Holga 120GN - Imperfection is Beauty


“You just wanna be a hipster,” said my brother. Alright, maybe. But there was also something about an imperfect, plastic film camera that seemed so perfect to me – and I was right.

(Photo credit goes to here)

The first time I saw a Holga, online at one of my favorite cyber-boutiques, I was intrigued. It was a brick, for goodness sake; a giant black camera emblazoned with the name “HOLGA” at the top. Everything about it should have been a turn-off. It was known for lightleaks. The pictures were blurry. It would make its’own vignettes. Even the name, Holga, reminded me of an unpleasant, overweight cafeteria lady from an elementary school nightmare. But I returned to the site day after day to look at it some more. I went to flickr where dreamy images drew me in. I immediately asked for one for my upcoming birthday.

My family didn’t understand. My brothers looked at the brick – the glorious, black chunk of plastic – with disgust. “Just get another digital camera,” they told me. I didn’t expect them to understand – something about film had stuck me with the force of a dump truck. The images were so much more personal, so much more deep than what an SD card could hold and instantly upload onto Facebook. I didn’t want to instantly see what I had captured; I wanted to wait for the film to come back from the lab.

They said I wanted to be a hipster. Not exactly the case, but I could see where they were coming from.

When I finally did receive my Holga – a full two months after it had been ordered – I knew what love felt like. The package it came in was depressed and battered; somehow it had been sent to Singapore and Hong Kong before finally arriving at my house. I decided that added to the charm. It was a Holga 120GN that I opened; I was giddy about the removable flash and the several different filters that I also had. I could change color, I could split the screen – I was smitten.

My Holga had been introduced to my hot Sicilian home – a land of myth and wonder with charming streets, intense history and interesting people. A land photographers would die to have a chance of roaming the countryside and the mountains, of photographing the quaint towns and their inhabitants. Naturally, I took the camera to my school.

Using a Holga 120GN is as easy as putting on socks. Find a subject and shoot. Wind the camera. Rinse, lather, repeat. I was (and still am) a Holga rookie, but I began to learn what to do. Thus, I feel deeper in love with the plastic brick. When using it, you can’t help but wonder – will this cause light leaks? Is this going to show up? As with any film camera, you have to have an open mind with the Holga 120GN – you can’t strive for perfection; it’s an imperfect thing. Follow the lens!

I’ve used my Holga in both shiny and gloomy circumstances, both with the same film. When it’s bright out, the colors are vivid and lively, and it looks brighter than real life. When it’s not, the colors are darker, but the charm is still there – there’s a different feel to the pictures in the rain than there is to the ones in the sun. Each is special – some of my favorite shots have come from a rainy day in Sicily and an overcast day in Scotland.

The flash that came with the camera – labeled on the box only as “Holga 120 Mini Electronic Flash Unit” – produces a great, bright flash in the nighttime. While I haven’t used it very much – I’m still mastering daytime shots – I have a feeling that it does its job well.

There is, of course, one major drawback to having a Holga – the #^@&ing lens cap. It’s as if Satan has decided to be your personal buddy when you take your Holga places. You see a great shot and excited set up the camera – you’re at a great angle, you think, this will be lovely, you think – you shoot and skip away with glee. Five minutes later, you think to yourself, “Oh, cheese crackers… Was the lens cap on?” And of course, you won’t know until the lab sends you back a black square, or nothing at all. Granted, you can defeat this by just getting rid of the cap, but since the lens is glass, I like to keep mine on. Scratches might even add more character to the Holga.

The bottom line here is that the Holga 120GN isn’t for everyone, but it’s not just for hipsters. If you’re looking for a first Holga camera – heck, even a first Lomo – the 120GN is probably a good choice; it’s not heavy on the wallet or on your neck, it’s very easy to use, and the pictures will delight you. If you want a camera that you can spend a lifetime getting to know, a Holga is waiting to befriend you. Remember – the beauty of the camera lies in its imperfection.

written by sambrosia on 2010-09-24 #gear #plastic #review #holga #user-review #120-gn


  1. tempericarus
    tempericarus ·

    Hail the Mighty HOLGA! And the lens cap issue, everybody had their own take of that man... =)

  2. rexhibitionist
    rexhibitionist ·

    You are a fantastic writer, sambrosia. Keep on putting your words out there. Great job.

  3. bcartwright
    bcartwright ·

    Suggestions, get a 120N and toss the cap. For the GN get a Crown Royal bag and keep the camera in that. Soft, smooth interior won't scratch the lens and then you can toss the cap.

  4. mikahsupageek
    mikahsupageek ·

    Great writing, lovely first roll =) enjoy using these plastic cameras we all love so much, and be sure to show us your coming rolls =)

  5. nicolas_noir
    nicolas_noir ·

    Great shots! I love all Holgas, both plastic and glass lens models! I've got the GF model and the CFN, but also my wife has an original S model with a flash shoe and no bulb mode. I kind of wish I had a hot shoe on mine, but you've got to love the in built flash, especially the colour flash! Have fun with the flash! Gotta shoot indoors sometimes!

    Also, I wouldn't care whether people call you a hipster or not - as long as you can actually load the camera, use one more than one roll of film before putting it back on ebay, you'll be fine!

  6. isabelbatteria
    isabelbatteria ·

    Very well-written and emotive. Also, I loved the picture of the man playing the bagpipe.

    I was once called a hispter too because of one of my Holgas. Not that being a hipster is bad, but you know they mean it in a somewhat disparaging tone. I don't give a crap. I know what I am (and so what if I am a hipster?!) and those who criticize have never felt and will never feel the magic and the pleasure of lo-fi analog photography.

    Happy photographing!

  7. ftaforever
    ftaforever ·

    Great article!! Nicolas_Noir is 100% correct, just don't be "that" guy and it's all good.

  8. itsdebraanne
    itsdebraanne ·

    my Holga 120N broke ): i've only used 4 rolls. and in about a month the shutter mechanism broke or something. i love your pics. i hope my b&w rolls develop right.

  9. thedice
    thedice ·

    So glad to know I'm not the only one with the lens cap issue! The Holga was my intro to Lomo. I'm so new, I don't even have a profile pic yet. Just got my first rolls back, and I've got a lot to learn, but I couldn't be more excited. Great article and photos!

  10. teaandcoffee5683
    teaandcoffee5683 ·

    does the Holga 120 GN comes with the 6x4.5 mask?

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