Shooting Cheap Black and White Film

I was picking up some developer and other chemicals from B&H Photo and was about 5 bucks short of their free shipping threshold. We’ve all been there- ready to check out and complete your order only to have to throw some random crap into the cart to hit the shipping limit. Well, a roll of Holga 35mm was that crap filler on this particular order, and in this post, I’d like to share my experience shooting with it.

The roll sat in my film drawer for a few months before I had even considered messing around with it. I’ve been testing some 110 cameras and tinkering around with other various projects, so there wasn’t a need for any black and white 35mm film. But a few days ago I woke up to some crazy-thick blanket of fog that basically screamed “black and white cheap film”. So I loaded up the roll of Holga into my Nikon EM and out the door, I went. I wasn’t searching around for long before I passed by a cemetery enveloped in the fog that looked like an old 50’s horror movie, so I pulled over and took some shots.

Having never shot any Holga film before I wasn’t sure what to expect. A quick google for some info revealed the Holga is just rebranded Foma Action 400. Holga cameras are known for their lo-fi raw and gritty look, so I was prepared for some undesirable imperfections- but what I came away with were some excellent images with character.

In my opinion, it has a classic look to it. A pleasing grain structure that is a bit softer than fine grain fims like Tmax or Delta. The images had a nice contrast to them, and in some scenes, with the sun backlighting, I see a bit of diffusion or halation to the highlights. The look you get is dependent of course on what developer and speed you’re rating it.

Since this was my first time shooting with Foma I wanted to shoot the roll at box speed and see where the exposure landed. Several people in forums I came across suggested rating the film at about 250 iso for best results, and that it also does well when pushed up to 1600. This is actually the same exact range of pushing and pulling I use as a guideline for any rolls of Tri-x or Tmax that I shoot.

I developed this roll in Kodak Tmax liquid developer at 68 degrees for 7.5 minutes. I didn’t get the green “ectoplasm pour” that I was hearing about from Foma film because I pre-rinsed my roll prior to development. The negatives dried flat with hardly any curling which made scanning them nice and easy.

My final thoughts on Holga 35mm are that it’s a film that won’t give you the cleanest images with surgical sharpness, but that’s exactly why I like it. I will definitely be purchasing more and shooting it again. What started out as just a cart filler to receive some free shipping ended up as a winner.

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Amazon affiliate links:

Kodak Portra 35mm Film (5 pack)
Tmax 400 (35mm, 5 Rolls)
Tmax 400 (120, 1 Roll)
Tmax 400 (120, 5 Rolls)

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