Rangefinders (Fixed Lens)

Yashica Electro 35 GT – Finding a Rangefinder – By Francois Marlier

July 8, 2022

My name is François, and I’m a 30 year old born in Belgium and currently living in Denmark. When I was around 15, my granddad gave me his Canon AE-1, describing it to me at the time as one of the most sold and easiest to use film cameras. This is how I started shooting, and continued shooting for a couple of years, on and off, mostly leaving the aperture on automatic and not much understanding all the subtleties and possibilities of photography.

Then in 2009-2010, as I was getting more interested and with digital SLRs all the rage, my families gifted me a Canon 500D with a 18-250 Sigma lens, which I used quite intensely, learning more about the exposure triangle, trying long exposures and light painting in the dark; shooting family events and then parties at university, and more or less letting my grandad’s camera collect dust.

In 2015, I then sold my Canon 500D and bought a second-hand Fuji film X100s – never having been a huge fan of (nor really getting skilled at) editing my photos, the Fuji was a perfect companion – good lens, fairly compact, stylish, great jpegs. And I still have it to this day.

The call of film

But then, during the pandemic, I was like many people looking for something to help me pass the time, and decided to get back into film. I recovered my Canon AE-1, bought a daylight development tank, started shooting again and discovered numerous YouTube channels and websites, including this one, which filled me with the irrepressible desire to try more cameras. And so just like that, the diagnosis fell. I had caught it too, after hearing and reading so much about sure. GAS. Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

I started reading and watching all the lists on best rangefinder, best SLR, best medium format, best compact, etc. I spent hours scouring eBay and Denmark’s local version of it for those gems, settling usually for the more affordable alternatives. And I loved it. I find real pleasure in the tactile experience of analog photography, from selecting and loading film, to carrying, shooting, and rewinding the film. And each camera is a different experience, with its own sounds and feeling, shapes and weights.

So in the space of a year, I bought a Ricoh R10; a Minolta weathermatic; a canon EOS 300 followed by a 300V; a Canon Canonet 28; a Nikon AW AF Action Touch; a Flexaret TLR, followed by a Rolleicord IV; an Olympus Trip 35; a Leica Minizoom; an Olympus XA; a Yashica Electro 35 GT; a Minolta SRT100x, followed by a Minolta XD-5; a Zeiss Ikon nettar 516 or 517; a Fuji GS645S; a Diana pinhole.

A number of these were duds and couldn’t be repaired (such as the EOS 300 and the Nikon Action Touch); some gave me some great pictures, but were not keepers for me and were sold (Olympus Trip 35 and Canon Canonet 28; the Flexaret TLR). But even more I kept and use.

The Yashica electro 35 GT

There is one however with which I am still unsure what to do, and it is the one I’d like to talk more about today – maybe that writing this piece will actually help me figure things out. And that is the Yashica electro 35 GT.

The “GT” is an all-black version of this famous fixed-lens (45mm), aperture priority only, rangefinder camera. It is a solid, quite heavy camera, unexpectedly big, with a fast (f/1.7) and quite sharp lens. This was my first foray into rangefinders (albeit not a fully manual one), and while I haven’t convinced myself to sell it, it hasn’t completely won me over either.

First, I repeat, as many of you probably already know, it is a large and quite heavy camera. It is not bulky like a DSLR, but it is certainly not compact. But the weight is, to a certain extent, reassuring. It feels solid.

Size comparison

Then, I find the focusing ring a bit awkward to use; slightly stiff (which of course might be an issue with my camera) and too close to the body of the camera. This means that I find the focusing experience difficult, and find focusing with an SLR quite a bit easier. I do not easily see whether the two images are perfectly superposed, which slows me down quite a bit.

Third, while the light meter and automatic shutter speed selection seem to work pretty well, I find myself wanting to know what shutter speed the camera is choosing. And as someone wearing glasses, I find it sometimes difficult to see in the viewfinder whether the camera is telling me to choose a smaller or bigger aperture.

And yet, I come back to this camera. I’ve found some of the pictures I took with it really pleasing, such as this picture below of people fishing in the fjord (this was my first roll, before repairing the light seals).

