Polaroid Pinhole Camera Recipe

This is a story (or a tutorial) about creating a Polaroid pinhole camera. The initial motivation was to make a pinhole camera for use with a 6 grade class to teach them all about optics, but the camera is also super fun for me. This is my first experiment with a Camera Obscura imaging device, or commonly called: pinhole photography, one of the most accessible high-technologies of this and the last century. It’s a way to create interesting images without an expensive camera, and is an excellent way to demystify photography.

Kids are easy to impress, you give them a smart phone and they’re all like, oohhhhh, awesome, and you can make pictures with these fantastically plastic devices. But with a smart phone you have no understanding at all about what’s going on. Even most folks with a digital SLR probably don’t have a great concept about light capture and the reality that the physics behind your super amazing 24 megapixel Sony A900 can still be boiled down to nothing more than a very advanced light box. That uber-awesome Carl-Zeiss lens is built to high standards, but all it does is focus a little light on a light-sensitive surface – and with a pinhole camera, we don’t even need glass to focus the light.

The Idea

Originally this pinhole idea was for a school project, and I wanted to have something as cheap and easy to build and use as possible. While researching Polaroid pinhole I found a tutorial on Flickr where you put a piece of Polaroid film into the back of an aluminum container to build the camera. This is the cheapest way to do it and works well enough, but you need to change the film in total darkness. You also need a way to press the film correctly to apply the developer to the image, requiring the rollers from an old Polaroid back. Sure, we could do that with a light-tight tent and a rolling pin, but I wanted something more…instant. Also something with fewer things to go wrong to demonstrate the concept to the kids before they built their own. So, I looked at what I had in the house, and I ended up taking apart a Polaroid film back from my Mamiya 645 camera and then taping the aluminum container to it. I painted the inside black with spray paint, and then pressed a pin through the front before taping the film back in place. Hence the name, Polaroid pinhole camera. Now, you can also do things like measuring the pinhole (possible using a projector) and do some calculations to know your exact exposure for your film, but I didn’t feel like doing math and just took the camera out to shoot around Zurich with. More anticipation for the result, less thinking, more fun.

Polaroid Pinhole Recipe

  • Aluminum tin (or box, or whatever)
  • A Polaroid back (any one that accepts film will do)
  • Black paint (choose another color for interesting effects)
  • A pin
  • Polaroid/Fuji Instant film

The aluminum tin or box you buy from a supermarket or find in your house/apartment along with the black paint and the pin. The Polaroid back you can find on eBay (probably the cheapest) or the used departments at places like Keh or Adorama. You can probably also buy an old Polaroid camera and rip it apart for the film back, but that sounds a tad aggressive. Once you have a Polaroid back, you need to remove the front of it. Why? Because these backs are designed to show film areas for 6×4.5 or 6×6 (depends on the back you have), which are smaller than the Polaroid film area, and you want to use the whole piece of film. On my Mamiya Polaroid back I just removed the rubber backing, removed a few screws, and could then pull the face off of the back with out creating any permanent damage. The loading area for the film was perfectly intact, and ready for the pinhole camera body. If you want a wide angle camera, the distance from the film plane to the pinhole should be 2-3 inches, and will correspond to about a 20-35mm lens from a 35mm film camera. If you want more of a telephoto just use a box with a larger distance.

The film isn’t too hard to get, even in Switzerland. You can get Fujifilm or Polaroid. Now, there are two types of instant film from Fuji, one for legacy Polaroid systems, and one for their new Instamatic line. These are not interchangeable, and you want to buy the legacy Polaroid type, otherwise it won’t fit in your Polaroid back. There is also the Impossible Project, a company which makes Polaroid film in various flavors like black and white. The Impossible Project products are direct copies of the now discontinued Polaroid films and will work well with this system. The Fuji however, will be the cheapest and easiest to find, and I would recommend going with the Fuji to start out with to perfect your technique.

What comes next?

I’m having a blast with the Polaroid pinhole, but I see room for biggering. First, I want to start shooting portraits with strobes. It’ll be easy, just take some flashes along, set them up as desired, and trigger them by hand for the shoot. Second, is biggering to a Fuji 4×5 Polaroid back. This is a back for 4×5 large format cameras, and can be found on eBay or in Japan via the Japan Exposures webshop. This will allow me to easily use a larger film size, which can be easily bought in color or black and white from FujiFilm. Excessive? No doubt, but should make for an interesting project.

