Holgas Tips For The Uninitiated

You’ve just received your new Holga 120 camera in the mail and you are itching to go shoot some film in it for the first time. But you’ve read that most people are disappointed with their first roll. Why is that?


First of all, this phenomenon is probably not just related to the Holga. For many of us when we get a new toy, we want to test out that toy as fast as we can. We want to see what that toy does and how it performs. So it is normal to shoot a roll through any new camera as fast as possible without any real regard for the subject matter.

But the Holga plastic camera does have it’s own challenges especially when this is a photographer’s first film camera. So here are a few tips that may help you. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments if you have more.

  • Slow down and think about what you are shooting. That way you will get a higher hit rate of keepers compared to if you just shoot at anything and “don’t think”.
  • You won’t need the lens cap so throw it away. Otherwise you will invariably waste at least one frame with it on.
  • Some 120 films use a “|” instead of a “1” for the first frame so watch out for it when you are loading film.
  • Don’t cross process your first roll. Get to know how your camera takes photos before adding other variables into the mix.
  • 400 ISO film is probably OK for general purpose shooting (It’s what I use even in full California sun).
  • For your first roll, the brand doesn’t matter. Just use what you can find.
  • Know how to set up the frame counter window. For 12 6×6 shots, the arrow points to the number (not the window).
  • Squarefrog is your friend http://www.squarefrog.co.uk/
  • Tape the B/N switch in the N position (slide the switch over to the N side) unless you want to take long exposures.
  • Unless you are taking double exposures get into the habit of winding on to the next frame after you take a shot. If you are consistent then you won’t be wondering if you need to wind on or not.
  • Don’t forget to focus.
  • Find some way to keep the back on. I use tape. Other people use modified clips, Velcro or rubber bands.
  • The viewfinder and the lens don’t line up. That’s not a big deal for subjects in the distance but for closer subjects take this into  account.
  • Oh yeah..look through the viewfinder. Shooting from the hip doesn’t always give you interesting images.
  • The sunny/cloudy switch doesn’t do anything (although I have  read reports that the aperture switch may actual work in newer Holgas).
  • If you get unintentional overlapping frames, then your frame counter switch is in the wrong setting.
  • Enjoy yourself – this is supposed to be fun after all…

6 thoughts on “Holgas Tips For The Uninitiated

  1. HolgaJen

    Great tips!! I’m trying to think of some more but I think you’ve covered alot of the most important ones. The viewfinder and the winding still mess me up sometimes! Although occasionally accidental double exposures can turn out quite nice.

  2. Aztek

    Nice tits. I mean tips!

    I especially like how you mentioned looking through the viewfinder. All that about shooting from the hip is mostly a joke and waste of film!

    take it slow.

  3. matt haines

    Very helpful! While I’ve owned a large number of crappy cameras in my life, I have never actually owned a holga. Closest I’ve got is a Zeiss Ikon Nettar (way better…not even plastic). So I think I might finally break down and get myself one. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Dave Post author

    Thanks for the information Gary. It only took them 20 years to fix that flaw 🙂

  5. Richard

    The lens cap isn’t needed, though I obsessively keep using one and have lost shots due to the cap being left on. I also found that a Holga lens cap fits perfectly on my Canonet GIII rangefinder, where it is actually of some benefit.

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