In this picture of a cat ( + light leak!) we also see how sharp the images can look when the focusing is right – and despite wishing to know what shutter speed the camera chooses, I haven’t yet had pictures that were missed because of a too slow or too fast shutter speed.

Cat and lightleak

Then, with this indoor portrait of my dog shot on Lomo 100, we see how fast the lens is and how well it fares in low-lit situations.

Dog in black and white

One of my favourite pictures with this camera, despite the light leak:

Boats and fishermen on the fjord

Finally, a few more pictures, including some where we see that I missed the focus:

Building in Vejle, Denmark

Missed focus portrait of dog

Path and light leak

Cow and light leak

Conclusion

I haven’t yet decided what to do with this camera. I think I still need to figure out if rangefinders work for me. With the Olympus XA, while technically a rangefinder, I do not use the focusing patch much and mostly use zone-focusing and hyperfocal – and I love it for its compact size and great lens. So maybe I need to find another, “proper” rangefinder to test, one where the focusing experience is known to be better. If you have recommendations, please don’t hesitate!

Thank you for reading,

François Marlier

You can find me on Instagram and on Grainery.

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    July 8, 2022 at 10:17 am

    Regarding reccomendations – In practical terms, I think the XA is a great little camera and difficult to beat. You can get small rangefinders with faster lenses (Auto S3, Hi-Matic 7sii etc) but they do tend to be silly prices.

    If you want to try something a little more conventional than the XA, the Konica C35 is a classic, with programmed exposure and linked speeds/apertures visible in the viewfinder – there were lots of similar cameras from Canon, Olympus etc which were also great, but some of them have relatively heavy shutter releases. The Canonet 28 currently being used as part of the Travelling Canonet project on 35mmc is proving to be very robust.

    For tiny cameras with great lenses (but no rangefinder), the Minox 35 series is legendary (one of the loveliest lenses ever), but they do tend to be a bit fragile in my experience. The Rollei 35 series cameras are also supposed to be very good, but I haven’t shot with them myself.

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 8, 2022 at 2:19 pm

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll have a look at the Konica C35!
      And I definitely agree that the XA is great, I am really happy with it. It is so easy to just put in a pocket and carry around, and with its electronic shutter allows to shoot handheld at very low speeds.

  • Reply
    Lee
    July 8, 2022 at 1:06 pm

    Sure, you bought a lot of cameras, many of the fixed lens cameras. My real question to you is whether you bought multiple lenses to go on the interchangeable lens cameras you said that you purchased. You already had the AE-1, but you bought an EOS 300 and 300v, along with Minolta SRT100x and XD-5. That’s three different lens mounts, Canon FD, Canon EF, Minolta SR. Do you have more than one lens for any of these cameras? If the answer is yes, then please share what you have. To my mind, acquiring a number of lens options is as much a part of GAS as just buying-up a ton of cameras. I realize that different cameras provide a different feel and a different shooting experience, but it’s the lenses that make up the package. And I see little point of having interchangeable lens cameras if all you have is a 50mm lens.

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 8, 2022 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Lee,

      Good point! I realise now it is not clear in the text, but I have not obviously kept all the cameras I bought. My objective is not to have dozens of cameras and systems, and I am selling those I like less (Olympus Trip 35, Canonet 28, Flexaret…) but I do enjoy the experience of trying different cameras and systems. Also, the 300V was to replace a malfunctioning 300; the XD-5 to replace the SRT100x whose lightmeter needs old mercury batteries and whose mirror often locks after taking a picture.

      However, as you point out, this does not change the fact that I currently have indeed 3 different systems.
      With the Minolta XD-5 (which I do like a lot and find more useful than the Canon AE-1 thanks to its additional shooting mode), I have three lenses: a 28mm, a 45mm, and a 135mm.
      With my Canon AE-1 (which I keep mostly for its sentimental value), I have a 35mm and a 50mm, and a 75-210mm.
      Finally, with the 300v, I have a 28-80mm, and a 50mm.

