Lomography.com is no longer accepting unsolicited Holga reviews. They are interested in reviews of the Holga 3D cameras, but not anything else. I had prepared this review, but it won't be published, so I'm putting it here.
In honor of the Holga camera’s 25th anniversary in 2005, Holga Ltd. announced two limited production 35mm cameras to which they referred as “Holga Compact Cameras.” Both cameras feature the same 38mm f/3.8 glass lens, a fixed shutter speed of somewhere between 1/100" to 1/125", a pop-up flash to reduce red eye reflections, automatic film loading, automatic film advance, and motorized (but not automatic) film rewinding. They also both have tripod and shutter release threads although neither of them need it since neither has a “B” setting or variable shutter speeds.
The Holga 35 MF has fixed focus, manual film speed settings of 100, 200, and 400 ASA for low-light warning, and a “Sunny/Partly Cloudy/Cloudy” switch to select apertures of f/11, f/8, and f/4 respectively. They are not selected for you automatically, and it is not an aperture priority auto-exposure system even though you specify the film speed. The “MF” presumably stands for “Manual Focus”, but it’s actually fixed focus.
The Holga 35 AFX has infrared automatic focus and reads DX encoded films of either 100 ASA or 400 ASA to provide a low-light warning <b>and for auto-exposure. The “AFX” presumably stands for “Auto-Focus”.
The sliding front door acts as the on/off switch. Film rewinding is motorized, but not automatic. On the MF rewinding is accomplished by pressing the rewind button. On the AFX rewinding is accomplished by sliding the rewind switch to the rewind position. The rewind motor does not stop on its own. You have to listen for a change in the sound of the rewind motor to indicate that the film has rewound completely. You can stop the rewind before it has completed, so this allows you to do multiple-exposures of sorts.
Both cameras use two “AA” batteries to supply power to all of their automated functions.
The Red-Headed Stepchild
Here’s where it gets interesting. There was a third camera that was supposed to be part of this family – the much rarer Holga EF-35A. Apparently, the EF-35A was discontinued before it was even released. The EF-35A uses the same 38mm f/3.8 glass lens, fixed shutter speed of approximately 1/100", and pop-up flash as her sisters. She also has unnecessary tripod and shutter release threads like her sisters. However, all functions are manual. The EF-35A allows you to select apertures ranging from f/4 to f/16 in full stop increments. That’s a wider manual aperture selection range than the Holga 35 MF. The EF-35A uses symbol based zone focusing for 1m, 1.5m, 3m, and infinity. Unlike her sisters, the EF-35A accepts 46mm filters. She has a switch on the front of the lens assembly to select between 100 ASA and 400 ASA speed films. The switch moves a filter in place over opening where the “above-the-lens” sensor should be, but there is no sensor there! The camera has a battery check switch, but it doesn’t work. I don’t think this is just a problem with my camera. I think that would have all been part of the CdS sensor circuit, but there is none, so they didn’t wire up the battery test circuit either. It could have been a flash test and flash ready light, but it’s not. There is a flash ready light inside the viewfinder on the upper left. It’s difficult to see in the daytime unless you put your eye right next to the viewfinder. Like her favored siblings, she uses two “AA” batteries, but these are only used to power the flash. You can use the camera without batteries if you don’t need a flash.
Getting to Know Her
I spotted the EF-35A on eBay and I was intrigued, so I began doing some research. As difficult as it was to find information on the MF and AFX, it was much more difficult to find information about the EF-35A. Most of the information I found was in some Asian language and incomplete. I had to piece it all together to come up with a complete list of specifications. The price was reasonable, so I decided to go ahead and give it a try. It arrived from China in what appears to be the original box. Of course, there were no instructions, but it was simple enough to figure out how to work it.
On the very front of the camera directly beneath the lens is a film speed selector switch. Your two choices are 100 ASA and 400 ASA just like with the 35 AFX, but with the EF-35A you need to select the film speed manually. Just above the lens is a window where the CdS sensor would go if the camera had one, but mine doesn’t. Maybe some were manufactured with the sensor. That would be very interesting, but mine doesn’t have a sensor. When you move the film speed selector switch from 100 ASA to 400 ASA, you can see a filter swing into place behind the sensor window. However, since this camera is missing the sensor, this switch actually has no effect.
