In praise of the humble Holga

Holga 120FN

There are two extreme factions out there: one obsessed with megapixels and dynamic range and super duper sharp gimongous lenses, one that answers to all that with a loud “meh” and does’t give a damn.

Broadly speaking, exponents of the first faction will be shooting, depending on their level of income, gigapixel panoramas and the last and greatest in terms of digital cameras equipped with humongous lenses for thousands of dollars of value; the others will be shooting a 15$ plastic fantastic toy camera with some film in it: yes, I’m talking about the mighty (and recently resurrected!) Holga.

Holga picture one

The most “tech savvy” among Holga fans will have sanded the interior with fine sand paper to avoid scratching the negatives, other will dispense even with that and will just throw away the film mask or accept the scratches as part of the process.

From a technical standpoint, there is essentially nothing to see: it is just a crudely made plastic box for protecting your film from daylight with a plastic (or in some models glass) lens you zone focus, all of two not so well specified apertures (more likely f/8 and f/11) and two shutter speeds (B and around 1/100s).

Holga picture 2

But from a creative standpoint IMHO it is one of the most rewarding, fun to shoot cameras I’ve ever used. Yes, frustrating as well, because more often than not you are not going to get what you wanted, but at the same time – again, more often than not – there will be plenty of occasions when you are going to be pleasantly surprised.

An Holga or one of its numerous clones/siblings is one of those instances where “gear does matter”, because you cannot replicate these kind of results with any other camera (no, not even with the ubiquitous Holga lenses for your DSLR or mirrorless). This because of the complex interactions among the crappy lens, optical and mechanical vignetting, the lack of flatness of the film plane, unpredictable light leaks and so on.

holga picture 3

But it is so cheap that you better try one, you can always sell it back for what you paid for or donate it to someone who might appreciate it.

Just don’t begin with any preconceived notion about how your image should look like, and instead try to “go with the flow”, and you’ll be rewarded with a lot of fun.

Holga picture 4

Once you became accustomed at embracing unpredictability, quite counterintuitively you will begin to be able to take control once again. For example,  this last image that illustrates this article has been shot on a defective batch of Shanghai GP3 black and white film, where the paper backing graphics tend to leave impressions on the emulsion itself. The first time it happened it caught me by suprise, now I can control it well enough to employ this characteristic on purpose. Stay creative! 😉