  • Reply
    Luigi Buono
    July 8, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    If the Yashica Electro 35 is too heavy, too big, too fiddly to focus with, I have one and one only answer for you: get an Olympus 35 RC. Seriously, I love that little Rangefinder, and it’s known as a poor men’s Leica. You can’t go wrong with one of those!

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 8, 2022 at 3:13 pm

      Hi Luigi, thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have a look at that – poor man’s Leica does certainly sounds good to me!

    • Reply
      Roman Dubravský
      July 9, 2022 at 10:47 am

      If the Yashica Electro 35 is too heavy… there are smaller later versions CC, CCN and GX.
      If the Olympus 35 RC’s lens is too slow, there is 35RD.
      If Olympus 35RD or Yashica Electro 35GX are too expensive, there is Revue 400SE – Minolta 7Sii clone, sold in Germany.
      Welcome in the GAS club 🙂

      • Reply
        Francois Marlier
        July 9, 2022 at 1:15 pm

        Hi Roman,

        Thanks for the welcome wishes – and adding to the list of cameras to try! 🙂

  • Reply
    Dan Mountin
    July 8, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    I have and use an Olympus XA too. But, while it’s not a rangefinder, the Rollei 35s is truly one of my favorite cameras of all time and it is hard to beat. I instinctively grab the Rollei first when I go out. Once you have zone focusing down, it’s an easy camera to grab shots with, it’s built like a tank. and let’s face it, the 40mm f2.8 Zeiss lens is superb.

    Just my humble opinion of course

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 8, 2022 at 9:22 pm

      Hi Dan,

      The Rollei 35s certainly looks great! I wasn’t much of a fan of zone focusing with the Olympus Trip 35, despite the good lens and some nice results. But maybe I’ll give the Rollei a try at some point… 🙂

  • Reply
    Anindya K Maity
    July 8, 2022 at 3:54 pm

    I have this camera, having bought it to experience the hype around Electro 35 cameras on the net.I have used this camera only once during the lockdown. The pix came out good, yet I have not felt the urge to use it again.I don’t exactly know why-the big size, the constant fiddling with the iso dial to adjust exposure compensation, the average bright focusing patch–somehow, I did not feel at one with the camera.I have thought of selling it, but maybe I will give it one more try when I get time.I have one Canonet 17, and I find its size and controls more suitable for my use.

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 8, 2022 at 9:24 pm

      Hi Anindya,

      Interesting to read you had a similar experience. Canonet 17 looks like an interesting alternative too, I might need to give it a go!

  • Reply
    Terry B
    July 9, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    Hi, Francois.
    14 cameras in the space of a year! Point and shoot, rangefinder, SLR and 120 roll film. It seems to me that you are looking for a camera that you like rather than searching for a camera that fits your photographic style. The two aren’t the same, and the sooner that you accept that no camera is perfect you may well save yourself money and end up with one you are happy with.

    But what type of camera most interests you? From your list of purchases I must admit I have no idea as it was such a scatter gun approach. I’d suggest that you decide what type of camera you’re after and limit your searches to this type. Then you should consider what you want the camera to do e.g how much manual control or automation do you want? Are interchangeable lenses a priority, or would a fixed lens model meet your photographic needs? Sometimes we can be seduced by a camera’s possibilities which the manufacturers were keen to stress, only to find out we didn’t need or use all that versatility. I know, I’ve got many teashirts to prove this over the years! ☹

    Good luck in your search!

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 9, 2022 at 1:54 pm

      Hi Terry,

      Thanks for your message! I think that for me, trying a variety of cameras has really been part of the fun. Partially, it was about trying for myself those cameras that I read reviews about, to see for myself the good and the bad. While the end product – the pictures – is important to me, I also just enjoy discovering and testing so many of these beautiful machines that were designed and built in the last century, and so often still work and deliver great results.

      I like the versatility of an SLR system, and find that the Minolta XD-5 to be a great camera (and the Minolta lenses quite good and affordable). I like the control offered by a more recent SLR like the Canon 300V. I enjoy how working with medium format slows me down even more, and how the pictures “feel” different with a larger format.
      Sometimes, I find that the constraints of a fixed-lens camera simplify things or force me to think differently. I like to carry the Olympus XA or a point-and-shoot at all times, for snaps, quick photos with family and friends, or just to quickly capture something I find interesting. And I like how each camera is different, has its unique feel, its unique sound.

