Yashica lights up the viewfinder and steps up shutter technology.

This camera, introduced in 1968, was the third in Yashica’s TL series, their first SLRs with TTL metering. Well built and well specified, here’s what I thought when I put my first roll of film through it.

Why is the Yashica TL Electro-X a Landmark Camera?

1: The world’s first SLR to use electronic lights in the viewfinder for exposure information.
2: The world’s first SLR with a mechanical shutter including stepless electronic timing, operating at intermediate speeds between those designated on the shutter speed dial.
3: The world’s first SLR with an integrated circuit (silicon chip or microchip).

The User Experience

The Look

This was Yashica’s first sexy camera. I have always found this camera’s predecessors dull to look at. I had a Yashica J-3 and it was dull to look at and dull to use. I found it hard to focus, so I sold it, the tedious thing. The ‘X’s immediate forbears, the TL and the TL Super are equally uninspiring to look at; but the designers got their shit together for this one. It’s a strutting cockerel of an SLR with the red X on the front, the gothic letter Y on the prism hump and the electro logo. Rutherford’s theoretical representation of an atom with a dot representing the nucleus being orbited by paths representing electrons has turned out to be inaccurate, but it must have looked cool back then, and it is definitely retro cool now. Even the self-timer lever looks cool; a little flash of Art Deco to my eyes. The chrome nosed Auto Yashinon-DX 50mm f/1.7 matches the body very well.

The Feel

It has heft; typical for a mid sixties Japanese M42 SLR. The leatherette covering feels thin and rough, but is undoubtedly hard wearing. The shutter speed dial is stepless at speeds lower than 1/30th second. The shutter release is light with a fair amount of travel. I took this camera with confidence on two walks in the Yorkshire Dales, knowing it was more than robust enough to tolerate some jiggling around in a rucsack when not in use.

In Use

This is another enjoyable camera to use. Stop-down metering is activated with a depth of field preview feature. This is situated on the side of the lens mount housing and takes the shape of a generously sized lever that you push down on. Correct exposure is achieved by twisting the lens aperture ring and that lovely silver and back shutter speed dial until a pair of red lights in the shape of arrows no longer light up. When the left arrow lights up, you are underexposing. When the right arrow lights up you are overexposing. Both arrows point in towards the centre. When no arrows light up, you have correct exposure. This confused me until I read the manual. I thought the camera had an error. Today’s best practice in user experience design would demand a third light, perhaps green in colour, to confirm correct exposure, rather than have no visual indication of correct exposure. In fact, it should work more like the positive visual feedback of the battery check on the top of the camera. A green light illuminates to indicate the battery is in good shape when you press a red button.

Look through the viewfinder

Yashica TL Electro-X viewfinder view
Yashica TL Electro-X viewfinder showing microprism and overexposure indicator light.

The viewfinder is decent with a Fresnel screen and a microprism that I find surprisingly easy to find focus with. The shutter release is not lockable, which surprised me. The black film rewind release button is found on the base of the camera. The metal shutter is quieter than anticipated (but by no means quiet!). There’s a very convenient mirror lock up lever on the other side of the lens mount housing to the stop down meter lever.

I put a roll of T-MAX 400 in the ‘X’ and took it for walks in Wharfedale, Wensleydale and here and there. It performed flawlessly. I did carry a back up light meter with me, but after a few frames I was confident in the accuracy of the 50 year old IC. It was such a pleasure to use and is equally nice just to look at.

Photographs taken with the Yashica TL Electro-X

Here are a few photographs from the roll of T-MAX 400. It was exposed at box speed and developed in FX-39II at 1+14 dilution for 12 minutes.


Film Photography Review
Camera Wiki
Instruction manual at Mike Butkus’ site