The front-most ring on the lens assembly is the focus ring. The Holga EF-35A uses zone focusing. The corresponding foot/meter markings are printed on the opposite side of the focusing ring. The “Single Person” detent corresponds to one meter. The “Person and a Half” detent corresponds to one and one half meters. The “Three People” detent corresponds to three meters. The “Mountain” detent corresponds to infinity. Note that the MF uses the exact same lens as the EF-35A, but it doesn’t allow you to focus. The reason being that the combination of wide angle lens and a small aperture, like f/11 or f/8, give you a deep field of focus. They probably just fixed the focus on the MF at the hyperfocal distance (Google "hyperfocal distance) and it probably only presents a problem when you’re shooting something very close with the largest aperture. My guess is that with the EF-35A the hyperfocal distance is somewhere between “One and a Half People” and “Three People” and you can probably just leave the focus there most of the time. You’d probably only have to use the “One Person” detent when shooting someone one meter away using the largest aperture – f/4.
The next ring back on the lens assembly is the aperture selection ring. You can select apertures ranging from f/4 to f/16. This gives you more choices than you have with the Holga 35 MF and I don’t know what the range of apertures is on the Holga 35 AFX is because they’re set for you automatically. I’m sure the AFX opens all the way up to f/4, but I don’t know how small an aperture it can select for you.
When you turn the aperture selection ring past “4” to the “lightening” symbol, the flash pops up. The flash does not pop up automatically when it’s needed. The camera does not warn you when there is not enough light. As soon as the flash pops up, it begins to charge. When it’s ready, a light inside the viewfinder lights up.
There is a “Battery Check” light and button on top of the camera directly behind the flash. These don’t do anything on my camera. I’m guessing that they were to test the batteries for the CdS sensor which doesn’t exist. Right next to the “Battery Test” button is the rewind knob which you pull out to pop open the back of the camera. On the top right of the camera is the shutter release button which is threaded for a shutter release cable. The camera has a fixed shutter speed of about 1/100", so the threaded shutter release is only useful for timed or remote shutter release. Next to the shutter release button is the film counter. On the back of the camera is the bright line viewfinder and the film advance wheel. The bright line viewfinder contains a little magnifying section that makes it possible, in theory, to see which focusing distance and aperture have been selected. In practice, it’s pretty hard to use.
On the bottom of the camera you find the door for the battery compartment, the tripod bush, and the rewind button.
Each side of the camera has “ears” for attaching a strap. My camera came with a black and red nylon strap.
The shutter can be cocked by turning the film advance wheel with no film in the camera. That means that you can trick the camera into doing multiple exposures by holding the rewind button while you advance to the next frame.
Loading the camera was easy and straight forward.
My camera had a hellacious light leak that was to intense and consistent to be artistically interesting. Taping up the camera Holga-style fixed the problem.
Multiple exposures are possible by advancing the film while holding the rewind button.
This was the least light-leak-affected picture from my first roll. You can still see the streak of overexposure running vertically across the middle of the picture.
This was the last of a series of shots where I took the same picture with every possible aperture. This was shot at f/4 which is the widest aperture. This is where most lenses show the most defects and have the shallowest depth of field. You can see lots of distortion out to the edges of the picture and a fairly shallow field where the sign is in focus, but stuff right behind it and right in front of it is out of focus. You can also see a lot of vignetting. Although this is a glass lens, it definitely has a Holga-like look to it – especially when it’s wide-open.
The vignetting here is artificial. I taped a .5x converter to the front of the lens to try to get a very wide-angle perspective. Most of these shots didn’t turn out too good and the vignetting was way to strong. I cropped this one down to something reasonable.
The next four shots are tests of the flash using different apertures – starting with f/11 and ending with f/4:
Here are some more shots:
It would have been interesting if they had released an Aperture Priority Holga Compact 35. As it is, it’s an interesting and quirky camera, but it’s a bit difficult to get satisfactory results. When everything works, you can get results that are definitely representative of its Holga lineage. From a collector’s perspective, it’s an interesting camera to have and you can probably obtain one for a good price. However, the bottom line is that you probably won’t be reaching for this camera very often.