Analogue to Digital

Once you have your fabulous pinhole images, you might still want to share them with those kids with the smart phones. And on smart phones, you might want to make them look like classic faded Polaroid images, as has become oh, so, so popular with Hipstamatic/instagram mobile apps. I like to scan my image on a flatbed scanner (I have an Epson 4990) and then transfer it to my iPod Touch. From there I run can run the image through Red Giant Plastic Bullet, and then instagram, where I can easily upload to Twitter and Tumblr. For more info, check out article: My Favorite Mobile Photo Apps for iOS Excessive? No doubt, but I don’t like to use just one imaging technology. I mix, I match, and I love the ability to apply the classic Polaroid look to Fuji-instant film on an image captured in a aluminum box and processed on my iOS device. In closing, here are some images showing the disassembled Polaroid back, painted aluminum camera body, assembled camera, and example images.

Sony A900 Replacement – A950 Deal Breakers

Rumors are starting to abound of an A900 replacement coming in 2011 (I think) – named the mystic A950 with a new 30 megapixel+ sensor and either a SLT or traditional optical viewfinder design. I heard this from a guy who has a brother who has a friend who works at Sony R&D and he read this rumor on SonyAlphaRumors. Having shot the past year or so with my A900, I have an idea of what the A950 does and doesn’t need. I’ve used the A900 for various needs including weddings, studio portraits, documenting the painting process, grafitti shooting, Bratz dolls, Lego animation, etc. The A900 basically rocks, and only needs a few tweaks to be awesome. What are the deal breakers on the A900 replacement?

Live View

First off, live view is a deal-breaker on the A950. Deal Breaker is a word combination that I hate to write or read (I just felt some bile erupt in my innards at the sound in my head). People throw it around on forums everyday and when you look at the crap these people shoot it’s obvious that they only care about writing useless crap on the internet. But, live view is a deal-breaker on the A900 replacement. Why? Simply because live view dramatically increases the usefulness of a digital still camera.

As a stills device the A900 is awesome, but for shooting macro images or with manual focus lenses, the A900 sucks. Yes, it has a nice large viewfinder (for a DSLR), but the cheaper cameras like the NEX5 and every other DSLR now on the market have this very basic feature of previewing the image before it’s made in real time. Getting accurate focus and framing is just more precise on a large LCD than on a large DSLR focusing screen. It’s also nice for framing an image when you have the camera above your head or down low or at a weird angle. Live view is just a great feature if implemented correctly, and it’s a critical feature to have. Live view means precise macro focusing. It means precise focusing with manual lenses. It means the ability to enable remote camera operation from things like iPads, iPhones and computers (although I think Sony also needs to release a decent SDK for this to happen). Live view helps to frame images when your eye can’t be level with the viewfinder. Live view is needed on the A950 – period.

Take note however, Live View and Intelligent Preview should both be there. Intelligent preview is used to make a temporary image which is displayed on the LCD but not saved to the memory card. I love intelligent preview for quickly checking lighting and histograms in the studio. It’s needed because live view is useless for studio photography when external strobes are used. I use intelligent preview all the time in the studio to quickly preview the scene without taking a full image. And yes, it does make a difference, I don’t want to shoot a full-sized real image and have it saved to my memory card just to visualize lighting and to check the exposure histogram. Intelligent Preview is better for images made using strobes. Live view is needed for everything else.

HD Video

Look, yes, I know and appreciate the difference between stills and video. I bought a VG10 because it’s a proper video camera, not a stills camera that needs to be upgraded to a video device. Video is needed, but not in the same sense as live view, and no, putting the 24p 1080HD video option in an A950 will not kill the new CineAlta F3 or NXCAM cameras. The Canon 5D-II and other popular video DSLRs are being used to make movies because no other device is there to fill that niche, which is why Sony released the CineAlta F3 and the new NEX NXCAM. The F3 is for high-end Indy films and professional digital cinema. The NXCAM model is for Pro video, and there’s the VG10 for consumer video. People are not going to be buying the A950 instead of the new high-end video cameras to shoot movies with. People want to shoot video with video cameras, not giant DSLR rigs that look like baby transformers and have horrible moire performance. That’s why Panasonic is selling the AF100, why RED developed the Scarlet and Epic concepts, and why Sony released the VG10 (and will be releasing the Pro-NEX NXCAM). A video capable A900 would be an awesome compliment the my VG10. Video isn’t a deal-breaker in the A950, but it needs to be there.

