Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is it Holga or is it Hasselblad?

As mentioned in my last post, my sister was kind enough to be a model for me to test some film in my studio. Basically I have recently realized that I don't take my Holga into the studio and I have been thinking that I needed to, not only for portraits but for a future nude shoot. Well my favorite film is Ilford HP5 (ISO 400) and my studio lights are 500W tungsten bulbs. If you know anything about tungsten lights they are actually quite a bit less intense than flash lights. This means my shutter speeds are pretty slow. I am typically shooting f11 at 1/15 to 1/30th of a second. Plenty fast for portraits and nudes, but these speeds present a real problem for the Holga. I have the choice of 1/100th of a second or bulb on the Holga. So my choices are shoot a film fast enough to allow for a 1/100th shutter speed or a film slow enough to allow me to time exposures manually. To use bulb and manually time shutter speed I need a minimum speed of 1 second.

So I decided to use 3 different films and use both my Holga and Hasselblad. The Hasselblad would provide a control set of images since I obviously have many more options than I do with the Holga. I shot a few rolls of HP5 in the Hassi just to give me a good chance of getting something my sister would like so the time wasn't a waste for her. I also picked Ilford Delta 3200 and Ilford Pan F Plus (ISO 50), I shot two rolls of film for each type, one in the Hassi and one in the Holga.

For those of you that care my studio lighting consists of two soft boxes with 500W tungsten bulbs. Frankly there are very few lighting conditions you can't recreate with two soft boxes and a variety of different strength bulbs. Though I find two equal strength bulbs just about perfect for portraits and nudes. One soft box was pointed at the white cloth background and one at 45 degrees coming in from the right side of the images. Honestly sometimes I think photographers get carried away with their lighting steups. I have a book that shows a shot done with something like 20 lights. Honestly after 3 or four can anyone really tell? I think it is part of the same mentality that thinks having the best camera ever made means something. The most lights and electricity used to make an image wins!

Anyway here are the results:

Lets start with the Ilford Delta 3200. I shot the film at ISO 1600. The scene was metered to f11 at 1/160th. This means I am probably going to be a bit over exposed with the Holga (shot on the sunny symbol and N), but not enough to really make a big difference. I shot the Hassi at f5.6 and 1/500th.
Hasselblad 500C
Ilford Delta 3200 @ 1
F5.6, 1/500

Ilford Delta 3200 @ 1600
sunny, N

Now for the Ilford Pan F Plus. I shot the Hassi at f4 and 1/8. The Holga I put a 2 stop ND filter which allowed me to shoot at sunny and 1 second using a manual release cable (purchased from Freestylephoto).
Hasselblad 500C
Ilford Pan F+

f4, 1/8

Holga w/ 2 stop ND filter
Ilford Pan F+
sunny, 1 sec

So pretty good results all in all. As expected the higher speed film is more grainy and the slow speed film much less so. You also get a pretty good look at just good/bad the Holga lens is. At first glance to the untrained eye you may say that all of these images were created with the same camera. But closer inspection you can see the Holgas softer focus, and focus fall off from the center to the edges. Still the Holga when used properly gives some pretty amazing results. I sometimes get a bit tired of people who pick up their Holga's and really never learn to use them. These people often gush over other photographers results and wonder how they did it, or worse figure it was all done in photoshop. Honestly all it takes is a notebook and ruler and a few rolls of film. When using a holga the key is figuring focal distances. You don't have to extremely accurate since the Holga has a slightly wide angle lens. Once you have figured where to focus all you really need after that is an understanding of exposure and how to work within the limitations of the Holga to get your image. I make it sound simple and it is, but it does take practice. I also think do a few test rolls where you have outlined a series of shots to get you the answers you need is the best way to go. Randomly shooting what ever catches your eye can get you there if you take detailed notes, but it will take much longer.

Finally here is a final image from the Hassi using HP5.

Hasselbald 500C
Ilford HP5
f11, 1/15


  1. Very nice comparison! I do notice a difference, with the Holga images being softer, but they are pretty close. My lighting setup usually consists of one candle :)

    ps your sister is beautiful!

  2. Thanks Jen! It is pretty amazing how good the Holga lens is under the right conditions. That said at some point it becomes silly to use a Holga and try and get results like you would with a Hassi. At that point I'd just go with the Hassi, it's easier!