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One of the First Electronically Controlled Cameras – the Yashica Electro 35 GS

The Yashica Electro 35 resembles a robot straight out of a Jetson’s cartoon, but thats what I love about it. It was a very popular camera in its day selling 8 million copies in its 15 year run. Ads called it the computer that takes pictures. With that kind of reputation, no wonder it was so popular.

You may recognize the camera from the Spiderman movie with Andrew Garfield. Somehow he didn’t cause the same surge in popularity as Kendall Jenner did for the Contax T2, but I digress.

The Camera

The Yashica Electro 35 was the first full frame electronically controlled camera when it came out in 1966. (The Yashica Electro Half, released in 1965, was a half frame camera that was the first electronic Japanese commercially available camera). It has an electronic magnet in the shutter that gave it it’s name. Yashica became well known for their electronic expertise after this.

There have been several different variations and two colors. The original Electro 35 from 1966-1968 had ASA/ISO speeds of 12-400. In 1968 they came out with the 35G with ISO 12-500. Then in 1969 the 35GT, which was just a black version of the G.

In 1970 Yashica decided to raise the ISO to keep up with the advancements in film. They then came out with the GS and black GT with ISO of 25-1000. They also had contact points in the electronic wiring that were gold plated.

Finally, in 1973 until 1977 they made the 35 GSN and black GTN. They had the same speeds, but added a hot shoe instead of the cold accessory shoe of all the previous models. There was also the 35 CC, GX, and FC but I wont get into those here.

My Yashica Electro 35 GS

The camera is aperture priority meaning you choose your f-stop based on your lighting conditions. Then the camera picks the shutter speed. On the lens barrel there are also three pictures below the aperture ring to help you out if you aren’t familiar with how to choose an aperture. There’s a set of squares indicating indoor lighting, a cloud for cloudy days, and the sun for bright conditions.

There is also three shutter speed settings on the lens to choose from: Flash, Auto, or Bulb mode. That is the extent of the control you can have over shutter speed.

The manual for the camera brags of perfect exposure instantly determined under any light condition by means of the electric circuit consisting of transistors, condenser, and CdS cell. Even candlelight dimness or night photography is possible without flash. They were so confident in this that they didn’t give the camera a hot shoe until its last model.

If you do use a flash, it syncs at all speeds and has a PC socket on the side.

It is a solid metal camera that feels great in the hand. It isn’t as light as a compact camera or even a plastic 1990’s point and shoot. Weighing in at 1 pound 9 ounces, it feels more substantial than they do.

It doesn’t have a mirror inside like an SLR, so that mixed with the electronic Copal shutter makes it virtually silent. It is so soft that I feel like I have to be delicate when I wind on to the next frame after a shot. I guess you should be delicate anyway considering the famous “pad of death” these cameras can be known for. That is the piece of rubber inside the film advance that over time can degrade and be a royal pain to replace.

On the literal bright side, the viewfinder is big and bright with frame lines and automatic parallax correction. The lens isn’t coupled to it, so sometimes I forget to take the lens cap off because I can still see through the viewfinder with it on.

My Experience

I wanted to put this to the test by taking a shot that I had previously tried to take with several of my other cameras including my Nikon F, but have never been able to get because the lighting in my back porch is too low.

Its not a great picture but I love the leaves on this plant that I have worked hard to keep alive. So I am glad to get a picture of it at all.
Its nothing special but I had been trying unsuccessfully to get a shot of this scraggly plant on my porch many times before. I was surprised when I got my roll back, that the exposure actually came out despite being taken hand held.

The rangefinder patch in the viewfinder is hard to make out. This may just be my camera or my eyes, but I have a very hard time seeing the rangefinder and lining it up to focus a subject even in bright light.

Holding the camera is a little bit hard as well, especially with the case bottom on. There is slightly more space on the left hand side of the lens than there is on the side you need to grip for the shutter release. This is only a minor issue though.

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An ad for the Electro 35

The lens is a Yashinon DX 45mm f/1.7. It has 6 elements in 4 groups with a 55mm filter thread. The close focus is 2.6 feet (0.8m) which I keep forgetting until I get pictures back with my subject out of focus.

An example of when I forgot the close focus range. But it is also an example of the low lighting situations this camera can handle hand held. This was at night with only a small light on. My other cameras haven’t been able to give me shots in this setting without a tripod and cable release.

The shutter has a locking ring around the shutter release button that prevents accidental shots and battery drainage. There is also a battery check button on the back that lights up. This will let you know if your battery is dead, or when you first purchase one of these cameras, this is how you know if your camera will work or not.

They originally sold for around $140 in a kit, but today they can be found on eBay for $30-$60. Unless you have an Uncle like me who sends you boxes of cameras to resurrect. That is how I got my Yashica Electro 35 GS. I cleaned it up. Removed the battery corrosion and bought a battery adapter.

The original battery for the camera was a mercury battery that is no longer legal to own in America. So you can get an adapter for modern batteries. I got mine from Friendster Vintage on Ebay. They specialize in Yashica Rangefinder battery adapters. See my video for more info on that and this camera.

My YouTube Video showing how to use the camera and some pictures I took with it.

The metering system was the first of its kind at the time. It is not TTL (through the lens), but it is controlled by CdS cells located in the small window above the lens. There is a red light and yellow light in the viewfinder that are coupled to the two lamps on the top of the camera.

Slightly press the shutter button and the lamps will either light up to tell you how to proceed, or they won’t and you can then take your shot. The correct exposure is given when the red lamp doesn’t illuminate. The red light means there is too much light and you need to turn the aperture ring to the right until it disappears.

When the yellow lamp lights up, that’s an indication that there is not enough light and you need to turn the aperture ring to the left. If it still doesn’t go away, then you need to use a flash or a tripod and cable release. If you don’t have a cable release, the self timer lever can be used which is located also on the lens barrel. It will last 7-8 seconds before tripping the shutter.

My Electro 35 GS top plate

My Thoughts on the Camera

Overall, I really like the camera and I will be shooting with it and making more videos/blogs in the future. I wasn’t too happy with it at first. The lab I was using, emphasize was, somehow turned that roll and 10 others yellow, so I ended up only liking 2 out of the 36 exposures.

I ran a couple more rolls through it and was way happier this time around. I tried a roll of Fujicolor 200.

One of the yellow pictures after I tried to fix it in photoshop
Taken indoors in low lighting
I really like the color from this roll of pictures.
Yashica Electro 35

Then I tried a black and white roll of Ilford HP5. I really like these.

A squirrel racing by on an electrical wire above me.
Yashica Electro 35
Yashica Electro 35
Yashica Electro 35
Yashica Electro 35

That’s the Yashica Electro 35. If you enjoy reading my camera reviews please check out my other ones about my Canon TX, Rolleiflex Automat, Fujifilm Discovery, or my photo essays. Sign up to be notified through email when I post more reviews.

To see more of my photography, check out my portfolio website where you can also see some of my vintage camera collection and be sure to follow my instagram and subscribe to my youtube for more reviews.

Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.

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10 thoughts on “One of the First Electronically Controlled Cameras – the Yashica Electro 35 GS

  1. Shame about the yellow! Any idea if the problem lay with the developing or the scanning? Because if it’s a scanning problem, in theory it could be fixed by simply re-scanning the negatives.

  2. Oh man. I got not one, but TWO Electros recently. An original 35 and a GSN. Unfortunately both have issues, but I sent the GSN out for a CLA. I really want a rangefinder for my collection and I’m too cheap/poor to have a Leica. 😁

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