2other Yashica cameras in my collection:

 

JapanYashica TL Electro X [1968 - 1975]

 

Overview

graphicThe Yashica TL Electro X was the first camera with viewfinder electronic lights for exposure information (miniature lamps, not LEDs), and also the first with an electronically timed mechanical shutter that operates at any intermediate speed between 2 seconds and 1/1000th.

Two illuminated arrow-shapes in the viewfinder indicate over and under exposure, and point towards the direction in which the lens aperture ring should be rotated. Adjusting either the aperture ring or shutter speed dial until these lights go out indicates that the correct exposure has been set. To be clear, this was not the first example of a centre the light metering system, but possibly the one and only extinguish-the-light approach in an SLR. The first camera to employ a centre-the-light LED metering system was the Fujica ST801.

The electronic timing system allowed shutter speeds to be set at intermediate values. The shutter speed dial is click-stopped at each setting between 1/1000th sec., and 1/30th sec. The instruction manual recommends using these preselected speeds and obtaining correct exposure by turning the aperture ring. The slower shutter speed range has no click-stops, and the instruction manual suggests pre-setting the lens opening followed by turning the shutter speed dial.

The advertisement (above) gives the example of being able to set 1/278th sec., but the reality is you could not. What you could do is set a speed that was arbitrarily somewhere between two stops. The unprecedented accuracy claimed by Yashica could therefore only be realised at slower shutter speeds.

Information on the Internet reflects that many people writing and making videos about this camera fail to understand its key features. They commonly question why the slow shutter speeds are not click-stopped, reflecting their failure to recognise that it has a step-less shutter. The other common misconception is that the viewfinder lamps are LEDs.

The TL Electro X was a competitor to the similarly specified Pentax Spotmatic II, and shared its stop-down metering system. The claimed superiority of the Yashica's electronics was the elimination of mechanical component failure, however, unlike the Spotmatic, it only fires at 1/1000th without batteries. The word on the Net is that drift of the shutter accuracy, and meter failure are common problems today.

While the Yashica was undeniably innovative, and signalled the shape of things to come, it wasn't a big success, largely because the Yashica brand lacked the kudos of rival manufacturers. In my personally opinion, the other reason for Yashica's failure at this time was their innovations were incomplete ... in terms of offering realisable practical gains. The 1975 TL Electro X end of production date has been guessed on the basis that this was the year Yashica abandoned M42 screw fixings, and moved to the Yashica/Contax bayonet lens mount.

 

 

Did ITS stand for It's The Same, and where exactly were those viewfinder lights?
The advertisement at the top of this page is for the TL Electro X ITS variant, which was sold from 1971. According to Camera User magazine's list of models in production in 1975, the X and ITS were sold alongside each other. So how did they differ? Research of this question has thrown-up a further issue. Descriptions of the two models indicate that the position of the meter lights were alternatively at the top, right, or bottom of the viewfinder?

Camera User magazine noted the only difference between the models was their colour, where the X came only in chrome, and the ITS only in black (BUT the X also came in black, as shown left).
A magazine advertisement from 1969 (second image on the left) shows the lights at the top of the viewfinder on the original X, YET the user manual shows the indicators at the bottom (as on my camera).
An online scan of a unidentified 1973 magazine review (third image on the left) says that the ITS - sported a new set of arrows along the bottom of the finder, instead of along the right side as in the first model.
The June 1973 edition of Popular Science (USA) shows a diagram of the ITS with the indicators on the right side of the viewfinder, as does a November 1974 edition of Popular Mechanics. Popular Science however offers an explanation that while their diagram shows the lights to the right of the viewfinder, they were actually at the bottom.
The ITS manual shows the viewfinder lights as being at the bottom - just like the X.
Hansen and Dierdorff's book - Japanese 35mm SLR Cameras - suggests the differences were the ITS had: FP & X sync (which the X had), a battery check (which the X also had), black only finish (which was an option on the X), and the x-sync speed increased to 1/125th.
The X had a fancy Y on the pentaprism housing, which became a gold coloured atom symbol on the ITS , BUT in the advert at the top of this page the ITS has a fancy Y.
In conclusion - the only differences I can verify are ITS models were black only, had a 1/125th sync speed, and a little ITS badge at the bottom right (facing).

A possible explanation of the erroneously described differences is that the cited magazine/book articles contrasted the ITS with a different camera. The 1972 Electro fits the profile. This was a cut-down version of the X, and (so far as I can establish) came only in chrome finish, had lights on the right side of the viewfinder, no battery check, an X-sync speed of 1/60th, and no FP sync port.