Non-Crippled Exposure Mode

The A950 needs the ability to autoexpose in aperture or shutter speed priority modes when manual lenses are attached to the camera. With a manual focus lens you only have the option to shoot in full manual exposure mode with the A900. This sucks and is purely a firmware issue that should’ve been fixed years ago (and could be fixed by a new A900 firmware). I should be able to put a lens on the camera, adjust the aperture on the lens, and have the camera choose the shutter speed and ISO for a correct exposure, just like I can on my NEX-VG10. Without this basic function, your ability to use the camera is limited because you have to adjust the shutter to match the aperture you use. Even my old Minolta 7D chooses the correct shutter speed for an ideal exposure with a manual focus lens attached. It’s a very basic feature and should be a function on any camera body. One reason the NEX line is so popular is that people can use whatever lenses they want on their body (with adapters). This adds to the value of the camera, and it should be the same on the A900 replacement. Focus confirmation on manual focus lenses should also exist. Sure you might need to add an electrical interface to the lens, but this is possible with Canon and Nikon and their built-in rangefinder designs. It just makes the camera better. It’s useful when manual focusing with Sony/Zeiss autofocus lenses and as well old manual focus devices, it’s not a must, but would be awesome.

Optical vs. STL Viewfinder

If the STL viewfinder works as well as an optical one does and improves the user experience, then it should be there. Currently, the A33 and A55 do not do this. With the SLT cameras (and with the NEX-VG10) it’s very difficult to use the cameras in the studio with off-camera flashes. The reason is that the electronic viewfinders try to depict the scene according to the manual exposure the photographer sets on the camera, but this of course doesn’t account for the power output of the flashes that will go off when the shutter button is pushed. The resulting live view image is a black screen when I shoot in my studio with the VG10. This makes framing the shot very difficult and is also a rather huge deal-breaker because it severely limits the use of the camera on shoots. I like having an optical viewfinder because I can easily frame the shot (even if the camera isn’t turned on). What I’m hoping is that Sony will develop a dual-system hybrid view-finder, similar to the Fuji compact camera shown at Photokina 2010. Rumors suggest this will be available on the coming NEX7, and would actually make for a very nice addition to the A950 design.

In Summary

So, basically the A900 replacement needs: Live View, HD video and non-crippled manual exposure mode. If there’s a better viewfinder design than the current one that would be great, but it needs to be better than the A33/A55 design. A rangefinder should also be integrated to help manual focusing, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

A900 Firmware Update

Sony has released a firmware update for the A850/A900 which addresses the exposure issue with manual lenses. The update includes the following:

Faster autofocus, extended the range of exposure value (EV) compensation to increased to ±5EV, exposure bracketing range has been increased to a maximum of 6.0EV (-3EV, 0EV, +3EV). The A900 and A850 firmware updates are available on various Sony support websites, including

Sony NEX-VG10 User Review

Editor’s Note: This is a user review of the Sony NEX-VG10 camcorder. It has been written mainly in a window seat on the TGV express train between Basel and Paris L’est. It is a User Review in the sense that I’m just a guy who likes to use camera and writing technologies as storytelling tools. These are my experiences with the VG10 so far. This user report details why I got the camera, what I use it for, and what I think of it.


So, of all the video camera options out there, why did I get a VG10 in the first place? Well, I’m basically a stills photographer with movies in my heads, and the time was right for me to start experimenting with video – and the VG10 fit the bill, offering the critical features I was after. I started shooting stills with a Minolta 7, and then moved on to a 7D, eventually to a Sony A900. Presently, I have a nice collection of Sony Alpha-Minolta mount lenses. I love bokeh, and wanted to start taking moving pictures. Those goals would be easiest to attain if I just could shoot video in a similar manner to the way I do photography. The VG10 allows just such a bridge, while integrating quite well with my current photography tools. Using the LA-EA 1 adapter I can shoot video with all of my Minolta lenses with aperture control (but with manual focus) and as well I can use my Sony F58 flash or Elinchrom Skyports for shooting still images with on-board or external flash. A firmware update is coming to also enable autofocusing with Sony SSM/SAM lenses (with the LA-EA 1 adapter). Plus, via third-party adapters I am also able to shoot with nearly every lens I own. This includes my Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 medium format beast and Contax G glass. Oh, and I’m an admitted Gear Whore, so why wouldn’t I want to buy this cool new toy?

