Holga 135BC review – What is this toy camera for?

While I was rooting around in my house, I found this little film camera that I have long forgotten about. I got it back when I was still in my junior years in secondary school in Hong Kong. It jogged back to the reason for me getting this camera … I was around 12 years old, only just started in my photography journey and still using my dad’s Canon PowerShot. During that time, the heavy vignette look was in vogue and Lomography was selling everywhere and created a cult. With about HKD $200 (~£20), I got myself one that comes with a flash and shot maybe 2 rolls of films on it. Due to the fact it was expensive to buy film and have them developed, especially for a school kid that only had £5 of pocket money a week, it ended up sitting in the corner on the bookshelf as a decorative display. It came with me to the UK and recently with me dipping in and out of the film world, I decided to put some film through it again. And boy, it reminded me of the purest of photography fun.

Appearance

Holga 135BC is a 35mm camera. It is all plastic, including the lens, the only thing that’s metal is probably the shutter thread, tripod thread and the hot shoe and that’s about it. And so, you guessed it, it is incredibly light. Fully mechanical and minimal settings. It uses a zone focused system where the focusing lens has 4 little diagrams to suggest roughly your focusing distance. 2 apertures, F8 or F11 shown as flash/cloudy or sunny, and 2 shutter speed, 1/100s or Bulb. And that’s it. It is designed to be a toy camera and I had fun with it.

Spec

Film35mm
Shutter speed1/100 sec or Bulb
ApertureF8 or F11
FocusZoned focus
Multiple exposuresBy not winding film forward
AccessoriesTripod mountCable release mountHot shoes

What I like about it

First of all, It was very cheap. It does reflect on the quality of the build where everything is cheap plastic but it was part of the charm. You know how you have heard any seasoned photographer said at least once “it is not about your gear, at the end of the day it’s just a black box.”? This is literally a box with a hole, nothing more. The beauty of this limitation is that it allows you to put down the thought of “what aperture/shutter speed” and focus on just creating.

Secondly, the unpredictability. Film photography in general has a little bit of this element in it. Every time you press down your shutter, unlike digital photograph where you can chimp, you only have a rough idea of what the image is going to look like until you have the roll develop maybe a day or two later. Yes, the more you practise, the more accurate that mental image will be. But this toy camera is a different story. The viewfinder is just a window above the lens, so you have to factor in the parallax issue. The plastic lens takes in light whatever the way they feel that day and you can’t even have accurate focus as it’s just 4 different icons at the top of the lens for you to guess your focus range. And depends on what film you have in it, with absolute minimal control, you will probably end up over/underexpose your film the majority of the time. That means you really can’t know for sure if your image is going to turn out right or not. But once in a while, I find it liberating. We all have this expectation where every time we go out to make photographs, we will end up with loads of good photos that we are super happy with. In reality, we don’t always get good results and we can come home with absolutely nothing. That’s very normal but the expectation, over time, can wear us down and make us forget what we set out to enjoy in the first place. I do still practise my photography with other “serious” camera. But once in a while, I will pick this wee thing up, the unpredictability allows me to just go out with absolutely no expectation at all. It sets your mind free to just take the photo without thinking much and just enjoy photography as it is. The excitement of getting your roll back from the lab is different when you have no idea what photographs you have made.

What I am not a fan of

Lomography’s toy camera earned their fame with the heavy vignette that comes with their plastic lens. “Heavy vignette” is just the polite way of saying the lens doesn’t cover the whole 35mm negatives so leaving the 4 corners un-exposed. Luckily my specific one is not too bad compared to what I have seen online. I enjoy a little bit of a vignette sometimes but that 4 black corner look is a bit too dated for me. It makes me cringe just like when I see those black and white images with only the red umbrella coloured in. If that’s your thing, go for it. The extreme of style is just not my taste.

Also, it is not THAT cheap when you consider I got my Olympus AF-1 Super, a second hand 30 years old point and shoot camera that are well-built with a sharp 35mm F2.8 lens, for only £30 from eBay.

Verdict

Holga 135BC is a toy 35mm film camera. An all-plastic, cheaply build black box that takes pictures. It is like those plastic toys that pretend to be a camera. The build quality of the camera is unpredictable, the pictures that come out are even more unpredictable. But that reminds me why I loved photography. The simplicity of the camera takes away all the stress that you put on yourself trying to make the next masterpiece for your Instagram feed. It leaves only the purest joy of photography.  It allows you to be “unintentional”. Press the shutter because you want to remember that moment. 

