specifications for today's alkaline battery are 335 mAH, 25.5g, 17.1mm diameter, 44.9mm height.

You can use a more common, smaller (170 mAH lithium, 150 mAh alkaline) PX28 if you jam in an extra spring and wrap the smaller battery in something to keep it centered in the Electro 35's larger battery hole.

The correct PX32 costs only $9.99 and lasts twice as long as the wrong $8 PX28 that doesn't fit without a kludge, so order two PX32s and keep the spare handy so you won't have to pay $15 for a PX28 at retail if your battery dies.

Battery Check Light: Yes, also illuminates frame counter and can work as a small flashlight!

Current Drain: 60mA while shutter is pressed and lights are lit or shutter is open. Less than 0.1 uA when idle.

Size: 6 x 3-5/8 x 3 " (152 x 92 x 76mm) WHD, measured, including protrusions, excluding cap or case.

Weight: My Electro 35 GSN, made in Hong Kong, measures 25.692 oz (728.4 g) with full-size alkaline battery, but no case, filters, caps or strap. Yashica specifies 26.4 oz (750 G) without battery, which is heavier than mine.

Made in: Japan, or later, Hong Kong. The lenses always say "Lens Made in Japan" even if the camera is made in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is discretely stamped on the bottom.


Anonymous said...

These are very nice, fun to use cameras, but they are not SLR (singles lens reflex). The Yashica is a rangefinder - there is no prism or mirror, and when you look through the viewfinder you are not looking through the lens. Many other great inexpensive rangefinders out there to try. Enjoy!