Originally Chinese in origin, the Holga is a cheap Lofi plastic film camera with a plastic lens with a focal length of 60mm that uses 120mm film, mostly, there are 35mm camera options too. They were originally used in giveaways until they became popular for photography students and fans. To focus, rotate the barrel of the lens to the icon displayed that best corresponds to the shooting situation. The icons are one person (3 feet/1m focusing distance), two people (6 feet/2m focusing distance), a group of people (3 feet/1m focusing distance), and a mountain. The One person is the closest focus distance (18 feet/6m focusing distance) leading up to the mountain(30 feet/10m to infinity focusing distance).
This camera is 100% manual, so you need to advance the film yourself. This, however, leads to creative options, as you can take multiple exposures, or panoramic photos or single shots, or you can overlap images. It is stupidly easy to forget to wind the film on, which can lead to happy accidents. You can buy Holga’s with a flash, or you can use an external flash as the cameras have a hotshoe fitting. The Shutter Speed is about 1/100 of a second, this can change depending on wear and tear on the spring inside the camera. You can use Bulb ‘B’ mode if you hold down the Shutter Release for an extended period of time. This opens up more creative options for you as well as night shooting. The Holga has two apertures, F11 by using the sunny day option or F8 if you use the cloudy day option. However, it is debatable if there is any real difference between the two apertures. You can shot colour or black and white film in Holga cameras. There are a large number of variations of the Holga camera, including pinhole, panorama, stereo, and TLR versions.
Due to the cheap nature of the Holga, it has features that give it a certain look. These include the light leaks from joints that are not light sealed, if you don’t like the light leaks you can use gaffer tape to cover the joints, in an effort to reduce light leaks. Holgas also frequently have a vignette on the images. Another feature is that the images are not sharp, this is due to imperfections in the plastic meniscus lens. The images will be low contrast and you may lose detail in the shadows. However, if you are using black and white film, you can expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights for an improved image. This is something I constantly forget to do. Bold me. Colour film can also find over exposure helpful.
When choosing a film to use in the camera, keep the shooting conditions in mind, with film you have to shoot an entire roll at one ISO, but, with 120mm that is only 12 or 16 images, depending on how you set up the camera, unlike with 35mm where you have to shoot either 24 or 36 images before you can change the ISO. For sunny days use 100, 160, 200 or 400 ISO films. In Ireland 400 ISO is a good place to start. On darker days 800 ISO is a good option, and sunset or indoors can mean 1600 or 3200 ISO. If you use C-41 film you can have it developed in your local Fuji Centre, or Harvey Normans.
You may wonder why in a digital world would anyone want to use a manual, cheap film camera, rather than a DSLR that helps you get as good an image as possible? For me, the reason is simple, the lack of options of the Holga and the challenges it presents are a great opportunity to learn and improve my photography skills. I think if you can get a decent photo out of a Holga, you have a grasp of photography basics. Using a Holga makes you see things differently and it slows you down, so you have to think more.
“Mechanically the Holga is simplicity itself. The nature of the Holga places emphasis on seeing, thinking, and interacting with the environment at hand.”
Joe Ostraff, Professor, BYU