“Cool” is a difficult thing to quantify, but you know it when you see it. At least, you know what you think is cool. I’m not sure why it is exactly that some cameras strike me that way, and others don’t. And chances are good that the ones I think are really cool won’t seem that way to you. Buy having said that, is there anyone out there who honestly doesn’t think the Yashica Electro is cool? Seriously — just look at it!
When I started using “vintage” photographic gear, the Electro became my very first purchase. In retrospect, that’s hardly surprising since something close to 8 million were made when the camera was in production from 1966 to 1977. They’re popular on the used market and turn up on eBay all the time, but as is often the way, I had to buy two before I got one that actually worked.
There’s no denying the Electro has got the quintessential classic-camera good looks, from its leatherette covering to the chrome-plated top and bottom panels. But it also has charming stylistic quirks, like its odd top-panel exposure lights and awesome little atom symbol on the front. The Electro looks like it came from a 1960s vision of the future in which we all fly to work propelled by personal jet packs, dine on food pills, and sleep in climate-controlled pods. Luckily the actual future turned out differently. But still, this is a camera you can imagine George Jetson using to photograph Leroy on his way to Little Dipper School, isn’t it?
Some people call the Yashica Electro GSN the “poor man’s Leica,” but it really isn’t. About the only thing the two share is rangefinder focusing and some broad stylistic similarities. But that isn’t to say that the Yashica isn’t a fine picture taker — it really is. Most of that stems from its crisp 45mm f/1.7 Yashinon “color” lens. It’s a wonderful performer, on par with pretty much any similarly spec’d lens from the era.
At its core, the Electro is an aperture-priority automatic camera, but what makes it special is how this feature is implemented. When you look in the viewfinder, you see a pair of arrows that illuminate to tell you which direction to turn the aperture control ring to achieve the correct exposure. The red arrow points right and instructs you to turn the ring in that direction to stop down the lens and prevent overexposure. The amber arrow points left and tells you to turn the control the opposite direction to open up the aperture. No arrow means you have the aperture set to yield a good exposure with a shutter speed between 1/30 and 1/500 second.
The camera has a Bulb setting, but no other manual modes. What’s notable though is that the camera won’t stop you from taking a picture regardless of lighting conditions. On the plus side, that means it’ll expose as long as it needs to in dim light (up to 30 seconds), but on the down side, that means if you stop down to f/16 and ignore a glowing red arrow, you run the risk of overexposing.
The Electro has a few more nifty features. It has a shutter-release lock, which I find reassuring, if not tremendously useful. The camera’s shutter button requires enough finger pressure to activate that you’re unlikely to accidentally burn off a frame. But still, it’s one of those nice little touches that you wonder why you don’t see more often. The other feature I enjoy is a battery check light that’s bright enough to use to signal overflying aircraft. It also illuminates the frame-counter dial, so it does double duty, which is a nice bonus. Perhaps more useful are the camera’s viewfinder frame lines, which automatically adjust for parallax correction as you turn the focusing ring. That’s nice. One of the Electro’s oddities is that its light sensor is positioned to the right of the viewfinder windows, next to the atom symbol. The practical consequence of this is that when you use a filter, you have to manually compensate for the change in exposure by adjusting the camera’s ISO setting. It’s not a big deal, but you have to remember to do it.
The Electro GSN is a lot of fun to shoot and produces excellent photographs. So why don’t I use it more often? Mostly because it’s big — bigger than most of my 35mm cameras, including the SLRs I own. And I there are certain limitations that come from a lack of control. Yes, you can change the aperture within the range lighting conditions permit, but you generally have no idea what shutter speed you’ll be using. I also wish the close-focus distance (2.6 feet, 0.8 meters) was a little better too, but in the scheme of things, none of these seriously get in the way of taking great pictures. That’s why, in spite of everything, the Electro is one of my favourites. Besides, it’s cool. Really cool.
(Did you find this article interesting or helpful? If so, consider using this link the next time you shop at Amazon.com. Better yet, bookmark it for future use. Thanks to Amazon’s associates program, doing so costs you nothing yet helps keep this site up and running. Thanks!)