Jan 11
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Holga 120 CFN reviewed in The Technofile by MC Rebbe, journalist, photographer, rapper, DJ, VJ, producerNot content with bringing you up to the minute coverage of high tech wonders like pinhole photography (gasp) and century old alternative processes (awe), The Technofile is once again pushing the boat out photographically…this time with it’s review of the latest camera from…Holga…

Never heard of them? Well that’s understandable, since all they’ve ever produced is a seriously crap plastic toy camera. However, this seriously crap plastic toy camera is taken very seriously by fine art photographers the world over, who, for quite some time, have thought it’s the best thing since whatever the last best thing was.

What’s it all about? Well it’s a molded black plastic box, with a shutter (well actually a coiled spring attached to a piece of metal) fixed at 1/100th of a second, a plastic lens with a fixed aperture of f8 and a window to compose through. It looks like a chunky oversized 35mm compact, but it’s actually a medium format camera which does 6 x 4.5 natively and 6×6 if the internal plastic mask is removed. Oh yeah…and it’s made in China (Hong Kong?…not even!).

So what’s the big deal? Well first up, because the lens is made out of plastic, it throws everything into soft focus. Second, because the lens simply doesn’t have the coverage it should, when the internal mask is removed to give 6 x 6 negs (the way most fine art photographers use the camera), there is substantial vignetting, which has the effect of drawing the eye to the centre of the resultant pic. Third, a poor wind on mechanism and nothing to prevent multiple exposures means it’s all too easy to accidentally expose only part of a frame or to create multiple exposures by accident. Fourth, because of the camera’s fixed shutter and aperture, in strong light, it tends to overexpose, which has the effect of saturating colour films. And fifth, because the camera’s so crap, it’s highly prone to light leaks, so you have to constantly tape it up with black insulation tape (although some users don’t, as they feel these light leaks are part of the camera’s appeal).

Sounds pretty abysmal huh? Yep, but despite how it sounds, how it looks…or at least, how the results it produces can look, is a whole different story, as these ‘faults’ seem to conspire in its favour to create unique pieces of art.

Like many other bits of equipment, some of the best results are obtained by modifying the camera. For example, many photographers permanently remove the shutter, then use the lens cap on/off approach for timed low light/nighttime exposures. In fact there is one guy who has a whole cottage industry in modified Holgas, one of the modifications being a switch that gives you an optional bulb mode without having to ruin your camera’s shutter. He also offers various other modifications in order to address some of the Holga’s more serious shortcomings. And it seems as if Holga (or possibly Lomo, who have recently jumped on the Holga bandwagon) have been paying attention, as they have just released new versions of their ‘classic’, which incorporate many of these mods.

Of these new models, the 120 CFN is their ‘top of the range’ camera. It keeps all of the characteristics that made the original the ‘camera’ it is…but adds an integrated flash that can be switched on/off and which has a selectable colour wheel that places a choice of coloured filter (or alternatively no filter) in front of the flash. If you don’t want the flash you can opt for one of the cheaper models which come with a hotshoe instead…for connection to your studio flash…yeah right… It’s either or though, as there is no hotshoe on the model with the built in flash. There’s also a bulb setting, meaning you no longer have to destroy your shutter and a standard tripod socket.

Whereas previously, if you removed the 6 x 4.5 film mask (for 6 x 6 pics), there was insufficient pressure holding the film in place and also the possibility of scratching the film on the unfinished plastic beneath, the new cameras comes with both a 6 x 4.5 and a 6 x 6 mask, which solves these problems. Also the film counter window at the back, which before took an immense amount of pressure to switch between 16 frames (for 6 x 4.5) & 12 frames (for 6 x 6) now works smoothly. In fact, there is really only one thing missing…a cable release socket, but I suppose you can’t have everything…unless you’re me!

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