Diana Mini is a fixed-shutter, dual-aperture viewfinder camera with a plastic body. It can shoot at 1/60th of a second or at “bulb,” with a choice of 𝑓8 and 𝑓11 on the 24mm plastic lens that can be zone-focused to four preset distances between .6m/2” to infinity. An external flash is available as a non-standard accessory.
Diana Mini exposes either half-frames or squares (24✕24mm) on 35mm film yielding approximately 54 (square) or 72 (half) frames.
The current Diana camera manufacturer is the Austrian brand Lomography, which began making Diana Mini in 2007, at the height of the digital revolution. Today, Mini is just a single offering out of the line that includes instant film, medium format, and 110 film cameras named Diana.
Build and image quality.
The build quality of Diana cameras has never been their selling point. Made almost entirely out of plastic, these cameras are known to break, though Lomography has been very good at replacing the pieces, at least in my case. Dianas are meant to be used as casual or experimental tools rather than precision instruments.
As you may expect, the photographs Dianas Minis produce aren’t terribly sharp, and they can decrease in quality over time as the plastic lens tends to degrade a lot quicker than glass. Though with proper exposure, enough contrast in your scene, and a good scanner, you can achieve reasonable, printable results. Given the size of the negative the camera exposes and what it’s made of, I’d go as far as to call some of the results that I got from the camera as impressive.
A few reviews online complain of overlapping frames. My copy didn’t have such problems. It just stopped working a few years after the purchase — its shutter broke.
Shooting Diana Mini.
The camera takes some time to get used to. It’s a bit flimsy with quirky control positions. For example, its shutter release is located on the lens barrel, something I’d expect to see either in really old cameras like Zeiss Ikon or on large format cameras. Its top plate isn’t entirely useful other than for attaching a non-standard flash unit and winding the film. Nothing debilitating — just a little strange.
The camera’s relatively small size, lightweight construction, and option to switch format at any point are the three top-selling points that convinced me to spend my hard-earned $60 about a decade ago on this camera. It was one of the first film cameras I’ve used and owned and thus I wanted it to have versatility and portability. The camera delivered; at least when compared to other Lomography plastic offerings of the time. I didn’t mind the looks of it either: a classic design with pleasing green accents.
I’ve really enjoyed shooting the square format on 35mm film, not just out of economic sense but rather as a way to frame the scenes. Being able to switch to half-frame mid-roll was, of course, a plus, opening up an opportunity to create side-by-side exposures that can look nice when scanned next to each other.
Diana has a limited exposure range: just two apertures and a single shutter speed. Because of that, C-41 colour film emulsions like Lomochrome Metropolis with loads of latitude would serve it best. I recommend ISO 400 on a sunny day at 𝒇11☀️ with an 𝒇8☁️ for an extra stop of light for the shadows. This way, you will be over-exposing film by about one stop in the sun — which shouldn’t be a problem — and save about 2 extra stops for shadows.
However, your camera will not do well in deep shadows, indoors, or in the evening light. In which case, you should either add flash or use something like Ilford Delta 3200 or Kodak T-Max 3200, which may work in brightly lit indoor situations or during sunrize/sunset. Both films have a pronounced grain, which will be even more visible on half-frames taken with a plastic lens. If you push those films a stop to 6400, they will work better with the indoor lighting, but the grain will get even bigger. If you got a tripod and a Diana release cable handy, you could try taking long exposures at night. However, you may need to spend some additional time researching reciprocity failure for your film and timing your shutter.
Or you can just wing it and see what happens, which is sort of the spirit with this camera as long as you understand that you need to be within reasonable exposure range of your film and your choice of medium is best not be slide film, which is very easy to over- or under-expose.
A brief history of Diana cameras.
The history of this camera stretches back almost sixty years to the heyday of the Great Wall Plastic Factory in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where it was mass-produced as a novelty toy for export at a dollar-a-piece. Today, there are fans and collectors who possess hundreds of variants of Dianas in their homes. Dianas are used in some photography courses to help the students focus on the subject rather than the complexity of photographic tools.
Today, Lomography sells Diana Minis for $60, a price considerably higher than the inaugural $1 though it hasn’t gone up in a whole decade since I bought mine. If you’re willing to look around, there are plenty more copies available for cheaper — or more expensive, depending on the novelty factor — on eBay and other second-hand shops.
Is Diana Mini a good first camera? Yes, as long as your expectations are appropriately aligned with its lo-fi appeal and a possibility of unexpected results. Load it up with ISO 400 film and take it outside on a sunny day. And for those who’ve been shooting film for a while, it may be a worthy distraction from a quality camera that’s become boring, thanks to Diana’s switchable format and unpredictable distortions. Though you should still beware of the cheap build and potential issues with overlapping frames.