The classic Holga camera finally goes digital

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The Holga, a favored toy camera of artists and photographers, will have a digital model thanks to Kickstarter.
The Holga, a favored toy camera of artists and photographers, will have a digital model thanks to Kickstarter.
Photo: Holga

I have three Holga cameras sitting in a box with at least one still loaded with film. Plastic and unpredictable, the low-fi aesthetic makes portraits and landscapes look dreamy and from another time.

But film isn’t as easy or as cheap to develop, scan and print as it once was, so many photographers like me have watched the dust build up on these cameras while hoping a digital alternative would come along so we could relive the surprise and magic in a Holga picture.

The Hong Kong company that has been making Holga cameras since 1981 now has a digital offspring available on Kickstarter.

Excitement for a digital model is evident in the money raised thus far. With 44 days remaining on Kickstarter, the Holga Digital has more than doubled its fund-raising goal with nearly $80,000 and more than 900 backers.

Inexpensive like its analog sibling, the Holga Digital is currently available for $75.

The Holga and other toy cameras, like the Diana, are cherished by photographers for the surrealistic imagery that comes from crude components. There is nothing on the camera to set, so pictures depend on vision and luck. I sealed my cameras with black gaffer tape to ward off light leaks, but for some a light leak streaking across the frame was part of the charm.

This image was shot with a Holga Digital and has the hallmark vignetted corners.
This image was shot with a Holga Digital and has the hallmark vignetted corners.
Photo: Holga

The Holga was introduced in China in 1981 by T.M. Lee, who wanted Chinese families to have an inexpensive camera. Photography at the time was considered an expensive luxury. The camera was not popular mostly because it required the larger 120 film compared to the more ubiquitous 35 mm.

The camera was a hit, though, with photographers and artists who could lead with their imagination and not be dictated by settings on a camera. Colors popped, the corners of each frame vignetted and a low shutter speed (1/60 of a second) often meant images could be artfully soft.

I series of pictures captured on a Holga digital.
A series of pictures captured on a Holga digital.
Photo: Holga

Today, there is a counter-culture that has gathered around film-based plastic cameras and Lomography is the most recognized dealer and community builder of the low-fi camera movement.

Like its predecessor, the Holga digital will have few controls. For the curious photographer who never had the pleasure of shooting with film, this also means no preview screen. The surprise is part of the experience, but instead of a darkroom with chemicals, the magic will happen when you download the SD card with your pictures.

The Holga Digital will allow the user to select from two frame ratios, 4:3 or 1:1. The camera will let you do a long exposure and the aperture can be set at f2.8 for darker lighting conditions or f8 for bright light.

The sensor is a low-noise CMOS color sensors with an 8-megapixel resolution

Lee, the camera’s creator, leads the team behind the digital model. The campaign ends Oct. 15 and cameras will begin shipping by January.

The Holga comes in four colors and lens attachments made for the film models will fit on the newer cameras.
The Holga comes in four colors and lens attachments made for the film models will fit on the newer cameras.
Photo: Holga