I don’t quite know why…
I never bought one when they were still being made. I thought about buying one when they stopped being made, but the price of used ones skyrocketed (briefly). Then I was going to buy a new one, but heard that they were even less good than the originals.
But then Freestyle had 25% off plastic cameras for Buy Nothing Day, and they ran it through the Monday after, and after hunting eBay and studying the (few) different types of Holgas made and looking at prices, I went ahead, threw caution to the wind, and jumped on a new one.
I’m not going to give you a history of Holga cameras. Either you already know and so don’t care, or you don’t know and it doesn’t much matter. The original manufacturer of Holga cameras ceased operations in 2015, but another company acquired the factory and molds and restarted production in 2016.
Early versions of the new Holgas were widely reported to be worse than the originals, and not in a good way. Many had problems with bad shutters and some shiny metal inside that caused horrible flare. So I was a little bit hesitant, and it took many days and much hemming and hawing before I again threw caution to the wind and loaded up a roll of Portra 400, largely because I didn’t have anything else of a similar speed. (Well, I have a pro pack of Fuji Pro 400H, but I somehow forgot about it. Oh well.)
The shiny metal that caused problems for so many is absent in mine, though the interior looks pretty much the same as the one in the link above. (It’s somewhat out of focus in the shot below: apologies.)
Apparently, this is somehow different than earlier/original Holgas. I have no idea, but the shiny spring and copper bits didn’t seem to cause any issues with flare in any of my pictures. In fact, and to my susprise, my Holga has no light leaks at all, even after dropping it from chest height onto concrete about 4 frames in. The only result of which was a slight loosening of the winding knob, such that it sometimes doesn’t fully engage the takeup spool: I now have to force it down while turning.
The clips that hold the back on also click solidly into place and I don’t see how they could possibly just fall off mid-roll, as is reported with many Holgas, and even noted in Freestyle’s Holga Manual.
My only real problem with the camera is the little switch on the back that toggles between 16 and 12 frames. When I first loaded the film, I assumed the red window matched up with the number of exposures (so in the image above, it would be set for 16 exposures), and I didn’t even notice the little arrow in the switch that you’re supposed to point to the number. It makes no sense to me, really.
So here you can see the result: overlapping frames. Also note the result of switching between the cloudy/flash and sunny apertures. On my copy, there actually is a difference in exposure and in apparent sharpness, as well as a marked difference in flare.
But I quickly figured it out, and the whole rest of the roll was smooth sailing.
I tried to take shots in a variety of settings, and the Holga performed admirably in all, giving some great drama in contrasty scenes and good color and surprising (apparent) sharpness in well lit daytime scenes.
I don’t know… Aren’t Holgas supposed to be prone to light leaks, to the back falling off, to all kinds of maladies? I wanted to run the first test with no tape or anything, just to see what this Holga is like, and it seems completely light tight, with no issues at all. And as a “new Holga,” it displays none of the issues noted by early adopters, and the aperture switch not only really switches between two different-sized apertures, but also runs the right way. (Early versions had the Sunny and Cloudy/Flash setting switched, such that Sunny had the bigger hole and Cloudy had the smaller.)
So that’s my new Holga. No light leaks, no issues with the clips failing, no light bouncing around internally. Just a perfectly fine plastic camera, really
Overall, it’s a plastic camera: good when you want an acceptably sharp central sphere and softly blurred, vignetted corners. It’s cheaply made, and I suspect there’s some sample variation, but my copy seems to be the top of the heap, with no apparent issues. At $39.99, they’re cheap, but if you wait and watch, Freestyle occasionally has some nice sales, and I picked mine up for $30.
Overall, I give my Holga 4 stars.
If you don’t have a Holga already, I can think of only a few reasons to buy one now:
- You want a cheap entry into Medium Format 6×6. (For 6×4.5 the FPP’s plastic fantastic Debonair is half the price.)
- You want to participate in Holga Week.
- You want that shot of the spinning ferris wheel at night on the midway at the State Fair or something, that, really, only the Holga (or some other 6×6 plastic camera with a bulb mode) can offer.
So if you want one, go pick one up! They’re loads of fun, really: cheap, easy to use, and give really surprisingly decent results, as long as you wind up with a good sample. (Or maybe they’re all good now?)