Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

Today let's switch gears and talk about a classic camera. The Yashica Electro 35 GSN is a manual focus aperture-priority rangefinder camera available since 1973 for 32500 Japanese yen. It is the last of the big Electro 35 cameras made by Yashica. It features a sharp Color-Yashinon DX 1:1.7 f=45mm Lens made in Japan with 6 elements in 4 groups. The front filter ring accepts 55mm filters or a lens hood. A Copal shutter provides quiet operations from 1/500 to 30 seconds. There is also a B (bulb) mode and a flash mode. The copal shutter is able to flash sync at all speed, but I haven't tried it as it's such a great available light camera. More technical information can be found at Yashica Guy, Photoethnography and Matt's Classic Camera.

One of the advantages of the GSN over other cameras in the same period is that it's aperture-priority. Most cameras at that time are shutter-priority, which I find not as intuitive to use. In a time when everyone is using their digital cameras, one of the biggest reasons to still use a retro 35mm rangefinder is shallow depth of field (DOF) for a very reasonable price. The sharp f/1.7 lens must be put to good use, right? Add to that a surprisingly accurate Cds meter, you got a great camera for street photography. Unfortunately, the aperture-priority implementation also happens to be the Achilles' heel; the GSN will not tell you the shutter speed it has chosen (probably because it's entirely stepless). It's possible to deduce the shutter speed by the aperture at 1/30 Slow or 1/500 Over, but it's too much trouble and you're better off with a fully-manual camera like the Canonet G-III QL17. If you're doing action photography, the GSN is definitely not the most convinent camera.

I got my GSN from eBay for $45 including shipping. It's slightly higher than other auctions but the seller stated that the electronics were confirmed working. This is quite important because if the electronics doesn't work, the shutter speed is stuck at 1/500. It came with an ever-ready case. I have personally seen two Made in Hong Kong Yashica GSNs, and their cases are made of different material. Just be aware that some cases are more flexible and thus more ready than others :) I bought a 55mm lens cap from eBay along with a lens hood. Without a lens hood, it's really easy to get flare when a strong light source is just outside the frame. Sometimes flare adds to the atmosphere, but most of the time flare covers up important details in the image. The problem with a lens hood is that it covers up the corner of the view finder, but I still recommend keeping the lens hood on whenever it's convinent.

My digital camera is a Panasonic Fz7, with a f/2.8-f/3.3 36mm-432mm (35mm-equivalent) lens. The zoom range is incredible, and it's a Leica :) The problem, common to most digital compacts, is its low light performance. At ISO 400, the color noise is quite annoying, and the lens isn't quite fast enough. Mega O.I.S. allows me to handheld at ISO 100 most of the time, but it doesn't help when the subject moves. This is where the GSN really shines. With 400 speed film, I can get sharp shots with beautiful bokeh at low night. To get this kind of performance with a digital, I would be paying at least 5 times the price of the GSN (maybe a Pentax K110 with a 50mm f/1.7 prime). For a casual shooter, GSN (and many other rangefinders in the same time period) really is the king of value when it comes to low light.

You can search for GSNs on eBay with keywords Yashica GSN, or a broader search Electro 35 will get you the entire family.

Usage Tips
You need battery to really use this camera. A US nickel is perfect to open and close the battery cap. It's easy to scratch and ding the battery cap, so don't use too much force. As stated in every other web site, the original mercury battery is not longer sold legally in the US. I use a 4LR44 6V battery, and it works fine. The battery is smaller and shorter than the chamber. I wrapped the battery with some facial tissue to keep battery from moving around in the chamber. The negative terminal of the battery sometimes does not line up well with the spring, so I made a bottom cap for the battery with aluminum foil to enlarge the contact area. I got a C battery holder from RadioShack and ripped out the spring to connect the positive terminal to the battery cap.

For those unfamiliar with old film cameras, it's easy to load film into the GSN. First, pull the rewind knob up until the back pops open. Put the film cartridge and push the rewind knob back in. Insert the film into the slit on the take-up spool. Line up the film with the sprockets. Wind the film once with the lever, making sure the film does not jump out. Fire the shutter once. Close the door, and turn the rewind knob in the direction of the arrow, until you feel a slight resistance. Wind the film forward once, fire the shutter again. Now you're ready. The film counter will not show 1 at this point, and it's ok. At least for Fuji Superia X-tra 400, if you wind till you see a 1 in the frame counter, you would have lost the first frame. Shoot until the counter shows 24. This way you'll get 25 exposure on one roll.

(Yashica GSN x Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400)

(Yashica GSN x Fujicolor Pro 400H)

(Yashica GSN x Fujicolor Reala)


Panasonic FX30

Panasonic's new flagship ultra-compact is the FX30. Interestingly enough, Panasonic Japan calls it the "girl" camera, as opposed to the "lady" camera, TZ3. The FX30 is targeted at the stylish girl who also cares about advanced functionalities. These two cameras are Panasonic's attempt to capture the female market. I find it amusing that it does not come in pink. As we all know, pink cameras, cell phones, DS Lites, Wiis (just kidding) really capture a girl's heart like nothing else...
With a width of only 22mm, the FX30 is the world's slimmest digital camera with a 28mm lens. It has the Venus Engine III, and a 7.2 megapixel sensor, allowing ISO of up to 3200. It also has the intelligent ISO mode that detects subject motion and automatically raise ISO and shutter speed if necessary. While not so useful in prosumer cameras, this mode is very appropiate in this class of cameras. Most of the features are the same as the FZ8, with a great 2.5" LCD, 27MB built-in memory and support for SDHC.

Following the girl camera theme, FX30 has 21 scene modes. There is a new "pet" mode that allows setting of a pet's birthday to display its age on the photo, and a "sunset" mode that enables a user to capture beautiful sunset colors. Accessories will include a marine case to be used with the underwater mode!

Panasonic Lumix FZ8

Panasonic Japan announced a new line of cameras for this year. They are the DMC-LZ7, LS75, FZ8, FS1, TZ3 and FX30. Today I'll talk about the DMC-FZ8.Just like the FZ7, the FZ8 will be available in silver and black. It has a new 7.2 megapixel sensor, combined with the new Venus Engine III, will support ISO 3200. Venus Engine III is known to suppress detail (maybe too much) in exchange for lower noise, so it would be curious how FZ8 will perform at ISO 3200. The lens is the same one from FZ7, but the Extra Optical Zoom mode has been enhanced to allow 18x (vs 16.5x) optical zoom when the image size is limited to 3 megapixels. The LCD, while staying at 2.5", has its resolution almost doubled to 207K pixel from 114K pixels, which should make reviewing pictures a much better experience. The viewfinder also see a size increase from 0.33" to 0.44" and resolution from 114K to 188K pixels. Panasonic doesn't stop there, the FZ8 has a new 11 point selectable autofocus mode, auto ISO adjustment with intelligent motion detection, internal memory of approximately 27MB, and support for SDHC memory cards (SD memory cards over 2GB).

The final, and ultimate feature, on a consumer priced digital camera, is the addition of RAW support. FZ8 comes with SILKYPIX Developer Studio 2.0SE to give you full control of the final image, direct from the sensor. This is an incredible feature, as we know Canon just last year removed RAW support from the prosumer G7 camera. Panasonic really outdid itself this time and this camera will be the prosumer camera of choice for a while.

Visit LetsGoDigital for early sample images taken with the Lumix FZ8.