Camera Review

Camera Review: Holga 120S

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One of the fun things about photography is that you have such a wide assortment of cameras to choose from. I have tried a bunch, from instant to glass plate and everything in between. Most cameras, however, are technical boxes of wizardry that require you to execute a series of dials and levers to get the exposure completed correctly. (At least that is how they are perceived).

Not so much for the fun little Holga! I’ve had this medium format point and shoot for a couple of decades, and I enjoy taking it out to make photographs whenever I can. It is one of the original 120S models, made before the Holga lineup expanded into the family of Holga cameras with built in flash, glass lenses, wide angle, TLR style, 35mm etc. Yep the basic, unmodded OG Holga.

The camera has had many articles written on it, and it lives up to it’s reputation as a no nonsense quirky fantastic plastic camera.

It is a black plastic body with a plastic lens, single shutter speed, zone focusing hunk of cam-tastic creativity. Oh, and it has a hot shoe on top. I’ve used it with a Nikon flash that cost 10 times more than the camera. Schazaam!

The camera leaks light, so it must be held together with gaffers tape or rubber bands (or both). The inside seams also leak light, so they are taped up with electric tape. Same goes for the film transport, protected by (you guessed it) tape when using it in 6 x 6 cm ( 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch) format without the mask to prevent the film from scratching. Oh and you need to stuff bits of cardboard under the film spools to put enough tension on the spools to pull the film tightly across the camera back.

In reality the film never really lies flat, so there is a mystical somewhat in and out of focus quality on the negative. Despite the tape and the rubber bands, the camera still leaks light, and these mysterious light leaks add character to the final image.

The lens is plastic and heavily vignettes the subject. With the lens in the center of the camera, and the viewfinder up and to the left, composition can be tricky to compensate for the mismatch. Compose, move camera up and to the left, and then squeeze the trigger. No problem. It is a guess-finder anyways, giving you a general idea of what will be in the frame.

For controls, there are four icons on the top of the lens to help with focus. The popular mountain, group of people, small group of people and person icons let you guess about where you should be focusing the camera. There are two basically indifferent apertures (sun and clouds) and a single shutter speed.

But come on, this camera is all about adventure and letting go. Don’t worry so much about being technically perfect, because my goodness the camera surely isn’t. Load it up with some 400 ISO film, tape it up and make some pictures! When the technical aspects are taken away, and you have the time to be fully creative and much less concerned about the camera, it is amazing how freeing and creative your images can be.

It is super light weight, and fits comfortably in a bag of any kind. A bit too big for a pocket, unless it is a big pocket.

Add up all these quirky qualities, and you gain an amazing creative photographic tool that is both freeing from a technical standpoint and engaging creatively. Plus, it is a whole lot of fun to shoot!

Helpful shooting tips when shooting with a Holga:

  • Bring along extra rubber bands. One will always break, and it is what holds the precious camera together when shooting.
  • Don’t forget to take off the lens cap. The viewfinder does not look through the camera like an SLR. You need to remove it before each frame or just leave it home all together.
  • Have a small black lightproof bag handy if you plan on shooting more than one roll. The film can be loosely rolled on the spool, and the bag will keep finished rolls light tight until you can get them developed.
  • The tab ends of a box of 120 film are perfect to fold over and stuff under the film spools to keep them tight.
  • Put a piece of black electrical tape over the film counter window on the back. Remove it between shots so you can see what frame you are on. Stick it back down in place the rest of the time to keep light from leaking in the camera.
  • Don’t forget to wind your film after each exposure. The shutter will fire any time you press it. Unless you want double exposures, get in the habit of winding after each shot.

1 reply »

  1. May biggest problem with my Holga is being abele to see the film when I move to the next frame. The space is small and the frame number almost impossible to see. In the process I often miss it or expose the frame to too much light.


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