Monday, March 27, 2017

The Sunrise Holga: Where Do We Go From Here?

If you haven’t read my first blog post about the “new” Holga 120N camera by Sunrise, you may want to start there. For those of you who have read about my experience with the first few rolls of film put through this camera…read on.

Since the last blog post, I have run two additional rolls of B&W film through through the camera.
For the first roll (and the fourth roll overall shot in the camera), I suspected that light may have been entering the camera through the front part of the Holga, so I taped up the entire area around where the lens is mounted the camera body. I shot this roll of film on a CLOUDY day. A day too dark to shoot with a Holga on the “normal” shutter speed setting really, even with 400 ASA film. And although the shots were almost all somewhat underexposed and the negs rather thin, the problem with unwanted light inside the camera body was much better. There was only evidence of light leaks on the first two frames. OK. Maybe I’m on to something here.

But I’m a guy who likes to shoot on sunny days. Hell, I’m a guy who likes to point his Holga directly at the sun. So the minimal film fogging on cloudy days was not much of a practical solution for me.
So for the fifth roll shot with this camera, I shot a little more than half the roll in overcast (but not too dark) conditions and the remainder of the roll in bright sun. For this roll, I taped up everything I could possibly tape both on the outside and even on the inside of the camera. All the seams, around the metal clasps that hold the back in place, anything I could get to really. 
The results? The images made under cloudy conditions were still fogged, but not too bad. The images made in sunlight were awful. Much the same results as those awful image samples that I posted last time.

So what have I learned upon closer inspection of the new Sunrise Holga?

1. There’s a lot of “space” in this camera in front of the shutter mechanism that did not exist in  previous Holga cameras. The opening in the Sunrise Holga is now one and a quarter inches square.
In previous Holga 120Ns and 120Ss and Wocas the opening is seven eighths of an inch square. How do I know this? I measured. And I have all these other older Holga versions. Although the difference may not sound like a lot, it is a lot when you’re looking at them side by side. The Sunrise Holga also has very shiny metal pieces on the shutter mechanism that would make excellent surfaces for bouncing around all that extra light that’s getting into your camera. So is this the problem? My guess is it’s not THE problem, but a big part of it.

Original Holga 120N shutter area on the left. The Sunrise shutter area on the right.

2.  Bonus feature alert! The sunny and cloudy switch settings are reversed so that the “cloudy” aperture setting actually moves the smaller (sunny) aperture into place. That’s probably something I could live with if the rest of the camera was actually light proof. And it’s sort of humorous, in a Holga kind of way. And I checked the second Sunrise Holga camera that I bought (still untested) and this aperture “feature” is also true with this camera.

2A. Second bonus feature alert! When I removed the lens and the plastic piece to which it’s mounted, I discovered four circular holes (about a quarter inch in diameter) drilled through the front of the camera body for no apparent reason other than to let more light inside the camera. I have no idea why they are even there in the first place, but they have now been taped over.

3. The lip around the camera body which acts as a light baffle for the camera back is slightly shorter than the baffles on earlier Holgas. It’s a pretty minimal difference, but it’s there. So perhaps the light trap that this is supposed to create is less effective than previous Holga versions. I’m not one to tape up cameras. I have four “reliable” Holgas that I use now (two 120S cameras, a Woca and a 120N) and I have never taped any of them other than to cover the red window in the back or to hold the camera back in place so it won’t fall off. I have never had any problems with light leaks on these cameras or on any other Holgas that I have owned. BTW, I have only ever seen comparable light leaks in a plastic camera known as a “Leader”. It’s sort of a Diana clone. Maybe that’s a future blog post.

4. Most of the light leaks/extraneous light issues are happening at the bottom of the camera. There’s a sort of teardrop shaped light strike which is prevalent on many negatives on the top of the image. (See the image at the top of this post). And since the image is reversed top to bottom in the camera, the top of the image would be at the bottom in the camera. There’s also a few arc shaped light leaks which are happening between frames when the film is not being exposed. I’ll refer you back to point number three here. There is also a bonus light leak in the left center of the negative which happens on the vast majority of frames. Perhaps light bouncing off of something shiny in the camera?

So where do we go from here? I’m shooting one more roll with this camera. I am taping everything up well beyond what any rational thinking person might do. I have cut a cardboard insert (and painted it black) that I am placing in front of the shutter area so it will be the same size opening as the opening on previous Holga cameras. I have also taken a sharpie and/or black paint to most of those shiny shutter pieces.

After these latest modifications, I’m going to shoot a roll on a SUNNY day. This camera is dead to me if it won’t function in conditions in which I photograph most of the time. Do I expect big changes? Not really. Who was it who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

And when I don’t get different results, I’m having a contest. First prize winner gets a lightly used Sunrise Holga.


  1. Wow, that is not promising. I very much appreciate your thorough and knowledgeable testing ... I guess the return of the Holga was too good to be true :-(

    1. Thanks. I keep changing my thinking about what's actually wrong with this thing. But as of now, I am convinced that it's all that empty space behind the shutter. There seems to be a piece missing that was there on all previous Holga cameras. So I made that piece out of cardboard and put it in the Sunrise Holga. Hoping to shoot a roll in the next few days. So one more blog post, whatever the results. Then I'm back to posting photos again.

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  3. Could you fill the gap with black silicone?

    1. I just cut a piece out of cardboard and taped it in place. Really easy to do if you remove the lens. It's now looks the same as previous Holga cameras. We'll see what happens after I shoot another roll.

  4. I, too, picked up one of these sunrise Holgas just a few weeks ago. I was really happy with the results from two rolls of color film (100 and 400 ISO, both shot on a bright and sunny day) and less so with a black and white roll (my processing might have been the problem). I only realized after finding your post that the sunny/cloudy switch is as you describe. Didn't seem to matter on the rolls I've shot so far. No issues with fogging as you've described.

    1. Happy to hear that you actually have a working shutter. Of the two cameras I bought, one actually does work.

  5. Did you finally fix that Sunrise Holga?
    Randy at Holgamods used to paint the inside of the camera with matt black paint. It would probably be a good idea to do the same with a Sunrise Holga too.