Customer Review

66 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A non-hipster photo student's impressions, June 19, 2012
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This review is from: Holga 120N Plastic Camera (Electronics)
I'm a photo student. I'm studying everything about photography. I'm not an urban hipster. I don't look like an urban hipster. I have absolutely no inherent "lo-fi" photography bias due to some sort of artsy hipster social background. It's just something that I'm messing with because I'm sleeping, eating, and breathing all sorts of photography 24-7.

I bought this because it's the prototypical "crappy toy camera" and I wanted to see what I could do with it's limited capabilities. It's part of an optional assignment and I'm playing with film right now, so why not.

The first thing that everyone should know is that this is not really a toy or an inexpensive alternative camera, but rather a modern "remake" of a primitive camera intended to allow those who understand, or are learning to understand, the photographic process in detail to reproduce certain "vintage" photographic styles and push the limits of what can be done with primitive technology.

The Holga 120N has the following features for "advanced" photographers:

- They use medium format 120 roll film. This is film that is a little more than 6cm wide... it is NOT 35mm. Normally this film is used in expensive Hasselblad or Mamiya cameras and is thus not usually sold at drug stores and gas stations. Not every photo lab will process it.

- There IS a "bulb" exposure mode, which means that you can keep the shutter open as long as you keep holding down the shutter button. You have to know what you're doing with this or all you'll do is waste a shot of film.

- Whether "bulb" mode is turned on or off, there's nothing stopping you from exposing the film multiple times without advancing the roll. There's also nothing stopping you from advancing the film too far, too little, or never advancing it at all. Other than the little window on the back, and perhaps counting the clicks of the film winder, there's nothing to tell you how far to turn the thing to get to the next unexposed frame. There's absolutely nothing to tell you if the current frame has already been exposed.

These are all things that can be exploited by advanced photographers to create interesting effects, but for anyone else they're just annoying hazards.

Limitations of the camera that can only be overcome by a somewhat knowledgeable photographer in most situations:

- There are only two aperture settings. To make things worse, the f-numbers that these supposedly correspond to (supposedly f/8 for "sunny" and f/11 for "cloudy" or whatever that icon is supposed to be) are reportedly bogus. They may not be accurate from camera to camera, depending on when it was made. Reportedly all you ever get is f/13, though supposedly on some newer ones the switch actually does do something or the other.
- There's only one shutter speed not counting "bulb" mode: 1/100s
- There's no way to focus visually with the viewfinder and with apertures like f/8 or f/11 the focus ring has to be set somewhat intelligently to have any chance of getting a subject within the in-focus depth of field.
- Aside from using bulb mode or multiple exposures in some situations, you have practically no control of the exposure aside from film ISO and push/pull processing.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, but do want to learn then great! If you don't know and don't care then you probably don't want to buy this camera.

The charming lo-fi features of the camera:

- It has a simplistic high-dispersion plastic lens that softens focus the way transparent plastic does and does little or nothing to correct for the various optical distortions caused by simple spherical single-element lenses. If you're not trying to intentionally take photos with these properties then for the same money you can get a camera with a more modern design that at least has a lens made of glass.
- There's little or nothing in the design to prevent light from reflecting off of slick surfaces inside the camera, contaminating the film with random reflections.
- The gaps between parts (like the back and the rest of the camera) aren't sealed particularly well, so light leaks through and reflects off of surfaces, contaminating the film with stray light.

Some tips for those using these for the first time:

- Tape down the sliding things that lock the back on after loading the camera. The back will come open way too easily if you don't. Light leaks may be hipster cool but having the back come off just results in totally ruined film.
- Light will leak through the little frame number view window (red plastic) in the back and contaminate regular panchromatic film (which responds to red light). How bad this is depends on how bright the ambient light is, and whether or not you're using one of the included (6x6 or 6x4.5) film masks. You can either ignore than and get the hipster light leaks, or you can cover the red window with tape. If you cover it then you can either open it up briefly under subdued light to see when you've advanced the film one frame, or you can figure out how many "clicks" of the winder need to go by before one frame has advanced and count those when winding.
- You may want to write "1/100s" and "f/8 - f/11" on the camera to remind you of what the aperture settings and shutter speed are if you actually believe what the manual says they are.
- You may want to write the approximate focus distances corresponding to each of the icons on the focus ring. I wrote my own focusing scale on the thing using a silver paint marker.
- Use the light meter in a manual mode camera to give you an idea of what sort of lighting conditions are going to work with f/8 and 1/100s with the ISO of film you have in the thing. There's probably no point in walking around metering for every shot, but you should at least get some idea if your film is going to require direct sunlight, shade on a sunny day, work ok with overcast sky, or work inside in rooms with lots of of windows on sunny days. Even at ISO 3200, bright artificial office lighting probably won't be enough for indoor conditions.
- If possible, try to shoot a whole roll of film in approximately the same lighting conditions so you can push/pull process the film to compensate for over/underexposure. For example, if you know that bright office lighting won't quite be enough but you want to try it anyway, shoot the whole roll under that lighting so you can push process the film (to get a higher effective ISO out of it).

Overall I'd say, not bad for $30 if you want to be able to do some of the things that the lack of "idiot proofing" features allow and you want to recreate some lo-fi effects, but don't waste your money on the camera, film, and processing if you don't know what you're getting into. These things are also great for making your own modifications since the worst you can do is destroy the thing, losing $30.
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