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What’s a Holga?

Photography of my Holga camera

This is my Holga, a little battered but still going strong

What’s a Holga? And why do I use one?

A Holga is a cheap plastic camera with bad optics. The camera uses medium-format film and has a few settings that offer the illusion of control but don’t do much of anything. A  plastic lens means that most pictures go a little blurry, and sometimes light can leak onto the film with unpredictable results. And did I mention vignetting, those shadowy areas at the edge of the image?

And despite these imperfections, I was hooked from the first roll. The plastic lens creates a soft effect, which can be dreamy or ghostlike, depending on your perspective. The medium format negatives capture a lot of information, which means I can make big prints without any loss of clarity, and all-but-useless settings shift creative control from the camera to the photographer. (No F-stops here; my choices are cloudy or sunny.)  With only 12 exposures on a roll of film, economy becomes a necessity. And there’s a certain element of chance when shooting with a Holga, especially when light conditions are less than optimal, which means that luck plays a role along with skill and experience.

By far my favorite feature of the Holga is the ease of creating double exposures. Because the camera has no protection against accidental double exposures, I can use shoot multiple images on a single frame of film to convey motion or add depth to an otherwise flat scene.

In many ways, the Holga and its sister toy cameras like the Diana are the antithesis of digital cameras. The photos that these low-tech cameras create are unpredictable and unmistakable. And, ironically, some digital camera owners go to great lengths to create that Holga look, either with equipment like Lenbabies or with post-production filters and techniques. And applications like Instagram have brought the low-fidelity look to iPhone shots. But as long as they make film, I’ll be using the real thing.  There’s no substitute.

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  1. A photographic journey | Red Nickel - April 27, 2013

    […] An early assignment was to pick up a thread from an abandoned piece of work.  So I found my old Holga camera, which I had set aside 10 years earlier because of some bad karma better not discussed here, and […]

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