Light-leaks, vignetting, lo-fi appeal – these are some of the endearing qualities of the Holga 120, an inexpensive, medium-format plastic camera.
1982 saw the birth of the Holga. It was made in China, to make medium-format photography available to the mass-market. The name was derived from the term “ho gwong” meaning “very bright.” When these plastic cameras made it to the West, it was sought-after for the surreal, lo-fi images that it makes. Thus, it earned the moniker “The Plastic Fantastic.”
There are different Holga models, starting with the 120S (now discontinued). Some models are equipped with a glass lens (120GN, 120GCFN, 120GFN), but a huge part of the Holga charm comes from the plastic lens, which yields soft-focus images. On a sunny day, expect some vignetting (darkening) around the edges of your photo. The most recent addition to the Holga family is the 120CFN – with a built in colorflash. Turn the dial and choose from four colors (blue, clear, red, yellow) and you’re ready to bathe your subject in a splash of color.
Plastic body, plastic lens. Holga is extremely lightweight and fuss-free. There are two shutter speeds to choose from – a standard 1/125 for daytime, and a “B” (Bulb) setting for long-exposures. Set it up on a tripod for sharp nighttime photos. You can even shoot multiple layers in one frame, thanks to its uncoupled shutter and advance.
To get the most out of your Holga, experimenting with film is necessary. That way you can discover which works for you and your Holga. Some prefer to use slide film and cross-process it, resulting in dream-like photos with unbelievable saturation and deep colors. Then there are some who go for the “film noir” effect and favor black & white film – the vignetting makes the images more dramatic and mysterious.
Each Holga is different from the other. Some may emit light leaks, others none at all. There are various ways to encourage these light leaks. It’s been suggested that lightly squeezing a finished roll of 120 will allow light to leak in. Taping it up with black tape, or painting the interiors with matte black paint can keep the light leaks at bay – this is called “flocking.”
Another reason why Holga has a cult following – it can be easily modified. Masks can add an extra character to your images, and with a few simple techniques it can even use 35mm film for the Holga “sprocket hole” effect (showing the entire surface of 35mm film).
Currently, there’s a wide variety of Holga cameras to choose from, dressed up in different colors. No matter what you choose to do with it – paint it, customize it, tinker with it inside and out – it’s guaranteed to give you unexpected results every time.
Check out the Holga family’s microsite here