My Yashica Electro 35 GSN is really special to me because it belonged to a close friend of our family who passed away about 20 years ago of cancer. As a kid, I remember that she always had a camera with her-the cameras I remember seeing were always 35mm point-and-shoots (of the nicer variety), so the Yashica rangefinder is from before my memory.
Aside from just knowing that it was hers, it is the thought of how she would have used this camera that makes it so special. She was a watercolor painter, and her favorite subjects were old wooden barns and houses, long abandoned to the wind and sun on the High Plains, and just barely standing. She would drive the backroads of West Texas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, western Kansas, and eastern New Mexico, hoping to find these old structures before they finally collapsed or were torn down. She would photograph them, then create a painting from the photograph. So whenever I'm out taking photos with the Yashica, I think about her and her paintings, and how much I would enjoy talking to her now about our shared love of the landscape.
So you see my review of the Yashica Electro 35 GSN is not unbiased. Despite that, I can confidently say that it is a fantastic film camera, not without its limitations, but if you embrace those limitations and just use the camera for what it is, then together you can create some fantastic images.
I'm not sure what the Electro 35 offers that other classic rangefinders do not-it is the only rangefinder I've ever used. What I can say is that it has a fantastic lens (with one limitation), metering and exposure are excellent, and it is a lot of fun to carry and use. This is a camera that I like to carry when I'm exploring or just out walking around. One of my best experiences with this camera was on a day trip to Taos, New Mexico in 2017. I put in a roll of 24-exposure Superia 400 and shot the whole roll within a couple of hours just walking around town.
The Electro 35 is aperture priority only and has no manual exposure option, but it also has a fantastic-ly accurate meter, so just set the ISO dial and trust it. It is possible to add in some exposure compensation manually by adjusting the ISO dial, but I only do that if I intentionally want to over- or under-expose an entire roll, or to make adjustments for lens filters. I've also had good results in low light situations, and the camera has a bulb mode so manual long exposures are possible.
Focusing is fairly easy and very accurate-I haven't noticed many shots with missed focus. Of course, it does take some practice if you haven't used a rangefinder.
The other really great aspect to this camera is the lens. I had read a lot of praise for the Color Yashinon 45mm f/1.7 when learning about the camera, and this is a truly great lens. It can create perfectly sharp photos when stopped down, but also has a nice softness in the background at wider apertures and a smooth undistracting bokeh wide open. The one thing to watch out for is flare. Even if the sun is not in the frame, shooting backlit subjects is likely to introduce a lot of flare in the upper part of the photo.
Other than the flare/haze issue, which you can see a good example of in this previous post, I don’t have any complaints about this 50-year-old film camera. I’ve put about 8 rolls of film through it and not had a single bad exposure that was caused by the meter (although I have missed a couple of shots because I left the screw-in lens cap attached). I’m confident enough in this camera that I have taken it along on family day trips as my only camera to capture and record priceless moments. And in reviewing my images for this post, I have realized that I don’t use this camera enough.
I'm sharing a few more samples images below to highlight some of the capabilities of this camera. You can view a gallery of my best Electro 35 images here.