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Discover lo-fi photography with a Holga

Updated on September 11, 2014

New adventures in analogue photography!

Described in the very simplest of terms the Holga is a cheap, plastic, so-called "toy" camera, not dissimilar to the kind of primitive device I used growing up as a child in the 1970s. The Holga is built crudely, tends to leak light through its plastic casing, and even uses a plastic - rather than glass - lens. And being a medium format analogue camera built for 120 film, it will only yield between 12 to 16 exposures per roll. So why, in this thrilling digital age when so many of us are using mobile phones with cameras capable of producing high quality images, and when we are quite literally bombarded with "instant" photographs taken by citizen journalists on the Internet in every corner of the world, would anybody choose to use this piece of camera equipment?

Nostalgia

I bought a Holga 120N camera several years ago to rediscover the joy of "slow photograph"and the whole process of creating a photo. I was nostalgic for the days when every shot really counted - if there are only 12 images on a roll one tends to be parsimonious in a positive way.

Vintage effects

Instead of using an app on your phone or creating Photoshop effects on your computer take real lo-fi photographs for that vintage look!

Fun

Spooling a real film into the back of a camera, clicking and winding on the film is fun! It's a great way for kids and adults alike to learn about photography too. And if you forget to wind on the camera you might get some fun and surprising double exposures!

Unexpected results

The Holga is not a high precision instrument so therefore no two Holgas are built exactly the same - the light leaks may vary from camera to camera, as does the amount of characteristic "vignetting". You can never be really certain what you'll get when you develop a film from your Holga camera! Accidents can be inspiring! If you're a slave to instant selfies you'll find the Holga very liberating.

Photo Gallery of Holga Photographs

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Angel with the Whips on Ponte Sant'Angelo in the snow from my very first black and white film in my Holga 120NPonte Sant'Angelo in the snow with a wide angle Holga lensPiazza Navona in the snow - detail of the Fountain of the Four Rivers and the river-god GangesPiazza San Pietro in the snow taken with a Holga 120N using a wide angle lensPiazza San Pietro in the snow taken with a Holga 120NAutocentro di Pubblica Sicurezza in Prati, Rome using a wide angle lens with strong vignettingShooting from the hip! A Harley-Davidson parked on Via Andria Doria, Rome. Using a red filter on my Holga 120NUmberto I Tunnel, Via Nazionale, Rome - early evening with bulb setting, long exposure and wide angle lensUmberto I Tunnel, Via Nazionale, Rome - early evening with bulb setting and long exposureAbandoned pizza box
Angel with the Whips on Ponte Sant'Angelo in the snow from my very first black and white film in my Holga 120N
Angel with the Whips on Ponte Sant'Angelo in the snow from my very first black and white film in my Holga 120N
Ponte Sant'Angelo in the snow with a wide angle Holga lens
Ponte Sant'Angelo in the snow with a wide angle Holga lens
Piazza Navona in the snow - detail of the Fountain of the Four Rivers and the river-god Ganges
Piazza Navona in the snow - detail of the Fountain of the Four Rivers and the river-god Ganges
Piazza San Pietro in the snow taken with a Holga 120N using a wide angle lens
Piazza San Pietro in the snow taken with a Holga 120N using a wide angle lens
Piazza San Pietro in the snow taken with a Holga 120N
Piazza San Pietro in the snow taken with a Holga 120N
Autocentro di Pubblica Sicurezza in Prati, Rome using a wide angle lens with strong vignetting
Autocentro di Pubblica Sicurezza in Prati, Rome using a wide angle lens with strong vignetting
Shooting from the hip! A Harley-Davidson parked on Via Andria Doria, Rome. Using a red filter on my Holga 120N
Shooting from the hip! A Harley-Davidson parked on Via Andria Doria, Rome. Using a red filter on my Holga 120N
Umberto I Tunnel, Via Nazionale, Rome - early evening with bulb setting, long exposure and wide angle lens
Umberto I Tunnel, Via Nazionale, Rome - early evening with bulb setting, long exposure and wide angle lens
Umberto I Tunnel, Via Nazionale, Rome - early evening with bulb setting and long exposure
Umberto I Tunnel, Via Nazionale, Rome - early evening with bulb setting and long exposure
Abandoned pizza box
Abandoned pizza box

My first Holga photographs

I am lucky enough to live in Rome, Italy, so am never short of beautiful subjects to photograph, but when it snowed there a couple of years ago I rushed into town like everybody else armed with my digital camera and took hundreds of photographs of this extraordinary and unusual meteorological event. On that occasion I also loaded up my then brand new Holga 120N camera with a roll of black and white film and shot my first analogue photos for over a decade!

