Monday, February 7, 2011

CAMERA MOD: Brownie Bullet + Holga = FrankenHolga!


"It's ALIVE!!!" FrankenHolga is born.
Guest blog by Gregg B. McNeill

It all started with a Holga, my first Holga (you always remember your first). When I bought it almost 10 years ago, I had no idea that it would be one of many, nor did I realize that it would go through a transformation into what would become one of my favorite cameras ever.

The first incarnation was the removal of the shutter and lens assembly and the installation of the .0059" pinhole. To distinguish the pinhole version in my bag, I painted the top "safety yellow". It stayed in that configuration for about 8 years. I took some amazing images with it.

But, alas, creative boredom being what it is...
I was admiring a recently acquired Brownie Bullet. I was intrigued. I wanted to use it, but I needed a few more metal take-up reels to make it work. What I really wanted was a 120 back for it. This got me thinking about what I wanted from the Bullet. It was the lens.

I estimated the Holga's focal distance from the lens to the film plane with a ruler and put a mark on the Brownie body. Cutting the Bakelite plastic Bullet down to size with a Dremmel Tool was a very loud and messy process. I had to carve away some of the Holga as well. I secured what was left of the Bullet to the hacked Holga body with black paper tape. I had to tape over the Brownie's periscope eyepiece as well.

I assumed the Bullet's shutter was roughly 1/60th to 1/100th of a second. As a quick and dirty test (instead of potentially wasting an entire roll of 120 film), I prepped some photo paper and exposed some paper negatives, which I contact printed to check for exposure and focus. The relative sharpness of the image and the soft edges amazed me.

The resulting square image was a bit smaller than the standard Holga 6x6 image. The image was so much smaller, in fact, I wondered if I could get 16 images out of the roll. On a trek to a local market, FrankenHolga created a wonderful montage by perfectly connecting all of the images on the roll edge to edge. A FrankenHolgarama.

The addition of a Polaroid back added to the fun, versatility and the name, thus becoming a FrankenHolgaroid.

empty metro car
“empty metro car” - multiple exposures with the FrankenHolga

vancouver shore portrait
“Vancouver shore portrait”

Nathan and Keith at The Rugby
“Nathan and Keith at The Rugby”

I’ve been, needless to say, very pleased with the results of this ongoing experiment. I never expected it to work, let alone become one of my favorites. FrankenHolga continues to amaze and delight me with its unique outlook on the world. Both of its viewfinders are useless, leaving FrankenHolga to determine what it wants to show me. Giving up the control to a camera you trust has been a great release for me. I love the images and the reaction I get from people who see FrankenHolga for the first time.

So get out there and hack up some of those classic cameras gathering dust on your selves. They really would rather be working anyway, right? Just ask them, they'll tell you.

Check out my FrankenHolga set on flickr:

365 d30
Gregg B. McNeill is a Filmmaker and Photographer currently living in Scotland, on the Isle of Bute. He runs a production company called Big baby Productions Ltd. shooting documentaries, features and music videos.

All photos © Gregg B. McNeill
Gregg's photostream on

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  1. This is beyond cool. My grandfather shots medium format Brownie, and my father, Polaroid. They would both likely love this. Amazing combo for portraiture, I am sure.


  2. Lovin' the Frankenholga! Excellent work with this cutting edge experiment.