Camera review: me and my Holga 120N – by Sandeep Sumal
Well well well, a review on my thoughts about using a Holga, specifically the Holga 120N. I should also mention, this camera is the 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:
Table of contents
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?
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.
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 deep breath) I can reliably confirm that it is a monumental Garibaldi2 of a camera to use. I hate it, it hates me. I don’t even keep the Chocolate Finger3 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.
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:
- 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.
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 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?
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 Sumal
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