toy camera store

the holga

The Chinese-made plastic Holga is a medium format camera that takes 120 roll film, and is well known for its subtly distorted pictures. Thanks to cheap manufacturing, each Holga is unique, with different degrees of vignetting, blur and light leaks. My Holga doesn't have any light leaks at all, but it does have plenty of dark fuzziness in the corners of the photos.

The Holga takes twelve 6cm square pictures on a roll of 120 film in its standard configuration. Most Holgas also come with an alternate frame that clips inside the camera to convert it to shoot 6x4.5 negatives. The red window on the back also has a slider that allows you to display the numbers on the film for 6x4.5 shooting, giving 16 frames per roll of 120.

Apart from its dream-like distortion of the picture, the other great thing about the Holga is how lightweight it is. You don't need to think twice about throwing it into your bag as you step out the door. It's also very simple to use - shutter speed and aperture are fixed, and focusing is more or less guesswork, so mostly you just point and click.

Since the Holga is also cheap, it's often said to be a great introduction to medium format photography. I'd agree, but I'd say that if you don't plan to do your own developing and printing, you may miss out on a lot of the fun. Developing and printing yourself allows you to intensify the vignetting, or enlarge the picture to show off the blurry edges, or choose not to print the many failures you get due to the Holga not being much good in low light. And it gives you the satisfaction of feeling like you not just 'took', but 'made' a photo.

If you don't plan to develop yourself, and you think you might get fed up with the blurry look and want more control over exposure, you might find the Lubitel 166B a better choice. But hey, they're both cheap, so why not just get a Holga and a Lubitel?

Holgas have a shutter speed somewhere around 1/125 of a second, and the aperture seems to be around f8. I always use 400ASA film, but even then pictures will be underexposed on very cloudy dark days, in the evening or indoors. This can still give some nice dark and moody photos, but sometimes the negatives can be so thin it gets hard to print. I recommend Kodak Tri-X film for black and white shooting, because it appears to handle the extremes of under and over exposure better than other 400ASA films.

The Holga has a hot shoe for mounting a flash unit. Beware, however, that the hot shoe will trigger the flash twice, once when the shutter release is on the way down, and again as your let go of the shutter. On the second firing, the shutter is already closed, so it won't affect your picture, but it will upset some studio lighting power packs by trying to fire them before they've had time to recharge. There's also a version of the Holga available with a built-in flash, although you sacrifice the hot shoe in this case.

My Holga is actually the 'polgaroid' model, ie a regular Holga sold with a specially designed Polaroid back. I have an early version in which the square of the picture is smaller than the available area of the Polaroid film. Later versions with the round edged back use the full area of the Polaroid. The back takes any of the 80 series Polaroid films. The Polaroid kit also includes a corrective lens that clips on the front of the lens barrel to compensate for the fact that the Polaroid film plane is a different distance from the lens than when using regular 120 film.


Photos I took with the Holga include Woman, River Earth, and Angkor 2. I'm sure you can spot the others.

Here are some links for further Holga fun:

Holga Cameras and Experimental Photography