One of my all time favourite photos is taken with this little toy camera

Fujifilm XF 35mm F2.0 review – The Best Lens for The One Lens Set Up

When I have switched my camera system from Canon to Fujifilm a while back, I was also looking to expand and experience my lens choice. Before when I was using my EOS 500D, I had the kit 18-55mm and 55-250mm as I thought a zoom set-up will give me the most bang for the buck. But as I transit to Fujifilm, I noticed they seem to have put a lot of focus on their prime lens collections. With choices such as the F1.4 lineup or their more compact counterpart F2.0 lineup, I am intrigued as they say a prime lens is usually sharper, faster and cheaper. After some internal debate, I picked the XF35mmF2 for its compact size, weather sealing, fast focus and close to 50mm full-frame equivalent focal length.

Build Quality

Kudos to Fujifilm, when you hold this lens in your hands, quality is the first thing that springs to mind. It is full metal construction, even for the textured aperture ring and focus ring. The aperture ring is smooth with a nice click to it. Same as the focus ring, it is well dampened but not too hard to turn. It comes with a small metal lens hood. I am not sure it actually does much in terms of preventing glares and flares, but certainly does a good enough job to protect the glass. Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of this tapering, stumpy design of the lens so the hood kind of make it balance a bit better. Although the lens hood somehow makes it a bit more difficult to put the lens cap on. I am just being pernickety here…

It apparently has 8 seals in the lens body to help makes it weather-sealed and still works in -10˙C.

Spec

Dimension (Diameter x Length)60mm x 45.9mm
Weight170g
Focal Length35mm (53mm Full-Frame equivalent)
Element/Group9/6
ApertureF2.0 – F16
Filter Size43mm

Real-world test and review

If you are looking for the kind of technical review that takes picture of a brick wall, pixel peep to tell you which part of the lens is sharp, how much vignette you get at what stop, I am sorry to disappoint. They just aren’t important to me in the real world use of the lens. Modern days lens are all very sharp, arguably too sharp. Vignette is usually auto-corrected by most software you use to read the RAW file. So why bother worrying about them, plus as they say – if you are pixel peeping to decide whether it is a good photo, it’s not.

Fast focus

Autofocus ability though, is very important. It is between being the masterpiece or epic fail. And it is one of the reasons I chose the F2 version over the F1.4 version. Fujifilm quotes the AF to be 0.08s. With my X-T3, the focus is almost instant and bang on target 9/10. I have rarely missed a shot because the focus is too slow. Although auto-focus is amazingly fast and quiet, the manual focus is not quite the same story. Like most other Fuji’s lenses, they are focus by wire which is essentially an electronic sensor. So they don’t have a definite endpoint on either end. And it’s not linear focus either, it makes fast manual focus a bit challenging as you can’t really have a “muscle memory” when the focus throw is essentially infinity. On top of that, they make this weird, loud, clicky noise as you turn the focus ring during manual focus mode which contrasts how quiet it focuses during AF mode.

Compact

The size of this is also one of my major considerations. Like all my previous post, I like a good compact system so I bring the camera with me more. With it being only 107g and 60x46mm, it might not be a pancake but it is small enough that it fits in my sling bag with my X-T3. The small size does come with a little bit of compromise though. The filter size is 43mm. It can be a bit difficult to find the right size filter, such as some of the popular diffusion filters like the moment’s cinebloom don’t come in this thread size and using a filter adaptor on this lens for let’s say, street photography, I find can look a bit awkward.

Depth of field

For a fast prime lens, bokeh is one of its attraction. The 35mmF2 actually creates some really nice separations. The bokeh balls are very gentle and soft so it’s not distracting at all. Although F1.4 will give you an even better separation, I am happy to trade that 1 stop for the weather-sealing and faster autofocus. I also love the clickiness of the aperture ring and it is not easy to be bumped.

Image stabilisation

The 35F2 doesn’t have optical stabilisation. If you have an X-T4, the IBIS will be quite clutch in a low light situation to let you handheld at a slower shutter speed. As I personally don’t mind some grain or noise in my photos, it hasn’t really bothered me a huge amount as I just crank up my ISO to compensate for my shutter speed.

Verdict

Fujifilm has really nailed it with the 35mm F2.0. It is more compact, quieter, snappier and cheaper than their older, best-selling lens 35mm F1.4. Every detail is well thought out, full metal construction feels premium, the different textured rings provide decent grips even in wet condition compliments with their weather seal property. With it costing just under £380, I would seriously recommend it to every Fujifilm X shooter out there. Although with the clicked aperture ring and the non-linear focus ring, it is a lens geared towards photographers rather than videographers. If you are already a prime lens shooter, you will understand what I mean by it is actually very liberating with the limitations that come with a prime lens. 

Olympus AF-1 Super: The Affordable 35mm Film Point and Shoot Hidden Gem!

Recently analogue photography has been a very popular topic in the photography world, especially among the millennials and Gen Z. I am not going to dive into the reason for this, although might be an interesting topic for the future post. As millennials who take photos in my spare time, I can’t miss out on all the fun.

