The quirky medium format Holga toy camera has been delighting people of all ages since the early 80’s. It was first developed in Hong Kong by Mr. T. M. Lee, then moved quickly throughout the world. The Holga has become adored for it’s unpredictable imaging, varying focal “sweet spot”, and dark edge vignetting. The name Holga is rumored to have come from the anglicized version of the Cantonese phrase “Ho Gwong” which means “very bright” or “you have a very bright/light face.” This is referring to the light leaks that occur due to the inability of the plastic camera parts to shut out the light completely. Photographers have figured out how to fix these leaks with duct tape. Still, many will leave the leaks that add to the idiosyncratic style of the eccentric Holga.
The offbeat Holga is, essentially, a toy camera in that it is both cheap and plastic (nearly all parts are made of plastic, lens included!) However, artists and professional photographers in all genres are now using it to capture high quality and creative photographs. Toy cameras are also popular in photography schools where they can help students grasp the simplicity of how a camera works. By opening the back of the camera, all the photographic mysteries are revealed. Students are also able to focus more on lighting and composition without the distractions of more complex cameras. The settings on the Holga are very simple. The aperture choices are cloudy (f/8) and sunny (f/ll). The shutter speed is fixed at 1/100th of a second and is spring operated. There are four focal point settings from 3 feet to infinity.
The Holga camera can be modified in a myriad of ways. By attaching a cable release, self-timer, detachable macro lens and even a wide-angle lens, the photographer can add variety and personal branding to their medium. Staying true to the cheap and plastic, most modifications and attachments are either do-it-yourself or cheap and plastic. Often the allure of the Holga is the "against the grain" and "simpler is better" attitude its users take; the art becomes more about the photograph and the photographer and less about the gear, complexity and expense.
The Holga is not the only (or the first) toy camera. The Diana has been around since the 60’s. Since that time, the Lomo, the Zumi, the Blackbird, and the Golden Half have gone in and out of fashion. The preference of course is personal; however, many choose the simpler and less expensive Holga for their medium format toy camera needs. One of the prerequisites for using a Holga is letting go of control. The results of a photo shoot are never known until one gets into the darkroom, or receives those photos back from the developers. There is just no predicting what will happen; but rest assured, the product will be unique.