Holga? On a Digital SLR?

Holga? On a Digital SLR?

I think I first discovered “Lomo” photography with the iPhone Hipstamatic app. Of course, that’s not real lomo, not in the purest sense of the word but it was roughly in the spirit of proper lomo. What it did do was spark of an interest that saw me buy a Holga 120N with build in colour flash and go out shopping for film 120 medium format film.

What I didn’t reckon on though was the cost of this film business. Around £4-5 for a roll of film and £13 to get 12 5×5’s processed was steep, especially when you are used to digital. One B&W film was developed and I bought a roll of colour 120 film at the same time. That roll has sat, exposed in the Holga for over a year now. I love results but simply can’t be bothered with the hassle of the developing and the cost. Of course I could learn to develop myself but that’s not a route I fancy if I’m honest.

So, the Holga gathered dust and I turned my attention to Lensbabies to get a fix of strange effect photography. The Lensbabies are great but I wanted something more Holga like. The digital Diana F lenses that appeared a while ago seemed to be a possible answer but they only really worked full frame so that was them out of the running.

Out of the blue a couple of week’s back I spotted a Holga lens on ebay, Nikon fit Holga lens to be exact. I done a little research and yes there was indeed a genuine Holga lens with a Nikon DSLR fit. Prices range a bit on ebay with some UK sellers selling them for more than an entire film Holga but I eventually picked one up from a Hong Kong seller for the huge sum of £11.99 delivered to the UK which only took a week to arrive.

When it did arrive it was a pleasant surprise. It is genuine Holga. Exactly the same as the lens on the film Holga. It’s not the best built item in the world but what do you want at £11.99? Trying it out on a Nikon D90 you have to obviously go full manual as there are no electrical connections and the first thing you will notice is how dark the image in the viewfinder is. You really need to ramp up the ISO to use handheld and it simply does not let a lot of light through. Remember though, this is Holga so what’s a little noise in an image here and there?

First impressions are that the lens is VERY Holga like. You pretty much get everything you get from the film except the light leaks. Vignette, soft focus etc are all there. Even looking through the viewfinder with this lens is a whole different experience.

One issue though is that on a crop sensor it’s quite a zoom lens, in the region of 100mm to get exact, however you can get a wide angle adapter for it for the sum of £8 from Hong Kong which I’ve bought and it does the job nicely simply slipping over the top of the lens.

I’m not suggesting for a minute this is REAL Holga or lomo, which the devoted will arguer forever has to be done on film but it’s a nice second on the more versatile digital format. At around £20 for the lens and wide angle adapter it’s a no lose situation to give it a try. Lomo isn’t for everyone but if you have even a passing interest in this style of photography you could do a lot worse than check out a digital Holga lens.

Below are a few sample images I’ve taken with this lens.

This was my first attempt with the lens on an overcast evening.
Forth Bridge Holga

These next 2 were taken on a tripod just after the sun set.
Belhaven Bridge Holga 2

Belhaven Bridge Holga

This last shot was handheld in very bright sunlight. I’ve upped the vignette and used a light leak style overlay in the final image processing.

Holgafied Boats

The never ending quest for decent photographic filters

About a year ago I made my first serious move into using filters in my photography. At that point the furthest I had gone down that route was a few cheap screw in circular polarisers, ND8’s and UV filters, which were fine for what they were but the more I read about filters and seen what other people were doing with them the more I wanted to stick a toe in this whole new world of photography.

Cost was an issue, isn’t it always, so I lowered expectations and bypassed the pro systems like Lee or Cokin Z and stated to look at a P series system, the 85mm slot in filter range. This seemed perfect as the filters were reasonably priced and there was a huge range to choose from. After some initial research I discounted Cokin’s range of ND filters as they got a terrible feedback online with dozens of complaints of purple colour casts on shots taken with the Cokin ND’s.

Eventually I settled on Formatt Filters Hitech range which seemed to be a decent alternative and bought a set of 0.3. 0.6 and 0.9 ND filters and a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 ND soft grad filters. Throw in a P series holder and a 77mm and 67mm adapter ring and I was no more than £75 out of pocket for a basic setup. I quickly also added a Kood 85mm slot in circular polariser to this line-up and for just under £100 I was ready to go.

