Bring up the Holga in a photography discussion, and you may be met with skepticism. Why? Holga is known as a toy camera with simple controls. It offers two aperture settings - clear and sunny, or overcast and foggy.
The shutter speed is set at 1/100th of a second. It has a B or bulb mode. Despite being primarily plastic, it's remarkably well-crafted. The camera's finish is top-notch, manufactured in China, and distributed by Freestyle Photo and Imaging, a respected film photography provider based in Los Angeles. Two 35mm models are available - the 135BC, with 'BC' denoting 'bent corners,' accompanied by an external flash, and another variant without the flash. The camera includes an internal mask that creates a nostalgic vignette effect with dark corners, imitating a vintage look. I made my first modification by meticulously carving away the mask with an exacto knife, seeking to capture as much light as possible on the film.
The Holga's construction is commendable. Elements like the shutter mechanism, tripod socket, film back lock, and the remote cable release thread-in on the shutter button are made of metal. The instruction manual is a delight, carefully crafted to provide a thorough background on Holgas, including details about the 120 medium format model. This variant comes with an in-built flash, and there's also a version without it.
The 135BC also features a hot shoe to fit a Holga flash or an alternative. One of the 120 models includes a built-in flash with a color wheel for effects in red, yellow, white, and blue. The external flash for the 135BC offers small color masks you can slide in. The flash on the 120 model recharges rapidly, powered by 2 x AA batteries housed in front of the film, so it's crucial to verify battery life before film loading.
Regarding the results from the Holga, they're charming and artistic. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. Just load the film, adjust the focus scale indicated by icons for a solo portrait (1m/3'), family portrait (2m/6'), group photo (6m/18'), or a mountain/landscape (10m/30' to ~). The focus can also be adjusted in between.
HOW TO EXPERIMENT WITH A HOLGA - 9 TIPS ON GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR HOLGA
- If you dislike the vignette effect, remove the mask. Open the film back and inspect the lens. Proceed cautiously with a sharp razor or exacto knife to slice the mask.
- Make use of the flash even in bright daylight. Given the fixed shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, employing the flash ensures a sharp image. Experiment with color filters on the flash.
- Engage the camera in Bulb mode and utilize a flash.
- Slightly tilt the camera forward when taking a shot. Due to the lens's imperfections (it's a glass lens, despite the manual indicating plastic), this can introduce a blur that adds an artistic touch to your images. Try a similar shot by tilting the camera backwards for a unique effect.
- Multiple exposures on the same frame are possible. Keep shooting without advancing the film. Take one shot without a flash, then another with one. Try different poses...
- Don't confine your creativity to color films. I use the affordable Arista.edu, a Freestyle brand, which is identical to Fomapan, 90% of the time.
- Secure a cable release and set the Holga in B or bulb mode. This allows you to keep the shutter open as long as the cable release is held down. Experiment with light painting, skyward shots, trailing car lights...
- If you're not a fan of light leaks, use photographic tape on the camera back where it opens. Holgas are designed to allow light into the film chamber, producing unpredictable, exciting effects. If you prefer not to have these light leaks, tape all around the back of the camera where the film back opens. Once you're done shooting, remove the tape. Alternatively, foam can be aligned in the crevice where the film back closes the film chamber, eliminating the need for repeated taping.
- Experiment with the included 6x4.5cm mask included with the 120 model, it will give you 16 images instead of 12 6x6 images.
My first roll on a Holga 135BC in May of 2023 was a Kodak Gold 200. I typically have my rolls developed and scanned at a lab for consistent results. They use a Noritsu scanner, which outperforms home scanning done by an Epson V600.