Why Not Just Buy a HDSLR?

I asked myself this a lot. There are many options for video DSLR (HDSLR) cameras or mirrorless designs like the Sony NEX 5 or a Panasonic GH-1 or GH-2 to shoot video with. However, these are all built around the concept of using a photo tool to shoot video. Since I already have an awesome collection of photo tools (Sony A900, Contax G, Fuji GA645, etc.) I figured it was better to do the opposite, and buy a video tool, which can also be used to shoot still images. No other camera I’m aware of at this time includes autofocusing and audio (with a good microphone) recording in one video package. All the current video DSLR or mirrorless options require an external mic for decent audio, and generally extra rigs are required to make them useful for shooting. I’ve played with many of them in the store, and always came away with one main thought, “these would suck to shoot video with.” Afterall, that’s why a whole industry is exploding along side the SLR video revolution, providing things like focus-follow devices, camera cages, external monitors, microphones, shoulder supports, etc. – because the current devices are inadequate for shooting video and recording audio out of the box.

Design Overview

The VG10 is designed as a consumer grade video camera with interchangeable lenses, this makes it totally unique in the world (at the time of publication). It’s designed well, with a nice sort of futuristic body including a handle on top where the microphone is integrated. The handle can be used to hold the camera at waist-level and to pan in different ways. You can do this with a video DSLR as well, you just need to make or buy a cage and handle first. On the left side the viewing screen will flip out and then on the side of body are the various controls. Here you can pick shooting mode, review images, manual exposure settings, etc. You can use the screen or the integrated electronic viewfinder for framing during shooting. This is nice because you can shoot from a number of different positions and comfortably frame the shot. You can buy the camera with the NEX 18-200mm lens, which is optically stabilized. You can also shoot with basically every lens ever made via the appropriate adapter. This makes the camera attractive to owners of any camera system, even Leica users can put their lenses on easily. With its APS sensor, the camera delivers a high quality still or video file. Additionally, due to the sensor size you can have wonderful bokeh (defocused element of the image) in your images or video. The VG10 is often criticized for being rather expensive for what it offers feature wise, but if you price out the body, lens, body design, TTL hotshoe and microphone separately, it offers an acceptable value. What follows are my user views of shooting stills and video with this new funky video-camera.

Shooting Stills

Like I said before, one reason I bought the camera was to be able to shoot with my current lenses. To shoot a still image, you press the still/video toggle button on the back of the camera to access stills mode. Then you press the button on top-rear of the handgrip to shoot an image. All exposure controls are accessed on the control pad behind the video screen. I started by shooting still images to get comfortable with the camera and its user interface and interaction design before getting into video. Since it has a hotshoe, I pulled out my Elinchrom Skyports and started taking images with my external flashes and studio strobes. I had a planned shoot in my studio to produce some send card photos for some models, and I shot with the VG10 along side my A900. The VG10 doesn’t support the RAW file format (but the NEX 3/5 do) but in the studio the exposure is well controlled, and these images would probably not look dramatically different if shot in RAW. Note to Sony: please add RAW file support, it’s easy to do with the firmware update and enough people want it. I like having the RAW option because it allows more freedom in editing. This is one advantage the video DSLR products like the Canon 5D-II have over the VG10, top quality still image quality alongside video capability.

