I Took My Holga Down to the Homer Boat Harbor

Fall time in the Homer Small Boat Harbor with my dog Turtle. Homer, Alaska.

The Holga crappy plastic film camera has a sort of cult following. It’s been a staple in art kid backpacks for generations now, and for pretty good reason. It’s cheap construction, simple lens, and penchant for producing unique images with vignetting, light leaks, and soft focus lends itself to the artsy fartsy side of photography. You never really know what you’re going to get, and that’s the fun of it.

The camera’s plastic construction even feels like you’re holding a toy, and in turn I find myself taking my photography a lot less serious, taking more chances, and often being surprised by the images that come out the other side. Does every shot come out perfect? No. Not even close. Some of them aren’t even usable (Although that’s not really the camera’s fault. It’s simple make means that if you hear the shutter “click” then it took the photo. The rest is up to you.), but the vast majority of the frames seem to have a lot of beauty in their imperfections.

When I say the Holga is a simple camera, I mean this thing super simple and easy to use. The shutter only fires at one speed, 1/100s, and the lens has 2 settings, f/11 when the “sun” option is checked, and f/8 for “clouds.” It’s winter time in Alaska right now, so all these images were taken in “cloud” mode.

It’s an all-manual medium format camera, meaning it takes widely available 120 film and produces much larger negatives than 35mm counterparts, and comes with 2 insets for shooting either 4.5×6 cm or 6×6 cm photos. It’s also about the cheapest way to get into medium format photography. A new Holga 120N sells for about $40 on Amazon. I bought mine off the site as an “open box” item for $32, and it came with a roll of Ilford HP5, which produced these pictures. Developed with the Cinestill DF96 Monobath Kit.

Wondering what speed film to shoot in your Holga? It’s conventional wisdom to shoot 400-speed 120 film. But you can totally mix it up and try 800-speed if you know you’ll be in low light, or 200-speed for sunny days or a little push processing (more on that in a future post. But remember, the camera doesn’t change it’s speed or aperture based on the film. That’s all up to you to experiment and figure out, which is most of the fun anyways.

You can learn more about Holga history on Wikipedia, or a ton of other blogs if you just Google it.



Clay Duda is a mariner, photographer, and writer living in Homer, Alaska.