Holga 120S

The Holga 120 S was the original model of the infamous Chinese-made Holga medium format toy camera. The current equivalent is the Holga 120 N, still available from various sources. I took these pictures in Ottawa (Canada) on black and white film sometime around 2000-2001. You could pick your film and your lighting conditions, but other than that, the only controls were a choice of four focus zones and two apertures, cloudy and sunny. These were said to correspond to f/8 and f/11, but all it did was move a little tab with a hole in it behind the lens to provide the smaller aperture. As far as anyone knew, the tab or flap didn’t actually change the exposure because the hole wasn’t properly sized for it. Like all box-type cameras that preceded it from the earliest Kodak Brownies onwards, this worked on sunny and light cloudy days simply because it relied on the relatively large dynamic range of negative films. With film negatives, exposure can be corrected for when making the prints, at least to some extent. You might have wanted more precision when using the same film in a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex, but close enough was usually good enough for a toy camera.

The camera came with two removable inserts that allowed you to choose between the 6×6 and 645 aspect ratios, commonly used with 120 film. Some photographers omitted the insert entirely, which gave them the same native 6×6 format, but with the possibility of adding scratches to the film due to the rough unfinished edges that were left uncovered in the film path. There was little point in using the rectangular 645 insert, since the viewfinder was square anyway, and you could easily just crop to that format when making the prints.

The Holga was always notorious for allowing light to leak onto the exposures in the camera, but I have to say that mine didn’t really do this much. I think many light leak problems were caused by the red film advance window being directly exposed to bright sunlight, or buy improper 120 film handling by unwary photographers. Unlike the film in a 35mm cartridge, 120 film is just rolled up film with a paper backing. If not kept tightly rolled up when loading or unloading the film, light can easily reach the film. Of course, that’s not to say the manufacturing of this camera wasn’t a little variable. It was all just cheaply-made plastic with nothing added to seal the joints of the camera back.

The currently-available Holga 120 N seems a little better put together. I suppose you might still come upon an original S model in a junk store or an online seller, but be aware the simple spring-loaded shutter may not be very reliable after so many years. Even if it works at all, I wouldn’t expect much remaining life out of it. The newer ones also have an aperture switch that actually works.

Scroll to Top