Nobody asked but today I’m going to tell you what the very best 6×6 camera is. To do that I’m going to bring out two cameras. One is world famous, popular, frequently stupid expensive, and is used by a great many working and fine art photographers. The other is commonly available, often a fantastic bargain, and if it’s used by anybody who is anybody—nobodies admitting it. I’m talking of course about the, did I say famous, I meant infamous Holga 120S and the Welmy-Six.
First the one you’ve heard of. The old Holga 120S is a shelter dog if ever there was one. It’s a dog, but a mutt for sure, and if you put in the time it’s a great companion. Just don’t count on waltzing into the AKC show with it unless they already know you there, and your name is a draw.
So forget the metaphor. You’re not going to break into the world of fine art with a Holga, you’re just not. You want to do that you better be some kind of salesman ’cause let me tell you now honey, it doesn’t matter how good a photographer you are. There’s more terrible shooters with big names and well known images on the wall than you’d believe. Wanna get in there too you better know a guy, have a hook, and line up a buyer before you let anyone bother to decide you’re any good or not! Hell, I’m terrible and that’s never kept me from making money at this.
Why the Holga 120S then? Three reasons (ALWAYS 3! THERE’S ONLY EVER 3) it’s light as a feather, dead simple, and nothing special. Which means you won’t think twice about shoving it in your bag or hanging it around your neck. It’s an easy camera to have with you. 33.3% of everything is being there with a camera. Want another truth? Give someone more than one shutter speed, more than one aperture, they’re gonna get some shit frames. A new photographer with a manual SLR without a TTL meter is going to have more impossible to print frames out of 12 than a new photographer with a Holga. A digital workflow can cover up a lot of sins; it’s easier to just shoot better. One aperture, one speed, if you got enough wits to be breathing on your own you’re gonna get 12 frames out of 12 on a Holga. Maybe over a few stops, maybe under, but short of shooting with filters and flash oh-fucking-well you gotta live with it and make it work in the darkroom.
Then there’s the Welmy-Six. It’s nothing special. What it is is a fully mechanical 6×6 folder with just enough features. Cold shoe? Check. Flash sync? Check. On-body shutter release? Horizontal view finder? Vertical view finder? Check check check. Alright, so the lens only opens up to three.5, the shutter only hits 200, 100, 50, 25, 10, 5, two, one & Bulb, and you gotta eyeball your focus. Who cares, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than an Olympus Chrome 6 or any of the big name 6×6 folders. I got mine from the original home of the overpriced camera, eBay, and it was still under $20 including shipping.
So why buy a Welmy if I already had a $16 Holga? Pockets. The Welmy is a folder so never mind a lens cap and a case, just close it up and it fits in a jacket pocket. Maybe don’t go pocketing it if you live in a bad neighborhood though. It’s heavy and cops will claim it looks like you’re carrying and hassle you. But anyway, yeah, it’s not folding as flat as a Kodak Autographic, but it’s giving me 12 frames of 6×6 instead of 8 frames of 6×9. Oh, and it focuses down to around a foot (the last marked distance on the lens is thee) so table top studio work is very much an option, an option the vertical viewfinder, really does make easy.
The best though? I claimed to know the best 6×6 camera.
The Welmy-Six is basically a Kodak Retina for 120 film, it has that feel. I wrote it above but I’ll do so again, it’s less expensive and easier to get a hold of than any comparable camera in that format. The Lomography crowd isn’t interested because it’s not a Holga or a Diana. The gear heads are after the “serious” brands and they’re all looking for rangefinders and SLRs anyway.
The Holga 120S (forget the other variants) is chunky but weighs nothing. Every time you wind and hit the shutter you’ll end up with something you’ll consider usable; even if the reason you do so is the lowered expectations that automatically activate when you know it was shot with a Holga. There’s so many out there that unless you’re buying new from one of those stores you’ll be able to find one for cheap.
The best then, it’s one of those two. Which, depends on where you are in your film photography journey. One of these cameras speaks with your voice.