Holga 120N camera review
I have been thinking about writing a camera review for a while now, but cameras are kind of difficult to review so I decided to start with the most basic camera that I own, the Holga 120N. There is no camera that is more basic than this plastic, fantastic camera from Hong Kong and for such a small lightweight camera, it has a huge cult following around the world.
The camera is very cheap and very cheaply made. When you buy the camera, it will arrive in a very basic box, with a tiny manual, a camera strap, a film mask for shooting 645 and finally the camera itself.
The camera is very basic, it is completely made of plastic, has a single 60mm F8 lens, no real focus mechanism, a rough viewfinder, a shutter trigger and a film advance nob. This is basically a plastic box which exposes film but that is what all cameras are, a light-tight box that exposes film and you cannot fault the simplicity in its design.
The heart of any camera is the lens and this camera has a single fixed lens that is completely made of plastic. The lenses of the lens are made of plastic, the lens barrel is made of plastic, the focus ring is plastic, everything except the cold shoe is plastic on this camera. The camera is supposed to offer the aperture setting of f8 and f11 that you can select from the top of the camera but I am not really sure it does anything because the photos seem to have the same depth of field and exposure when shooting with the different settings.
The lens has 4 focus zones shown in pictograms, and hopefully, you will get a sharp-ish image when you select the correct focus zone. The lens focus ring is stiff and takes some effort to adjust, but it is not really like manually focusing, it is more like zone focusing and hoping that you guessed right. To the right of the lens, is the shutter button, which will expose one frame, but this camera is completely manual and after a single frame, you need to use the film nob on top of the camera and advance the film yourself. This mechanism means that it is really easy to accidentally shoot double exposures, so be careful when shooting.
The shutter is very quiet, you can hardly hear it, so this camera is good to shoot street photography. The lens is said to be around f8 but it is really hard to know if this is true. There is no information about the shutter speed but it seems to around 1/100 and it cannot be changed. The lens can be a little sharp in the center but it is soft in the corners and vignettes a lot.
The inside of the camera, you can insert the film mask to shoot 645 with the film mask. With the film masks, use 6×6 for 12 shots and 4.5×6 for 16 shots. I have only used the 6×6 mask on this camera. Next, to the film spoils, you will notice some foam inserts and they help to keep some tension on the film and hopefully flat when you shoot a shot.
The top of the camera is very basic, just the film advance nob and the cold shoe on top of the camera. Really basic and a good camera for people to learn with.
The back of the camera is very simple, just a basic plastic back plate and a red plastic window that allows you to view the film number when you are shooting.
The red window has a selector switch but this has no effect on the camera and just displays the right film counter on the film paper. You need to select the correct frame type, as you will get 16 shots when shooting 645 and 12 shots when shooting 6×6.
The back plate is completely made of plastic and the camera has no light seals, so if you are lucky, the camera will be well made and seal well, but most cameras don’t and they will have some kind of light leak but these light leaks give Holga its unique look and fell in the images that it creates.
The back plate is held in place with some simple metal clips, and they are not very strong. It is very easy to bump them and the back plate can come off, so be careful with the clips. Lots of Holga shooters will tape this clips up to make sure that the backplate does not come off.
The viewfinder of this camera is in the top left-hand corner and it is not even close to being accurate, At best that you can hope for is to shoot everything in the center and hope nothing is strange on the edges of the frame. If you want to shoot precisely composed images, then this camera will drive you crazy.
At the end of the day, a camera is just a light tight box, and one box is the same as all others, so a Leica box is that same as Nikon or a Holga. The lens and the film give the camera its feeling and look, and the way you feel when using the camera is the most important thing. This camera is simply fun to use. It makes people simile when they see it, it looks like a toy feels like a toy and can make some interesting images.
I am very happy that I bought my copy of the Holga 120N. In 2015 the cameras went out of production but you can still buy them online, but I am guessing that the prices of them will slowly creep up. This plastic camera is a great tool to inject some fun back into your photography. It is really not designed for serious work and trying to use it for anything serious, defeats the purpose of this camera. Buy one, shoot it, smile, and enjoy your shoots once they are developed.
To give this camera a final rating is so difficult, the build quality is…..uh……not great, the lens is …..uh…..no great, …….it does not give you a lot of control but what it does give you is pure fun and any camera that can give you a lot of fun is a good camera in my opinion. So my final score for this camera is 80%.