My Holga 135BC Review

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Holga 135BC - what's in the box
Holga 135BC - what's in the box

I’ve had my eye on this camera for a while – like every Holga Nut I imagine… who could resist the temptation of another Holga, especially if it’s different to the ones we know and love? Unlike its big brothers, this one takes standard 35mm film and produces 24x36mm negatives – easily processed on the High Street.

I rushed down to the Photographer’s Gallery last week to get the Holga 135BC, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. But before I show you the breathtaking results, here’s what this camera is all about.

There are two versions: the Holga 135 and the Holga 135BC. As I understand it, the only difference is a pink sticker on the BC version, and the fact that BC stands for “black corners”. This one should produce stronger vignetting, while the non-BC version shouldn’t.

Although there are no clues on the package or the manual, it’s fair to assume that this little baby is made by Tokina in Hong Kong, along with the rest of the fabulous Holga family.

What’s in the Box

We have the following ingredients at our disposal:

  • 1x Holga 135BC (nice!)
  • 1x Lens Cap with HOLGA written on it (I think all the new ones have that since 2008/2009)
  • 1x pink box with example photos, a “drawing” of the camera featuring some monkey sticker. Note that the word “Holga” is written in a different font than what’s on the lens cap, the camera and previous boxes (I guess they’re not branding specialists – which makes it more attractive to me)
  • 1x user manual
  • and one of those hand straps that you *can* attach, although nobody in their right mind ever would

The Outside

Plastic. Cheap plastic, that’s what we like. But unlike his bigger brother, this one is really well built. The back doesn’t come off completely (it’s hinged, like on a proper camera). There’s a film counter on the top (just like on a proper camera), and the shutter button is at the top, not next to the side of the lens. Speaking of which, you can screw in a cable release for long exposures.

As for features, they’re almost identical to the 120 version: at the bottom, you’ve got a switch for “normal” and “bulb” settings, so double-exposures or as-long-as-you-press-the-button exposures are back with a vengeance. Of course there’s a standard tripod mount. Nice!

On the top there’s a hot shoe for an external flash, and we also have that notorious aperture switch. Just like the 120 version, it technically works, but both apertures are the same. Should make for easy modding I would hope. The lens barrel (if you want to call it that) has the same outer dimensions as the 120 version, so all accessories should fit like a glove. I love it when manufacturers do that!

The Inside

This is how the vignetting is created: there's a translucent cut-out mask 1cm behind the lens
This is how the vignetting is created: there's a translucent cut-out mask 1cm behind the lens

Under the hood, things look a bit different. The film winds from left to right, like on standard 35mm cameras. However, it unwinds counterclockwise (as determined by the cartridge), and winds into the camera clockwise. I’ve not seen that before! It’s a great idea though, because it makes the film less curly when you come to handle it for processing or scanning. If this is in fact the reason behind it, who knows.

Tha back pops open by lifting the film rewind knob. You wind the film with a wheel at the top right, like on a disposable. Film transport is done by a sprocket next to the film chamber, and a 1cm thick take up spool. All the components, like the rest of the camera, have a very sturdy feel to it.

If you look closely at the film chamber, you can see a translucent mask behind the lens that covers the corners – the responsible part for creating that great vignetting effect.



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75 thoughts on “My Holga 135BC Review”

  1. Hi Jay,

    Thank you for this post, this is really helpful. I’m a lomo newbie and I just bought a Holga 135BC the other day.

    Would you recommend using expired films? and any other tips for me?

    Reply
    • Hi Kimmy,

      I’m glad you liked the article. When you’re starting out I would NOT reccommend expired film. Even though you can pick them up cheap, you never really know how they will perform. Hence it will be very difficult for you to figure out where potential problems come from. At least with fresh film you know where you stand – if the pictures don’t come out you’ve made a mistake somewhere; but when you use expired film, there is the danger of you having taken a good picture and it still won’t come out – and then you start asking yourself what you did wrong, when in reality you did everything correctly.

