The Plastic Camera Revolution

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Megapixels. Pixel pitch. Flange distance. Inner diameter. Sensor ratings. Video specs. Frame rates. When did photography leave the fun side of the island? Well, for one product category at B&H Photo, photography is still pure, exciting, organic, and freaking fun. If you want to escape from under the at-times-unbearable technological avalanche of digital photography, I have a solution for you: Holga and Lomography cameras. [Note: Millennials might be familiar with Holga or Lomo filters on their social media photos, but, sorry, we are talking about the real thing here—not pretend.]

Holga

Plastics have been getting a bad rap of late. Pollution, waste, single-use, etc. But, as we all know, plastics are critical to many industries, including photography. And, if there is one camera that embraces the world of plastic, it is the venerable medium format plastic legend—the Holga. Even the lens is plastic on the Holga 120N—you have to spend a bit more to get a glass lens!

Holga 120N Medium Format Film Camera

If you have used a Holga or seen photos taken with one, you don’t need me to sell you on the experience, aesthetic, and magic of the camera. But, if this is your first time imagining a plastic camera with a plastic lens, let me tell you that the Holga is suitable for the most serious of photographic missions. Yes, you’ll see the high school photo student take them for a spin and one out of every 20 MFA students gravitates to the Holga [unofficial statistic], but did you know that legendary photographer David Burnett won the White House Press Photography Award with an image of Al Gore taken through the plastic lens of the Holga? “What [the Holga] does is amazing. It’s a very different picture than you would get with any 6x6 camera,” Burnett says.

We could talk specs here, but, hey, it’s a freaking Holga—specs don’t matter. All you need to know is that it takes 120 roll film. In case you missed it above, that is medium format film. Are your friends bragging about their full-frame digital sensors? Tell them you are shooting medium format film because you need more resolution; just don’t mention that the lens is plastic. Popular Holga modifications include jamming cardboard under the film box end flap and using needle-nose pliers to rip out a spring and override the shutter timing mechanism. High-tech stuff.

“I think everyone needs to have a camera where [the settings] are: Mountain, Extended Family, Your Best Buddies, and One Dude,” says Burnett.

It takes a leap of creativity and commitment to leave your 36MP behemoth DSLR or mirrorless camera on the shelf at home and wander into the unknown, armed only with your Holga and a roll of film, but what do you have to lose? Grab two Holgas and a friend and go make some art and, for an afternoon, forget about the crushing weight of technology that digital shooters constantly endure. Then focus, with a zone focusing system, select the only shutter speed available (1/100), choose one of two aperture settings, compose, and get on with the making of great photographs.

Lomography

The Lomography camera line has a twisted lineage spanning decades and crossing many international borders. Categorized with the Holga, the Lomography line is much more diverse (72 different options) and colorful (literally) than the Holga line. The Lomography cameras all bring more plastic to the party, but, depending on the model, they shoot 35mm film, 110 film, 120 medium format film, or Fujifilm instax instant film.

Lomography Diana+ Zone Focus Film Camera with 75mm Lens

The Diana is Lomography’s classic model and it has been around since the early 1960s, when it appeared first in Hong Kong—predating the Holga by a pair of decades. Like the Holga, the standard Diana takes medium format 120 film and has zone focusing. Unlike the Holga, it has a lot more flexibility as to the format of the images and other high-tech features. There are also Diana versions that take 110 film and 35mm film.

Also in the Lomography stable are the land-camera-line Belair medium format camera, 170° fisheyes called Fisheye One and Fisheye No. 2 that take 35mm film, a panoramic SuperSampler 35mm with four lenses, and they have several models that take instax instant film. If you need more color in your life, or want to accessorize almost any outfit, the 35mm La Sardina line has crazy colors and designs that you will not find anywhere else in the photography world. And, if your La Sardina suddenly doesn’t match your outfit, you can get different “dresses” for it to roll with whatever your wardrobe throws at it.

Lomography La Sardina Deluxe Kit with Flash

OK, I get it. Switching to medium format film in a plastic camera is a bridge too far for you. If you want to simulate the Lomography feel digitally (not using fake social media filters), Lomography also makes a small battery of lenses for 35mm digital and film cameras including the Petzvel, Daguerreotype Achromat, and Minitar.

Lomography LC-A Minitar-1 Art Lens 32mm f/2.8 for Leica M Mount

What do you think about the possibilities of making images with a classic, all-plastic camera? Feel free to share those thoughts, below.

2 Comments

I've shot with the Holga going back into the late 90s and have created fine art work. Recently, I've shot with the Vivitar PN2011, another lo-fi all plastic camera.

Nice! Thanks for stopping by, Victor!

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