Photography studio, gallery and training complex

What The Holga Is The Fuss About? (Part 1)

Recommended reading

After listening to several of Christophe Dillinger’s talks about the wonderful world of plastic cameras I eventually decided to invest a few of my birthday vouchers and buy a Chinese-made Holga camera.

It arrived in a nice box, with a very informative, refreshingly warts-and-all instruction book and I eagerly unwrapped it and held this unprepossessing plastic box in my trembling fingers. I already knew, having handled a few of these cameras, not to expect anything especially impressive – and in that sense I wasn’t disappointed – it certainly couldn’t be described as impressive.

The first thing that strikes you is the weight – or lack of it. This is a very light camera. In fact it pretty much doubles in weight when you load a film! But then it would be: the few bits that aren’t made of plastic are made of the flimsiest metal (such as the clips that hold the camera back in place). Build quality isn’t, as enthusiasts and manufacturers alike would acknowledge, exactly first class.

But then these cameras, and other similar plastic-lensed cameras, were first marketed as toys, only being picked up by “serious” photographers on a small scale at first before becoming the cult objects they have latterly become. I suspect though that my Holga would last about two minutes in the hands of most kids.

Mods: The manual that came with the camera, as well as the excellent book I spent the remainder of my Amazon vouchers on – “Plastic Cameras” by Michelle Bates – recommended certain modifications (or “mods” to the initiated) before putting a roll of film (did I mention that as well as having a plastic lens, the Holga shoots film?) through it. This included putting two strips of black electrical tape across the camera’s inner moulding to ease the film’s transport without scratching the film emulsion. I was also advised to put three pieces of gaffer tape on the back of the camera: two to hold the camera’s back on – yes, ON – the flimsy clips have a tendency to slip/spring off thereby revealing your film to the elements (and light) mid-shoot.

The third piece of gaffer tape goes over the small frame counter window, which is notorious for letting in light, so fogging the film. This means that during use, the tape has to be lifted (in subdued light) to check frame numbers or to advance the film to the next frame.

A 120 to 35mm adaptation.

Frame counter taped up

Some users surpass even these measures and insert all manner of sponge, elastic and tape to their Holgas. Many of the mods are to prevent stray light from flooding in to the sieve-like body but its also possible to adapt your 120 camera to shoot 35mm (but why bother? – they make a 35mm version!). 

Perhaps the most useful mod of all?...

More in part two… – retailers of Holgas and


2 responses

  1. A Holga is not a camera, it’s a way of life… 🙂 Talking about mod, here’s one that allows you to do macro photography for cheap.

    May 29, 2011 at 9:29 am

    • Always welcome input from the master! Thanks, Christophe.

      May 29, 2011 at 6:11 pm

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