The journey though, was a rough one. I learned a lot about filters and found that Hitech filters did indeed colour cast, especially with more than 2 stacked together. A 0.9 on its own was fine. A 0.9 soft grad on its own was fine. Stack the 2 and purple skies all round. At this point I nearly gave up, disheartened by the new purchases as they seemed to be a step back rather than the step forward I had hoped for.

In this situation, rather than throw in the towel it’s better to try and understand what is actually happening and how you can best avoid it. To this ends I started to see which conditions the filters worked best in and also figured out how to remove the worst of the cast in Photoshop so it was less of an issue. I soon stated using them all the time and was getting some reasonable results.

By this time I had added a cheap sunset grad, Kood red soft grad, Kood light tobacco soft grad and a Cokin 81A warm up filter to the collection and found that each of them worked best in certain situations. It took a lot of trial and error but once the understanding was there it made the frustration a lot less. Once you understand that in the middle of the day a red grad will give a shocking false image and used on a sunset it will work nicely you can really move on!

The next step was delving into long exposure photography. Initially I done this by stacking a screw in ND8, first then attaching the p series holder fitted with the Hitech 0.9 ND, 0.9 ND soft grad and 0.6 ND soft grad. Colour casting was horrific but I was able to get exposures up to long enough to streak clouds and flat out water, although the shots could only be used as mono conversions.

The solution to this was to invest in a proper 10 stop filter. Some research suggested that screw in types were best as they avoided light leak so I attempted to get a B+W ND110, which was the first time I came up against the difficulty in getting good filters. These were nowhere to be found, most places were quoting 6-12 week lead times which were no good to me, I wanted it now! Another quick Google and it seemed that the Heliopan ND3.0 was as good as the B+W and luckily, there was a stack of new 77mm versions on EBay at £95 a go. Cheaper than the B+W but even better, available now.

The Heliopan changed everything. Long exposures with no cast were now possible. Even stacking one 0.9 grad in some situations was possible but it still gave horrible casts from time to time. Not the Heliopan, it was perfect but the Hitech was no doubt the cause of the problem.

This got so frustrating I ended up buying the Lee filters foundation kit with intent to move to Lee filters, no matter what the cost. I got the holder at a decent price and it lay there unused as I had no 100mm filters for weeks on end. The problem this time was the lack of Lee filters anywhere. There are just none for sale, or at least for delivery this side of Christmas it seems. Some places are quoting 16 week + lead times for any Lee resin filters and as a result of this the 2nd hand market for them is nuts. 2nd hand Lee grads are going for silly money with this shortage and the “Big Stopper” even worse!

Eventually out of frustration I looked again at Hitech filters. Some recent blog comment seemed to suggest that the company had a new resin it was using and the results were near comparable with Lee filters for a fraction of the cost. This was based mainly around the Hitech equivalent to the Lee Big Stopper but there was also a new range of 100x150mm Hitech filters.

A quick search on eBay shows these filters going for around £40-£55 but in one of these rare moments where you get an actual bargain on eBay I found individual 0.6 and 0.9 soft grads for sale, made an offer and now own both for less than the cost of a single filter from some of the other sellers, both brand new and unmarked!

A quick test with these in conditions I would have normally expected to see colour cast produced no colour cast at all. Even a 30s exposure in tandem with the Heliopan 10 stopper produced no cast which is an encouraging start. Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll try these in a variety of ways and conditions and report back what the overall impression is.

If it’s good then an investment in a Hitech 0.9 reverse grad may well be in order and I’ll have to possibly consider the new version Hitech ND3.0 as well. The screw in Heliopan is a terrific filter but screw in and out in cumbersome if you need to recompose. A slot in option might well be handy but only if it performs as well.

I’m not discounting a switch to Lee in the future but for now while there is no availability there’s nothing to lose in trying the Hitechs, if nothing else it’s letting me use that nice new Lee filter holder at last!