Still Images

Despite the sort of weird feeling of shooting stills with the VG10 (due to its ergonomics as a video device), the file quality is top notch.  Plus, I’m starting to like shooting from the hip or a little low while using the angled viewfinder. I processed the still images from our model session with Adobe Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS3. The lighting was provided from two Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobes in softboxes left and right, with fill reflection coming from LastoLite TriLite reflectors setup in front. My Skyport radio trigger slides into the Sony hotshoe via an adapter and I just fire away as normal. The only problem shooting in the studio is that the brightness of the LCD screen is tied to the exposure of the scene, and as such it goes totally black in the studio because the modeling lights on my strobes aren’t providing enough light when I input the manual settings. You get to see the person for a second when you hit the focus and take a picture, but it’s difficult to frame the person correctly. Maybe there’s a way to turn off the LCD exposure matching feature (another firmware fix?), but I haven’t found it yet. This issue is also a problem when using the new electronic viewfinder on the Sony A33/A55 SLT cameras with studio strobes as well. If it’s like that with the coming A77, I won’t be buying one. It really kills the functionality of the camera for off-camera lighting. One thing I would really love is if you could shoot video and then just press the photo button and shoot an image. Then I could just use the modeling light on my studio strobes to light for video and also take a high quality still image when the strobes fire, but this isn’t possible. All in all, the VG10 takes good quality still images. The main limitations are no RAW, no stills while shooting video, and framing difficulty when using manual exposure and off-camera lighting.

Shooting Video

I’m currently using the VG10 for a couple of different video projects. These include, live band footage, Lego stop-motion animation, and screwing around in my apartment.

The VG10 is a Handycam, and as such it is made to shoot video easily and quickly. There’s a large video button on the back of the camera, you press it, and video recording starts. However, it’s only nice when the camera up at shoulder level when your thumb can easily press it. The camera is also designed to be held at waist level and as well by the top handle. So why is there only one big button in the most inconvenient place at the back of the body? And why can’t we use the still photo button to shoot video with? You can force autofocus using the still image button to focus during video recording, but it should allow video start/stopping as well. Even better, there should be a button at the front of the body to allow more natural use. Even better still, I would like some buttons on the handgrip to allow easy manual control of speed and aperture, but that’s probably not happening in a Handycam.

The Formers

My first video experience with the VG10 was at the Formers gig at Zak in Rapperswil-Jona. Zak is a nice small venue, perfect for live music and a little head banging. I shot stills with my A900 and had the VG10 hanging off my shoulder to shoot with as well. The 18-200 isn’t a very fast lens, the maximum aperture is 3.5 at 18mm and the stage lighting alternated between darkness, green smoke, red, etc. It was a good place to see how the camera does in low, unpredictable light. As it is a Handycam, I just pointed and shot, without paying attention to anything like audio levels, exposure, etc. I missed focus a few times because I was accidentally pressing the photo button, which held the focus in the wrong point. If I had just pointed and let the camera do the thinking it would have worked out better.

Adapting Lenses

In my apartment I’ve started playing around with different lenses. One of my favorites is the Sigma 20mm f/1.8 from my film days. It needs to be rechipped and currently the autofocus doesn’t work on any of my digital bodies. However, the main reason to use this lens is at maximum aperture, and that’s what I did while filming my small toy collection. A 20mm lens is a very nice focal length on with the APS-sized sensor of the VG10. It’s moderate wide, and high-point of the Sigma lens is that it has macro-level close-focusing capabilities. You can focus down to a few centimeters with this 20mm lens, very unique in the imaging world. However, filming by hand with such a setup is not easy, and it’s wetting my gear acquisition appetite for a dolly to accurately frame, focus, and have smooth camera movement during the shoot.

I bought a Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 about a year ago, along with a Fotodiox Hassy-Sony adapter to mount it on my A900. Since I wear glasses and the A900 has no live view, the lens doesn’t work so well with that setup. There’s no split-screen to manual focus with the A900 so when I use and focus in through the viewfinder I always focus in front of whatever I’m shooting. However, using the Fotodiox adapter along with the LA-EA 1 I’m able to put the Hassy glass on the VG10. Now I can focus using liveview for stills or video with the Hassy. This creates a sort of badass combination with very nice bokeh and 1080 video, perfect for video documenatry videography and looking cool. I haven’t used it much, but plan to as soon as the proper project gets started.

Audio Quality

My only other experience with gathering audio is with my Zoom H4. I know what good audio sounds like, just like I know what good wine tastes like, but I’m no expert in the area when it comes to highlighting nuances like the difference between MP3 and uncompressed audio. I just know what sounds and tastes good. The microphone has four omnidirectional elements, which allows the system to filter out unwanted background noise and such. As far as I’m concerned the audio quality rocks. I pointed and shot the Formers, didn’t give a thought to the audio levels and the audio came out sounding awesome. No mess, no fuss, no needing to audio sync the sound and video feeds in post-production (like with a HDSLR), I’m very happy with the audio quality on the VG10.

