It was about three years after beginning to use film again that I discovered the world of 1960's and 1970's fixed lens rangefinder and zone focus cameras. The cameras that first lured me back to film were of the low-fi variety (specifically the Lomo LC-A and Holga), but that's a topic for a different post.
Fixed lens rangefinder and zone focus cameras have been widely discussed online but I'll give a brief summary. In the 1960's and 1970's many camera manufacturers sold fixed lens rangefinder and zone focus cameras as a cheaper alternative to Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras or rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses. These cameras were marketed to amateurs and were mostly fairly compact and simple to use. They all have limitations due to cost cutting measures, but some are capable of taking great pictures. For those who've never seen one, a zone focus camera is one without viewfinder focussing, you estimate the distance to your subject and select that distance on the lens. The viewfinder is used only for composition.
The vast majority of these cameras have lenses with a 40 or 45mm focal length, the Yashica Electro 35 CC is one of the only ones with 35mm lens. I prefer 35mm for street photography, so I sought out this camera. It's relatively uncommon in the US but I was able to buy one from a Japanese seller on eBay. Initially I wasn't that crazy about the CC.
The Electro 35s have a somewhat odd metering system. You select the aperture and the camera selects a shutter speed. The first twist is that the shutter speed is stepless. Most cameras have a set array of shutter speeds. These are typically (in seconds) 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000. A stepless shutter means that the selected shutter speed doesn't have to be one of these fixed speeds. The camera can select 1/28, or 1/236 etc... The speeds can be anything in between 1/250 of a second to 8 seconds.
The second twist is that the camera doesn't display the speed it selects. Instead it shows you whether your shot will be overexposed or if it will have a slow shutter speed.
In the viewfinder there are two arrows that will light up depending on the light and your settings, one pointing to the left and the other to the right. When composing a shot you depress the shutter button half way. If the arrow pointing left lights up it's an indication that your aperture is too small, thus making your shutter speed too slow. You then turn the aperture ring to the left, opening up the lens. After making the adjustment you press the shutter button halfway again and if you've opened the lens enough to ensure a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second or faster, the arrow won't light up again. 1/30 of a second is considered to be the slowest shutter speed at which you can take a handheld shot with a rangefinder and not have it be blurry.
If the arrow pointing right lights up when you press the shutter button it means that you need a smaller aperture so your shot won't be overexposed. You then turn the aperture ring to the right and if you've selected a small enough aperture, the arrow won't light up when you press the shutter button halfway again.
As you can see, this is a pretty quirky system. If your exposure is correct the arrows don't light up at all. One thing to watch out for is the battery dying, in which case the arrows will also not light up. You may think your exposure is good but you just have a dead battery. There's a battery check button on the back of the camera and I use it quite often. You can still use the camera without a battery but the exposure time will always be the maximum, 1/250 of a second. If you're shooting in bright light, you might be able to get away with this.
This brings me to the first big drawback of this camera, the maximum shutter speed of 1/250. All the other Yashica Electros have a maximum speed of 1/500; I have no idea why the CC is the exception. This missing extra stop can make a big difference when you're shooting 400 ASA film in bright light. You'll find that the arrow pointing right (indicating overexposure) will light up even when you've stopped the lens all the way down to f16. One solution to this is to use 100 or 200 ASA film. Another is to carry a neutral density filter when shooting 400 ASA film. This filter (often called an ND filter) cuts the amount of light entering the lens without affecting color or contrast. I use a .6 ND filter which cuts the light by 2 stops. When I use this filter with 400 ASA film I can use the same aperture settings as I could if I was using 100 ASA film. Since the light meter is mounted on the lens barrel of the CC, you don't adjust the ASA setting on the camera.
The second drawback is that the maximum ASA setting on the CC is 500. Again, I have no idea why this is, most of the other Yashica Electros from this period go up to 800 and the Yashica Electro 35 GL even goes to 1600. It would be so nice to be able shoot Kodak Portra in this camera at either 800 or 1600 in low light! Unfortunately there's really no way to get around this limitation.
So why use this camera? The first and most important reason is that the lens is really good. I'm always amazed by the results I get from this camera. The second is size. It may not be as small as a point and shoot but it's smaller and lighter than an SLR. Third and lastly is price. Although the CC is hard to find in the US it's fairly easy to find on eBay from Japanese sellers going for about $100 or less.
I highly recommend the Yashica Electro 35 CC to anyone who wants to try film photography at a pretty low overhead or just loves fixed lens rangefinders. Below are a few of my favorite shots that I've taken with it. Happy shooting!