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
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
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
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
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
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.
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"
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
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
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,