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Diana, Holga – Oranges, Apples, Horses, Courses?

A

few queries have come through my inbox over the last couple of years and I’ve seen quite a few discussions regarding the differences between Diana and Holga toy cameras and which is better. Let me state right now that value judgements like ‘better’ really are subjective markers and what is good for one person may not apply to others, so I’m not going to make a value judgement like that. All I can truthfully say is which camera I prefer and use more often based on some of the points outlined below at the time I am writing this, fully expecting my preferred camera(s) to change over time, (sometimes going full circle); for example, lately (as of an edit to this post early 2010) I have been using a great ‘Holgamods’ Holga with a waist level viewfinder modification quite a bit.

Diana cameras:

Sleepy Horse - a Diana + photo with 4x4 mask. Diana’s (both the original, clones and the new Diana +) create beautiful & dreamy shots. The exact nature of these unique attributes differ from model to model and indeed from camera to camera. The finder is above the lens in a Diana, making composing more accurate. (or at least less subject to horizontal parallax)
The original Diana had these attributes:

  • 3 aperture settings – sunny, hazy, cloudy
  • Most had “N’ and ‘B’ shutter settings, some did not
  • 16 exposures per roll of 120 medium format film

They did not have:

  • A Tripod mount
  • Any kind of consistent result from their lenses – many variations of degree of vignetting and selective areas of focus from their lenses (note this is not listed as either a good or bad thing, just an attribute!)

Here are some things I like about the most recently produced version of the Diana (the Diana + series) in particular:

  • 4 apertures (the traditional 3 – sunny, hazy, cloudy, plus the pinhole)
  • Choice of 3 negative frame sizes (panoramic, 6×6 and 4×4).
  • The ability to shoot pinhole shots on the same roll as plastic lens shots.
  • The ability to shoot pinhole traditionally or with the lens on.
  • The ability to mount your Diana+ on a tripod, it makes using the “b” shutter selection so much easier for pinhole and night shots/long exposures.
  • The relatively new Diana F + gives the added opportunity for flash photography with the provided flash or using a modern hotshoe flash of your choice with the provided hotshoe adapter.
  • The plastic doodad (even though it is a bit of a gimmick and fiddly) to allow really long exposure times without physically holding the shutter down).

Points against the Diana +:

  • The loading of film is a bit fiddly, not as easy as with the traditional original Diana camera, but you get used to it with practice.
  • Through some bizarre design oversight/fault, when using the camera in 6×6 format, the exposure sits so high on the negative that it is impossible to scan the whole exposure in using a standard scanning mask unless you modify it (or make your own modified mask)
  • The film advance can wind on accidently if you are not careful, for example, when putting it in a camera bag.
  • You can get ‘fat rolls’ – ie the film may not wind on to the take-up spool very tightly leading to the film being loose on the spool when you take it out of the camera – this can lead to light leaks at the top and bottom of the negative.

Holga 120 format cameras:

Girl on a Rock - a Holga image with 6x6 mask in the camera.

I like shooting with my Holgas, but I find I don’t have as much to say about them, perhaps because I have shot fewer rolls through my lensed Holga (I’ve shot plenty of Holga Pinholes through my pinholga from holgamods) Also I honestly feel that with a generic Holga there is less (as far as ‘camera attributes’ are concerned) to say, which may very well be a good thing if you are looking for simplicity of use in your toy cameras.

  • Some people think that the Holga’s build quality is better than the Diana, personally (from my experience) I feel some things are better, the plastic is thicker, some things are worse – my Holga’s back can fall off easily because the design of the clips on mine are loose, I need to use rubber bands. This is probably just my Holga however, I have put a fair bit of strain on those holding clips over the years with the Polaroid back attached (it’s fairly heavy)
  • Some people think they leak light more than Dianas too, but it’s good practice with any toy camera to tape up any areas prone to light leaks, just in case.
  • The Holga only has ONE aperture unless you hack it (or buy one of the excellent modified Holgas from Randy at Holgamods). This means that unless you use at least iso 400 film, you’re photos may be underexposed. Forget about indoor photography unless you have superfast film or you use the tripod and the ‘B’ shutter setting (which ironically, on an unmodified Holga, is very difficult to access if you have the camera mounted on a tripod).
  • The Holga has a tripod thread.
  • “N” and “B” shutter speeds.
  • Some holgas have built in flash (not very powerful), most have a hotshoe.

As I mentioned above, ALL plastic cameras have a propensity for LIGHT LEAKS. Some people love light leaks but I find that the unpredictable nature of lightleaks can sometimes ruin an otherwise nice exposure. If you know your camera and exactly where it leaks you can use it creatively in composing your shots, but personally I tape the seams of my cameras to try and prevent them, as well as covering the exposure counter window of my plastic camera when not winding on. (You can also try this)

*update 2009 – There is a (new) great comparison HERE at Holgablog, where the author laments never being able to find a comparative review on the net, my one must have snuck under the radar, might have to add a few more meta-tags! There are also quite a few discussion threads (and a lot of redundancy) on the web site flickr if you have the patience to read through them. Be aware that some people join into these discussions with very little practical experience with some of the cameras they are talking about, some may simply be basing their opinions on what they have ‘heard’ or personal preferences and/or prejudice – who would have thought little plastic cameras could generate such debate eh?

4 Comments

  1. thank you for this info..

    Friday, December 19, 2008 at 16:00 | Permalink
  2. Gary BensonNo Gravatar wrote:

    My Holga 120N has two apertures, and they are a stop apart:

    Sunny: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sideofbeef/4426331321/
    Cloudy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sideofbeef/4426333689/

    Friday, March 12, 2010 at 22:13 | Permalink
  3. CameronNo Gravatar wrote:

    Hi Gary, thanks for that update. I had heard rumours of the latest Holga’s having actual working apertures now, it’s nice to have that confirmed. Strange how they are only a stop apart however, doesn’t really give you much latitude does it? Interesting to note anyway.

    Monday, March 15, 2010 at 11:16 | Permalink
  4. ALEXNo Gravatar wrote:

    Hi Gary!!! thanks for enlightening me with your knowledge on Holga and Diana toy cameras…But i’m still not sure what to buy though… still torn between Holga135bc an Diana F+ :) ) but thanks a lot!

    alex from the Philippines

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 21:39 | Permalink

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