Interview: Randy Smith of Holgamods

Monkey -- by Joe Reifer

Monkey -- by Joe Reifer

I shoot a couple rolls with a Holga every month. I got my tricked out Holga from Randy Smith's For just a little bit more than a stock Holga, Randy offers some really useful customizations. His standard mods include:

  • aperture modified to have f/8 or f/11 instead of just approximately f/13
  • focusing modified to allow close focusing down to 2 feet
  • modified mask
  • black interior flocking to reduce light leaks

My Holgamods holga also has a pin that allows you to do time exposures -- excellent for night photography! Randy also does pinhole Holgas, pinhole body caps, and Holga lenses grafted to SLR body caps. Randy kindly agreed to an email interview:

Joe Reifer: How long have you been modifying Holgas?

Randy Smith: I believe I'm in my 6th year

JR: Are there other handmade camera builders or hackers that were an inspiration to you modifying Holgas?

RS: Not really. Most of my Ideas come from my needs, customer suggestions or from browsing some of the photo forums.

JR: How many Holgas do you usually modify in a day's work?

RS: Too many :) -- about 10-15 variations of my Holgas, maybe 4-8 digital Holga body cap lenses and a few pinhole body caps. Prior to doing the interview for Deborah Lattimore in JPG magazine, I was sending out about 250 Holgas a month. Since then, I'm up over 600 a month now. Can't wait for it to slow down a little.

JR: With the approximate fixed exposure of 1/100 at f/8, shooting Tri-X in the Holga works well for me. Do you have a favorite film that you like to use?

RS: One of my favorites is Ilford's HP5 Plus.

JR: Is there a lot of variety in the relative quality of cameras you receive from China?

I'd say about 4 out of 10 Holgas I receive from the factory have sluggish shutters. In the past I would have to lubricate them, but now that I sell the Digital Holga lenses I have to destroy a Holga to steal the lens and the threads from the shutter assembly leaving behind a perfectly good body with shutter attached. Now when I run into a poor shutter, I just replace the body and shutter as one assembly. Any Holga leaving Holgamods has a nice crisp shutter.

JR: Have you had any feedback on the relative sharpness of the Holga lens over the years?

RS: Since I have been doing this I have never had a single complaint about sharpness or lack of sharpness. Just the opposite. I feel strange saying this, but customers love my Holgas.

JR: How does the Holga look compare to the Diana?

RS: I'm not really a Diana guy.

JR: Does your Fedex/UPS/USPS driver know what's in the boxes that get delivered to your house?

RS: My Fed Ex guy asked me the first year I started modifying Holgas. Back then it was about once a month. Now I see him once a week when he drops off 125 stock Holgas. I ship USPS -- every one knows me there. I look pretty funny carrying in a very large black contractor trash bag loaded with Holgas every single day.

JR: Have any famous photographers ordered a Holga from you?

RS: David Burnett (famous photojournalist) Ted Orland, (assistant of Ansel Adams), many National Geographic and other magazine photographers, and Lisa Hohlfeld, the lady who played the bartender in the Movie "He said, She said" with Kevin Bacon. She just had an article in Uptown Magazine showing off her "Ass Cam." She traveled Europe with one of my Holgas with a long cable release, strapped on her butt.

JR: Where do you get the waist level viewfinders for the Holgamods SWL -- are you scouring garage sales and flea markets for old broken cameras?

RS:I'll never tell :)

JR: I see a lot of regular Holga photos online. How many pinhole and zone plate Holgas do you sell compared to standard Holgamods cameras?

RS: Well, I offer 3 versions of my Pinholgas, the Economy without a shutter, my Deluxe Pinholga with shutter and cable release, and just started selling the PinHolga Slide, my personal favorite. So I'd say about 10 - 15 PinHolgas a week, and very few special order zone plate Holgas. For the Zone Plates, I send the customer to to purchase them and have them shipped to me, then mount it for them instead of a pinhole.

JR: There are some cool mods on your website where a Holga lens is used on a Hasselblad, Crown Graphic, and 4x5 Polaroid back -- how often do you get requests for funky hybrid cameras?

RS: Every day requests pour in for something. Holga lenses on a Lomo LC-A, throw away digital cameras mated to Holga bodies, Holga lenses attached to camcorders, the list goes on and on.

JR: Any interesting Frankenstein cameras in the works right now?

RS:I'm working on a Holga lens on that Polaroid 110A conversion you saw recently on my Flickr site.

Thanks again to Randy for kindly answering my questions. Check out for all of your hot-rodded toy camera needs.