Video Codec and Frame Rates

As a newby with video production, I am totally new to the video formats, codecs, frame rate issues, and other topics concerning indy film making. The VG10 shoots AVCHD in a 1080 50i/60i wrapper, but the actual frame rate is 25 or 30 fps (depends on where you buy it). Unless someone (maybe someone like me) hacks the firmware (like was done with the GH-1 by someone else), it’s super unlikely Sony will release an updated firmware that allows  variable frame rates. This is due to the design philosophy of the Handycam.

A user should be able to pick up and shoot a Handycam without ever thinking about the details. You can’t even pick an ISO setting for shooting video (but you can when shooting stills). That’s the way consumer Sony video products are, and it will probably stay that way. I would like the ability to change frame rate, but at this point it would just be for experimentation, due to the fact that I’ve read on many internet forums that 24p is what people use to shoot movies because aesthetically it looks better. I’ve also read that AVCHD is a horrible format and it isn’t as good as other options like H.264 or something else. However, since I still don’t really know what I’m doing it doesn’t really matter too much, but eventually I will have a clue, and then I’ll think about going to Panasonic with the GH-2 or AF100 if I really get into video production and Sony isn’t offering what I want (I have no brand loyalty).

So dear Sony, give me variable frame rate and different video codecs or I’ll look to another system or try to hack the firmware (but first I would need to learn how to hack).

In Summary

All in all, I like the VG10. I’m not a technology apologist or a Sony fanboy. I point out when technology sucks and praise the successes I see. I’ve shot stills in the studio and video in a dark venue and the camera performed well. The VG10 fits the bill for what I want right now in my video life. It’s a camera I don’t have to think much with, uses my current lenses, gives me high quality video and audio, and is portable and adaptable for stills as well – and it fun to use. This “bill of features” will change for sure as I learn more about video production and accordingly demand more from my video camera.

Although I bought the VG10 to be an all-in-one device, I’m looking at designing a cage for the VG10 and also adding a focus follow at some point to improve manual focus capabilities. One glaring design flaw is the tripod mount. The mount on the VG10 is one of worst I’ve ever seen – on any camera – ever. It’s basically a small piece of metal, that doesn’t really connect too well to the inner body of the camera. Some people on the Vimeo VG10 group are already talking about modifying the mount to make it usable (yes, it really is horrible). The tripod mount on the LA-EA 1 adapter is much more robust, and I like to use that with tripods. One other design suck is that the tripod mounts on the LA-EA 1 and the VG10 are not level with one another, making it difficult to adapt heavy lenses to the front and improve the rigidity of the system. But it is a consumer body (now I’m starting to apologize).

The VG10 is basically a “feeler” product from Sony, it’s a test to see what consumers want. It’s made for the consumer market, but it’s prosumers who are really going to be using this camera. The future track of the VG10 can be directed along the right path if Sony gets the proper feedback. It’s in their interest to create products people want to buy. After all, Sony changed the NEX 3/5 firmware when consumers became vocal enough and demanded more, so there is hope.

Future Projects

Thanks in part to my  VG10 acquisition, the video bug is really starting to bite. I have ideas on deck for shooting promo videos of my paintings from 1 Day of Art Copenhagen and as well integrating video shootings into the normal portrait shoots I do. This will be sort of an experiment in using viral web movies to connect the intent of the artist with the viewers, and create dynamic as well as static content during shooting sessions. With the paintings, it’s also a way to explain to myself what my subconsious was doing while I was painting. Elevating the Web Portraits Zurich project is also burning in the back of my mind. I’d like to do some short interviews with the next people I shoot for that project to to present more about the person behind the technology. I like it when technology not only inspires me to buy more shit, but also fills my head with bundles of energy to head out and do new projects (or reimagine old ones), and to engage in ideas and storytelling methods I hadn’t considered before and, as a result – make life jus a little bit more interesting.

