Back in the 1960’s, various companies began developing all sorts of plastic cameras.  Not just plastic camera bodies, but the lens too!  100% plastic.  Sounds crazy, but it works.

In fact, this simple invention is considered one of the reasons photography reach “art” status — because looking at an image made by a plastic camera, you cannot help but be inspired by it’s unique beauty.

The cameras disappeared over the years as these companies went out of business.  But recently, we have been blessed by a plastic renaissance of sorts.  You can now get your hands on a brand spanking new Holga and a Diana.

They both shoot the medium format 120 film (although 35mm versions are available if you live in a small town where it’s hard to find a lab to develop the 120 film).  You can choose either color or black and white film, of course.  And there are even quite a few accessories you can add as your mastery and enjoyment of the medium grows.  These include color gel filters, flashes, and flash gels to name a few.

Keep in mind when shooting, that your subject, if you want it to be in focus, should be near the middle of the frame.  Most pro photogs or enthusiasts have been taught the rule of thirds… Well, throw that out the window.  Find subjects that work well in the dead center of your frame.

Also, don’t shoot at the sun.  The plastic lens doesn’t create a beautiful flare… It just turns the image milky.  Even a little bit of light hitting the side of the lens can ruin the shot — watch out for this… I learned it the hard way.

You only get 12 shots per roll of film (this can be extended to 16 on the Holga, but the image isn’t square – and that’s the look everyone loves – so why bother).  And I’m usually happy to get 2 or 3 great images from each roll.  Hey – what do you expect?  It’s experimental!

I love the simplicity of the camera.  My 4 year old can operate it, as it looks much like an old Kodak Brownie with similar simplicity.  On a Holga, you have two exposure settings – one for sun, and one for shade (equivalent of a f/11 and f/8 for shade, in case you were curious).  The focus dial only has pictures to help you set your focus: one person (3 feet), three people (6.5 feet), a group of people (20 feet) and mountains (33 feet & beyond).  As for shutter speed, you can choose a “normal” setting which is the equivalent of 1/100th of a second, the or “bulb” setting which allows you to leave the shutter open for as long as you hold the button down.  That’s all there is to it!

You wind the film manually, leaving the opportunity for double exposures.  I haven’t done much with this feature yet, but the possibilities are pretty endless.

What ISO to use?  Most people seem to like 400, which is what I have been using.  It’s a nice mix of fine grain, but can give you lots of latitude for the scanning and printing process.  If you know you’re going to be out in the sun for all of your shots, a film with an ISO of 200 would work also.

I must confess that I’ve only shot about 8 rolls of film.  But the fun is just beginning.  I think I’ve gotten quite a few remarkable images already.  The images on this page are some of my favorites so far.

The first time I went to the lab to develop my film, I ordered prints and a film scan.  The prints were beautiful, but in the age of “digital development,” I wanted to tweak some of the color ones and add a bit more contrast to the black & whites than what the lab had given me.  So since then, I only ask them to develop the film and then scan it.  That allows me to nail the color and/or contrast that I prefer with my editing software.  And I’m just using simple software — no photoshop is required by any means.

So go out there and give it a try!  What have you got to lose?

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