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So you think you're a good photographer, ay? You have have all the latest and shiniest and possibly the most expensive lenses tucked away nicely in your bag, alongside some extension tubes and a myriad of filters. In fact at the end of the day you're camera bag is so heavy that you're prone to hernia. Well, having all that might give you a great number of crisp and maybe even interesting shots, but it certainly does not mean you're a pro. In fact just a few weeks ago, I managed to make an absolute fool out of a supposedly professional photographer. Did I give her some lens with too many bells and whistles? No. I did the opposite. I gave her a camera equipped with nothing but a Holga lens. Needless to say, she was completely unable to take a decent shot of me and my very-very good friend.
So, what is the Holga lens? Well, for that you need to first know what the Holga is. "The Holga is a medium format 120 film camera, made in Hong Kong, known for its low-fidelity aesthetic.
The Holga's low-cost construction and simple meniscus lens often yields pictures that display vignetting, blur, light leaks, and other distortions. The camera's limitations have brought it a cult following among some photographers, and Holga photos have won awards and competitions in art and news photography." (Wiki) Now, because of that, they decided to keep the Holga alive by selling its lens for either Canon or Nikon cameras, two of which I bought from Hong Kong, one for myself, and another one for my dear friend who without being a professional (yet), to my surprise was quicker and a lot more able to use the lens, than this pro person who made a fool of herself.
The Holga lens cost just £13 on Amazon, and it takes around 10 days to arrive from China. Comes in a little white box and a protective plastic bag alongside a brief user's manual. Since it is all plastic, it is very light. It is also a one-piece lens so dropping it should not worry you too much. It does come with two protective caps; a bigger one for the front, featuring the Holga logo, and a small on for the rear side of the lens. While all just regular old black plastic, and while admittedly it does feel like a toy at first, it is quite sturdy, and one you mount it on your camera, you'll actually feel like you have a nice lens to look through. No premium feel, no doubt about that, but it is exactly like the original Holga lens (we actually went into a shop in London - close to Poppies Fish and Chips - which sold the entire Holga camera, and it does indeed look and feel the same), and that's exactly what you need. Size-wise it's a rather small lens, and you're otherwise bulky DSLR will instantly feel lighter and a lot slimmer.
Specs-wise, it does not have too many specs, in fact all you get is a 60mm f=1:8 lens. That's all the specs. No whistles, no bells, no setting, even if it does seem to have a settings ring for different types of shots, do not let that fool you, it does absolutely nothing. It is a fixed aperture lens, and the ring is just to feature the same mistake the original Holga did: settings that were later ditched right from the original design, but the lens design remained unchanged, hence the confusing ring.
So, if no settings, no bells and no whistles, then what on Earth is this lens good for? Simple. For taking pictures, and learning how to take pictures. The Holga lens in my opinion is a great lens to learn photography with. It takes you back in time, when there was no image stabilisation, autofocus, there was in fact nothing but light through a hole. And that's where it really gets complicated for most folks. Learning how to manipulate light. It is difficult to get real understanding of how light works and what you can do with it, when it's all done electronically and digitally. But the Holga lens takes all those distractions (and crutches) away from you, and no matter how expensive of a camera you have, you'll end up back in 1981, and taking photos the old-school way. On top of learning photography, this lens will also give you an extra vignetting effect and other minor imperfections. It's like having an analog Instagram attached to your camera. Another great this about the Holga, is that no two Holgas are the same, ergo, no two Holga lenses are exactly the same when it comes to the results they produce. In other words, you're going to have unique shots. Double exposure is another great thing you can do with this lens. In reality, there's loads of things you can do with this lens, the limit is probably only your creativity and the steadiness of your hands.