For those unacquainted with the joys of lomography and lo-fi analog photography, be prepared to throw away everything you know about shooting on digital cameras. The original Holga is a plastic toy camera that is known for its light leaks and low-quality lens. The dreamy images that it produces are entirely unpredictable, and that's the beauty of Holga; one image might be perfect, the next might have vignetting in the corners, and turn out entirely unlike you expected.
The Digital Holga lens is the same as that found on a regular Holga film camera — a bit like the Lensbaby series of optics that also give unpredictable results.
We were provided with the Digital Holga Kitchen Sink Kit to test, which includes your choice of Holga mount lens (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax or Sony), as well as a fish-eye converter, wide-angle converter, telephoto converter, a close-up lens set and a macro lens set. Other kits are available with just the Holga lens or a number of other combinations with converters.
The focal length of the lens is 60mm, and it has a fixed aperture of f/8. Depending on the crop factor of your digital SLR, this effective focal length will change. On the Canon EOS 600D, our test camera, it's roughly equivalent to a 96mm lens. Like any other Holga lens, it comes with a focus guide on the barrel, which you rotate according to an approximate distance from your subject: for example, a single person would be for someone reasonably close up, and the landscape icon is for shooting at infinity for distant subjects.
Once the Holga lens is attached to your digital SLR, you will need to shoot in a manual exposure mode, and then adjust the ISO and shutter speed in order to be able to make an image. Ideally, an SLR with Live View will be invaluable as you are first getting to know how the lens works. It needs a lot of light to be able to create a picture, whether or not that light comes from natural sources or from a camera flash.
Evaluating the image quality of the various Holga lenses is particularly difficult, as the entire Holga aesthetic is to do with the lack of perfection and the presence of faults. Suffice to say, the digital Holga lens delivers dreamy-looking images, with vignetting at the corners (although no light leaks to speak of, as this comes from the camera body rather than the lens itself). It's an interesting and attractive effect, but we have to say that we prefer the look and feel of an actual film Holga over the digital version.
The conversion lenses are actually able to be used on a real film Holga, as they sit over the lens. As would be expected, adding the conversion lenses detract from the image quality even further. See our image gallery, which includes sample images taken with the conversion lenses.
The Digital Holga Kitchen Sink Kit is available from HolgaDirect for US$108.99. The individual Holga lens for digital SLRs is US$24.99.