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Holga 120 covered in stickers (pic: George Griffin)
George Griffin’s pimped Holga 120 (All pics: George Griffin)

By George Griffin

I’ve had my Holga for just over five years and for three of them, it’s just sat in a box gathering dust.

I bought it on a whim because I wanted to try out medium format photography and had heard people say that the Holga was a good way into it. I shot one roll of Fomapan 400 through it and was so disappointed with the results I decided it was a piece of junk and not worth the money spent on it.

Late in 2020 I found out about Holga Week and was amazed at some of the images in that year’s gallery.

So I decided to give the Holga a second chance. For the last two years I have been shooting the Holga, and not just for Holga Week.

Top plate of Holga 120
The top plate, showing the large film-advance knob

The Holga falls firmly into the class of “toy camera”; virtually the whole camera is made of plastic even the lens (although some do have glass lenses which may or may not be a step up). The only pieces that are not plastic are the back retaining clips and the spring that fires the shutter.

Shooting with this camera is all very basic and automatic. It comes with a 60mm meniscus lens and apertures of possibly f/8 and f/11 although these are debatable. The aperture is set via a switch on the front of the camera depicting either sunshine (f/11) or clouds (f/8).

The camera has two shutter speeds 1/100 or it might be 1/125 (nobody is really sure) and a bulb mode. These are activated by a switch underneath the camera which is marked N for normal and B for bulb.

The bulb is pretty useless, as even though there is a tripod socket the shutter release has to be held down for the duration of the exposure. This, of course, can easily result in camera shake.

You can buy an adapter that fits over the shutter release to use a cable release but who really wants to spend more money on this kind of camera?

Along with everything Holga, you need to keep an eye on the shutter switch as it can easily be knocked from N to B and you end up shooting a whole roll on bulb and everything is blurred. (Yes, I have done this!)

The lens is a simple zone focus lens with four zones, one about 1m (3.3ft), another for 2m (6.6ft) a third for 6m (19ft) and a fourth for 10m (33ft) to infinity. These are set by a simple twist of the lens.

Derelict coastla building on b&3 (Pic: George Griffin)

Coastal sea defences (Pic: George Griffin)

Row of surfboards (Pic: George Griffin)

Teens with bikes and pagoda (Pic: George Griffin)

The camera does come with a lens cap, I would say throw it straight in the bin as at some point you will forget to remove it and end up shooting blank frames. The lens doesn’t really need protecting, marks and scratches add to the Holga look.

Moving to the back of the camera you have the door, I say door but in reality the whole of the back comes off. The back also has a red window so you can see the numbers on the back of the film rolls. The window has a switch to change from 12 exposures to 16 (yes, you lucky people, the Holga is a multi-format camera). You can choose between 6×6 or 6×4.5 this is done by changing the masks inside the camera and setting the red window switch to the appropriate number.

The film moves across the film plane from left to right and is held in place by one pin at the top. There is also some sponge to help keep the roll tight but doesn’t really work and can lead to “fat rolls”, more likely to feature light leaks. I usually place a piece of card against the roll of film to hold it tight and using this has cut down on the number of fat rolls.

The film is advanced by a big knob on the top of the camera and has a louder click than the camera’s shutter.

If you are lucky enough to have a model with a flash built in, the battery compartment to power it sits under the masks. The flash isn’t very strong and anything past about 5ft (1.5m). won’t be lit up.

Row of blue and yellow deckchairs (Pic: George Griffin)

Two people in Tube station concourse (Pic: George Griffin)

Detail of pagoda (Pic: George Griffin)

The film mask clips in over the film plane. I mostly shoot with the 6×6, which can give soft dreamy edges and vignetting. The 6×4.5 helps to remove these and can produce a sharper image.

The viewfinder is set to the left of the lens and does create a little parallax but because the closest focus is 3ft/1m this doesn’t really cause much of a problem.

As it’s a plastic camera, it does have its faults. The clips holding the back on can work loose causing the back to fall off and it can have light leaks from different parts of the camera which can be blocked out with electrical tape. Obviously, you won’t know where the light leaks are, if any, until you shoot your first roll, but light leaks can add a certain flavour to the images and might be something you actually want.

I’m lucky that my particular camera doesn’t have any light leaks. As yet the back hasn’t fallen off.

Shooting this camera does have its quirks and it’s never going to be a Rollei or Hasselblad, but if you shoot with it enough you learn how to work with its constraints and can get some wonderful images from it.
Portrait of man with ginger beard (Pic: George Griffin)

Portrait of young woman and graffiti wall (Pic: George Griffin)


I have probably put 10 to 15 rolls through the camera, mainly Ilford HP5+. I think it is best to shoot with a 400 iso most of the time although I recently shot Kodak Gold 200 on a couple of bright sunny days and I’ve been happy with the results.

I’ve come to understand how to get the best out of this camera over the last couple of years and the more I use it the better the results I get. As my Holga is the standard black model, I’ve jazzed it up a bit. Yes, there are times when it is a frustrating camera but they are far and few between nowadays. I really enjoy shooting with it.

The Holga range includes a whole range of models from half frames in 35mm to faux TLRs, and there are a multitude of colours to choose from.

I definitely think this is a camera to go out and just have some fun with.

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