Pinholes à la Holga

Holga PC 135 and HEMA CN 400 film.

Holga PC 135 and HEMA CN 400 film.

In a fit of madness, I once bought a Holga 135 PC. After several DIY projects, I wanted a “real” pinhole camera for a change, with a decent shutter and a proper advance mechanism. Now there are brilliant pinhole cameras on the market, made of wood and copper, a joy to behold. Rather on the pricey side, though. So, cheap as I am, it became the plastic Holga PC 135.

Holga PC 135, shot with a Yashica 109 and Lomography CN 400 film.

Holga PC 135, shot with a Yashica 109 and Lomography CN 400 film.

To be honest: I don’t really care all that much for this camera. I find it hard to use. Being a pinhole camera, you always need a relatively long shutter speed. So you always need a fairly solid surface, because handheld long exposures (1/30 second and up) seldom goes well. In the absence of a sturdy tripod, I am always dependent on walls and fences and the like, which limits the composational possibilities. In addition, the Holga is made of light plastic, which is nice when you have to carry it about all day, but also tends to lead to motion blur if you don’t have a steady surface to place it on.

Still, I have made some beautiful pictures with the Holga 135 PC. It may not have the charm of a homemade pinhole camera, but (unlike the Holga CFN) it also lacks the light leaks. The lightflares it produces are beautiful, and I have made some pretty neat flower photos. I would not call it a total misconduct.

In general, I think that the Holga PC is most suitable for (extreme) close-ups, for example of flowers (that is, if it’s not too windy). You only have to take care of enough light.

Accessories: Holga Lens Filters

Macro snail. Holga 120 CFN with macro filter and Fomapan Creative 200 film

Macro snail. Holga 120 CFN with macro filter and Fomapan Creative 200 film

The Holga is a sturdy brick of cast plastic. It doesn’t do interchangeable lenses, you’re stuck with the plastic lens it came with. That lens is beautiful, so why look for anything else? But every now and then it would be nice to get a bit closer with the Holga. A beautiful flower in close-up, a distant mountain a bit nearer. For these situations there are accessories for sale.

In my collection I have a set of close-up filters, a few macro filters, and a telephoto lens. Thus, my Holga is fit for all situations. In theory, that is. Those filters and lens are nice to play with, but it takes a lot of practice to actually get good pictures.

The telelens, for example, brings the image 1.5 times closer. The thing consists of a plastic case with dito lens that slides over the Holga´s lens. Make sure the camera is in the infinity (mountain) setting. A side effect of the telelens is extreme circular vignetting. It does have a certain something, but you should keep in mind that not everything you see through the viewfinder will be in the actual photo. More than ususally, make sure that the subject you want in focus is in the middle of the image.

The close-up and macro filters give a strong vignetting as well, but less than the telelens. They are much flatter filters, that you put on the front the lens (again with the camera on infinity). I am most fond of the close-up variations, which allows you to make photos at 50 cm, 25 cm and 12 cm, distance. Especially when using the smaller distances you should not depend too much on the viewfinder, because the lens is of course a few centimeters lower.

The macro filters allow a distance to your subject of 6 or 3 cm. In theory, these make for great extreme close-ups, but there are a few points of concern.

For example, at this distance – even more than when using the close-up filters – the viewfinder is completely useless. You will just have to look over the top of your camera and aim the lens at your subject. This takes some practice, and I have several pictures with just a bit of subject matter at the bottom of the picture to prove it.

Also, if you are this close to your subject, mind that it is not too dark. You can quickly block the light with your camera. You allready have an extra layer of plastic in front of the lens blocking light, so be sure to have enough iso, an extra lamp, or use the flash.

It is important for all filters to use the correct focus distance, because the depth of field is narrow. A measuring tape or ruler will probably come in handy. Or choose a subject with enough depth so that there is always something in focus.

Holga Saga I

Holga 120 CFN and Lomography Redscale 100 film.

