My film camera collection is starting to be an obvious fixation. Last fall, a friend posted a comment on my Facebook page indicating that a local was selling a bunch of Holga cameras. The truth is, I saw the post a few minutes prior on another page and had already contacted the seller. Up to this point I knew I wanted to get a Holga, but didn’t feel like paying full price for plastic camera. When I met the seller downtown Salt Lake City, she told me that she had purchased a mixture of items from an estate sale. One of the items in the lot was a case of Holga 120S cameras. She decided to keep one for herself and sell the rest for $15 each. I purchased the last two from her, one for me, and the other for my friend Scott. They were both new cameras, each in a box, but one had been barely used. The seller told me that one of the two had been loaded with film and she didn’t know anything about it. When I met with Scott to give him a camera, I purposely mixed the boxes up, told him that both cameras were new, but one was loaded with film, and let him make a blind choice. Neither one of us cared because both were identical. I ended up with the camera loaded with film. I could see that the film had only been advanced to the second shot, but whoever had used it knew what they were doing because the body of the camera was carefully sealed with gaffers tape to prevent light from leaking into the film. The biggest part of the mystery was not knowing what film was loaded. How long had it been in the camera? Was it color or black and white? What brand and speed was it? I decided to take my chances and complete the remainder of the roll over the next month.
Holga’s history goes back to 1981 in China. The Holga was introduced to the Chinese as an inexpensive medium format camera. Despite Holga’s attempt to mainstream their 120mm camera, smaller and cheaper 35mm cameras dominated the market within a few years. However, the popularity of the all plastic Holga remained, and even grew. Holga sold more than 1 million cameras by 2001. The unique Holga look is created by a plastic lens, plus the possibility of artistic light leaks.
There’s really not a lot to say about the specs of the Holga 120S. It was the original Holga model produced in 1981, and has since been discontinued. It has a fixed shutter speed of about 1/100 sec, adjustable focus, a plastic 60mm f/8 lens, a two-position f-stop switch, hot shoe for external flash, and a 6×4.5mm film mask. It’s cheap, plastic, toy camera.
During the month of November, I took the Holga with me everywhere. Not knowing what film speed was loaded, I did my best to guess the amount of light needed. I used an old flash on a few shots. When I finished the roll, I found that the mystery film loaded in the camera was Kodak T-Max 400. My favorite images were done during a senior photo shoot. I admit that when I’m working on a paid shoot, I use my Canon DSLR. However, I’ve been slowly introducing film into my sessions. The next time I use my Holga, I’ll probably load it with some Lomography 120 film that I received from my wife and kids for my birthday.
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