Saturn approved guest post by Heshan Jayakody of www.pixelogist.me. Please enjoy!

Lately, there’s been a huge level of growing interest in the world of Lomography – the form of photography that cares little for gear and quality of images, and is more about the fun you have in the process, and the wacky/quirky quality of images that you can produce. If you don’t really know what this is all about, there’s a lot you can find on Google (of course!), and there’s a rather detailed post of my own discussing this form of photography: you can check it out here

But alright, this article is a review of sorts on medium format toy cameras…the kind of ‘review’ that I usually do…more of a discussion on the gear mentioned, not too technical or specs-y

Medium Format Camera

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Medium format film toy cameras, such as the famous Holga 120 and the even more famous Diana+ are standards among the Lomography crowd. These cheaply built plastic cameras produce very interesting images that are interesting, sometimes weird but always cool to look at…and well, full of little defects that result from the cheap (plastic) lens and poor construction

But we Lomographers, we love these defects…we WANT these defects! The lens produces images that are soft, not sharp. There’s heavy corner vignetting. The colors can be oversaturated and on occasion unnatural-looking. The body can often leak light onto the film, resulting in little (or major) light streaks over bits of your images. But we love that! And we want that. That’s what the now-famous Lomo look is all about! It’s alternative photography, it’s the alternative to high quality digital imaging…and it’s a lot of fun!

Holga 120N

Ok, I’ll be looking at two medium format toy cameras today…the first is the famous Holga.

Holga Camera

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There are quite a few variations being made by this Hong Kong-based company at the moment, including one with a glass lens – but I find that defeats the purpose of what we want from a Holga…the 120N is the model that I find closest to the original Holga cameras of old (I believe they’ve been around since the ‘80s), complete with plastic lens goodness – and it is also the best value, going for just around $20! So you’ve no excuse for not trying one of these, really

Build quality: Dead basic design, built purely out of plastic, super cheap construction. Nothing much to add here. It’s marketed as a toy, it costs $20, so it feels like a toy…nothing wrong with that. The only issue I have with it is one that is something that could ruin all your photos, something they really should take more note of: the back of the camera that opens to place your film often tends to fall off! If it falls off while you’re shooting, you can ruin your entire roll of film that’s inside! Disaster. To fix this, most people use some form of mod…the most common method is to tape up the back of the camera using electrical tape, or gaffer tape…this secures the back as well as seals up some of the light leaks, if that bothers you. There are other forms of mods too…the Holga crowd will fill you in on this! But it’d be much better if the back just stays on, I don’t think it’ll cost that much to build a slightly more secure plastic lock on there

Features: Again, dead basic. It’s got one shutter speed…approximately 1/100 of a second I think…and a Bulb mode. The speeds are labeled N and B respectively…N for “normal” and B for bulb. Aperture…it’s got a little switch above the lens that supposedly controls aperture: one for day and one for night…the night one is probably a bit wider than the day…but they’re both pretty small apertures, around f8 and f11…something like that. But the amazing thing is that in daylight, in almost any condition, ONE exposure setting i.e. one shutter speed and one aperture tends to work fine. On my digital, or even my film SLR, I often think a lot about the settings, often fiddling with aperture/shutter/ISO to get just the right exposure…but on these toys, just one combination seems to work so well…it always amazes me!

Focusing is manual, zone focusing – i.e. you estimate the distance between you and your subject, and set the camera to focus to that zone.

It has 4 settings…1m, 2m, 3m, and infinity. And as the aperture is so narrow, the depth of field is huge…so even if your estimation of your subject’s distance isn’t spot-on, you should get an image that’s in focus

The viewfinder is tiny, doesn’t show really what the lens captures, especially for close-ups…most people who use these cameras simply point the lens at the subject without looking through this cheap finder…so don’t pay much attention to it. The body also has a hot shoe for attaching a flash. And that’s about it for the features. Not bad, considering that I felt it’s a pretty featureless camera, but look – I’ve written half a page about its features!

Image Quality: the quality of the images might not be the greatest…but that doesn’t mean the pictures don’t look great! You generally shoot in square format in these cameras, although you can set it to take a rectangular format image too…but these square format shots really look superb. The vignetting (which is what many of us love about these toys) is heaviest when you shoot square…the colors are very pronounced, saturated, bright…the entire picture is soft and dreamy…and if you didn’t tape your camera you might notice some streaks of light across one side of the image. Have a look at my samples to see what I mean. I personally love the results of my Holga. Not high quality, but it’s got…personality! Without the fake, wannabe look that instagram filters produce!

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Overall, it’s a great little camera…and at just $20 or so, there’s nothing really to stop you from trying one out. The pure simplicity is what I absolutely love about this, and other similar toys cameras…it’s point and shoot at its simplest form. Wonderful. Really it is. And with that, let’s move on to the….