Random Holga picture. Holga 120 CFN and Lomography Redscale 100 film.

With fantastic timing, a few weeks after it was announced that the production of the cameras would be stopped, my Holga gave up the ghost. A sad moment, because the Holga is high in my top five of all time favorite cameras. Even my digitally minded friends found it a cool thing, and nicknamed it The Big Green Monster. I did see it coming a little bit. It had been slowly crumbling ever since I bought it a year or five ago.

Now the whole Holga charm is that it’s a cheap Chinese plastic camera, so small wonder that it’s not top quality. Moreover, I did not treat the thing very gently. It was dragged halfway around the world, loosely trown in a backpack, trough rainy northern swamps, dusty Mediterranean islands, hot and humid Asia… All this time losing small bits of itself and producing gorgeous photo’s.

The foam-rubber cubes that kept the film tight in the camera were the first to go, with the first roll of film that I ever shot with the Holga. The foam was rolled into the film, leaving sticky glue residues inside the camera. I learned that those bits of foam are superfluous. Film can be kept tight just as well with some pieces of cardboard.

During a trip to Ireland, I then lost the lens cap. A pity, but no drama.

It was a lot more annoying when, on a next holiday in Corsica, the glue that kept the advance knob in place melted. With some difficulty I could still push the knob down on the shaft and advance the film. When the groove in the shaft was worn out, the knob no longer had grip and didn’t work anymore. I had to try to re-attach the knob. Different kinds of glue all failed because no glue could stand the forces working on the knob when advancing film. For a while, I used pliers to grab the shaft and turn it. In the end, it seemed like Sugru, a kind of instant rubber did the trick to hold the knob in place.

Next, the nib that held the film spool in place broke off. A little more cardboard solve that again.

The light leaks became slightly larger, but some more black tape along the edge of the door helped to correct it.

Then the advance knob came loose again. There were some pictures left on the film, so I thought I’d use the pliers again for a while to finish the film. Then I’d try to fix it again with fresh sugru. But this time I squeezed too hard and the shaft broke off. This really seemed to be the end of the camera.

I just bought a new Holga the Second.

Then one day I came across a crowdfunding thing for a new repair product, the Formcard. I’m a fan of the rubbery Sugru, but that wasn’t strong enough for the knob, especially with only small bit of shaft left to attach it to. The Formcard is a hard plastic that you heat in water, and then it becoms mallable. When it cools, it hardens again. I saw possibilities! Of course, I hadn’t trown Holga the First away, because you never know. A few weeks after later a couple of credit card sized bits of plastic arrived in the mail. No green unfortunately. But black kind of fits the wear and tear on the camera, so black it was.

And lo and behold! It works! Out of the hot plastic I formed a little knob (without burning my fingers too much), pushed it on the Holga (with a piece of aluminum foil underneath so that it would stick to the shaft only and not to the camera body) and waited until it cooled and cured. Pretso! A working knob! It´s may not be the best looking knob, and I had to carve away a bit with a knife to make it run smoothly, but it works.

Holga the First lives!

Crummy tablet picture of Holga the First and it's new Formcard advance button.

Crummy tablet picture of Holga the First and it’s new Formcard advance button.

I ♥ Holga

Holga 120 CFN shot with a Praktica MTL3 and Kodak Ektachrome E200 film.

Holga 120 CFN shot with a Praktica MTL3 and Kodak Ektachrome E200 film.

For a long time, I doubted wether I shoud buy a Holga. I liked the pictures made with a Holga and the camera is pretty cheap, but did I really need another camera? And when I actually saw one in a photo shop (as opposed to on a stand alone picture in a web shop), it looked very big and clumsy to me. But in the end I succumbed. I bought the gorgeous plastic box camera that is now known among my friends as the big green monster.

It’s a simple beast. I have the CFN-version, with plastic lens and coloured flash (white, red, yellow and blue). In theory, has two apertures, cloudy and sunny. Due to a construction error, it only has the larger aperture (f13), flipping the aperture switch has no effect. Shutter time is either 1/100s of B. Included with the camera are two masks, either to fit 12 pictures on a standard 120 roll, of 16.

