The History of Holga

Overview

So what is a Holga and what’s the story behind them? Well let’s start with a brief overview before we dip our toes in the History books. Basically a Holga is a simple inexpensive film camera made in Hong Kong.It is made almost entirely out of plastic and the build quality would certainly raise an eyebrow or two if you compared it to modern digital cameras.

But it’s the end results or images that matter and in the case of a Holga camera prepare to be amazed! Creative, Experimental and Fun are just three of many words to describe the experience of using a Holga.

History

In 1969 an enterprising chap named Mr T.M. Lee in Hong Kong started up a company named Universal Electronics Industries. In this exciting stage of photographic history the company initially focussed on manufacturing flash units. The business was successful and for many years continued along these lines.

Bring forward the timeline by just over 10 years and things were starting to change in the world of photography. Cameras were being designed with built in flashes and so Mr Lee decided to diversify the business by designing and manufacturing a cheap and simple camera for the general public in mainland China. The Holga was born. Incidentally the name Holga comes from the anglicized version of ‘Ho Gwong’ which means ‘Very Bright’.

Sales were disappointing as more competitors offered technologically advanced cameras. In addition the usage of 35mm cameras was rapidly increasing leaving the poor old Holga with its cheap plastic design and outdated 120 film format on the shelf.

However, all good things come to those that wait and they certainly did for the Holga. Over time the camera was picked up and enjoyed by artists, educators and enthusiasts and steadily gained a cult following. By 2001, over half a million Holga’s had been sold marking the camera’s 20th anniversary.

Today, the camera enjoys a renewed popularity among those artists, creators, educators and really just about anyone who wants to just have fun with their photography. Technical wizardry may have won the wallets of today’s mainstream photographers who seem to be on an endless quest for increasing amounts of pixels but the hearts are easily won over by the analogue Holga.

Holga-mania

So just what is that turned an unassuming simple, inexpensive, plastic camera into a modern day Cultural Icon? Well, this isn’t the easiest question to answer but we have a few ideas.

Unpredictability. Not a word most normal photographers would like associated with images that come out of their camera. But then Holga photographers are not your normal everyday folk!

Strange effects. Light Leaks, Vignetting, Blur. No, please do not adjust your sets. These effects are usually ‘desired’ by the more creative Holga photographer. Amazingly digital photographers today are now spending amazing amounts of time and effort recreating these regular ‘straight-out-the-camera’ Holga type effects in sophisticated software packages!

Ease of Use. Just whip it out and pull the trigger. These cameras don’t have many buttons, levers, cranks, LCD displays, flashing lights (well, ok, one of them does have a color flash). This simplicity allows one not to be distracted by technology and focus on the subject or meaning of the image being taken.

Fun. Probably the most important reason that Holga’s have attained their cult status today is because they are Fun! Once your technical limitations have been simplified to a couple of very simple choices then you can just grab that Holga, get out there and have some Fun!

The HolgaDirect Team

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12 Responses to “The History of Holga”

  1. Liz February 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    I absolutely love this site dedicated to Holga!!! Interesting to know the history behind these beautiful pieces of plastic. I have only one Holga CFN at the moment, considering a purchase for a second one (120N) to start trying IR photography. I prefer feeding my Holgas black and white film, anything really as long as I get a great moody shot.

    • holgadirect February 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

      Hi Liz, thanks for the feedback! If you haven’t already you should read our interview with Mark Olwick (http://www.holgadirect.com/exclusive-holgadirect-interview-mark-olwick/) as he also shoots IR with his Holga. His online portfolio (link in the article) has examples of Holga IR images from his recent trip to Africa.

      Thanks again,
      Rick @ HolgaDirect

      • Al Wright July 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

        Holy smokes! I can’t imagine shooting IR with a Holga the way they bleed light. You can bet I’m headed right over to Mark’s article to check it out. Just got a Plastic Fantastic Holga lens for my Canon 40D with both the tele and wide adapters. Love them! Word- if you have a digital with a smallish sensor like the 40D, should get the wide adaptor because the ‘normal’ lens is 60 mm (I think) which is moderately tele on these cameras.

        • holgadirect July 11, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

          Hi Al, thanks for your comment. That’s a good tip about the wide angle on the small sensors! Thanks for that. Feel free to share any interesting images you are creating on our facebook page or over twitter.

          Thanks,
          Rick @ HolgaDIrect

  2. Christian May 28, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    One year ago, as I became proud owner of a Diana F+ Deluxe kit and a Holga Starter Set I would never have thought that these cameras would have a big impact on my life. The Holga started as a “secondary” camera to take with me every day.
    But I really fell in love with it it, bought the macro and tele lense kits, and even a 120WPC. Thanks to your site and articles I’m about to explore the world of IR photography with my Holga.

  3. holgadirect May 29, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    Christian,

    Thanks for the message. We’re glad that you are enjoying using the Holga cameras and hope you continue to use them in exploring different aspects of this photography. IR photography is certainly another interesting area. We may see if we can get an article posted on this subject at some point in the future.

    Rick @ HolgaDirect

  4. Brett Kling June 18, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    Who makes Holga cameras? Is it you? I want to recommend they start making a Fuji X mount lens! That’d be awsome!

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