Lomography Diana Mini

A Tribute to the Tiny Plastic Wonder

4 min read by Dmitri and Betty. Published in Film & Photography.

Diana Mini is a fixed-shutter-speed, dual-aperture viewfinder camera with plastic body and lens. It can shoot at 1/60th of a second, with a choice of 𝑓8 and 𝑓11 at 24mm focal length. The camera has a bulb setting, zone focusing switch, and allows toggling between half-frame and square format on 35mm film at any point. It’s one of the smallest cameras from the series, though not as small as Diana Baby, which takes 110 film.

The history of this camera stretches back almost sixty years to the heyday of 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 as tools to help the students focus on the subject, rather than the complexity of photographic tools. Lomography sells them at $60USD and up.

When I bought Diana Mini back in 2011, at the dawn of my film photography career, it produced images in a simple, casual way. It felt like magic. Then, I had no understanding of the “sunny sixteen” rule, let alone exposure values, even film ISO made no difference for my choice of light or situation. Naturally, a lot of the images turned over- or under-exposed, yet a remarkable number of photos remained acceptable and relatively interesting.

My knowledge of the medium was so limited that I equated, wrongfully, Lomography, a marketing term coined by the manufacturer, with film photography as a whole. My uneducated expectations were for all of the analogue media to behave in a fashion advertised by the flashy, funky posters. Diana didn’t care; it was cheaper and less intimidating than even the laziest of point-and-shoots. Somehow, it just worked.

Diana Mini with hand-reversed Kodak ColorPlus. To make this film I went into the bathroom with scissors and tape, then turned off the light. I stretched the film from the canister until the end, then made a cut, flipped the film upside-down and taped the tail that was attached to the can with the freed film. I then rolled the film back, all still in the dark, left the bathroom and loaded my camera. Toronto, 2011.
Diana Mini with LomoChrome Purple. Toronto, 2012.
Diana Mini with Lady Grey. Vancouver, 2012.

The camera takes some time to get used to. It feels plasticky and flimsy. For its size, it may feel strange in the hand, too. The shutter release is located on the lens barrel — highly unusual and unnatural, at first.

The images it produces are far from sharp; there’s plenty of chromatic aberration, blur, and vignetting — especially at the edges. Though on a small screen or in print it doesn’t matter much. In fact, the soft focus of a plastic lens is part of the appeal, same with the dust, scratches, and random trash on the negatives. That’s what the kids want, that’s what I wanted, too. Today, I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with that aesthetic, nevertheless, my preferences have changed to some extent.

To a new photographer whose experience with film is limited to the foggy memories of the past, the advantage of film over the precision of digital is the overdrive mode when everything gets distorted. Accidents are happier, everything is an experiment. Screwing up analogue-style grants imprecise, random noise, unlike digital filters, which apply replicable patterns.

The last exposure by my Diana Mini was taken from a hostel in China overlooking the roofs of Huangshan City.

The camera is a gimmick, though a respectable one. At sixty bucks per piece, it generates solid returns for a company that has promoted film when everyone else declared it dead. It educates, and it’s still fun for seasoned film photographers looking to break up the routine.

In 2013, I sold and gave away most of my worldly possessions to travel across East Asia. I kept my Diana Mini. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it past the fifth month on the road and ceased to fire completely before I got to visit the Yellow Mountain.