Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Holgas and Toy Cameras in Shanghai

A very small update here, following up on my earlier post about Buying Photographic Equipment in Shanghai. One thing I didn't mention is Holgas - they're a toy plastic camera that were originally produced for the Chinese market, but really didn't do very well over here. Instead they caught on amongst hipsters in foreign markets.

They use the somewhat uncommon 120 size film, which is twelve shots per roll if shooting square pictures, with the film being three or four times larger than conventional film. Also, the lens is really basic, it makes the outside of the picture look blurry and dark. There's no way to choose aperture or shutter speed, the only control is the ISO of the film. So they only work on bright sunny days, or when used together with a flash.

I always thought the cameras were silly, however they're very cheap and I was impressed with the artsy black and white shots my friend took. I got one which I mostly use to take street scenes, when I'm walking around town. It's fun, I like the square format, the light weight, the way they draw attention to the center of the frame, and just that they're very casual and easy to use. With my glass-lensed version, plus Fuji Superia 100 film, I get really crazy colors:

I haven't seen any Holgas for sale around Shanghai, even in the camera markets - I purchased mine off taobao. However, looking around taobao the other day, I came across the Snaps Shop, which sells Holgas, in all the different variations and colors. It also sells Diana+s, the various Lomo cameras, and a few other interesting film cameras. I was interested in purchasing the new 35mm version of the Holga, the Holga 135BC. But it goes for about $60, more than twice what I got my Holga GN for, so I skipped it. Anyway, the shop is located at 497 Huaihai Road, Room 1, a couple blocks west of Huangpi Nan Lu Station, a very central location. However, there's no storefront, there's a buzzer at the front gate and they'll let in customers to their second-story shop. The place is open from 1pm-8pm.

Holgas (and Dianas), use medium-format 120 film, just a quick word on that. The film is available at the camera stores on Wulumuqi Lu (near Yan'an) and at the camera malls. However, recently I haven't seen any speed available except for ISO 100 - which on a Holga really requires a bright sunny day to be useful (they're about F13, and 1/100th of a second). So faster film might require ordering off of taobao.

The film can be developed for 5 kuai/roll, cheap, same as 35mm film. However, prints are 5 kuai for a print at Frontier, or 2.5 kuai for a tiny print at Weima. The film is too large to work with my lower-end scanner, and quality scanners are expensive and hard to find in China. Also, the black and white developing and printing is substantially more expensive than color.

There's some Chinese B&W 120 films available, even though they cost about 50 cents / roll maybe they're not great for toy camera. They tend to require very exact exposures, which is difficult to achieve on a toy camera.

Update 3/26/2009 - These places still work, but let me provide a few more.

Really the cheapest way to get a Holga is to buy one off US EBay. Most of the sellers are from Hong Kong, and will ship the camera to the PRC. Hong Kong's currency is vaguely pegged to the dollar, so the US's recent exchange rate problems make it cheaper.

As said the in replies, Lomography has a store on Jinxian Lu, next to Chun - it's a quite a bit more expensive for a Holga, but actually for the Diana or the 35mm Holga, it's not so bad. There's also a second Snaps Shop, near Duolun Lu.

In the Xing Guan Camera mall (near Luban Lu), there's a Yi Qian Camera store, which sells some Lomo type cameras. It's also a decent place to scan film, I'll probably have an update before too long about that topic. It's on the third floor, straight ahead but to the right of where the escalator gets off. The shop to the left is my favorite place to get film in Shanghai.

And near any tourist attraction in Shanghai, there's cheesy toy cameras.


Micah said...

Isn't Taobao great?

Jeff Rutsch said...

Yes & no - definitely I think the consumer protection is a lot better on Taobao. EBay is dominated by scams and people selling things in a shady way. Also, Taobao sellers are usually easy to access.

But the selection on EBay is so so so much better, and there's also greater possibility of finding a crazy deal. There's no ISO 800 120 film on Taobao right now, which is weak. And the price for most films isn't nearly as good as what you can get at the Xing Guan Photo Mall.

Ankush Saikia said...


I'm a senior editor with the publishing firm Dorling Kindersley (India), the New Delhi editorial office of the UK publishers Dorling Kindersley. We're currently developing a book on monuments in India, and while researching on the Net i came across your Scenes from Delhi post from 2007. The first two photos of the quwwat al islam mosque (part of the screen, and the defaced images) are very nice, and we might like to use them in our book. Would you grant us permission to use them in that case? You would of course be credited for the photos.


Ankush Saikia.

Lizzie said...

Thanks! I'm keen to get a holga and your info has been invaluable. Just want to add that there's a Lomography shop on Jinxian Road, near Maoming Road. I walked past it a few days ago.

Jeff Rutsch said...

Thanks, Lizzie. I didn't know. There's also another Snaps Shop near the Duolun Lu Gate, it's convenient but there's no storefront, it needs a buzzing up: 301 Room, 2087 North Sichuan Road, Hongkou Area, Shanghai (and they carried ISO 400 Fuji Superia, last time I was there).

I'd love to buy a bunch more of toy cameras, but I already have too many cameras and it's hard to rationalize ever buying another one! So I'm staying clear, otherwise I might get tempted.

Kingston said...

Thanks so much for the info...
I could be moving to Shanghai in 09 so this info comes in very handy :)

Felix said...

Thanks, this article helped me find my Holga in Shanghai

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