      Get some fresh film to start with, doesn’t have to be expensive. Fuji Superia 400 is a good starting point – you can pick it up for about $4 per roll.

      Reply
      • Thanks for that fast reply Jay!

        Just another thing, can you give me a 101 regarding the focusing of the Holga? At what distance should I stand, etc. I’ve used film cameras before, but that’s film SLRs. This is my first time to use toy cameras. I’m excited!

        Reply
        • Haha – I know the feeling well, you’ll love Holga! The 135BC is an ideal starter version and much cheaper to run that the 120 version (even though the 120’s are still my absolute favourite cameras).

          Have a look at this article on Squarefrog – it explains the focussing scale. It’s the same for 135 and 120.

          Reply
          • Thank you so much Jay! You’ve been really helpful. 🙂

            Maybe next time I’ll try 120s next. This is the start of a love affair with toy camera!

  2. Hi! I was wondering if somebody could give me some advice. I was about to order Holga’s 135TLR for my adult son for his b-day. The 135BCTLR caught my eye. I think he might like the black corners feature, but may not want it ALL the time. Is the feature optional (controllable) on the BC model, or is it a ‘fixed’ feature. Thanks for your time.

    Reply
    • Hi KK,

      the BC feature is fixed indeed and not removable (unless force is used of course). I’d go for it though – it certainly adds some extra weird magic to your son’s pictures. After all, that’s what shooting Holga is all about 😉

      Reply
  3. Hi Jay,

    I’m about to try my first roll of Ilford Delta 3200 in my 135BC. I was hoping to do at least half the roll at night with no flash or tripod (with the available light being major intersections and busy bridges). What should I tell the lab to push it to in order to get some of those shots to turn out? I’m prepared for unearthly (or very earthy) grain but was hoping not to have them go higher than 6400.

    Also, thanks for your comprehensive review of the 135BC which helped sway me to pick one up a while back and it has since become my go-to toy cam.

    Thanks,

    Dave

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,

      glad you’re enjoying the 135BC – it’s one of my favourites too. My experience with very low light or night shots is that even at ISO 12800 at “normal” exposure (i.e. 125th shutter speed) you’ll hardly see anything on the film. Your best bet is to use bulb mode and do about 2-5 seconds of exposure manually. Which means without a tripod you’ll get a lot of motion blur.

      Developing Delta at ISO 12800 produces more grain than at 3200 but not so much as to renders 35mm pictures unusable – I still like the look but that’s personal preference of course. The best advice I can five you is to do some testing and see what works best for you. Also if you have access to a light meter take it with you and see what it says – it’ll give you some idea of what the Holga and the Delta 3200 will see.

      Have fun 😉

      Reply
      • Jay,

        Thanks for your swift reply. Yep, I’ll bring my tripod along for sure then. I’m comfortable and have had good results with the bulb mode. One more question though: For night shots with a tripod (2-5 seconds), what would be the minimum ISO I would ask my lab to process it at? I’m just looking for a rough number to tell them for my first roll and then I can tweek things from there. I want to make the most of this roll because the supply of Delta 3200 here seems to have (hopefully only temporarily) dried up.

        Thanks again,

        Dave

        Reply
        • I’d say if you’re starting out and want to see how it all comes out start with the default development of 3200. You may find that it’ll be enough for what you need. If you find you’d like a stop or two more, push the next roll or part thereof.

          For accurate testing you should take the same picture on the same film with the same exposure time, then have three different development runs and compare how things come out.

          If you can’t get hold of Delta 3200 anymore, try the excellent (and sometimes cheaper) Kodak T-Max 3200 – Calumet do this for under ÂŁ4 per roll. There’s also Fuji Neopan 1600, or of course Ilford HP5 (you can push that to 3200 easily).

          Reply
          • Jay

            Thanks again for your reply.

            Calumet have a pretty good selection of films but unfortunately they don’t deliver to Asia. There’s an abundance of HP5+ here though so that’s the route I’ll take.

