It was gloomy today. By lunchtime I was a bit grumpy, and listening to the kids fight and holler and run through the house was bordering on torture to my psyche. My wonderful wife, noticing the damage to my calm, suggested a quick trip to the zoo. The kids had been holed up in the house all weekend due to rain, so this seemed like a great chance for us all to get some fresh air. The conundrum facing me, though, was which Fuji to take. It was really dark outside, with intermittent rain. I could take the X100T, but it’s too expensive to get wet, and it’s already down a mystery part that somewhat protects the lens. The other Fuji would be the FrankenHolga. I haven’t taken it out in a while, but honestly it’s not really meant for cloudy days. A fixed f/9 lens on an f/4 day is likely to lead to more struggles than successes, and the 90mm focal length was going to make things a bit difficult in composition. Challenge Accepted.
The Initial Camera Settings
Let’s face it, I was at a huge disadvantage with this camera. Street-style photography with this setup was practically a non-starter. 90mm lens, small fixed aperture, and dark skies spell slow shutter speeds and high ISO, but I gave it the old college try. The nice thing about the Fuji X Pro 1 is that it has the X-Trans sensor. This sensor handles higher ISOs very well, and lends itself to underexposure. So snapping the plastic Holga lens on, I set the camera to ISO 6400, 1/125, f/9 (it actually reads f/0 but we know that’s because the lens doesn’t actually connect to the electronic bits in the camera) and hoped for the best.
To say 1/125s was a reasonable request for the FrankenHolga would be a lie. If I was pointing it directly at the sky, I could get away with 1/125s, sometimes 1/250s, but I was staring squarely down the barrel of a 1/30s to 1/60s shutter speed and the hope of a steady hand. No moving targets allowed. However, there were occasions where the higher shutter speeds were possible, and I managed to capture my spaztastic offspring being cooperative, so it wasn’t all bad. Of course, my dumb ass forgot that you could use the jog wheel to move between shutter speeds, so I was clumsily fidgeting with the actual shutter speed dial trying to remember where I was instead of looking through the EVF to see and adjust my settings.
So, there’s this weird feature of the Holga Lens for Canon cameras. It has a mechanical vignette that isn’t as predictable as the traditional camera. No matter how much light comes into the original Holga 120, it gets even vignetting due to the tiny focal length lens on the huge 6×6 negative. However, the more light that comes into the FrankenHolga, the stranger and more unpredictable the vignetting. This is good and bad, really, but it’s something to keep in mind. It’s not easy to see it through the EVF, and only after you import the images do you really understand the Rorschach effect imposed upon your images by this mechanical trickery.
Remember how I said the narrow lens and the slow shutter, combined with the small aperture and cloudy day, would make street-style photography impossible ? I was mostly right. However, not all photography of this variety has to be taken with the quick snap at a high shutter speed. There were a couple of times I was able to capture candid moments at 1/60s simply because of the stationary subjects and the smooth motion of the Fuji’s shutter curtain. Anything lower than 1/60s requires a steady hand, but even at 1/30s candid shots…of funerals, maybe… are possible.
Taking Time with Family
While the FrankenHolga was born out of a dislike of the Redheaded Stepchild, a.k.a. Fuji X Pro 1, I was there to spend some time unwinding with the genetically undeniable brood. The FrankenHolga did just fine in these situations. I was able to capture the kids being nice to each other which is something I never though would be possible with the slow shutter and the quantum speed at which my two children switch from loving siblings to mortal enemies.
I could have taken my Leica, but it is currently loaded with 17 year expired Kodak Gold, and I’m already having to overexpose a couple stops. I couldn’t risk a lost batch of photos. I could have taken the X100T, but it’s not weatherproof. But I’m glad I took Frankie out. It’s a camera that forces me to slow down and think about the shots. It requires real composition, quick responses to light changes, and confidence in its ISO capabilities. It also requires me to let go of perfection because soft focus and oddly dark edges are what define a Holga. It’s the unpredictability that makes it such a fun camera. I think it worked out well, and it might be going out with me more often.