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The iconic Holga film camera is dead

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Without the Holga, we'd have no Instagram

The Holga, a plastic 120 film camera first designed in China in the early '80s before developing a global cult following, is no longer being made. US distributor Freestyle Photographic announced the news, reporting comments from a Chinese factory spokesperson saying that "...all Holga tooling has already been thrown away and there is nothing available for sale."

"It is with a sad heart that we say goodbye to a camera that has been so popular with so many. A Holga camera really is about creativity and unpredictability and a refreshing medium in today's digital age," says Freestyle CEO Gerald H. Karmele. "Holga outlived many other cameras but, as like we have seen throughout the years, is yet another casualty of the digital age."

"...Yet another casualty of the digital age."

Personally, the Holga is the camera that first got me into film photography. It was around six years ago, just after I'd moved to Japan; I picked up the 35mm variant (that's it above) to take with me to Kyoto one day, and I remember the feeling of shooting the first roll, not quite believing that anything could be captured with a total lack of electricity. When I got the pictures back, I was amazed — I understood how I'd been directing light onto chemicals with this rudimentary contraption, and it changed the way I thought about photos forever.

Here are a few of the photos from that first roll. They're nothing special, but shooting with a Holga was always more about traveling than arriving.

holga photos

holga photos

holga photos

holga photos

Without the Holga, we'd have no Instagram. The shots you see above were taken on rectangular 35mm film, but my Holga isn't even the canonical Holga — that camera used square 120 film, and together with the Diana is responsible for cultivating a wholly new photographic aesthetic outside of the context in which it was originally designed. The technical flaws in each photo became a desirable part of the image, and a good Holga photographer could learn to use the camera's quirks to their advantage.

Phones today have big screens and great sensors, but in the late 2000s it wasn't quite so easy to take and view good mobile photography. The solution hit upon by Hipstamatic, and then Instagram, was to filter photos in such a way that the poor quality appeared deliberate. Exaggerated colors, heavy vignetting, light leaks — all these digital edits were hallmarks of the Holga. And the square format, which looked best on tiny 3.5-inch iPhone screens, persisted as a mandatory feature of Instagram and Hipstamatic until earlier this year.

Maybe someone will resurrect the Holga's creaky body and slow plastic lens one day, as has happened with other legendary film cameras like the Lomo LC-A. But until then, pour one out for the Holga with me. Whether you've used one or not, you've felt its influence.