First off, I never thought I would find much of any desire to shoot with a plastic camera. A few years ago I brushed the Lomography movement off as a trend and criticized it as dumbing down photography. I have no problems admitting that I was being short sighted in this way of thinking. In this day of iPhone applications pretending to look as though they were taken with various film cameras it’s clear what kind of influence this style of photography has been left on the world of casual photography. In the same way the DSLR left traditional SLR cameras to question their purpose in life, gimmicky iPhone applications have left countless Holgas and LC-A’s wondering what to do with themselves.
While it’s easy to think that the digital revolution in photography has left film cameras obsolete I feel as though, in many ways, quite the opposite effect is happening. A mass of new photographers have entered the field because of these digital tools yet as time goes on I see more and more of these new photographers wanting to experience the joys of shooting with film. It only makes sense really because as much as we try to emulate the grain, saturation, and detail of a great film exposure nothing quite comes close to the real thing. While digital photography certainly has its place in the world, film photography still has a growing amount of affection lavished upon it and I for one am excited to see this happening. Not only has this left more people trying cameras like the Holga, but has also pushed the popularity of vintage SLR’s and rangefinders up as demand has been growing for these amazing old cameras. It’s not just fun it’s rewarding. I will leave that discussion for another day.
In light of this I realized why not embrace the fun being had among photographers shooting with “toy” cameras? You know the type, plastic bodies, plastic lenses, cleap construction occasionally leaving you with now iconic look of light leaks across your film. It’s a strange thing putting a roll of film into such a cheap shell of a camera but the results can be surprisingly rewarding. So hopefully without rambling too much I thought it would be good to talk about the way the Holga functions and my expereinces in shooting with the camera so far, for those of you who have not had the opportunity to shoot with one. While some of this may be obvious or already known to many of my readers I feel I should cover everything from the lens to developing the film.
While some of these toy cameras are built to higher standards than those like the Holga and sometimes include features like basic automatic exposure control, the Holga is about as basic as you can get. There is a simple spring loaded mechanical shutter release only capable of one speed of shooting which is believed to be around 1/100th of a second but this time varies slightly from camera to camera. It is simply a bent piece of metal wire that flips the shutter after all. The aperture size is a debated subject and while most believe the two settings, sunny or cloudy, to be f/11 and f/8 there are some users that have dicected the camera and meticulously measured and tested the few simple mechanics of it to find that there is only one aperture in use believed to be somewhere around f/13. Whatever you believe its only a stop or two of a differnce here and unless your shooting slide film, this should not present too much of a hindrance to your shooting.
The simple fact of the matter is that you need to experement with your Holga to get a feel for it. As simple of a camera as it is you still need to be aware of the conditions you are shooting in. Due to the basic options available on the camera the conditions you can shoot in and get well exposed negatives depends entirely on what the ISO of the film you load into the camera is. Shooting around 100 you will be set for bright sunny days, 400 and you can get away with shooting just out of direct sunlight, 800 and up and you can slip into the shadows more and more. Getting good results involves a good amount of experimenting and taking chances. In my experiences so far with the Holga your best bet is to use it as a sunny day camera. to get the iconic sauration, contrast and vignetting, you are better off shooting with a sower color film or even 400 in many cases will work and take the camera out with you on sunny afternoons and have fun with it.
So then there is the focusing, the trickiest part of shooting with the Holga. This is not a rangefinder, you have no visual cue to see if your shot will be in focus. All you can do is set the lens at the correct distance from your subject and hope for the best. If you are a good judge of distance then by all means, use the focus but if you are like me and don’t have a great sense of how far something is away from you then leave the focus set at infinity. You will end up with most of your images with a nice sharp center. When deciding on your composition there really is no question here. Always put your subject un the middle. Should you put it in the corner or to the side you will have a strange looking, distorted subject. The basic nature of the lens leaves only the center in true focus. An alternative to always at shooting infinity focus you could measure the length of your arm, leg, and average walking stride then use this knowledge to best guess your distance from the subject. Also something to take note of is not all lenses on Holgas are created equal. While most of them that you see being used are made with a plastic lens, there is the option of getting a glass lens version of the camera which can yield sharper images. You can tell which ones have the glass lens in the name of the Holga. The one pictured above of the one I am using is a glass version and is indicated by the letter ‘G’.
One more thing I wanted to mention here while on the subject of shooting with a Holga, film choice. This is laregely going to depend on your personal taste and desire in shooting with film. Not all color films are created equal. A couple of basic ideas for anyone trying a Holga out for the first time. If you would like a nice negative film that still holds a nice amount of saturation try Kodak Ektar. This will allow you to have the forgiving nature of negative film on your side as well. If you are looking for a more natural look to your photos try fuji Pro160S or 400H. These films are a couple of my personal favorites because of their neutral preservation of color. If you want to shoot with slide film to get saturated colors and rich, dark blacks try Fuji Provia but keep in mind that slide film is not so forgiving and you should have a pretty solid idea of how your Holga handles certain light so you can be sure to get as close to an accurate exposure as you can manage. Even with a lot of films leaving the market there are still a lot of wonderful variations to experement with to find just the right look for you. Another Holga shooters favorite is cross processing slide film in negative film chemicals. Not all labs do this, however, so ask ahead if your goal is to try X-Pro on for size.
On developing film. The Holga uses a medium format 120 film which can be tricky for those of you not living in larger cities where you are more likely to find a local photo lab to develop it but its not impossible, it will just cost you more to use because you will be mailing off your undeveloped negatives. There are a lot of shops that deveop film sent through the mail and a quick google search will give you plenty of options. It’s unfortunate that the initial decline in film usage killed off many labs that once developed 120 but seeing as a Holga is only around $30USD it still may be worth your time to have a little fun with film and shoot through a couple rolls with it when you have the time and a few dollars to spare. Alternativly, there is a 35mm flim adaptor available for Holgas that let you shoot 35mm film through the camera which can still be developed almost everywhere.
That is about all there is to know about the basics of shooting with the Holga. It’s easy to think that there is no skill at all involved in using a toy camera but the fact is that you need to be aware that not anything you shoot with the camera will automatically turn into something amazing. As with any camera it has strengths and weaknesses and by catering to it’s strengths as a camera I think anyone can have fun shooting with one of these. For further digging I suggest you have a look through www.squarefrog.co.uk which offers a lot more thoughts and details on shooting with these fun, unpredictable cameras.
So if you were ever interested in shooting with a Holga I encourage anyone with even a slight interest and access to a lab that develops 120 film to jump in and give it a try. I for one have had a lot of fun exploring them after so many years of dismissing them as a novelty and I very much look forward to continuing to explore what I can do with this camera. This will not be the only post of this nature here on 50ft. You can expect a number of closer looks into the film cameras I use in the future.
ALSO! I plan on giving away a Holga sometime in the nearish future so keep an eye out here on Fiftyfootshadows.net for the chance to get one of these great simple cameras free. I just need to get the details together and decide how I will go about it ;)
As a bonus to the write up here I have included a number of shots from my first two rolls with the Holga to give you an idea of the kind of results I have been getting with the camera so far. Also! The image above of the Holga I have made available as a desktop and you can find the link at the bottom of the post. Simply follow the Read more link to find them.
(The top image of the Holga is available as a desktop, links can be found below)