When you think of toy cameras, certain models come to mind almost instantly. Names like Diana, Debonair, Lomography, and of course Holga. I have in the past reviewed the FPP Debonair, a solid toy camera but the first toy camera and the one that stuck the most is the Holga. Sadly my camera broke several years back, and I never bothered to replace it. While I did mean to replace the Holga with another one, the sad fact is that in 2015 Holga nearly vanished if not for the quick actions by Freestyle and the Sunrise company. The two managed to recover one mould and restarted production. The Holga is the iconic toy camera if you’re looking for any high-quality performance you’ll want to look elsewhere but if you want something fun, this is your camera.
- Make: Sunrise
- Model: Holga 120N
- Type: Point-And-Shoot
- Format: Medium, 120, 6×6/6×4.5
- Lens: Fixed, Optical Lens 1:8 f=60mm
- Year of Manufacture: 2003 – Present
As toy cameras go, the Holga is incredibly accessible; you don’t need much to start shooting and enjoying this camera. It’s fun, easy to use, and produces a unique image that I’ve only seen in one other camera, the FPP Debonair. Far from perfect, the soft plastic lens has a fixed 60mm focal length with several zone focus options, and two aperture (f/8 and f/11) means if you’re close, your photo will be in focus. And the slightly wider than the normal focal length and smaller than required image circle produces a heavy vignette. All these things make for a unique image quality. The 6×6 negative size gives you plenty to work within regards to cropping or just leaving it as a square format. The camera does come with a second mask and slider to shoot in the 6×4.5 negative size, but you’ll be forced to shoot portrait orientation rather than landscape. I prefer landscape, but that’s just me, so I tend to leave the 6×6 mask in place. And having it take the standard 120 film makes for easy loading and shooting, just point, guess, and shoot!
When I first started using toy cameras, I had to give myself a bit of a mind-shift. I knew I was not going to get perfect exposures, tack sharp images, or even in focus images. You don’t even have much control over this camera, focus, aperture, and flash. If you can’t handle that much guess work, then this is not your camera. The cameras have a poor build quality, light leaks even out of the box will be standard. At least you know you can repair it quickly with duct tape or gaffer tape. Another option is just to leave it and embrace the unknown.
For the sake of transparency this is a review of the new Holga 120N, and from what I’ve found is that in my particular model the new maker has taken all the quirks of the old Holga and cranked them up 50%. Toy cameras are not every photographer’s cup of tea; even I have to be in the right mood to work with them. But if you find yourself in the right mindset you can produce art. Photography doesn’t have to be about perfection in any sense of the word. All the rules can be thrown out the window and in the end, if you produce an image that you love, then you’ve done it. Sure if I need high quality I’ll go to my Rolleiflex or Hasselblad, but if I want fun, I’ll grab the Holga. Remember, life isn’t perfect, sharp, or in focus, sometimes just let your photos reflect that.
All Photos Taken in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Holga 120N – Optical Lens 1:8 f=60mm – Ilford FP4+ @ ASA-100 – SPUR HRX (1+20) 9:30 @ 20C