Photography studio, gallery and training complex

What The Holga Is The Fuss About (Part 2)

Further thoughts on my “discovery” of the Holga.

One of my very first Holga shots.

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. – retailers of Holgas and


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