Sick of tiny, pixelated photos from cellphone lenses? Longing for a return to the age of film?
Despite the birth of high-resolution point-and-shoots for everyone, the lowly Holga camera continues to draw legions of fanatics with its quirky, often rather poor quality images. It’s the perfect antidote to a digital world were even your grandmother is posting her iPhone photos on Twitter.
About the Holga
The Holga was born in Hong Kong in 1982 and bucks almost every camera design trend of the day. Holga eschewed metal, opting for a plastic design that’s decidedly low-budget and low-quality. At the time, the 120mm medium format film was the most widely used film in Asia, so naturally the Holga adopted it — the idea being to offer a cheap, entry-level way for students and hobbyists to dip their toes in the world of medium format photography. Sort of a low-rent answer to the Lomo.
The resulting pictures shot with the camera — dubbed the “Holga,” an Anglicization of the Chinese phrase ho gwong, meaning “very bright” — were spectacularly bad. The camera’s mis-matched parts let light leak into the case, and the film often fails to nestle properly into place.
The Holga is susceptible to vignetting, lens blurs, light leaks, and other distortions. And of course, in the years since its inception, these flaws are precisely what have endeared it to so many.
The Holga’s shortcomings add a surreal, almost impressionist quality to images which make it the perfect antidote to the often sterile look of digital images.
Finding a Holga
It used to be that the Holga was difficult to find outside of Asia, but of course the internet solved that issue. These days you’ll find Holgas for sale everywhere from Urban Outfitters to eBay, even The White Stripes sell them!
The one thing to keep in mind is that there are quite a few different Holga models, all of which are flawed in their own unique way. The basic differences between the models come down to lens and accessories. The original Holga has a plastic lens, but the company later introduced several models with glass lens and added a few accessories like flashes, tripod mounts and more. There’s even a pinhole model — the Holga 120WPC.
Eventually, lulled by the popularity of 35mm film, the company behind the Holga created the series of 35mm cameras that more or less correspond to all the 120mm releases, but use the cheaper, more widely available film.
As for which you should buy, that’s entirely up to you, though we’re partial to the original 120mm bodies.
Prices vary radically around the web and at your local camera dealer. The best way to find a good deal is check out the price lists on some of the many Holga enthusiast sites around the web. The Lomography sitemakes an excellent starting point.
Hacking your Holga
If you decided to invest in a Holga, think like the government — why spend the money on just one, when you could spend twice as much on two? That way you have spare for experimenting.
Got extra tips for hacking a Holga? Know a technique that isn’t listed here? Contribute to this article by adding your own advice!
There are dozens of ways to modify you Holga for specific effects, here’s a few of our favorites:
- Convert a Holga to use 35mm film — Out of the box, most Holgas shoot medium format film, which is part of the charm. But with film costs on the rise and few manufacturers still making film, this is a popular way to make the Holga a little more cost-effective. The video below shows how to mount 35mm film in your Holga using tape and sponges.
- Seal the light leaks — While light leaks are precisely what create much of the Holga’s charmingly flawed images, sometime too much light leaks in. The most common solution is seal the camera once your film is loaded. Just run electrical tape, gaffers tape or even the nice black photographers masking tape along the seams at the top, bottom and sides of the Holga’s back.
- Flock it — If you want to let a little bit of light in to achieve some of those quirky, Holgariffic effects, but you want a little more control, consider flocking the camera. This involves taking it apart and coating the interior surfaces with ultra-flat black spray paint. Just be sure to cover up the moving parts and vital orifices with masking tape first.
- Convert it to a PinHolga — Remove your Holga’s lens and turn it into a pinhole camera.
- Saw the lens off and mount it on your digital camera — This is one of the more radical hacks, but frankly, who hasn’t wanted to take a saw to a camera at least once? Well, here’s your chance. Fortunately the process isn’t nearly as complicated as you’d think. Remember, the Holga is plastic, so complex things like soldering aren’t going to come up. The now defunct JPG Magazine has a great tutorial by Charles McNally, that walks you through the process of sawing your Holga apart to mount the lens on a Canon digital body (though the instructions are open ended, so you can mount the results on nearly any digital SLR).
- Mount a different lens on your Holga — the opposite of the last suggestion, hacking the Holga to mount a different lens on the plastic body is a popular mod. In fact, if you aren’t feeling the DIY vibe, there are plenty of third-party sources that willmodify your Holga for you (though this can cost more than the camera itself).
Love the Holga’s quirky images, but don’t feel like lugging another camera around? Don’t worry, there are plenty of similuate the Holga’s effects. Holga purists might shun you at cocktail parties, but we won’t tell anyone you’re doing it all in Photoshop. Be sure to check out our tutorial on faking the “Lomo effect” using software.
- Holga Mods (a commercial website with a cool gallery)
- Holga mods By Mark Hahn (non-commercial website)
- Holga B&W Flickr group