In the past two months, 5 new-to-the-game film photographers have reached out to me about issues with Electro 35 cameras that they have purchased via OLX and Facebook Marketplace. In all of these cases, the camera has been listed in working condition, and in two cases, the seller sent a video of the shutter firing at the default speed without the battery.
To be fair, the Electro 35 is a great camera. I own 5 cameras from this family, and they make amazing pictures when they work right. However, the older of these cameras are now approaching the 55 year mark, and there are problems. Please read this article if you’re considering a purchase of this camera. This applies to all Electro 35 family cameras – the original Electro 35, the G, GT, GS, GTN, GSN, CC Wide, GL, MG-1, and GX.
First: All Electro 35 cameras are aperture priority, and their shutters are controlled electronically. If a camera’s metering circuit is non-functional or if batteries are not installed, the shutter will only fire at 1/500 sec, which means that you will have to regulate your exposure by working the aperture. Considering that these cameras have apertures from F1.7 to F 16, there is some usability here, but you lose their strongest feature – the ability to take razor-sharp images in low light.
Second: Another vulnerability of these cameras, is a tiny foam pad installed within. when this pad deteriorates, it affects the metering, and often the camera will default to the 1/500 speed. Replacing the pad is a simple procedure, but needs to be done by a skilled technician. (this does not apply to 35 CC and GX as they do not have this pad)
Third: This camera used mercury batteries that are no longer legal. They can still be used with a 3D printed adapter and 4 LR44 cells. Though the voltage generated by this setup is different, I have not encountered any exposure issues in any of the rolls that I have shot. The Electro 35 GX also uses a banned mercury battery, and adapters are available for this too.
Fourth: electros are rangefinder cameras, and are demonstrably fragile compared to SLRs. If not shipped carefully, the rangefinder can get misaligned or broken – either way, the camera will either need a thorough service, or will be relegated to a paperweight. So if you’re buying online, make sure that the buyer understands how they need to be shipped. Here, expect higher shipping charges as a bigger package has a higher volumetric weight.
Fifth: The mercury batteries that these cameras used were notorious for for leaking a corrosive substance into cameras. This corrosion often affected the metering system, rendering the cameras useless. If you see a camera that has signs of corrosion on the battery door, DO NOT BUY IT. Mercury is nasty stuff, and you don’t want even traces of it in a house with children or pets.
If you’re buying any Yashica Electro 35 camera online – from OLX, Facebook Marketplace or anywhere else, specifically ask the seller if he has tested it with batteries. Demand to see a video with the shutter speeds changing and the exposure warning lights being activated. If for whatever reason the seller is unable to supply this, pay only that money that you are willing to lose, because there is a strong possibility that the camera will have issues – especially if it hasn’t been used for a long time. Ask for clear pictures of the battery compartment so you can inspect it for battery leakage.
Also, a casual scan of OLX shows prices from INR 2,000 to INR 40,000 with terms like “antique”, “vintage” and other such nonsense. These cameras are old, but they are not rare. According to an analysis of serial numbers, enthusiasts estimate that at least 5 million of these were produced. This is easily the most common rangefinder in India and I have bought them for as low as INR 500 (in as is condition) as recently as October 2020. Speak to the dealers on the resources list, and they’ll be able to find you one at a good price.
If you’re stuck with an Electro 35 that’s not working right, all is not lost. There are technicians who may be able to resuscitate it for you. Don’t get your hopes up though, any corrosion damage to the metering circuits may be impossible to repair.
For professional support with your Electro 35, please reach out to the below.
Mr. Prem Solanki +91-80197-80581
Mr. Asif Latif (Calcutta) +91-99038-92265
Mr. Manik Samanta (Calcutta) +91-96740-16467
Mr. Akbar Ali (Bombay) +91-98206-54397 (he also has a few to sell)
Note – I am not being compensated by these individuals, they have worked on my Electro 35 cameras, and I’m providing this information for the benefit of the community.