It took a bit of getting used to at first. The sponges that kept the film tight in the camera were immediately eaten by the first film I shot. Film is now being helt tight by some random bits of cardboard. Soon afterwards I found out that red-scale at a dark party was not a good choice in the Holga. Or any kind of low iso film in moderately dark situations. And when it is light enough, stubborn light leaks make covering the edges of the camera with black tape necessary.

But soon enough, I got used to the peculiarities of my new treasure and my Holga became absolutely indispensable. For one thing, you can pull all the ususal Lomography tricks with the Holga: double exposures, microclicks, panoramas, colored flash, it’s all fun. But the real power of the Holga is in the fantastic plastic lens. A flashy party picture with different color layers is great, but my favorite Holga pictures are regular single pictures, with their unique dreamy appearance that no Instagram filter can equal.

It´s a great holiday camera, too: not only produces it great pictures, it’s also sturdy enough to be tossed about in a backpack, and the cheap plastic look doesn’t attract thieves.

The best spent 69 euros from 2012.

Instant Fun with the Diana F+ Instant Back

Rather indistinct picture of the Diana F+ with Instant Back, taken with a Holga 135 PC and Lomography Earl Grey 100 film.

Rather indistinct picture of the Diana F+ with Instant Back, taken with a Holga 135 PC and Lomography Earl Grey 100 film.

Sometimes a new camera almost immediately makes it into your the list of favorites. One of those is the Diana F+ Instant Back. With emphasis on Instant Back. Actually, the Instant Back is not really a camera, but an accessory: an attachment that transforms an ordinary Diana F+ into an instant camera.

I already had a Diana F+, but I didn’t do much with it. I had gotten it as a freebee with a large order of film, but it never became a favorite. For my medium format photography, I tend to depend on the Holga. But since Impossible’s Polaroid film is quite expensive and I still like instant photography, I thought about getting an Instax camera. Instax film is less than half the price of Impossible film. I really can not buy more cameras, but this was not a camera but an accessory.

In one word: brilliant.

After a few start-up problems, I’ve grown to really love the Instant Back. I just love those brilliant little photographs! Those pictures do need enough light, but they also have a beautiful golden glow. Where the Diana F + in normal mode produces pictures with a typical toycamera look – unsharp at the edges, strong vignetting – the instant pictures have a very different atmosphere.

Like I said, the Instant Back needs a lot of light, which can quickly turn to too much light, but somewhere in between is a lovely optimum in which the world is twice as beautiful as you remember it. The sunlight golden, the colors bright, and everything shiny.

The great thing is that you can also do many regular Diana F + tricks. Double exposures, splitzer pictures, all possible. Press the shutter button as often as you like, and only when you’re done, press the button on the Instant Back to eject the photo.

It’s wise to leave the Instant Back switched off when you’re shooting because it´s all too easy toaccidently push the eject button, and then you´ll have a picture of the inside of your lens cap or bag. Also, the Diana F + is already quite large, and with that Instant Back, it’s even bulkier. Easy to accidentally push a button while stuffing it in a bag.

Apart from that, the Instant Back is easy to use. It works on two CR2 batteries, has an on/off button and an eject button, and that’s it. It consists of a loose rear side, that you put on the Diana F+ instead of the regular rear side. In addition, there is a small extra lens that goes inside the camera. If the batteries are in it and you´ve loaded a box of Instax film, you can get started. Easy as pie.

What you do need to pay attention to is the fact that the viewfinder of the Diana F+ really deviates from the actual image that will end up on your picture – even more so than when using the Diana with regular film. You will see a square image, but the Instant Back produces rectangular images. The bottom portion of the image in the viewfinder is lost and you have to take this into accunt in your composition. But don’t compensate too much, because it’s easy to overcompensate. Even so, it gives you fun, somewhat more surprising compositions.

