First impressions of little Holga

Posted on July 22, 2011


Having spent a small fortune on acquiring fast aperture, L glass for my Canon cameras it was a bit of a surprise to me when I impulsively bought a crappy little plastic lens with a tiny f8 hole. Maybe it’s a mid life crisis, (what another one? – surely not) or just a desperate attempt to be ‘down with the kids’ and be liked, but anyway I sent off my 20 quid and the tacky little thing arrived through the post in a package was so light the postage was less than £2.

The Holga camera is a medium format toy camera from China, designed by a Mr. Lee (who else) in 1981. At the time, 120 rollfilm in black-and-white was the most widely available film in mainland China, and the Holga was intended to provide an inexpensive mass-market camera for working-class Chinese in order to record family portraits and events. It was mostly plastic, even the lens, and is the antithesis of the high precision modern cameras that were around even in those days, prone to light leaks and massive vignetting the pictures that came out of the Holga were and still are, bizarrely surreal. This impressionistic feel attracted some photographers to work with it, and they were forced to ‘fly by the seat of their pants’, given the lack of control, to create images, that were often of a inspired and original nature.

In 2001 a Holga photograph, by David Burnett, of former USA vice-president Al Gore during a campaign appearance earned a top prize in a White House News Photographers’ Association Eyes of History award ceremony, and Holga genie was briefly out of the bottle. However the ease and growtrh of digital cameras and the growing scarcity of 120 film assured the Holga it’s underground cult status until some bright spark recently adapted the lens to fit on to modern digital cameras. Who could resist a lens from a camera named after a big breasted german waitress in a Monty Python skit.

The instructions are pretty minimal and include such gems as “If the exposure of the picture taken is too much or insufficient, better results can be obtained by adjusting the shutter speed and/or the exposure value of the camera.” and “”Always check to make sure the lens cap has been removed before taking a picture.”  Surely this stuff has just been put in to add to the enigmatic feel of the lens. Anyway attached to the 5D, I walked up to the shops and fired of a few on manual setting with a bit of bracketing and hey presto these are the results of my first Holga shoot. Click on any of the pix to make them bigger and let me know what you think.

Finally as I write; it’s the first day of the school holidays and that means six weeks of miserable tourists, inept driving and bad manners here in North Devon. FFS British summers are notorious for rain, what did you expect? Chill out,  go for a walk, enjoy yourself AND learn how to reverse! As one of my mates succinctly put it:  “If you can’t hear your wing mirrors in the hedge, you ain’t far enough over…!!”

All pictures taken with Holga 60mm f8 lens attached to Canon 5D except for the picture of the setup taken on Canon 1D mk2 with 50mm f1.4.