Hello Holga: Holga 135 review

I’ve been wanting to give film photography a try for a while now, so last year made it my mission to shoot a roll of film – and I bought a Holga 135 to do it on.

Holgas are a brand of ‘toy’ camera first made in Hong Kong in the 1980s, similar to the Diana cameras that were really popular a few years back (although those originally came out in the 1960s). There are two types of 35mm Holgas: the 135, which is the one I have, and the 135BC. The BC stands for ‘black corners’, as it produces vignettes at the corners.

Whichever Holga option you choose, they’re cheap, plasticky and known for producing images with vignettes, unpredictable light leaks and a soft-focus blur. I’ll admit these don’t sound like a selling points, but it’s all part of the charm – you never quite know how your photos are going to turn out.

This being my first roll, I was expecting mixed results – and that’s definitely what I got. Holgas don’t exactly have a whole lot of settings to play with, which is part of what attracted me to them in the first place. It’s film photography for dummies! That being said, I still messed up half the film thanks to its pesky bulb switch.

Although the Holga has a few settings, they don’t really do all that much – apart from, that is, the bulb switch. This nifty setting allows the shutter to stay open for long exposures when taking photos at night or in low lighting, which is not what you want when you’re taking a standard photo in daylight.

It also just to happens to be on the underside of the camera, which means it can be easily switched to the ‘B’ setting by accident – especially if, say, you chuck the camera loose into your handbag without a case on it.

I’m not giving up, though! I’ve got a black and white roll to snap with next – and I’ll be checking that damn switch before clicking the shutter.

Tips for shooting with a Holga 135:

  • Careful with that bulb switch! Learn from my mistake and make sure you check that sucker every time you take your camera out, or you’ll end up with half a roll of blurry, over-exposed shots like I did.
  • Tape up the camera. If you’re not a fan of the light leaks, Holga pros recommend taping up the gaps in the camera casing with black tape.
  • Remember to wind the film (or not). This sounds so simple, but I found it hard to get into the habit of winding the film on and ended up with some unintentional double and triple exposures. So I’ll be (intentionally) playing with that more with my next roll.
  • Have fun! I was a bit too precious with my film, saving it until the ‘right’ time, so it took me ages to finish the roll (and half the shots were still rubbish anyway). The results are so unpredictable that there’s really no point in being precious – so, to paraphrase Nike, just shoot it!

Sustainable sewing: no-plastic packaging

There are so many reasons we sew – fun, learning, fashion – and sustainability is high on the list for me. I hate what fast fashion is doing to the planet and don’t want to contribute to it, but sewing your own isn’t automatically more sustainable or ethical. Synthetic fibres, damaging manufacturing processes and poor working conditions aren’t confined to the garment-making industry – they’re all there in the production and distribution of the fabrics themselves, too.

But there’s also another aspect to this I hadn’t considered until recently. Outside of London it can be difficult to find bricks-and-mortar fabric shops, so I mostly buy fabric online – and it often comes wrapped in single-use plastic. I always save padded envelopes where I can but it’s not often possible to reuse plastic wrappers and, although it may seem trivial in the grand scheme of planet-damaging things, the idea of adding yet more of these to landfill just to feed my fabric-buying addiction isn’t a pleasant one.

So, I’ve put together a list of online sewing retailers that use eco-friendly, recycled or recyclable packaging – it’s a work in progress and I’ll add to it as I find more, so feel free to comment with any I’ve missed.

Here’s to stash-shopping without added plastic!

Sewing shops using eco, recycled or recyclable packaging:

  • Backstitch: One of the few online sewing shops I’ve found with a packaging policy on their website, Backstitch have committed to not buying any more plastic packaging and instead use brown paper fastened with brown paper tape. They stock loads of amazing sewing brands too, from Atelier Brunette fabrics to Colette patterns.
  • Merchant & Mills: My recent fabric order from Merchant & Mills (this amazing hand-dyed spot print, if you were wondering) came beautifully wrapped in paper and sent in a brown envelope fastened with string – so nice I had to Instagram it.
  • Raystitch: Another shop with a sustainability policy on its website, Raystitch has switched to fully recyclable paper Jiffy bags, cardboard envelopes and gusset envelopes, plus 70% recycled polythene bags made in the UK that can be recycled with plastic carriers. And their fabrics are seriously stunning.
  • Pin and Sew: This one also has an environmental policy on its website – hurrah! Pin & Sew sell a gorgeous selection of jersey, French terry, ponte and sweatshirt fabrics, all hand-picked by founder Aga and sent out in compostable, degradable and recyclable paper post bags.
  • Offset Warehouse: Offering swoon-worthy fabrics and haberdashery that aren’t only eco-friendly but fairly sourced, Offset Warehouse tick so many thoughtful-sewing boxes. Their packaging is minimal, recycled and recyclable, and the fabrics are packed in tissue to prevent them from moving around in the cardboard box.
  • Faberwood: Faberwood’s unique fabric selection is lovingly curated by owner Fiona Trevaskiss, and as much thought goes into the packaging too – orders are sent in a cardboard box that can be reused or recycled, and also packaged in recycled mailer bags to protect your precious fabric purchase from bad weather during transit.

