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)



Anonymous said...

I have a Yashica GSN. Excellent post and I agree with every point. Interestingly, I have a Panasonic FZ1v2, and got back into film photography because I missed shallow DOF, and control over it. (When I was resorting to matting out subjects to blur the background in Photoshop, I knew it was time to start using film again...) I also agree that it pays to spring for a few more dollars and get a film-tested, working, CLA'd camera than pay $10 and play camera russian roulette. Did the same thing too.

Only problem is these rangefinders are addictive. In the two years since I've used my GSN, I got an Electro CC, a Konica Auto S3, and a Lynx 14 IC (wonderful - my favorite).

All these cameras are absolutely terrific in their own way. Can't go wrong with any of them.



Gas Lounge said...

Thank you for the kind comment. It's the very first comment on my site so I'm excited.

You're absolutely right. These rangefinders are addictive and I simply love the handling. It's a different, but nice feeling that I cannot get with my digital. In fact, I'm already plotting to get a Yashica GX...I hope that will be the last one :) Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I've gone after the the GX too but the prices were higher than I was willing to spend, since I already have two other compact rangefinders. The GX is very rare, more rare than the CC imo. The CC is also quite nice but I prefer the Konica Auto S3.

If interested, there's a fairly active blog - part of, that's devoted to the Yashica rangefinders - most posts are about the GSN.


grt62 said...

I agree with the addictive nature of rf's. I have a few digital cameras, the most recent being a leica v-lux 1. I'm really getting into rf's, and have a fed 3, a canonet 17qlg3 and an electro 35gsn. I'm currently loooking for another electro, either chrome or black. I like the weight and shape of these, as well as the manual nature, and look forward to expanding my collection.

Anonymous said...

That's a very nice and comprehensive review of the GSN, and your photo samples demonstrate its versatility in various ambient light situations-- thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

hey..i just got my self a Yashica GSN. i bought it abit above the price, around $60. and the worse thing is i dont even know if the electronics are working.. any suggestions on how to figure it out? it comes with a 3v batt and Varta V 625 U. does that work for the cam? or must it be 6v like wad u have stated?

even if the electronics arent working.. do you think it will still produce such a quality pics?

okay..thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

hello everybody
i have a question foy all of you and i need and i need to know as son as possible.
do anyone knou the price for the foto camera named YASHICA- Electro 35 gsn.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing all these useful imformation. ^_^

From your experience is there any difference between Yashica GS and Yashica GTN besides without an hotshoe? Overall performance is it the same?

Which version will u buy GS or GTN?


Gas Lounge said...

I have not used a GS, but they are almost identical. It depends on if you like silver or black :) I think the most important thing is find one that works. Unlike some other rangefinders, if the battery does not work, the GS(N)s are basically useless pieces of metal.

Anonymous said...

...I guess I can help with Yashica Electro 35 GS - I have two of them (the one I'm using all the time is CLA'ed by Mark Hama).

The only principal difference (and I'm not talking about cosmetics here) is that GSN has a Hot Shoe, anything else is the same. My own experience with them is that no mater how good your camera looks it has to be CLA'ed and quality of the lens is really varies from camera to camera, but in general they all good.

I would not really worry about battery: as the back-up you always have t0.500ms in fully manual mode (I'm not sure about t0.30ms in the Flash Mode): it works for me fine (I use external light meter in case if I'm dealing with confusing lighting conditions).

But most of all - just enjoy it and cherish your camera: they don't make them as good as they used to any more and film photography is becoming "antiquarian" these days...

ps: I really like your blog!

Anonymous said...


obviously I meant time 1/30 and 1/500 of second!

Gas Lounge said...

Thanks for the information. I agree with the CLA. These things are built to last, good maintenance will make sure they last even longer.

Anonymous said...

...I forgot to ask you: what scanner do you use to scan your pics and what general settings do you use when you scan?

Do you have any personal recommendations??

Thanks in advance!

Gas Lounge said...

I use Costco to process my film and they make the CD for me. My local Costco uses a Noritsu machine.