Back to analogue – Part 2: Vienna Classic Days with Yashica Electro 35

Drivers of a classic convertible in Vienna

One week ago my camera collecting friend, photographer Reinhard Prenn (the one who passed on his analogue bug, which by now has seriously infected me), brought me a new old camera to try out: The Yashica Electro 35. This was not the camera I was initially supposed to shoot with for this project, but there is a little backstory here – see the P.S. if you want to know more.

About the camera

The camera I used: Yashica Electro 35, with a 45 mm Yashinon DX lens – Photo Karin Svadlenak-Gomez

The Yashica Electro 35 is a rangefinder, leaf-shuttered 35mm camera with aperture-priority automatic exposure. The first model came out in 1966.  The Yashica Electro 35 GSN, the model I used here, was released in 1973 and was, according to Karen Nakamura, the most popular. It comes with a Color-Yashinon DX 1:1.7 f=45mm lens made in Japan, and it has a battery-powered light-meter that determines the shooting speed. Thus, you have control only over the aperture, but not over the speed.

This rangefinder also allows you to focus, it has a small matte yellow translucent circle in the middle of the viewfinder that is coupled to the lens and is meant to allow you to focus with precision. There are two parallel pictures of your object when you point the yellow circle at it, and you can move the meter dial on the lens until these coincide. I have to say I found this difficult to do in low-light conditions when I played around with it at home, as I could not see very clearly, but in daylight it works quite well. The rangefinder also has has parallax compensation, so that you can trust that what you see in the viewfinder is what you get on the negative.

In 1983 Yashica was absorbed by the Kyocera Corporation, which produced Yashica and other cameras until 2005, when it discontinued all film and digital camera production. Incidentally, Kyocera also continued to produce film cameras under the renowned Contax brand, which began as a camera model in the Zeiss Ikon line in 1932.

Fun fact: In the 2012 film The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker is using a Yashica Electro 35 in some scenes.

My first shooting experience at the Vienna Classic Days

It seemed providential that the day I got the camera there was a classic car event going on in Vienna. That would provide a great theme for such a camera, I felt, and off I went to Ringstraße, with the Yashica loaded with an Ilford SFX 200 black and white film, a film that Reinhard had taken out of his freezer and given me for this camera trial. The film, according to its makers, has “extended red sensitivity for creative photographic applications”, making it a “perfect choice for infra-red style images.” I guess that was not really something I needed for this particular reportage project, and it would have required the use of filters.

Conditions that day were cloudy, and for the most part I used aperture 5.6, as indicated by the camera for these light conditions. (The viewfinder has two arrows that indicate when a picture would be overexposed or underexposed with a chosen aperture.) Given my distance to the cars of at least 8 meters and mostly more, f 5.6 still gave me enough of a range of acceptable sharpness. I had the distance setting on infinity focus, figuring most of the time the cars would be far enough away, and indeed this worked out. The cars were going faster than I had hoped, and I was afraid that my photos would all be blurry, but it turns out that the shutter speed was fast enough to get a degree of sharpness for most of the pictures. One of the “problems”, if you want to call it that, with this aperture automatic camera is that you have no idea what speed the camera will chose for a given aperture, it is purely guided by the light meter, and as long as you do not see the yellow and red arrows you have to assume it will be fast enough to avoid unintended motion blur. When I was a kid I always shot with automatic cameras, but having meanwhile got used to being able to exercise control over both aperture and speed, this took me a bit out of my comfort zone.

Running the cover photo through Lightroom with minimal editing to achieve more contrast than in the original picture

The film itself turned out to be very grainy and low in contrast, but I do like the results. The photos remind me of newspaper photos from the 1970s, and for this theme it seems suitable. Nevertheless, I imported scans of the pictures into Lightroom and just increased the contrast a bit for comparison´s sake. It is a bit like the difference between a digital RAW image straight out of cam and a lightly processed version. If the film had been processed differently by the lab it might also have ended up with more contrast, or maybe it is just this type of film.

The original scans from the processed negatives at left, and a slightly processed version for more contrast at right:

I am curious to find out how the camera will handle different films. This week I shot a roll of colour film with the same camera, albeit in very different light conditions, and I am still waiting for the processing lab to finish.

More to come from my analogue journey soon.

P.S.: Frustrations – or how I got to borrow the Yashica

I had originally borrowed a beautiful Exakta Varex model from the 1950s from my friend, but the first one had a problem with the button that allows you to insert the film. After a visit to an analog camera store in Vienna it was confirmed that this was not me being inept, but an actual mechanical problem that would require repair. But, luckily – or so I thought at the time – my friend had a second exemplar of the very same camera, which indeed allowed us to insert a film. The shutter and everything seemed to work, and it was easy to put in the film. I shot a trial roll, meticulously writing down every setting I used in a chart and even taking parallel photos for comparison with my trusty Olympus digital camera. But there was to be a nasty surprise. After I took the film for processing, to my chagrin it turned out that the film had not been exposed! Why was a mystery.

I do not give up so easily when I have set my mind on something. So I inserted yet another film, making sure that I did it right, advancing with open camera back until I could clearly see the film being transported. As I had a trip to Hamburg planned in July (you can see digital photos of that in my Instagram and Vero accounts), I brought the Exakta Varex with me and went through the same elaborate procedure of sometimes shooting in parallel with my digital camera, etc. The disappointment came upon processing: the film had again not been exposed. That was painful, after all the effort made to set up the pictures just right. Neither I nor my friend could understand it, and I still think it must have been an error on my part, perhaps the way I inserted the film. That´s the thing with analog, you just do not know what happened until it is too late. Be that as it may, at that point he said, he would rather bring me a different camera that would work for sure, and this is how I ended up with the Yashica, which happens to be a much simpler camera (but also one where you have less control over the settings). In any case, as you can see above, it works – yesss! 🙂

Also, I recommend checking out Reinhard´s website, he has some really beautiful photo projects on there.

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS © 2022 KARIN SVADLENAK-GOMEZ

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