Exploring Florence

Italy is the holiday destination that just keeps on giving – from Roman ruins to modern art, Renaissance sculpture to rolling vineyards, beautiful beaches to breathtaking lakes, it’s a tourist’s dream, whatever your idea of a dream holiday might be. Heck, it even has a city on water. And whatever part of the country you visit for a little la dolce vita, first-rate food (and even better coffee) is a guarantee.

Florence, or Firenze, is everything you’d expect it to be, and yet also perhaps not quite what you might expect, all at the same time. If you’re longing for a chilled city break where you can stroll leisurely around charming streets and piazzas while scoffing gelato…Florence may not be for you. Narrow pavements and the tourist hordes mean it isn’t the most relaxing city to walk around (especially while trying to eat gelato).

What it lacks in wide pavements, though, it more than makes up for in art, culture and shopping. There are so many galleries and museums, with some of the world’s most iconic artworks – think Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s David – as well as more unusual exhibits, such as the life-like wax anatomical models at The Museum of Zoology and Natural History (tbh, we gave that a miss).

And once you’ve ticked off everything on your list (yes, even those anatomical models if that’s your thing) you can plan in some excursions out of the city, too – Pisa, Bolgona, Siena, Lucca, Arrezzo, Cinque Terre, and even Rome and Venice are within reach from Florence by public transport, although the latter three would be best done over a few days each. We had seven days in Florence and ventured out to Pisa, Bologna and Siena, yet still felt like we’d enjoyed everything Firenze has to offer (which, admittedly, mostly involved pizza, pasta, ice cream and wild boar).

October is a great time to visit Florence – there are obviously lots of tourists, but not as many as in peak season, and the temperature is still around 20-25 degrees, which is practically tropical for us Brits. I tried to fit in with the locals by wearing a jacket and boots, but in the end I went full tourist in sandals, (me-made) short sleeves and a camera hung round my neck.

Photos 1, 2 + 3: Florence. Photos 4, 5 + 6: Siena. Photos 7 + 8: Pisa. Photo 9: Bologna

Things to do in and around Florence

  • Shop: Celeste Vintage has a tempting array of designer and non-designer vintage to add to your collection – not picking up something from here is my biggest holiday regret.
  • See: After spending some euros at Celeste, head a little further down the road to the Pitti Palace for a different kind of fashion fix at the costume museum there. It’s small but inspiring, and the ticket includes entry to Pitti Palace’s other galleries, too.
  • Avoid: Don’t be tempted to pay extra for the ‘fast track’ ticket to get into the Uffizi. We did, and it didn’t seem to make any difference to the waiting time whatsoever – you still have to queue for ages to get in, along with all the other suckers who paid for a so-called ‘fast track’ ticket.
  • Visit: If you’re short on time and can only do one day trip out of the city, go to Siena – with its charming cobbled streets, stunning skyline and quaint shops and restaurants, it’s a breath of fresh air after the hustle and bustle of Florence (not to mention an Instagrammer’s dream).
  • See: Don’t overlook Italy’s modern art galleries – they’re not shouted about as much, but they’re worth seeing. The permanent collection at Bologna’s MAMbo traces the history of Italian art from World War II to present day, with works by Italian artists as well as others from around the world. It’s quite a small gallery, which is ideal if you’re visiting from Florence and only have a day to explore Bologna, and it has a gift shop full of nice artsy things too.
  • Avoid (unless you have time to spare – and a big appetite): In Florence, you’ll probably spot quite a few people tucking into a giant sandwich from All’ Antico Vinaio and, while they certainly are tasty (and giant), the queues are super long for what is essentially a huge slab of bread and cheese you probably won’t be able to finish. 
  • See: Siena is known for its Palio, a bareback horse race that usually happens twice a year – except we managed to find ourselves there during the Palio Straordinario, a special extra Palio and the first in about 18 years. It’s been described as ‘lawless’, and I’d say that is a fitting description, but it’s fascinating at the same time – this isn’t an attraction done for tourists’ benefit, but a real rivalry between the city’s contradas, or districts, that’s been going on since medieval times, with an atmosphere like a derby football match. While I don’t like the animal rights issues surrounding it (the track has some tight turns and the horses often get injured), it’s a unique thing to experience.
  • Eat: We had one of my favourite meals of the trip at Allabona in Pisa, an eco-friendly restaurant that serves local food and wines (I can recommend the sparkling one) and uses biodegradable and compostable plates and cups – wine is still thankfully served in a glass, though.
  • See: Famous landmarks often don’t live up to the hype, but Pisa’s leaning tower is genuinely impressive to see in person – if only to watch all the tourists lining up to do that pose (before inevitably joining in yourself – go on, you know you want to).