            Until next time,

            Dave

  4. Hi Jay,

    When I got my original 120 format Holga I modified it to fit 35mm right away. Had you tried that? I love it especially for the spoke holes it created.

    I’m really enjoying your blog! I have such a weakness for plastic cameras! Also, I need to thank you for the scanner recommendation you made in some comments on another post. I’m waiting for mine in the mail now. So excited! This is going to save me a lot of money. I looked at the Epson330 but opted for the Epson Perfection V500!

    Reply
    • Hi Courtney,

      the v500 was a great choice – well done! You’ll have hours of fun and never have to beg a lab for scanning your negs ever again!

      Thank you for your comments about my site, it’s always nice to hear. Plastic Cameras are so addictive, aren’t they? Let me know where I can see some results 😉

      Reply
  5. Hello! I just ordered a 135BC Holga and I’m still having second thoughts ’cause I was originally opting for a 120N. I decided to go with the 135bc ’cause 35mm film is cheaper than 120’s. And since I’m on a “student’s budget” I decided to go for what could make me spend less.

    But I just wanna ask if you think I made the right decision by going 35mm instead of 120? And is there some glitches to the 135 that I have to look out for?

    Thanks in advance! I really enjoyed this set btw.

    Reply
    • Hi Pia,

      you’ve made the right decision about the 135BC – 35mm film and processing is cheaper than 120 unless you do it yourself. The camera is more sturdy than its 120 counterpart and delivers “excellent” plastic results. Purists would argue that the BC (back corner effect) is somewhat faked due to the inset they’re using behind the lens, nevertheless I love the results especially in black and white.

      120 has a very different feel to it and I recommend you get one when you can afford it – even if it’s only for a couple of rolls. Medium Format film is amazing and the Holga 120 is superb due to its super cheap plastic construction. But like you say, stick with the one you can afford to run and see what the future brings.

      Happy shooting 😉

      Reply
  6. Hi Jay,

    Originally I was looking at the Diana F+ series but veered away due to price. Now I am stuck between the 135BC and the 135. I cannot decide whether the BC would be frustrating or not and is it possible for the size of the black corners to be changed or does that depend on the shot? (I apologise for complete lack of knowledge here!)

    Your B+W shots are beautiful!

    Thank you!

    Clare

    Reply
    • Hi Clare,

      glad you like the b/w shots 😉 The only difference between the 135 and the 135BC is a small inset just behind the lens which creates the vignetting effect. It’s a slight cheat really but produces nice results. You can remove it by force so you can turn your 135BC into a standard 135 but this would probably break the inset so you can’t go back. You can’t change the size, unless you scrape corners from the inset mask off, thereby destroying it. You could add to it with gels but I’d say it’ll get messy quickly. I’d stay away from it.

      From the pictures I’ve seen I’d recommend the 135BC though – the 135 shots almost look too clean for my liking. But that’s personal taste of course.

      Hope this helps 😉

      Reply
    • Tricky one… I’ve not tried the Sardina, but it looks fun. You’ll probably get the Holga 135BC for less than the Sardina, so if money is an issue then go with the Holga. Otherwise, buy both ;-P

      Reply
  7. Hi Jay,

    I enjoyed reading your review! Just wondered how easy it is to change the film on the Holga 135 BC cameras (considering i have no experience so probably am not much use).

    It will be my first Holga, if I purchase! – would you say this would be a good one to choose out of the 35mm cameras?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Cecelia,

      yes the 135BC is a great starter choice. Film cost is much lower than with 120 plus you can get digital scans from your films at mini labs without having to delve into the adventures of scanning your negatives. Putting film in is very straighforward: there’s a small mark on the right to which you pull the film, then wind the wheel, close the flap, do a couple of blank exposures and get snapping.

      Let me know if you run into trouble, I’m sure I can give you a hint once it’s in front of you. Enjoy your Holga Adventures 😉

      Reply

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