Diana F+

My second camera today, the Diana+, is almost exactly the same as the Holga, with a different design, a couple of different features, and costs 3 times as much. I love my Diana, but if I had known how similar these two were, I wouldn’t have bought both. It’s built by the Lomography Society (lomography.com), also based in Hong Kong, and comes in a far more attractive package than the Holga – and includes a beautiful book filled with images taken from Diana cameras – maybe not worth the extra cash but at least you feel like you’re paying extra for SOMETHING

Anyway, the Diana+ is a remake of the original Diana camera, a similarly cheap camera made in the 1960s in Hong Kong (again, HK!). The Diana+ and the F+ models are the same…the F+ simply comes with that fancy flash – which you can buy separately and attach to a Diana+ anyway…so ignore the F. As I mentioned, it’s very similar to the Holga in terms of …well, everything…so let me just go through some of the differences

Build Quality: maybe a tad better built – still, all plastic construction…feels very cheap, and like a toy. Like the Holga, this is a toy too, so I wouldn’t complain much, except that at $60+, it’s a bit pricey for what it is. The back design on the Diana is better, though…you don’t need a bunch of tape to secure it…so if you see a taped-up Diana, it’s purely for preventing light leakage

Diana Camera

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Features: same shutter speed (Bulb and Normal 1/100sec speeds) – aperture, well…it’s got three different aperture settings, based on weather conditions: sunny, partially cloudy, and cloudy – but like the Holga, it’s a very small aperture again…f8, f11, f13 I’d say. But in addition, it also has a PINHOLE mode, which is probably the best difference between this and the Holga. If you want to shoot in pure pinhole fashion, the lens actually snaps off…allowing you to use the Diana as a real pinhole camera. More on this later (see image quality below). You can also keep the lens on and set the aperture to pinhole, for even weirder effects. Note that using pinhole settings require very long exposures (a couple of seconds in bright daylight, closer to an hour for night shots!)

It includes a little plastic ‘key’ that you can use to lock the shutter, so you don’t need to hold down the shutter for an entire hour!

Focusing is very similar on the Diana…manual zone focusing…1-2m, 2-4m, and 4-infinity zones

It also has a viewfinder, which, like the Holga, isn’t great…but being just above the lens, I find it slightly more accurate than the Holga

It doesn’t have a traditional hot shoe, but instead has a 2-pin port that is used to attach the Diana Flash. But if you have a cheap flash that you’d like to attach via hot shoe, you can buy the hot shoe adapter from Diana…it costs like $5 and works fine

Image Quality:

Images from the Diana are almost exactly the same as the images from my Holga…I really can’t tell the difference. Soft, colorful, vignette-y, square format. Pinhole images, however, look different. The results are even softer, very ‘dreamy’, although everything remains in focus. Long exposure pinhole shots at night can produce very interesting results too…super long light streaks, blurry and dreamy…weird, colorful…you get the idea. So yeah, to be honest, that’s the only reason I got the Diana…the pinhole effect. Is it worth $60? Probably not, I don’t use the pinhole that often. But it’s fun to have, and fun to use when you want to. I also got the Diana coz it looks quite a bit cooler than the Holga!

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Using one of these toys

Before I wrap up this post, I’ll just go through the process of using one of these. It’s dead simple, and that’s the idea of Lomography (don’t think, just shoot)

Load the film: using 120 medium format film is very different from using 35mm film, but that’s out of this article’s scope…you could check out Youtube for plenty of videos on loading a Diana or Holga with 120 fil

Remove the lens cap: always an important step! Looking through the viewfinder, you can never tell if your lens cap is on, so remind yourself to check

Focus: look at your subject, estimate the distance, and set the dial on front of the lens to that zone. A helpful hint that someone gave me was that you could estimate anything at around an arm’s length as 1m…anything nearer than that is too close to focus…and anything a bit further than that, set it at 2m…and if it’s even further, infinity should be a safe setting

Aperture/shutter: not much to play with here on either camera, but it can vary based on your film speeds. The recommended film speed is ISO 400 on these cameras. Each manual has a little guide on recommended exposure settings, – this should help! So although it’s dead simple to use, just read the one page manual and familiarize yourself with the settings

And yeah, that’s it. Don’t forget to release the shutter, and wind. Oh yeah, these cameras don’t stop winding when you reach the next frame…you have to watch the film counter, and stop winding when you see the next number on the film counter window. So don’t keep winding, or you’ll end up winding the entire roll of film and not take a single shot!

Well, that’s all I have for you on using these fun little toy cameras. It’s been great to write for Saturn Photography, thanks to Andy for the opportunity – maybe I’ll be back with something else sometime later! Until then…cheers!

Heshan Jayakody

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