more from the holga lens

I’m still undecided about the Holga lens. Much of the time it just seems like cheap rubbish, but in amongst a whole heap of shots it does sometimes promise more. I don’t think I’ve got anything that special yet but here are a few that hint at some possibilities.

They’ve all been post-processed a little. The colour ones used the Velvia Classic preset from X- Equals Xel Colour Film Emulations, which sort of seemed appropriate.


an outsider on soulbay beach


Lost on the endless beach.

I needed to dodge the man, just a little, and in this case I found that the automasking in Lightroom simply didn’t work which made it a laborious process.  I guess there is too much detail in the stones and the sea for it to recognise the boundary.

Snapshot Skopar 25mm

new toys… and the realization that I can’t be bothered with film.

I’ve been thinking about getting a medium-format Holga for some time, not so much for the retro, saturated blur of many Holga shots, but because of photos like David Burnett’s stunning capture of Al Gore on the campaign trail.


For the uninitiated the Holga is a plastic “toy” camera, with a plastic lens, that costs about £20 and has entranced many with it’s special lo-fi results. It’s been around since the early eighties.

The reason I have hesitated is that I have come to realise that I simply don’t want to deal with film anymore, and I certainly don’t want to spend over £20 (the film, the postage both ways, the lab costs) for the processing and scanning of a mere 12 medium-format shots (perhaps none of which will be any good). I’ve been shooting with a Yashica Electro 35 GSN lately, which is sort of fun – but it’s time to accept that I find film cumbersome and inflexible and I’m not getting results that I like. I really do not have the time or the energy to develop it myself either. It’s possible that in other circumstances, especially where someone else was paying for the processing and dealing with the handling, that I might enjoy film … but for now it’s digital only for me. I want to focus on composition et al and digital allows me to do this.

I did therefore get a little excited when I discovered that you can buy a genuine Holga lens for just about any high-end digital camera, including my Nex5n. So without wasting a moment I ordered one, with wide-angle and telephoto converters, for the sum of £25.

Obviously mounting a Holga lens on a digital camera will not recreate all of the qualities of a Holga camera, the light-leaks being the prime example, but the softness, the vignetting, the chromatic aberration should be present in abundance.

Holga lens

SO… what’s it like?

It’s utter crap!

Of course this is what I expected. The question is whether it is crap in a way that is sometimes going to be inspiring … or whether it’s simply crap.

I’ve not spent that long with it but the focus, out of the box, is dreadful; you have to turn it with such force that it feels like you’re going to snap it off the mount.

It’s pretty soft – and I’m not yet seeing much of the centre sharpness that it’s supposedly capable of. It also doesn’t seem to zone-focus like I’d expect. According to the often quoted distance figures for the markings it should have large depth of field when left on, or just after, the group-portrait symbol. I am however getting a lot of blurred shots with this setting.

The tele converter vignettes like crazy – you basically get circular shots surrounded by black. The wide converter makes the field of view, well, a little wider.

Holga tele converter

Obviously it’s early days and there is no doubt a learning curve to using the Holga lens properly. It certainly gives good grunge! I’ll report back if I get any special results. Certainly I’m glad I’m not having to learn the idiosyncrasies of this lens while shooting medium-format.

A couple of initial test shots: