Holga (and Umbrellas) – a 5 Frames mini-review – By Zac Lukins

People on film photography forums and around the internet go on and on about the virtue of medium format, they will say “the larger negatives take my photography to another level” or “you don’t get the same 3D pop with 35mm” or the ubiquitous “it slows me down to shoot in 120”.

For me medium format has been the polar opposite of each of these statements: I shoot it on a Holga.

*Gasp* “Did you hear that Gerald he just said a Holga, that’s not a real camera, isn’t that a toy for children or self important hipsters?”

Our frustrated and feckless fictional friend Felicity may have a point to some extent, but what I hope to show you through these five frames, is this: firstly, with a Holga I don’t care how wet it gets, secondly it’s (somewhat) inconspicuous and thirdly I can shoot without having so much as to think about what I’m doing (to an extent of course).

One of the joys of using a Holga, for me, has been the inherent simplicity of the camera. Fixed shutter speed, fixed aperture, twelve or sixteen frames. Is the viewfinder accurate? Not in the slightest. Is removing the film spool a task from which you will come away with your nails intact? Certainly not. Is the camera back guaranteed to remain attached if given a small nudge? Neither. In the latter case duct tape has been a trusty ally.

When I acquired my first Holga (yes, I am implying I have more than one) I ran about using it as I might a 35mm compact camera, taking snapshots of whatever took my fancy: friends, family, flowers. I found that most of the frames didn’t manage to translate the vision I had of the scenes when I pressed the shutter.

I knew I needed a different to take a different tack.

Enter two AA batteries to power the Holga’s meagre flash unit and a spot of rain. Oh and when I say “spot of rain”, I mean deluge, on the scale of which even someone like Noah might have had to contend with. That’s how the weather is down under, all or nothing.

Thus, I decided to take the Holga on my morning commute to work in the city, and I stumbled, or should I say slipped, upon what I had been looking for: a good use for this piece of plastic masquerading as a camera.

During this process, and over a couple of trips, the camera did get wet; I did use flash in a stranger’s face without getting punched in mine and I managed to operate the camera all the while carrying an umbrella. By the way, the Holga still works beautifully. Although it may occasionally scratch a frame…

Here are fives frames from my Holga (using HP5+ and Fomapan 200) of people with umbrellas, dealing with wind and rain:

School girls with umbrella

Woman with umbrella
The first frame I got back from the lab where I knew I was onto something.


Woman with umbrella and wind

Businessman with umbrella

Thanks for reading,

If you so choose, you can find me online here @zaclks

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12 thoughts on “Holga (and Umbrellas) – a 5 Frames mini-review – By Zac Lukins”

  1. Found this pretty amusing thanks! I’ve had one of these around 12 years ago but never really took to it, mainly because of the lack of control in focussing. I always like to see what other people do with them though and you’ve clearly got good results. The images remind me of Martin Parr’s black and white work.

    Michael Kenna has recently done a book featuring his images taken with a Holga and it really gives you a sense of what you can get out of it, has to be said though Kenna is a master and a lot of it comes from his final print.

  2. Brilliant Zak!
    I love the simplicity of the Holgas too. Usually it is one of the cameras I take while travelling for its weight and the soft, dreamy images it produces. After your article I’ll consider it more to capture the life in the city 😉

  3. brian nicholls

    Hello Zac,
    Please forgive me but, there is nothing in this post that inspires me to go out and buy the Holga 120sf!! On the other hand, I have checked out your work on @zacIks and am quite impressed with your overall body of work on that site. Every day in photography is a “day at school” so, please enlighten me.

    1. I forgive you Brian, you can rest easy.
      I’m also glad that you won’t be buying one, as you may know they have stopped production and so they will be getting scarcer and scarcer, all the more for us Holga aficionados.
      How do wish to be enlightened? I don’t quite follow.

  4. The Holga is an atmosphere generating machine. Once you get over the concept that sharpness is everything, these “toy” cameras can add that certain something to compositions.

  5. Hi Zac, I like your Holga write up. My favourite is also the second one. Do you crop you pictures afterwards or does your Holga make 6×4,5 negatives?
    Inspires me to take my Holga out again. You are write that it needs a certain approach. Did you read/see ‘The Holga’ book by Cenna? Really magical!

    1. Hi Anna, thanks for the comment. This roll was taken with the 6×4.5 mask so no crop, one advantage of this is that it cuts out some of the leaks you get with the square mask. Glad to have inspired you to crack it out, I’ll have to suss out that book.

  6. Great read, Zac! A Holga was first foray into medium format, and still my favorite because of the same reasons you said, chiefly its ease of use. I recently bought a Holga 120 WPC and my first roll turned out pretty amazing, with a few mistakes and a wasted frame of course.

    1. Thanks BG, hard to beat the simplicity of them, that’s for sure! Ooooh I have been eyeing off that beast of a thing for a little while. Mind you I think I would be tempted to try and take it apart and turn into an panoramic frankenstein’s monster and mount some old lens to it.

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