I like the old-fashioned look of square photographs so always use the 6 x 6cm film mask inside the camera, although it's also possible to change the format to the rectangular 6 x 4.5cm size. I also experimented with the Wide Angle Adapter Lens (which slips easily straight over the top of the regular Holga lens) and a yellow filter to make the contrasts a bit stronger.

I don't develop my own photos, but was delighted with the results when I picked them up from my local lab. Once the weather had improved I set out with some colour film and decided to be more adventurous and experiment with the bulb setting on the camera too for some long-exposure shots using the Holga Shutter Release Set and a small tripod. Once again I was delighted with the fun results.

What is the best film for the Holga 120N?

I've had great results with 120 film and prefer Ilford HP5 Plus 400 for black and white photography and the Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 400H for colour.

Recreate the classic Holga vignette effect with 35mm film

Holga 135BC Plastic 35mm Camera - "Black Corner" Version
Holga 135BC Plastic 35mm Camera - "Black Corner" Version

Don't like 120 film? Then choose a Holga 35mm camera!

Do double check whether your local photo lab is able to develop 120 film before you buy. If it isn't you might be happier with the Holga 135 Plastic 35mm Camera which can be loaded with 35mm film.

 

A helpful video about how to get started with the Holga camera

Do you still take photographs with a film camera? Let me know!

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    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 3 years ago from United States

      Amazing shots! With the newer technology in cameras today, I had actually forgotten how much fun it was to actually us film in a camera and take you time to get that great shot! I am quite tempted to buy my own Holga and rediscover the beauty of film and the true art of photography!

    • Deborah Swain profile image
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      Deborah Swain 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @mbgphoto: Thanks for dropping by!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 3 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I really enjoyed your lens and your answers to they question..why a film camera. Thanks for the great review. I'm adding this camera to my Review Camera lens.

    • Deborah Swain profile image
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      Deborah Swain 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @editionh: Smartphones have really opened up a whole new side to spontaneous snapshots I agree...I'm hooked on Instagram myself! But nothing beats the sheer surprise of film results in a Holga...I find using film liberating. Developing films is actually very cheap...the ideal thing way to save money is to develop them at a lab (or even do it your self) and then scan the negatives. It's a half way house between analogue and digital photography.

    • profile image

      editionh 3 years ago

      I still have a Holga and had also that russian LOMO camera, which I sold. I think the rule breaking approach to photography propagated under the term Lomography is great, but I do not like to spend the money and have the hassle with shooting and handling film. I rather use my smartphone or a compact camera for spontaneous snapshots. The new digital filters etc. allow to create the same oldfashioned look.

    • Deborah Swain profile image
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      Deborah Swain 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @lesliesinclair: Yes, the tunnel shots were fun...I had NO idea how they would turn out, but enjoyed myself with the shutter release and tripod. Several people even stopped to ask me questions!

    • Deborah Swain profile image
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      Deborah Swain 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @Titia: Me too...my first camera was a medium format producing square photos. I was about six years old I think...

    • Deborah Swain profile image
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      Deborah Swain 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @Diana Wenzel: Go for it! You won't be disappointed!

    • Deborah Swain profile image
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      Deborah Swain 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @sousababy: Yes...I love the idea of creating historic looking photos, which are taken today! I also use vintage cameras...must build a lens about that some day!

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      Threading the film used to be such fun for me. I remember my first box style camera (taller than it was wide) and the fact that it had two buttons for some feature I can't recall, but using film was so hands-on. It looks like fun to use a Holga, particularly the tunnel shots.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Ha, that brings some old memories back, from the time the only camera I had was an old Kodak which made square photos too. I still love those black and white photos. Digital can't match the old analog B&W in my opinion.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      I considered buying one of these cameras last year. There is something very satisfying about using retro cameras and film. Wish I still had my darkroom. Congrats on your feature. Happy New Year!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 3 years ago

      With film cameras you can create an entirely new atmosphere (mood) - something nostalgic looking (or even to create historic looking photos).