Tag: Film cameras

Holga, the hol-mighty!

Okay, so let’s ignore the bad pun that is the title of this post and focus on the main topic.

The Holga is a rite of passage, a must for every film photographer.

Like the Diana, the Holga is a plastic “toy camera”, with a meniscus lens. Unlike the Diana, there are several models of Holga according to what they have as features. Holgas were produced until not long ago by Universal Electronic, Ltd. of Hong Kong, under the guide of TM Lee, creator of the original Holga. Production switched hands in 2015, when another company got hold of the original Holga moulds and tools and kept producing this legendary icon of film photography.

The lens is a basic meniscus type lens, 60 mm, in plastic or glass (according to the model), with apertures of f/8 and f/11, switchable by the user. Focus is done by rotating the lens barrel, in a four-zone focus system: portrait, small group, large group and infinite. As with the Diana, the pictures show vignetting and other aberrations, including light leaks. Also, every Holga is slightly different, so that even in the same setting, two Holgas will never produce the same image.

This beauty has experience a rise in popularity thanks to the Lomography movement, who distributed the Holgas in their store (they stopped, at present). Holgas are still VERY easy to find on eBay, and there are several different models to choose from:

  • 120S: standard model, plastic lens, no frills, only one picture size. This has been discontinued for a long time but remains the favourite of many photographers.
  • 120SF: the standard model with a built-in flash.
  • 120G: called “Woca”, is a 120S with a glass lens
  • 120GF: a Woca with a built-in flash
  • 120N: the new standard model (I assume “N” stands for “New”), tripod mount, bulb mode and the possibility to change masks between 6×6 and 6×4.5. Models produced before 2009 (I believe) have a non-functioning aperture switch.
  • 120GN: a 120N with a glass lens (still named Holga)
  • 120FN: a 120N with a flash
  • 120GFN: mix the two above and you get a Holga with a glass lens and a built-in flash.
  • 120CFN: a 120FN with four built-in colour filters for the flash, selectable with a wheel
  • 120GCFN: Again, mix the two above and this is what you get. This is the model I own.

There are also some other models, including a TLR Holga, a pinhole, stereo pinhole, 110 film format Holga and so on and so forth.

There are also several accessories for the Holga, including a 35mm film adapter (which does not have an exposure count, so you have to advance the film manually and kind of guess when to stop), cable release and instant back.

Of course it’s not perfect, there are several issues with each model, mainly affecting the metal clips that both hold the back in place and allow you to attach your camera strap, the film advance mechanisms that tends to loosen the tension thus creating artifacts and light leaks. Most of these issues can be fixed with a roll of duct tape and patience.

I have to admit, I am happy of the results I got with the Holga, it’s a fun camera and has character. I feel I need to know it better so to more appreciate what makes it different from my Diana.

All the pictures above where shot with a Holga 120GCFN on a Lomography Color 400 ISO film.

[The Unusual Library] The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras

51r5y49vfxl-_ac_ul320_sr228320_The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras
Jean Loup Princelle
1995, Hove Photo Books
ISBN 978-18-740-316-35

This is a book I had to sweat a lot to put my hands on.

The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras is a difficult to find book (I had some luck with an eBay auction from France), but it is also the Bible of the Russian and Soviet camera collector. I’m not a collector per se, nor I have a keen interest in buying all FEDs and Zenits and KMZs that I come across, but Soviet cameras have a certain charme, they have contributed to shape the camera markets of those years, despite often being inspired or cloned from existing western models.

For many people across the Iron Curtain, these cameras were the only option. For many westeners, these were the most affordable option (and you got a decent camera, too). Like the book about the Chinese cameras, this guide is divided by factory (starting from GOMP/VOOMP/LOMO and KMZ to more obscure ZAVOD GEODEZYIA and ZAVOD ARSENAL) and lists (possibly) every model produced together with pictures and technical details, when available. There is also the history of the factories themselves and put in context with the socio-political situation of the USSR at the time.

Overall, it’s quite a nice and interesting book, if you manage to find it grab a copy. Not essential unless you really like to collect Soviet cameras, I might add. There are also some details that appear to be wrong (I’ll consider them bona fide mistakes).

[The Unusual Library] Book Review: Cameras of the People’s Republic of China

Cameras of The People’s Republic of  China
Douglas St. Denny
1989, Jessop Specialist Publishing
ISBN 978-0951-4392-03

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This is a rather unusual book. A very niche one, which you will probably not own unless you have a keen interest in PRC’s history of cloned cameras.

I’m not that interested in collecting this kinds of camera, neither do I own one, but I recently stumbled upon several reviews of the Seagull TLRs (from Shanghai) and they made me curious. In the photographic world, we are used to the big brands that are popular still today and synonym of quality equipment, but if somebody mentions Shanghai Camera Factory or the Beijing Camera Factory… we all tend to shrug.

Thinking that China never had a place in the market would be wrong, as this book demonstrates, albeit most of the cameras introduced in PRC between the 40’s and the 70’s were close copies or identical clones of more popular European/Japanese brands (and that includes also Russian LOMO and KMZ models).

It’s quite interesting to read the stories of the companies and the cameras that they produced, all with very evocative names like the Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven) TLR, the Yuejin (Great Leap) and the Zi Jin Shan (Purple Mountain), like looking inside a world that has been there for a very long time, but no one bothered to notice before.

The book itself is no longer published, so browse eBay to grab a copy!