      So yes, I am not really looking for “the” camera; it doesn’t mean that I buy every camera I see (despite what it might look like 🙂 ); and I do sell or give away those I know I won’t want to shoot with again. But even then, I enjoy the process of shooting a few rolls with them, seeing the results, and figuring out what I like and dislike about them.

      Since writing this article I’ve concluded that I will sell the Yashica, and likely try at least one other rangefinder, which should ideally be: fixed-lens; manual mode (other modes optional); smaller than the Yashica electro 35.

      • Reply
        Terry B
        July 9, 2022 at 6:26 pm

        Hello, again, Francois.

        Thanks for your extensive response. Going with your final sentence I’m going to suggest a camera that seldom gets a mention in reviews or by YouTubers, but I’m not going to recommend as such (although I do own three of the variants) but I believe it could well interest you. It’s a bit of a “sleeper”, a lot smaller than the majority of 35mm cameras usually reviewed. Spec-wise there is no outstanding feature per se. It has a regular f2.8/50mm lens, fixed or interchangeable depending upon the model chosen, and may or may not include a built-in meter.

        There were a fair number of models produced over its lifetime, but I’d suggest you check out the last series as these will be the “newest” and probably worth consideration because of this fact alone. The lens is the well-regarded Tessar and the later shutter is reliable.

        I’d suggest that you overlook the Model 1 as this is a basic fixed lens point and shoot with no metering. The Model 3 is a delight as it incorporates a coupled rangefinder and although it will take interchangeable lenses, only a 35mm and 100mm were made, and today the rare 35mm Flektagon fetches a lot of money. Finally, the last version incorporates the R/f, interchangeable lenses and a coupled meter but no auto mode.

        And the rangefinder is not what you may be accustomed to as it does not use silvered glass mirrors or semi-translucent mirrors, so it cannot fade. As with the Leica M cameras and Contax rangefinders, it uses prisms, and is extremely crisp.
        And a feature you may like is the lens is focused from the front. Usefully, the models also incorporate viewfinder dioptre adjustment.

        Have I whetted your appetite to at least have a look? This will reveal all:

        https://krg.pagesperso-orange.fr/werra/werra.htm

        • Reply
          Francois Marlier
          July 10, 2022 at 7:41 pm

          Hi Terry,

          Thanks for this very interesting recommendation! You got me really intrigued indeed, and I already spent a few hours trying to read as much as I could find about these cameras.
          Fascinating history, and I had never heard of these before.
          Looking at eBay, I do indeed find a couple of model 3 and later models at affordable prices… I might snatch one of these and do a “5 photos with…” article 🙂

          Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Eric Rose
    July 9, 2022 at 6:07 pm

    A great light weight RF camera is the Bessa R. Lots of great Leica screw mount lenses are available. The Bessa R has one of the best rangefinders available.

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 10, 2022 at 7:44 pm

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for that. Bessa R looks great indeed, and I’ve only read good things about it.
      Not that easy to find though as far as I can see – and on the pricier side. 🙂

  • Reply
    Christoph
    July 9, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I have a Yashica 35 GT as well, and I really like it. It’s one of my bigger cameras, even compared to most oy my SLR, and the automatic might be a limitation but: the great and fast lens make it my “to go” camera in winter or for night photography. Maybe it helps that I can take my Kodak Retina if I want to go full manual, or the Olympus XA or 35 RC if I need something more compact, or even my Zorki 10 if I feel lucky, but two, three times a year I take my Yashica out of the shelf and wait till it’s dark. I might be biased, as I took the first photos of my firstborn with this camera 9 years ago, but still: do not sell it. My advice would be: Try to fix the light leaks, use it at night (it was once advertised as “the night owl”) and get an 35 RC too.

    • Reply
      Francois Marlier
      July 10, 2022 at 7:43 pm

      Interesting perspective Christoph, thanks for sharing. With that very fast lens, I see indeed how this could be a “night” camera.
      I have had the light seals replaced, and everything else is working well – so you’re giving me additional food for thought.

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