What The Holga Is The Fuss About (Part 2)
Further thoughts on my “discovery” of the Holga.
Format : So it’s plastic, with a plastic lens, and the back is held on by tape, and it shoots film. Not just any film, mind you. My Holga also shoots 120 roll film – not even the easiest film format to get your hands on – although there’s also a 35mm Holga. I could even (as I mentioned in Part 1) adapt my 120 Holga to shoot 35mm with a few more “mods”.
I have the option of 6x6cm or 6×4.5cm formats, simply by selecting one of the two easily-fitted inserts. I’m choosing the lovely square 6x6cm format, but I’ve removed the insert altogether which maximises the vignette effect that these cameras are known for whilst also providing a nice (some think) “bled” border to the negative. As with most 120 cameras, 6×6 gives 12 exposures and 6×4.5 gives 15 exposures. I’ve chosen to shoot on 6×6 square format even though this presents additional problems working out what will be included in the frame compared with what I can see through the viewfinder.
Operation : Well. It won’t take long to explain this at least – Shutter speed is about 1/100 second. End of. Aperture is either f8(ish) or f11(ish) and that’s the exposure control explained. There are a few focus options on the lens, but as you view through a separate viewfinder, there’s no way of knowing whether you’re in focus or not. The pictorial guide on the focussing ring is exactly that, a guide. Minimum focussing distance is said to be about 3-4 feet although the quirks of the plastic lens mean that nothing seems to ever be truly either in focus or out of focus.
Creative Liberation? : I’ve read (including in “Plastic Cameras”) that photographers find using the Holga a liberating experience because of the simple lack of options compared with your regular digital camera with its bewildering range of menu possibilities – just point and shoot.
That’s not necessarily my own experience though. I know my Nikon DSLR well enough to be able to take acceptable pictures in almost any lighting situation without too much stress or pre-planning. That isn’t the situation with the Holga – I have to pre-plan every shot I take. I know enough about photography to know that given the limited setting options provided by the Holga, there is a minimal range of lighting situations in which the camera will produce what would normally be thought of as acceptable results. With the cost of film + trade developing (excluding any scanning) amounting to close on £10 a film, I’m loathe to shoot away without the expectation of at least a reasonable yield of printable images for my trouble.
Consequently, I choose the film I use to be the most versatile in our miserable climate, usually 400 ISO. Apart from that I simply don’t even take a shot if I guess that the light isn’t right.
But this is, I think, the real value in my experiments with the Holga: I have had to approach taking photographs in a different, more thoughtful and deliberate way, just as I did when I exclusively used medium format film cameras. I’m flexing my “visualisation muscle” again and I’d say that’s no bad thing.
http://www.silverprint.co.uk/ – retailers of Holgas