The “Digital Holga”

Yashica EZ F521

Yashica EZ F521

Everyone’s heard of the Holga, the plastic-body-plastic-lens medium format film camera aimed at students and the artsy-fartsy, hipster type crowd.  Its plastic lens and reputation for light-leaks give pictures an unpredictable look.  In other words, technically Holga pics look like crap taken through a  Coke bottle but in good hands they can have a special fine art kind of look.

So some marketing whiz at the Japanese company that now owns the legendary Yashica brand has slapped the label, “Digital Holga” on a cheapo plastic 5 megapixel digicam.  Actually I don’t know if it was a “Yashica” marketing whiz or someone else, but the nickname was clever enough to make me curious.

My “Yashica EZ Digital F521″ arrived the other day.  boxIt bears a reasonable resemblance to a scaled-down Holga — plastic lens, plastic viewfinder, dual-range focus (the Holga has four-range focus – symbols for one person, three, group and landscape).  Inside the box are the camera, a black velvet bag with USB & RCA cables (the camera shoots video, too), instructions in Japanese only and software. The camera’s menu has a language option but it takes some hunting to find it (hint:  it’s in the tools menu).  It has that plastic Holga feel but is considerably smaller.

The controls are basic digicam — power, shutter and mode on top (mode includes stills, playback and video).  On the back are a small optical viewfinder, a pair of buttons for electronic (not real) zoom, LCD screen that measures about 2.5 inches across, and the usual four button/OK array labeled in English and symbols.  On the bottom is a door that slides open for three AAA batteries and an SD card.  It’s auto-exposure only but compensation is available in the menu.  It’s all easy enough to figure out without the Japanese instructions, once you find the tools option in the menu so you can select English.  You select focus (either “macro” or normal) by turning the lens from one position to the other.  The LCD display helpfully warns you when macro is selected.  There seems to be a bit of lag between pressing the shutter and taking the picture but I really can’t tell because the LCD blacks out while the camera processes the image.

What do the pictures look like?  Judge for yourself:

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In first image the red leaves that seem so large are actually about two inches long.  The picture of the train shows the Lartigue-like effect with moving subjects, the result of an electronic shutter.

And if  you’re wondering how the results compare to the Holga, here’s a scan of a Polaroid taken with the Holga:

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And here’s one with the F521, before I figured out that underexposing helps and forgetting to switch to macro:

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My conclusion:  the same folks who enjoy the Holga could enjoy the EZ F521 but they probably will not.  Even though it can make pictures just about as bad as the Holga it lacks the Holga’s retro film charm. 091107025 It might be good for the kids — give a six-year-old even a bottom-rung point and shoot and you might feel queasy about seeing it destroyed.  But who cares what happens to a cheap piece of plastic like this?  Plus it’s very simple to operate compared with just about anything that isn’t a camera phone.

It’s available through japanexposures.com, a place where you can find all sorts of new and used photographic gizmos that normally wouldn’t escape the gadget-happy Japanese market.  Holgas, of course, are available at places like B&H and Amazon which are sponsors of this site (if I were to get one again I’d go for the model with built-in flash — the Holga has a fixed shutter speed of 1/100 and two apertures:  small (f8) and smaller (f11) which makes it useless indoors without flash and even challenging outdoors on cloudy-bright days).