Well well well, a review on my thoughts about using a Holga, specifically the Holga 120N. A glow-in-the-dark version, which is very useful, said no one ever. I do wonder when handling it, is the phosphorescent paint slowly killing me?

I can already feel various conflicting emotions welling up inside me as I ponder my thoughts and consider what to write. Speaking of which, here’s what’s covered in this review:

Technical overview

First the technical bit. Its plastic, the lens is plastic, its assembled nicely but not with any sort of precision engineering.

It has a lever to fire the shutter at a standard speed of 1/100 (roughly, anyway). The shutter has a bulb setting, and it has both “cloudy day” and “sunny day” aperture settings which are approximately f/8 and f/11 respectively.

Did i mention it’s plastic?

Holga 120N review - Hero shot
Holga 120N review – Hero shot
Holga 120N review - shutter mode switch (bottom)
Holga 120N review – shutter mode switch (bottom)

The camera has a winder and a switchable red rear window, so you can see the frame number you’re on (depending on if you’re shooting 6×6 or 6×4.5). Speaking of which, it comes with two masks which allow set the format before you start a fresh roll (I stuck with 6×6).

Oh, it’s made of plastic.

Holga 120N review - shutter mode switch (right)
Holga 120N review – shutter mode switch (right)
Holga 120N review - GLOW!
Holga 120N review – GLOW!

See? All done on the techie bits.

By was of accessories, I also purchased the filter holder (plastic), filters (plastic) and a shutter cable addition (plastic) all very useful, apart from the filters, because you know McVitie’s Digestive plastic (1).

1 [EMULSIVE: Sandeep warned me the article might be a bit sweary. In the interests of keeping a family-friendly website, I’ve replaced all swear words with references to biscuits. To see the original swear word, highlight the blank space next to each of these callouts. Here’s this one: fucking]

Landing the Holga

I was lucky enough to be gifted this camera as part of the first EMULSIVE Secret Santa in 2015 and I do genuinely thank my anonymous Santa, as it opened up the world of medium format film to me. For that, I will be ever grateful.

I have used this camera a lot over the past year, so (takes a deep breath) I can reliably confirm that it is a monumental Garibaldi (2) of a camera to use. I hate it, it hates me. I don’t even keep the Chocolate Finger (3) thing in the house, it lives in my office drawer.

2 [Highlight: shit-gibbon]
3 [Highlight: bastard]

Now let’s skip over the part about how stupid the bright blue camera looks in my hand as a grown adult and not a child of five.

Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image
Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image
Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image
Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image

I remember the first time we went out together, this was my first ever roll of medium format film. In London on the Millennium Bridge. I lifted the viewfinder to my eye, composed, ignored the school boys laughing and pointing at ‘that Viennese sandwich (4) with a bright blue toy camera’, and pressed the shutter.

4 [Highlight: twat]

Let me press pause here and walk you through my post-compositon/framing process:

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  • Hang on.
  • Did the shutter press?
  • Did it work?
  • Am I supposed to hold it down longer?
  • Now what?!

So, I pressed it again, yup that’s now 1 of 12 frames wasted. This continued for the rest of the film.

When I got the results back there were an unsurprising number of crap double exposures. Also I don’t remember my finger being in my shot in the viewfinder and I’m sure the camera was pointing slightly higher than that. This was where I first learned about parallax view (truth be told it was at least a further five rolls of wasted film before I learnt this).

I’m an artist!

With the Holga I also learned about something called light leaks.

This is apparently a really cool thing to have in your photos and makes you a true artist. I did my research and heard that I should tape it up with black insulating tape to get rid of the light leaks. However, what my research didn’t mention is that I would need to invest in shares in said insulating tape company if I wanted to be a regular Holga shooter.

Tape it up I did and it mostly got rid of the leaks. Where it didn’t, well I’m an artist darling.

Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image
Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image
Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image
Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image

I probably should be a bit serious for a moment. There are some phenomenal photographers out there shooting film through a Holga and producing great images. I do actually get the whole light leaks and unpredictability of results that can give an image a certain I don’t know what (I’ll bet the French could express that better).