Digital Holga – Yashica EZ F521 Review

EZF521-03813.jpgYashica released a cool little camera called the EZ F521. It’s been released in Japan and I ordered one from Japan Exposures, this is a review of the camera and additionally of the Digital Holga concept. The Yashica F521 has been labeled the Digital Holga. I think this makes sense on some levels and is preposterous nonsense in other ways. The Holga camera is a simple 120 medium format camera produced in China. You can set the negative size to 6×4.5 or 6×7. The body is plastic as is the lens (the Woca version I use has a glass lens) and comes in variations with or without a flash and now different colors. There’s no way to focus with any precision, the lens has three positions, two apertures, and a fixed shutter speed. Of course you can modify the Holga to do bulb exposure and extra shutter clicks can build up an exposure so you can get cool abstract layers overlaid in one image. Basically the Holga is a cheap and fun way to get into medium format photography. The bodies originally cost about 20 dollars, although since they’ve achieved cult status and been produced in various colors, you might pay between 50-100 USD for a new body (maybe with a flash) which is a lot for some pressed plastic.

The Holga Concept

The Holga concept is to just focus on taking pictures with a cheap camera where you need to focus on the subect, as the performance of the camera sucks. The term Digitla Holga has been thrown around a lot since the rise of digital camera technology, but in my mind the only thing that comes close is sticking a medium format back on a Holga or Woca body. I know you can put a Holga lens on a DSLR, and no, I see no fucking point in putting a 2 cent lens on my Sony A900 body. And no, I don’t want a Lens Baby either. Why? Because the Holga look is a combination of substandard manufacturing and horrible body design coupled with cheap plastic.  It’s insane to put actual time or money into trying to replicate the look in any other way.

EZF521-13170004.jpgThe look of images from the Holga/Woca is characterized as unique, as it comes from light leaks and nearly impossible to determine exposure and focus issues. The image to the left was taken in a coffee shop in Zurich with my Woca. You can see scratch marks from the Woca body and it has a very dark and grungy feel to it. Why try to replicate this look in any other way? Sticking a shitty plastic medium formant lens on your Nikon D3 is not being creative. Additionally, trying to replicate the Holga look in Photoshop using PS actions and filters with programmed algorithms using repeated patterns accomplishes nothing short of making your images look like over processed crap. So in this sense, the Yashica F521 is nothing like a Holga. It doesn’t have light leaks and I think it’s safe to say that pictures from one will look closely like those of another, with little variation from camera to camera. However, the substandard lens and funky exposure properties are retained in the F521 design.

The F521 is too well-built to be a Holga. I’m pretty confident my Holga/Woca would explode if dropped on the ground. Holgas are made from cheap plastic with poor fracture toughness, alowing brittle cracks to propagate easily through the body. The F521 actually has build quality on par with my Ricoh GRD and Canon G10. It’s built like a little tank and sort of resembles a miniature Fuji GA645. The finish on the body looks and feels like anodized aluminum and the faux leather on the grip looks well affixed to the body.

Creative Short-Cut

Anyways, what does it mean to be a Holga? The philosophy behind Holga is that you just shoot, without trying to perfect exposure or focus. Resolution is shit because the lens is crap. The point is just to have fun, and if a cool picture is the results, then sweet. Some will say that these limitations make you more creative, like choosing to use a 50mm instead of a 24-70 zoom. I think this is bullshit, limiting your ability to create an image doesn’t improve creativity, it simply limits your options. Want to be creative? Take up painting and challenge yourself to create something in a completely different way from your normal routine. Photography is the easiest “art form” ever developed, the creative part comes from realizing the non-intuitive attributes of a subject. With a crappy camera like the F521 or Holga you just focus on the subject, not on focus or exposure because you have very little control over either one. So you could say these cameras make you more visually aware, but it’s not a short-cut to overdosing on creative expression.

EZF521-03784-Edit.jpgShooting with the F521

Here are the basic details, the Yashica F521 is light, sized to the palm of your hand, runs on three AAA batteries and takes SD cards. A 1 Gig SD card gives you like 180 images if you use the 12 megapixels interpolated image setting. The normal image size is 5 megapixels. I figure it can’t hurt, so I use the 12 megapixel setting. Look, it’s a toy camera, but the F521 actually has decent control over parameters. You can set the exposure compensation, white balance, image size, there’s macro capability (the lens has two focus positions), on-board flash, and some color modes. The automatic white balance is really horrible, so I set that myself.

