It was here where I heard it first: They stopped to build the Holga in China.
I got acquainted to that phenomenon when I collected some photos of celebrities with cams. Brad Pitt looking great with a Leica IIIf, Penélope Cruz and a Leica M6, Jennifer Connelly also with the M6 and David Bowie with a Hasselblad 500 C/M on a tripod. There was also a picture of Kate Moss with a Holga (obviously staged for an editorial shot or an advert). So I looked it up.
On the Web, I like to listen to Ted Forbes sometimes. He has a lot to say about photography – especially about photography and history and the history of art (check out his site “The Art of Photography”) – and those who liked the Holga will appreciate his last words for that kind of camera (“My favorite camera ever made”).
I was on the verge of buying such a cam when I heard about the end. Just to be able to get my hands on this. But I learned that they were very different. In his obituary, Forbes tells that he had bought so many of them because some of them are tack sharp (sort of) and others had a nice soft lens and so on. So I kept my hands off. And why? It’s only 40 Dollars or less.
For ten Dollars, I bought an Agfa Isolette two years ago. Before, I had a Beier Precisa, but after several decades, the shutter stopped to work somehow. Critical for that kind of cameras are the bellows, but when they work, they let you fold down the entire camera to a minimum. The best historical cameras of that kind are the Agfa Super Isolettes and the Zeiss Super Ikontas (look for the 532/16 models) – but be prepared to spend much more money for these.
I discovered medium format with a Seagull 4A TLR – it was kind of nice, the pictures were good, but focusing through that murky viewfinder wasn’t much of a joy and in hazy light (i. e. foggy landscapes) the lens was overstrained. So it got replaced by a Hasselblad 500 C/M with three Zeiss lenses.
The folder film camera idea is something I really adore. With more money I’d go for a Fujifilm GF670 or a Bessa III, but before spending so much money on a cam again I prefer to earn more bucks with photography first. Maybe as a gift to myself after a nice job.
There are different types of the Agfa Isolette, the distinctive feature is the lens, the focusing system and the shutter. Mine has an Agnar lens, the better ones have a rangefinder and a Solinar lens.
My model is nice, the leather case fits perfectly and it gives you the feeling to see our presence through eyes out of a long bygone era of elegance – and the photographs convey that impression, too. The handling alone is a joy, but it’s also tough, because if you need to focus without a rangefinder system, you have to estimate the distance for yourself. And the range is 1m – 1,2m – 1,5m – 1,7m – 2m – 2,5m – 3m – 4m – 6m – 10m – infinity. That can be the real impossible project if you like to track a little girl who is passing you by with her bogie wheel.
If you are not on a budget, look for an Agfa Super Isolette (see the useful commentary by Ken Rockwell) – if you just want to get a feel for it first, try some models without a rangefinder which should be under 30 bucks.
Rockwell describes the difference like this: “This camera is completely unlike the ordinary Isolettes and Speedex you’ll find at garage sales and at eBay for $10. Those cameras are made of stamped steel and their cheaper three-element lenses focus simply by unscrewing the front element.
The cheaper cameras work well stopped down, but aren’t as ultrasharp as the Solinar lens at the sides at larger apertures. The cheaper cameras lack coupled rangefinders; you measure or guess at the distance and set it on the focus scale with the cheaper cameras.”
I bought a cheap one and these pictures are stopped down between f/5.6 and f/8 – the widest aperture is f/4,5.
So I don’t want a Holga and this is why. The feel of this Agfa is great, even if it’s a cam for less than two rolls of Cinestill 800T. I is the contrary of a toy camera and it feels like a vivid piece of history. Besides it folds down, this is its key feature and in my view, it’s way cooler than a Holga. Everything what Ted Forbes says about the fun part of shooting with a Holga fits to this cam, except that the quality of the pictures are better. Honestly, I feel a little stich when someone shows me his latest Velvia / Ektar / TMax pics shot with a Holga or Diana or some similar cam (John Canlas works with them – and I like his book, too – which shows good examples of usage). But that’s only my perspective (because suffered a lot of pain in the analog world and my credo has always been
Thou Shalt Not Waste the Fine Film Like An Idiot – Waste The Cheap Film Instead
But of course it’s also “Doo Watcha like” and “Each In His Ownest Way”.
My Isolette is doing fine and does not have to die slowly in a box, long forgotten for ages in some dusty and moisty basement. And of course I wouldn’t trade it in for a Holga. It is still overhauling smartphone photographers with good shots even at 1600 (N-2) like these here with Rollei Retro 400s pushed two stops up to 1600 and squeezed in Microphen (stock dilution, 16 minutes, N+2) where I tweaked the scans to behave like Baryta with hard gradation – like they did in the Forties.
Pollux on 52rolls:
- Launch Status Check: Pollux [Intro]
- #1.0 Neopan 400 & Rodinal
- #1.1 Silvermax
- #1.2 The White Stripes
- #2.0 Fade To Grey
- #2.1 Pushing Silvermax
- #2.2 Know Your Gear
- #2.3 What Took You So Long?
- #2.4 Diary Shots
- #2.5 Compact 28 + Ultramax
- #2.6 On 400H
- #3.0 Hard Boiled
- #4.0 Film Noir
- #5.0/5.1/5.2 Remain In Light
- #5.3 My Personal Holga
- #5.4 The Exhibition Cam
- #5.5/5.6 Portra and 400H
- #5.7 A Peculiar Roll (1993)
- #5.8/5.9 Great Photographer, Wasted Film
- #6.0 Diary Shots, 135mm on the F4
- #6.1-#6.3 Purchasing New Material, Celebrating
- #7.0-#7.2 Concert
- #8.0 Helicopter
- #9.0 Tres Cosas
- #10.0 One Shot per Roll
- #11.0/11.1: Parklife (Nikon F2)
- #12.0/12.1: Silvermax, F2 (24mm) + F5 (17mm + 210 mm)
- #13: Diary with a Point & Shoot
- #14: Medium Format: The Rangefinder of ’51
- #15: Memories of Friendship
- #16: [Pollux]: Epilogue