Automated though the camera may be, the Yashica GSN’s 45/1.7 lens really produces some very crisp photos. The colors aren’t bad either (though in this miserable winter it’s hard to find much color to test it on).
Antiques malls are dangerous places. Sure, they’re full of a lots of rickety overpriced furniture and incredibly hideous clothing that makes you wonder about just how widespread color-blindness was in previous decades, but sometimes they also have cameras. Usually pretty common stuff: lots of plastic point-and-shoots and 110 bar cameras, but sometimes there are better pieces interspersed. Pricing runs in one of two veins: insanely overpriced or downright cheap.
All of this is to say that I ran across a Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinder in good cosmetic shape with a nice case for $15, so I bought it. I didn’t need it, but for $15 what have I got to lose? The shutter fired, albeit only at one speed, but at least I knew it wasn’t completely jammed up. The GSN is an aperture priority-only camera with an electric shutter, so I knew that I was going to be messing with pesky electrons as well as mechanicals when I got the thing apart.
The GSN is one a whole family of large-bodied Yashica aperture-priority rangefinders that were quite common in their day, and are well documented across the Internet. Turns out they have a few common points of failure, but none are fatal as long as you don’t mind tearing into the camera. The first problem, however, is the battery; the old mercury cells are long-since out of production, and no modern equivalent fits without modification or adaptation. I built a little adapter out of some non-collapsible tubing and a spring from the hardware store, mated to a 6v 28L battery. It works fine.
Once I had power to everything, it was time to see what worked and what didn’t. The shutter was OK, but I cleaned it and the aperture anyway. There are some electrical contacts in the shutter housing that looked a little dodgy, so I polished them up while I was in there. The glass in the six-element 45mm f/1.7 lens was in surprisingly good shape, perhaps due to the cheap UV filter that was attached when I got it. Some exercise of the aperture ring and the shutter release got the Over and Under exposure lights working more reliably (the contacts get dirty over time).
The big problem that remained was that the shutter was not adjusting speeds properly. A moment or two of Internet research showed that this was almost certainly the result of the failure of the “Pad of Death,” or POD in Yashica lingo. Fortunately, as dire as this sounds, it really isn’t a big deal. Basically, the hard rubber pad that locates and buffers the shutter release falls apart over the decades, screwing up the interaction of the meter and the shutter. The fix is well-documented elsewhere, but basically you cut a new pad out of suitable material (I used a neoprene washer) and glue it in place. You can do it without major disassembly if you’re comfortable with working in tight spaces, or you can pull the lens assembly off if you need more room; I chose the former route and fixed it in about ten minutes.
So now that the POD had been replaced and everything seemed to be working properly, it was time to put in some film and see what the camera could do. A shallow metal hood was added, as there were some suggestions across the Interweb that the lens is a bit prone to flare. The results showed that the camera is exposing correctly and that the lens is pretty nice. No problems were observed.
So what am I going to do with this thing? Well, my first thought was to keep it primarily as a loaner and party camera – something that can be put out at a party for anyone to use. The auto-exposure and big colorful arrows (the arrows in the viewfinder are almost comically large – it feels a bit Fisher-Price if I’m honest) should make it easy for non-photographers to use, and if something catastrophic happens to it I’m out $15. Of course I’ll exercise it myself occasionally, but I don’t seriously think I’ll use it a whole lot; nice and capable as it is, it’s too big and too automated to make my regular rotation.