My first outing with the F521 was a short trip from Zurich to Basel.  I took the camera along and shot a bunch of abstract motion images in the Zurich and Basel train stations. This is the type of imagery I like producing with this type of camera. I’ve done the same in Tokyo with my Ricoh GRD (GRD Frozen Motion Photography). Basically I walk around shooting while I’m walking and the long shutter speeds due to the low light of the Bahnhof produces the blurred abstract images I see in my head as I’m moving through the night. The F521 scans the sensor from top to bottom (I believe) when taking pictures, so if you’re moving the camera you can get a wavy line patterns due to the sensor scan rate.

Due to it’s small size the F521 is a very non-threatening camera and can be useful for creative street photography. It fits in any bag and the lens has a rubber cap, so it’s very compact to take around and you can throw in a coat pocket without worrying that you might be damaging the front element.

Picture Output

F521_Images-0044.jpgPicture quality is as you would expect from a digital Holga, absolutely horrible, but that’s part of the charm and experience. I mainly use these types of cameras to produce abstract images, more akin to my Artcast paintings than a traditional photo image. You end up with pictures with unpredictable exposure, focus issues, and eventually with non-intuitive results, which is exactly in line with the Holga spirit. Concerning digital workflow, I download the images from the SD card directly into Adobe Lightroom for organizing and processing. The F521 image hold up well to processing, including exposure compensation, shadow adjustments, clarity, etc. Shooting with the F521 is a nice balance to shooting with the A900, and I’m planning to shoot with the 521 and my Elnichrom BxRi lights as soon as I get a photodiode to trigger the Skyports from the on-board flash. Maybe I’ll take off the lens and figure out a way to mount a Mamiya 150 f/3.5 portrait lens to it.

Is It Worth It?

The EZ F521 is cheap and definitely worth a look. It’s available for the international market via Japan Exposures and costs 9,990 Yen (about 100 USD). A few years ago Japan Exposures was selling the Fuji Natura S camera with the fixed 24mm f1.9 lens, I hesitated and then they stopped producing them. It’s my biggest purchasing regret of my camera buying life. So I bought the F521 without really thinking about it and so far I’m loving it. Does it live up to the name Digital Holga? Yes, I’m of the opinion that it totally does.


Big Three Camera Blood Bath

Rejoice all the digital junkies of the world, for the Gods have again bestowed upon mortals trinkets and tools to again usher in a new era of digital photographic expression.

These quick and dim-witted camera update articles are some of the more difficult and revolting for photography fanatics to write. But THEY’RE NECESSARY. If I don’t post a fast word-for-word copy of the Nikon D700 press release, I’ll loose all credibility as a respectable hack internet camera writer. It’s the tools you see, not the photography technique which makes great images, and if I don’t tell people to go out and buy a D700, the quality of images world-wide will plummet like a man with wax wings flying towards the sun.

New from Ricoh, the GX200 was announced as a logical update to the fantastic GX100, one of the best compact digital cameras available. The GX200 sports a 12 megapixel sensor, and keeps the fantastic 24-72 mm zoom lens and electronic viewfinder – still in a class all it’s own without any competitors. the RAW write time will be a little bit better and the engineer-Gods at Ricoh promise an improvement in the signal-to-noise ratio. As a good priest to the Gods I can tell, nay, interpret this for you mortals…

The GX200 is better than the GX100, but basically the update is needed for Ricoh to remain competitive in a field of cameras where after 1 year on the shelf nearly every camera becomes obsolete as compared with the competition.

Ahhhh, and Nikon has finally done what Canon did two years ago with the 5D, and with the release of the D700 Nikon now offers a camera with a full 35 mm sized sensor and a price mark of $3000. In addition there’s an updated SB-900, with more power and added benefits for the Nikon flash fetishist (reference strobist).

Photo by Nikon

But what comes next? Gods have the power to bestow life as well as death…what happens when the Digital Gods become angry? No chance, digital junkies across the world are waiting for the fire storm of camera goodness sure to come at Photokina 2008, when Sony will for sure be unveiling and launching the A900 flagship camera, full-framed 35mm and 24 megapixels, the A900 will be competing against the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D-II (or whatever they call it) for market share in the bloodiest digital camera free-for-all since Canon battled Nikon in the pro-journalist and sport-shooter markets in the 1980’s and 90’s.

The end is near, make sure you buy the best glass and camera to capture it…

Sony flagship from PMA2008