As it turns out, pre-2009 models of the Holga have only one aperture: f/13. The Holga manual lists two aperture settings (f/8 for cloudy days and f/11 for sunny days), but when you look inside the camera, the larger aperture hole is located on the lever arm connected to the aperture switch and it is placed behind the smaller aperture. This means that switching aperture on an older Holga has no effect — you always get the smaller aperture! And if you measure the size of that aperture and do the calculations, it turns out not to be f/11, but is instead f/13. I bought my Holga in 2014 and so I was a little surprised to discover that it’s a pre-2009 model with only one aperture. (For those who are interested, it is possible to mod your Holga and create a second, larger f/10 aperture for cloudy days. You can find those instructions here.)
After successfully shooting Instax Mini film in my Mamiya C220 TLR, I attempted to shoot it in my Holga. My first attempt failed miserably. I don’t own the incredibly rare Instax Mini Back designed for the Holga (I found one on eBay once, but they wanted $200 for it), so I had to find a cheaper homemade solution instead. My idea was to create a mask using card stock that I could insert in my Holga to hold a single frame of Instax Mini. This idea worked with my Mamiya, so it should have worked in my Holga. It didn’t. And so I shelved the idea and moved on.
But I’m not one to give up so easily and so I tried again a few months later. I had just finished my Film on Film project shooting Instax Mini “portraits” of my 35mm film collection and had a few Instax Mini frames left over. So I set about creating another mask and after a few iterations arrived at a workable design. It’s pretty straightforward, but don’t let its looks fool you. The mask has to fit inside the Holga, hold a frame of Instax Mini in just the right spot, and be easy to use in a darkroom or a film changing bag when you only have your sense of touch to guide you. In the process, I discovered that my Holga has a significant design flaw.
Once I had my mask and Instax Mini in place, I set about metering the light. Instax Mini film has an ISO of 800 and since my Holga only has one aperture (f/13) and one shutter speed (1/100 second), I entered that information into my light meter app. The first photo took advantage of window light on a bright day that was perfect for my Holga / Instax combo. The other two photos were lit with studio strobes and I used the Holga CL-250 close-up lens to shoot my self-portraits. Because I own a Holga 120 CFN, it does not have a hot shoe (it has a built-in flash instead) and so in order to use my Holga with studio strobes, I had to switch the camera to Bulb mode, open the shutter in darkness, trigger the strobes, and then close the shutter. It was easy to do and it worked quite well.