12 months, 12 projects – June: Hacked Supersampler

Contrary to what my plan for 2017 states, I did not try lightpainting last month. In stead, I’ve hacked a Supersampler. The Supersampler is a funny little camera with four lenses underneath each other. When you take a picture, it fires four times in a row, one lens after the other. All four pictures will appear as a narrow strip on a piece of negative the size of a standard photo.

Lomography Supersampler II and Lomography F2 CN 400 film.

Lomography Supersampler II and Lomography F2 CN 400 film.

Inside the camera you can see dividers between the lenses, which make sure that the four strips are clearly delimited and the images do not overlap. If you remove the dividers, the imagees will overlap. Disadvantage: removing the dividers is irreversible. The plastic strips are firmly attached to the camera. You can break them out, but you will not be able stick them back. Quite a step, one that I never dared to take with my Supersampler.

But some time ago I found a Supersampler in the local thrift store, new in its box. A great opportunity to finally try the trick with the dividers removed.

With some pliers, I quickly had the dividers out. Whether it was due to the customized interior, I don´t know, but it took me quite a bit of effort to get the film properly inside the camera. Somehow, the take-up spool didn’t take. But in the end, it seemed to work, and I could go ahead. I took the Supersampler II on a cycling holiday trough Belgium.

The result is not bad at all! The images captured by the different lenses overlap, but are still recognizable as four different images. No murky blur of four overlapping pictures. It works best if you keep the camera in landscape mode so the lenses are sitting next to each other (rather than above each other). That way, you get one beautifully overlapping image. If you hold the camera upright, it will be a less integrated picture. You often get a relatively large amount of sky in the top half of a picture, which in the Supersampler II portrait mode will overlap the image underneath. White clouds trump darker bits of landscape. Of course, if the sky is darker (blue), or not in the image at all, ‘this is not a problem at all.

Lomography Supersampler II and Lomography F2 CN 400 film.

Lomography Supersampler II and Lomography F2 CN 400 film.

As with the unmodified Supersampler, Supersampler II delivers the best pictures when you’re close to your subject. In my opinion, portraits therefore do better than landscapes. Because the image always overlaps, you should take into account a certain amount of overexposure. Still, this is not really a big deal, since we’re talking about tiny plastic lenses.

I think this was a successful experiment: Supersampler II is actually more fun than number I.


The Gevabox of Wonders

Gevabox, Praktica MTL 3 and Lomography Lady Grey 400 film.

Gevabox, Praktica MTL 3 and Lomography Lady Grey 400 film.

Sometimes you see a camera and you just have to have it. I felt that way about this lovely little box camera. Looks don’t mean a thing, I know, but in this case, the looks didn’t deceive me.

The Gevabox is a lovely, sculptural box camera. It’s pretty advanced, for a box: it has three apertures – f8, f11 and f16; a shutter speed of 1/30 sec and a B setting; and an actual focusing lens! You can turn it from 5ft to infinity.

I saw this camera at a camera fair and immediately fell in love with it. Even though mine is a tiny bit rusty, it still looks great with its chrome details and sculptural protruding lens. It looks a bit Art Deco-ish even though it’s from a much later date (around 1950). It was made in about 1951 by German camera manufacturer Herman Wolf GmbH from Wuppertal for the Belgian Gevaert, a photographic paper manufacturer that wanted some cameras of its own to sell.

After seeing the first roll of redscale I shot with the Gevabox, I was a bit disappointed. The pictures were all a bit blurry and underexposed. I guess I just didn’t estimate the exposure correctly because the second color negative roll turned out perfect! Lovely sharp pictures with nice, natural colors. The only reason I messed up a few pictures was because I forgot that I had it loaded and opened the camera halfway into the roll. That black backing paper with crummy white ink Lomography uses is just not contrasty enough for me.

Still, the Gevabox is a nice addition to my collection, and I’ll definitely be using this one more often.