Holga D: Absolute Minimalist Manual Focus Digital Camera

The original Holga is a 1982 creation. It sports a 60 mm f/8 plastic lens, makes use of all 120 medium-format films and has shutter speed settings of 1/125 and “B”. The original intention via Lomographic Society International:

The unassuming Holga is here to save you from a future of digital pixels and images shared on small screens on cameras or phones. We have all become numbed with photography, there is no denying it, but a chunky camera made almost entirely of plastic has been put on this Earth to save us. It will reawaken your vision, fill you with joy, make you see beauty when you thought it had disappeared forever, and bring out sunshine on a cloudy day.

The plastic contraption took fantastically unique pictures. And it was certainly fun to play with. But the Holga was downright ugly. Here’s something far more aesthetically pleasing, conceptually anyway, yet holding to that old tradition of having a lot of fun while taking pictures: Holga D.

Holga D is a digital camera, an absolutely minimalist toy digital camera. It doesn’t even have a viewfinder*. This design concept, conjured up by Saikat Biswas, is based on absolute minimalism, which might have been influenced by his studies at Pforzheim University of Applied Science in Germany:

Even though Holga D is a digital camera, in order to achieve its simplicity, it reduces the feature set to absolute minimum.

The design is the result of ruthless and thorough elimination of everything superfluous and in the end a rectangular body and a few buttons are left for the sole purpose of having a lot of fun taking photographs. Because you don’t have a viewfinder you need to wait to see how your photos turn out, kind of like a film camera of old. I think Biswas succeeds with the Holga D concept as it will certainly inject a bunch of fun back into digital photography. After thinking whether or not I have fun taking pictures, I admit I have become quite obsessive about capturing that perfect photo that I often forget to enjoy the process, the moment, the discovery.

Although billed as a toy camera the Holga D makes use of last-generation image sensors: either a full-frame or 1.5x cropped. A full-frame image sensor in a minimalist body like this would be simply outstanding! Megapixels would not at all be a concern and neither would these: vignetting, chromatic aberrations, barrel distortions, etc. These photographic defects are characteristics that will make photographing with the Holga D marvelously imperfect.

A black and white circular E Ink screen shows the remaining frames, whether the picture will be in black and white or color, a square or rectangle and how much battery power is left. The use of E Ink enhances visibility anywhere you might happen to be, reduces power consumption considerably, and brings four indicators into a concise symmetric design. The E Ink display and the shutter release key share the same diameter.

Everything looks delicious, sans one. The Holga D might technically be a toy camera but I would guess the majority that buys and uses this camera, if it ever gets made, will be adults. Adults who are into photography. These adults would not be wild about the idea that a pencil, pen or paperclip is required to change the ISO setting. The dimple on the ISO dial is an all-together failure. Biswas incorrectly assumes that photographers using the Holga D wouldn’t want to change the ISO setting often. So he made it almost impossible to change unless you had a sharp object handy. No doubt, Biswas has a great sense of design, but I wonder if he has spent enough time with a camera to get a gut-level sense of what it entails to take photographs in full-manual mode. (Update: Yes he has. Check out his Flickr photographs. They are most beautiful!) As most of you may guess, in manual mode, all settings are changed and quite often, including the ISO setting. My recommendation: simply replace the dimple with the bump. Voilà! Perfection.

By tastefully blending an absolute minimalistic product design that strips away every unnecessary detail to the bare photographic tool with function-focused buttons, indicators, old and new technologies Biswas succeeds in evoking a powerful desire for the Holga D, a thoroughly modern digital camera deliberately limited to fulfill the experience of film-based photography. If only the Holga D was real.

* One of the accessories is a viewfinder made of a single piece of clear plastic with embossed markings for square framing.