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Getting to know a lady named Diana, or How I learned to stop worrying and love medium format film

She's been the newest resident in our home for two months now. We're still getting to know each other. I started out trying to make her something she wasn't, but she set me straight. Here's a look at our first couple months together, and our first rolls of 120 film.

The Ltd. Ed. ‘TORI’ Diana F+ was my surprise Christmas gift from my husband. It wasn’t until it arrived that I realized it was a medium-format camera. I hadn’t even noticed that part of the description. The only Lomo camera I was familiar with was the LC-A+, so I simply assumed this one was 35mm too. Whoops. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a 70s and 80s child. I once worked in a photo lab. I’m familiar with medium-format film, but for me, it was synonymous with “expensive professional camera,” not plastic lens. Moreover, I just wasn’t planning on it, you know? Where would I get it developed? How much would it cost? I was annoyed with myself, and immediately went and did the research I figured I should have done before.

What was crystal clear to me almost immediately was that I was going to use my Diana as a 35mm camera far more often than a 120 camera. I mean, it made sense. 35mm film is cheaper and easier to find here, has 24-36 exposures on a roll vs. 12-16, and processing options, though not as common as they once were, are plentiful. I mean, it’s a no-brainer, right? Get the most bang for the buck! After shooting the included roll of 800-iso 120 film over Dec. 24–26 (much to the amusement of my family), my next shopping trip was to the Lomo Gallery Store on Queen Street in Toronto to pick up the 35mm back.

I shot a couple rolls of 35mm and had them processed and printed before I ever got that first 120 roll developed. I ended up with a few neat intentional double exposures, but I still wasn’t fully feeling the love, and I couldn’t articulate why. I also realized I would need a new scanner to really get the full potential out of my pics. I knew I would be taking some truly bad shots for a while, and there was no sense confusing the nice photo lab people by asking and paying for all the prints. Ten – fifteen rolls of prints, and the scanner would pay for itself. My old scanner wouldn’t scan the sprockets on 35mm, so I made sure to get one that could handle 120 film, “for that odd roll I’ll probably shoot.”

As soon as I developed and scanned that first roll of 120, though, something changed between Diana and I. First thing, thanks to the wonders of the internet, some targeted googling, and living in an amazing city, I found a convenient place that would do C-41 120 (process only) for an amazing CDN $3. I found several other places for 120 processing, including B&W, none of them crazy expensive. That was a relief.

And then, there were the pictures. The stunning, delightful, fun, square-beauty pictures. It was like something clicked, and I’d found a way to capture how I see the world. Big. Not as cramped. Bright. Crazy. Busy. In motion. As tall as it is wide. Sometimes a little blurry, especially around the edges. That first roll… was a revelation, in all its imperfect perfection:

And then came the black and white rolls. I have such a soft spot for black and white. All those quiet hours in my late teens spent in a darkroom under red light trying to get just the right contrast and exposure. The smell of the film canister when you open it. Developer. Stopper. Fixer. I don’t have a darkroom now, but when I close my eyes and picture the world in black and white, that’s what I smell. Once I decided I was going to shoot more 120 film, the next three rolls were black & white:

The other thing I remembered after Diana came to stay is that I was never a compulsive picture taker. My digital camera sits mostly unused, unless I need to document something specific. I’m the person who goes on vacation and never pulls out the camera. Too much fiddling. Reading the screen. Is the shot good? No? Delete it and try again. Once with a flash and once without. So much thinking. Not fun. But I don’t feel I have to think with the Diana. Focus setting was off? Wrong aperture setting? Ooops, just noticed, can’t go back now. Besides, there’s only 1 shot left on the roll. What the heck, let’s just see what we get in a couple weeks, eh?

At the rate I shoot, it takes a painfully long time to finish off 36 exposures of film. Early on, I even got annoyed shooting with the Diana, when I realized the roll I thought I was almost finished was 36 and not 24 exposures. I don’t have that problem with 120 film. 12 and 16 exposures are just right for me. I rarely feel like I have to shoot something just to kill off a roll.

It’s funny. The one time I don’t research something like this before jumping in, and I end up with exactly the thing I needed. If I had done the research, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with a Diana.

Postlude: Am I a bad Tori Amos fan if I admit I haven’t yet listened to the previously unreleased live CD that came with the ltd. ed. camera box set? It’s true. I’ve seen a couple of the ‘TORI’ cameras on Ebay, but all say “Live in Moscow CD not included”. I know people bought this set for the CD. While that might have been the icing on my Cake of Want, it was the camera that had my attention from the beginning. I suspect Diana knew why, even if I didn’t at the time.

written by bridgetj

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