Point and shoot film camera has been very popular among film photographer. Given their small and compact size, you can always have one by your side. Their main purpose is to capture those day to day memories and film is one of those medium that almost makes you feel those memories. Along with the skyrocketing demand, the price for a decent film camera has also followed suit. I was in the market for a playful point and shoot camera at the time. And speaking of point and shoot film camera, Olympus MJU II and Contax T2 and always comes up in the conversation. Contax T2 is a very attractive little thing that carries an amazing 35mm F2.8 Zeiss lens. But after Kendall Jenner was seen using them, they cost about a kidney plus your sister’s dowry. So second option, Olympus MJU II with their award winning 35mm F2.8. They were fishing close to £200 as well which was still too much for me to justify. Okay… what’s the third option? That’s when I come across the Olympus AF-1 which carry the same 35mm F2.8 lens as the MJU II. With some luck, I managed to get a mechanically mint AF-1 Super off eBay for £30.

History and Spec

Olympus AF-1 Super is the upgraded version of AF-1 (or in the US, Olympus Infinity). AF-1 was introduced in 1986 as the first weatherproof automatic 35mm compact film camera hence the Japanese nickname “Nurepika” (wet flash). Then AF-1 Super was released in 1991 with some upgraded features such as 50cm minimal focal distance instead of 75cm, faster flash recharge, ability to disable the flash and 4 frames continuous shooting of  1fps (not really sure what it’s for, to be honest).

Review

Point and shoot cameras in Hong Kong is called 傻瓜機 – meaning idiot machine. It is true to an extent that point and shoot cameras are idiot-proof. Autofocus, auto-exposure, auto-flash, auto-wind and re-wind and autoload. Everything is decided for you, all you need to do is, as it says on the tin, point and shoot. With a few quirks, the more I use the AF-1, the more I like this idiot.

Appearance

AF-1 Super has this bubbly design to it, away from the boxy, hard-line style of the AF-1. Thicker and heavier than the MJU II but it actually feels really nice to hold. I like their sliding door mechanism. First, it means that less electronic components to move the lens in and out of the body and therefore one less thing that can fail. Second, it covers the viewfinder as well so you won’t embarrass yourself trying to take a picture when the camera is off. Third, it allows quick one-hand operation and always ready to go. Incorporating the essence of a point and shoot camera perfectly.

35mm F2.8

The lens that the AF-1 Super carries is what attracts me. 35mm is a perfect focal length for day-to-day, documentary-style photography and is exactly what a point and shoot camera is for. Olympus won 5 awards in 1997 with this fast and sharp prime lens on the MJU II body. Although they are essentially the same lens, I think the AF-1 series have an additional protective coating at the front which depends on your view can be good and bad. One of the things I like about film photography is that not everything is tack sharp, so I almost welcome that extra layer. But I find in reality, the coating is only a potential threat and the image still as crisp as your fresh trimmed hairline.

The most important manual option – no flash

AF-1 Super is fully automatic from start the finish, but one thing that I picked Super over the standard is the option for disabling the flash. I don’t actually mind the hard flash look, it is fashionable at the moment for their nostalgic feel. But for example, you won’t want it to flash while you are shooting through a glass window or trying to be discreet for street photography. They also have an option for the less powerful “fill-in” flash.

Centre focusing

AF-1 Super autofocus only comes with centre focusing. It means it will only focus on things that you place in the centre of the viewfinder, AF-1 has a separate focus lock button while AF-1 Super doesn’t. It relies on half-pressing the shutter. Truth be told, the travel in this shutter button is pretty shallow, so it does take some finger control to keep it at that sweet spot… (Ummm… why does it sound a bit strange) In a couple of occasions where either I took a picture by accident or it refocuses and my subject turned out to be out of focus. It can get a bit frustrating but that’s part of the fun in film photography.

Loud film advancing

Don’t use this point and shoot to take photos of your baby or your struggle to get them to sleep will never end. AF-1 Super has probably one of the loudest film advancing mechanism out there. I am starting to think that as they were designed in Japan, it was to deter creeps sneak-shotting someone.

Verdict

Film photography is an expensive exercise with the recurring cost of buying, developing and scanning films. And with the price for film cameras skyrocketing while my boss won’t even give me a pay raise that at least keep up with inflation, entry for film photography is getting more out of reach by the second. With pure luck, I came across this hidden gem for less than £50. I did a quick look on eBay, the cheapest nowadays are asking for £70 with the majority of them going for £90-150. If you can look past some of its quirks like the loud film advancing mechanism and the CR-P2 battery is a bit awkward to find, it is one extremely adorable little camera. If you just want to dip your toes in the film photography world but don’t want to sell your house, this is a very solid option if you manage to find one around the £50 range. This camera still put a smile on me every time I get it out for a spin.