Sunday, April 4, 2010

A day out with a Yashica rangefinder

This Good Friday I did three things (all at the same time) that I normally never do:
  1. I shot with a rangefinder camera, the Yashica Electro 35 GSN.
  2. I shot color film, Kodak Ekta 100.
  3. I went to Central Park at a time where tourists would be flooding the place.
The Yashica I acquired a week before, off eBay of course. I felt I needed to add a new type of camera to my collection that up to this point only consisted of 35mm film SLRs (all Pentax except for a Nikkormat FT) and a Pentax 6x7 medium format rig. I was on paper quite familiar with rangefinders but in practice, things are always a little more finicky. It took me a while to figure out how to focus. The Yashica has a little yellow area in the middle of the viewfinder and this is where the focusing mechanism shifts the ghost-image in place. It's quite subtle and easy to overlook.

As with most rangefinders, the shutter action is very quiet and inaudible in the streets of New York. Theoretically, this would make it a perfect street camera but I believe in reality it is a little too bulky for this. It's a slightly bigger than both my Pentax K2 as well as the rather substantial Nikkormat. 

Other than that, the camera is parallax-corrected. I found this to be only partially true though. While the frame markers shift up and down depending on the focus distance, they do not shift horizontally. The viewfinder is positioned on top and left of the lens and indeed, some of my photos showed odd framing. Things that I expected to be in the photo were clipped off on the left of the frame and instead I had some extraneous stuff on the right. So this is something the photographer will have to compensate for.

Focusing seems more difficult than with any of my single-lens reflexes. I didn't find any really sharp images when I got my first roll back. Meanwhile, the camera has a non-interchangeable 47mm f/1.7 lens attached to it. It earns points for being fast but due to my lack of focusing skills, I will probably stick with smaller apertures.

The Yashica's only metering mode is aperture-preferred, so you dial in the aperture and the camera steplessly selects what it considers an appropriate shutter-speed (its meter sits atop the lens so it has no TTL metering). It wont however tell you what it has chosen - all you get is a warning for slow speeds and overexposure.

Anyway, to cut long things short, the Yashica is a curious camera with a very pretty body that handles well and offers too little to distract you from taking photos. And here are two that I found tolerable enough to escape the bin:

 In full size (find it here), you will see that the stem of the tree on the right is sharpest. This is strange as I recall I had the lens focused to infinity.

This might be more in the domain of the Yashica. There's even less in focus than in the previous photo, but at least it features some people doing interesting things. 

So by and large, I enjoyed handling this Yashica. I doubt I will abandon my SLRs for it anytime soon, but I can see occasions where it could be more useful. What I need to do is find an application for the rather idiosyncratic focal length of 47mm. On my morning out in Central Park, I found it either too wide or not wide enough, but never quite right. Oddly enough, I often have a 50mm lens on my SLRs and find that focal length perfectly natural. I blame the viewfinder which forces me to place things within the marked area and thus makes you believe you have a wider lens on it.


  1. I've never really taken to rangefinders either, Tassilo. I love the idea of having a small Leica outfit but when I had a couple of bodies many years ago I found them too restrictive. They were fine for walkabout photography but hopeless if you needed a longish tele shot. The framing was also a bit imprecise and you can't check how out of focus the background is when using a wide apeture. I've still got a Yashica 35cc with the f1.8 35mm lens and reckon it's about the best of its type but I don't shoot that much with it because I much prefer using an SLR.

  2. Interesting observations that are not far off mine.

    I have however not yet totally buried the idea of getting a little more into rangefinders. I just feel that the my Yashica is not the right one. I find it is too big which somewhat defeats the purpose of being inconspicuous. With the exception of the silent shutter, I could just as easily use my Pentax K2 and take advantage of some very fine lenses indeed, TTL-metering, depth-of-field preview, focusing that actually works and vitually flawless ergonomics overall.

    So what I am looking for is a compact and quiet rangefinder with a fast and sharp lens and that does not make focusing a total gamble. And I'd much rather not pay Leica-prices. ;-) It must exist somewhere.