I think the roaming lights is down to nothing more than error: albeit one made over and over again. It would appear they were only ever at the bottom of the viewfinder on both the X and the ITS.

Given the extreme similarities between the X and the ITS, I wonder why they were sold along side each other? Maybe they were not? Maybe, the X continued to be made in chrome finish only, making the choice between the two a matter of colour preference?

 

In 1974, when nearing the end of its production run, the camera was advertised in Amateur Photographer at £96.99, with an f1.7 lens. This was equivalent to a little less than two weeks average UK pay at the time.

 

Specifications

yashica viewfinderLens mount: M42 screw with mirror lock-up for ultra-wide lenses.

Focus: Reflex viewfinder with micro prism focusing spot, ground-glass collar. DOF preview button.

Shutter: Electrically operated Copal Square SE vertical travelling metal focal-plane shutter with variable speeds in the range of 2 sec to 1/1000th sec., where intermittent steps could be selected, but speeds of 1/30th and over were click-stopped, while those below were not. B and self-timer.

Meter: Stop-down, thru-the-lens, centre-weighted, CdS light measuring system; electronic exposure readout (warning lights indicate under and over exposure corrections).

Exposure: Manual.

Film Speed: 25 to 800 ASA.

Flash: Standard X and FP synch, with X-synch hot shoe at 1/90th.

Film Advance: Ratchet type single-stroke wind lever.

Frame Counter: Automatic count-up and reset.

Rewind: Via crank and bottom release button.

Size: 151 x 96 x 100mm (W x H x D) - including lens.

Weight: 1070g including lens.

Battery: The power requirements seem to vary and are either a 6V mercury PX28 (use equivalent 6v 4LR44) or 2 x 1.5v mercury PX640 (which is available as the mercury free 1.5v PC640A). Take a common AA cell and see if it fits into the hole. If it does, use a pair of PX640s. If it doesn't, use a single PX28.

 

My Camera

I paid £5.50 for this camera (body only) in February 2014.

My camera is in good cosmetic condition, but sadly the meter does not work and no viewfinder lights illuminate, although the battery check system works. This suggests (fingers crossed) the fault could be as simple as a dirty contact somewhere: I'll get around to looking into it sometime. Meanwhile, I have replaced the light seals and mirror damper.

My TL Electro X has been coupled with a Yashinon DX 50mm f2 lens (thought to be 6 elements in 5 groups), costing £13.50. It's not quite the correct lens as it slightly pre-dates the camera, but Yashinon lenses are apparently quite desirable (expensive and relatively scarce), so this is the best I could get on a budget. It's a nice shinny chrome lens (not radioactive), and suits the look of the camera well.

Arnold SchwarzeneggerIn terms of handling, the TL Electro X isn't a camera I particularly warm to; it feels big and clumsy. Just look at the size of the lever that stops down the aperture and switches on the meter (if you can see it in my photos) - it's enormous. It reminds me of one of those plastic letters (used to spell-out messages) that adorn some folk's fridges. The meter light going out when exposure is correct is a bit counter intuitive too.

Despite all the foregoing criticisms, I bought the TL Electro X because it featured a double first in new technology advances, and these make it a collectable. In my opinion, I'd prefer to use a Spotmatic II, but Arnold Schwarzenegger happens to be one person who wouldn't agree with me: he used a TL Electro X back in 1968.

 

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Yashica TL Electro X

Yashica TL Electro X

Yashica TL Electro X

Yashica TL Electro X

Yashica TL Electro X

As I've touched on the other Electro cameras in the series (the Electro and the X ITS), I thought I might as well write something about the AX. This was a weird thing in many respects. It was Yashica's first attempt at an auto-exposure SLR. It had the same lights system, where lights-out was the indicator that exposure was within the cameras capability. As the shutter speed was set automatically (when set on Auto) the user had little idea what speed they were shooting at ... other than above 1/30th, at which point the under-exposure warning illuminated. However there was a green light on the top plate that flashed for the duration that the shutter was open ... something of a naff indicator of speed, which you obviously had to be looking at - at the moment of exposure - in order to see. The meter didn't work at all when the camera was not set to auto. Most cameras (without open aperture metering) require the user to stop-down to take a reading, but this had a button that opened the aperture to focus. The AX seems to be quite rare. It's easy to understand why.