Some do turn their nose up at these so called toy cameras and the whole Lomography scene and let’s be honest, there are some who simply think that just by using these cameras it makes their images quirky and arty when it doesn’t.

For me, it’s each to their own. The choice is subjective but it’s their choice of medium. We should celebrate the creativity and choice, and those that master these cameras.

So why have I stuck with this plastic pile of Jaffa Cakes? (5) The short answer is because it continually taunts me with the images it produces. Yes it’s shot through a plastic lens so there is a softness and vignetting to them but rather than detract from the image it seems to add character.

Every time I think I’m not using the Holga again, the Pink Wafer (6) thing returns a roll of film with the odd image that I love. In fact, and it hurts me to admit this, some of my favourite images I produced in 2016 were ‘Pointed & Shot’ through the Holga.

5 [Highlight: shit]
6 [Highlight: bastard]

Should you buy a Holga?

Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image
Holga 120N review - sample image
Holga 120N review – sample image

So I guess as this is supposed to be a product review, should you buy a Holga?

It’s great for multiple exposures, it weighs less than a Hasselblad neck strap and it’s cheaper than a 3-pack of Fuji Velvia in 35mm. However, it’s handling is the photographic equivalent of painting the Sistine Chapel with a box of blunt crayons…but you can still paint.

The plastic lens is very divisive and you will either love it or hate it.

The Holga and I hate each other, yet when the lights come on at the end of the party we seem to be drunkenly entwined hailing a cab back to hers for a night of fun…followed by a morning of regret and a future broken promise to not let this happen again.

~ Sandeep

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About the author

Avatar - Sandeep Sumal

Sandeep Sumal

London and South East England based amateur film photographer. I enjoy wandering with my camera seeing what the world has to offer and how I can capture it. Oh and biscuits, I enjoy biscuits.

, and please make sure you also check out their website here.

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  1. I LOVE your Review! Ha Ha Ha, I’m the evil &*#!@ that sent you that camera. This was my first Secret Santa Experience. And I succeeded in my Goal….To get you to try Medium Format. So Now you have the Hasselblad. But You Still Can’t let go of the Holga. Neither can I. I have more Holgas than I should (4) including a pinhole.

    And the images you presented are wonderful. And that’s what keeps you using it!

  2. An excellent article on the Holga and some great creative images included, I’ve used the same Holga now for over 10years, I would also say in answer to Duncan,s comment that the negs do print well, I generally print up to 12×12 in the darkroom with very consistent results, with the size of the neg you get 16×16 wouldn’t be an issue. I always like to add a little extra corner and edge vignetting and print at a higher grade than normal, about Grade 4 +. Sandeep’s work would look great as silver prints.

  3. Brilliant review Sandeep, but you forgot to mention pride of ownership and the fact that the lens is an optical lens!
    As to “Reason to buy a Holga”, I think that the deliberative process leading to your acquisition sums it up.

  4. That’s how I like a gear review! Brilliant both the side of the author and EM (“Sandeep warned me the article might be a bit sweary. In the interests of keeping a family friendly website, I’ve replaced all swear words with references to biscuits.”, which was so funny to read!)

  5. I reckon I’d be inclined to give the Holga my Scotch Finger. Plastic not a problem per se, but add a plastic lens & light leaks, and you can go and get Club Oranged.

    However… I am surprised at the apparent quality of the pics, albeit they are smaller than contact print size on my screen. Contrasty, no veiled highlights; they look like the work of a respectable piece of kit. How are they at 16×16? Did I say surprised? You could just about knock me over with a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer.

    Bravo. You’ve earned another custard cream.

  6. Loving the creamy bokehliciousness from that Zeiss lens. Oops, forgot this isn’t Steve Huff’s G.A.S. Central…

    Seriously, this is the best series of images you’ve shared. Maybe not having to slow down and think lends the Holga to street photography where you simply look for interesting light and compositions, which you’ve done in spades here.

    Cracking work, mate. And the writing is equally enjoyable.

  7. I love my holga and mine is the bright pink and I rock it. It makes people smile when they see it and makes for some interesting conversation.