This is going to require some explanation.
Introducing two new cameras at once is perhaps a bit unconventional, but introducing two new cameras as completely different from each other as a modern DSLR and a cheaply-made plastic box that just happens to take pictures would appear to be really stretching things. Yet there is a particular (and peculiar) logic to this approach, which will hopefully be revealed in due course.
First off, the cameras. The Pentax K-5 is a pretty serious DSLR – not quite a pro camera, but close. Lots of nice features and relatively accessible manual controls make it easier to use than my old Canon T3; I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive review because 1) there are already plenty out there, and 2) I haven’t figured out half the features yet. One of the nice bonuses, and one of the reasons I opted for the Pentax over other options, is that I can use the lenses I already have for my Pentax SFX in addition to the 18-55 kit lens. It’s not a full-frame sensor, so there is a crop factor to deal with, but it’s easily manageable. Image quality is very nice, as you would expect. The body is really solid – far more so than my old T3 was – and weather-sealed to boot.
The Holga 135 Pan is pretty much everything the K-5 isn’t. The build quality shows the attention to detail that you would expect from something that was probably built by political prisoners. The ergonomics are fairly terrible, at least for anyone who expects to use it with their hands. Actuating the advance mechanism feels like you’re grinding up live beetles. The “Optical Lens,” such as it is, might have been made in the same factory that turns out two liter soda bottles. Of course, it was also less than a tenth the price of the K-5, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. For what it’s worth, it does seem more carefully designed than the more traditional Holga 120 cameras, but that’s not really saying a lot.
Why on earth, given their differences (and let’s be realistic: they are essentially the polar extremes of camera design and technology), am I writing about them in the same introductory essay? Well, it first dawned on me that I bought both cameras because they filled gaps in my photographic capabilities. The K-5 gives me high-quality images in an instant when I need (or want) them across a variety of focal lengths thanks to my existing collection of Pentax lenses. The Holga gives me panoramic 35mm photos – a format that is otherwise hideously expensive to break into – albeit soft ones with vignetting to spare.
But more fundamentally than that, they actually have something important in common: they’re simple. The Holga is simple by definition – there are two apertures (marked “sunny” and “cloudy,” which should give some indication of the level of expertise expected of its users), one shutter speed (plus bulb), and that’s it. In spite of its myriad buttons, modes, and settings, the K-5 is simple too: because it’s so capable and so heavily automated, you don’t really have to think much about exposure at all, even in manual mode (there’s a full exposure setting display in the viewfinder). Aside from composition, there’s not much to actively consider when shooting with either one. Sure, the results will be radically different, but the process of taking a photo with either one is remarkably similar, at least when compared to any of my unmetered manual cameras. And sometimes you just don’t want to have to think too much.