Whats A WOCA Do
Can Happiness Be Found In The Latest Diana Wannabee

What's A WOCA Do?

I am going to tell you about a camera that costs less than a large format lens cap. It's the latest incarnation of the 120 film "toy camera" called the WOCA (rhymes with "Boca"). For many, this needs a bit of explaining.

While some spouses claim that most photo gear falls into the "toy" category, there is a special genre of camera, some say a subspecies, with that description. These cameras indirectly follow a line started with the discovery of the Hong Kong-made "Diana" 120 roll film camera about 35 years ago.
The Diana was a cheap promotional item, a carnival prize, that sprang up from some mysterious maker in the 1960s. It is a bit like those 35mm cameras given away today with a time-share pitch. These are cameras not designed with photography as the primary concern.

Shot in full sun, John Blodgett captured this echo of youth with his WOCA using Ilford XP-2 black and white film, a red filter, and the fixed WOCA exposure.
Photos © 2002 John Blodgett, All Rights Reserved

And so it was with the Diana. It was made of styrene plastic, that same brittle stuff used to make plastic model cars. And, like the windshields in a Revell car kit, the single-element Diana lens was made of the same wavy, non-optical grade stuff. As a result, no two lenses were exactly the same. Each produced bizarre distortions and color fringing.

The Diana was soon discovered by "fine art" photographers who were tired of the complexity and predictability of their Hasselblads and Rolleis. The ruby window and knob wind, along with light leaks, gave an unpredictable feel to the camera not seen since wet plates were in vogue. Cameras were often sealed shut with black electrical tape to minimize the worst gaps in the construction.

In the early '70s it became the "anti-camera." But years passed and the supply of Dianas dwindled, despite occasional crates of them being discovered in murky basements of five-and-dime stores. Today a clean, working Diana in a box with an instruction book fetches more than $50.

While the tools and dies to make the original Diana are lost, someone did make a newer, similar camera. The "Holga" is a bit sturdier, but not by much. It has been around for about 12 years with current production moved to China, where it can be made even more cheaply. As the Maine Photo-graphic Workshop store proclaims on their web page, "It is the Holga's inherent problems--its lack of sharp focus, lens distortion, light leaks, and aberrations--that give it its unique qualities. Light leaks and accidental double exposures make the camera a fun tool, full of surprises."

Author John Stewart found this old caboose in Spring Grove, Minnesota. He used Kodak T-Max 100 on an overcast day with the usual fixed WOCA exposure.

Enter The WOCA
This brings us to the "WOCA." The WOCA is a Holga with a single-element glass lens. Again, we quote the Workshop store, "Often times, this will give you a slightly sharper image than you would get with the Holga. It will still allow light to leak through however, so you have the same great Holga feel."

According to the Maine Photo-graphic Workshop store, one of their students found WOCAs while looking at the web site of an obscure Chinese factory. The URL of the factory has somehow been misplaced, they say. The initial conservative order of 200 WOCA cameras quickly sold out at $26 postpaid.

Ever curious, I snagged one for this review. Here are the basic specs:
Film Size: 120
Format: Roughly 6x4.5cm or 16 exposures per roll
Shutter: Click-clack with no double exposure prevention
Shutter Speed: Yes, there is one, and it may be around 1/100 sec
Focal Length: It says 60mm
Lens Name: "Optical" (replaces "Super" and "Magic" found on some older similar cameras)
Maximum Aperture: f/8
Minimum Aperture: f/8
Adjustable f/stops: Yes and no. Although there is a switch for "cloudy" and "bright," it does nothing. According to users, the effective aperture of the lens is closer to f/11.
Flash Sync: The hot shoe will fire a flash at some point while the shutter is being used
Viewfinder: Optical, but I use that term lightly
Tripod Socket: No, but Holga-WOCA modification methods are available from enthusiasts
Self-Timer: You are kidding, aren't you?
Weight: 7.5 oz without film
Available Options: Foam rubber and bits of #2 pencil for home-brew 35mm adapters

Build Quality
Overall, the "build quality" of the WOCA is superior to the older Hong Kong Dianas. First, the shutter mechanism has improved reliability and is now made of blackened stamped tin instead of shiny stamped tin. This helps reduce flare. Sadly, the shutter no longer has the "B" or "Bulb" setting for long exposures. Modifications involving drilling holes in the side of the shutter area and inserting pins can add the "B" feature.
Second, the easily breakable Diana "Auf" and "Zu" bottom latch has been replaced by two side clips similar to a 1950s Kodak 127 Brownie. Sliding the clips up and down allows complete removal of the back. This is not to be confused with interchangeable backs. The back just falls off if you slide the clips.

And speaking of backs, at one point the camera must have been designed to take both 6x6 and 6x4.5cm negatives. The mask for 6x6 is gone, but the ruby window still has another marking for 12 exposures. The 6x4.5 frame may be removed to produce a larger negative, but the raw edges of the camera may scratch the film emulsion. Again, there are third-party fixes and "hacks" for this.

A whimsical WOCA shot by John Blodgett. This time, there was full shade, so Blodgett did not use the red filter.

Elusive Charm
What is the elusive charm of this kind of camera? What causes a respected, award-winning newspaper staff photographer such as John Blodgett to embrace a WOCA? He replies, "After years of figuring expensive gear made the best images, a $20 plastic camera and some electrical tape opened my eyes and rejuvenated my photography."

This seems to be the sentiment of "toy camera photographers." The WOCA and its brethren return a measure of fun and surprise to the art. It's like starting all over again. Blodgett calls it "reformatting" his photography.

Field Test
On a chilly, bleak Minnesota spring day I headed out with my WOCA to capture the same magic Blodgett has experienced. My target was a group of train cabooses that some area entrepreneur had purchased for some unknown reason and left in my town to rust.
While the exposures made with ISO 100 black and white film were within range, the camera focus guides were crude approximations. Since the camera no longer has a "B" setting, it is impossible to calibrate the real focus with the lens open and a sheet of waxed paper at the film plane.

The new glass lens performs much more uniformly than the old Diana styrene material and much more crisply than my old Holga. But something has been lost. The uniformity of the lens from model to model may spoil the fun for those who spend time hunting down a Diana with a set of "sweet" lens aberrations. Of course, there still are the light leaks and the loose winding of the take-up spool, so all is not lost.

A New Head For The Diana Crown?
First the Diana body was changed, and now the lens. Is this really a "toy" camera, or just a poorly made camera with an illegitimate legacy? Why not simply buy an old Kodak box camera or Ansco Clipper? They also have single-element lenses and, when available, the f/stops work. Many even have a Bulb setting.

When I see the WOCA, I am puzzled. It's a bit like the story of the North Dakota farmer and his favorite hammer. "I've had this hammer for 20 years. I've replaced the handle three times and the head twice. It's the best hammer I ever owned."

My advice: It won't cost you a fortune to try one, and just maybe the lens cap will fit your other camera.

For more information on the WOCA, visit www.theworkshops.com and click on the link to the store. For more examples of WOCA images, visit http://johnmblodgett.com.

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