This is the very first toy camera I bought. As I’ve mentioned before my lo-fi love affair started as a revolt against the big, fat DSLR I couldn’t afford. Long story short: It was either $660+ for a camera body and generic lens for a crazy Canon Rebel or $24 for Holga, a medium format camera made completely out of plastic. My husband didn’t even see a choice here. He was all for the Holga.
Made in China to satisfy the exploding growth in home photography in early 1980’s Japan and Hong Kong, it’s name means “very bright” and it became very popular in Asia. As word of it’s bare-bones mechanics and inexpensive nature travelled around the globe, teachers and students of photography picked the camera up and began using it as an extremely effective tool to master the basics of photography. It wasn’t long before the Holga became a cult favorite, finding it’s way into the hands of artists who fell in love with it’s unpredictable results. Each Holga is unique and acts accordingly so it’s really no surprise that people tend to humanize the camera and speak of it as though it is an old friend. Some days you may go out and get beautiful results, great focusing and crisp colors. Other times you get crazy light leaks, fuzzy subject matter and a muted palate. This is a phenomenon related to the loose construction of the Holga. An example: There are two metal clips that are supposed to secure the back to the body but unless you want it to fly off and expose your film, you’re better off securing it with two rubber bands or some velcro.
The Holga is endlessly modifiable and can be dismantled in a matter of minutes with a jeweller’s screwdriver and a little muscle. The modifications , or mods as they’re called, that some extremely creative folks have done to their cameras are amazing! Google it, you’ll be blown away. So far the only mod I’ve attempted is to make the focal length a little shorter but that didn’t work so well for me (check out my Macro Holga blog from yesterday).
The specs are pretty simple. It has manual zone focus with three settings represented in pictures on the ‘focus ring’ by mountains, a group of people and a single person. Because the image isn’t reflected into the viewfinder like most modern cameras, you can’t tell if the shot is in focus. It’s up to you to estimate how far you should be from the subject to get the best shot. From experience I can tell you that you really can’t get much closer than 3 feet to something before it starts getting really fuzzy. It’s 60mm plastic meniscus lens offers a unique view of the world and yields all kinds of odd effects such as vignetting, light leaks, blur and a generally distorted view of the world. There are two light settings, cloudy and sunny but there’s really no difference between the two settings so forget this switch even exists. You can control the shutter speeed: It’s either 1/125 or bulb setting, no in-between. It’s a really good idea to get a cable shutter release for the camera as the shutter is controlled by a lever you depress to the right side of the lens. This can lead to lots of extra movement that could wreck your picture. A hotshoe can be found atop the Holga so you could theoretically use an external flash although one model, the Holga 120SF, comes with a flash built-in (there are other models that come with a flash but they are of the glass-lens variety). Without the flash the Holga is really only good for taking picutres in bright light, however with a light meter, tripod and a little ingenuity you should be able to adapt to any light situation.
A wide array of accessories are available for the Holga including a strobe flash, filter set, Polaroid back and fish eye lens. The Holga takes 120 film and comes with a mask that lets you get 16 pictures per roll instead of the standard 12. You can also rig your Holga to take 35mm film (I did this by using some cardboard to take up the extra room on either side of the film cartridge).
The Holga was invented for the average person to use and was built inexpensively and simply. The fact that it is so simple makes it an expert teaching tool and starter camera for those wanting to enter the world of medium format photography. For $24 you really can’t go wrong!