I’ll admit it: I fall for every single Apple and Lomography marketing trick. They never fail to reel me in with their cunning promises of life-changingly cool gadgets at exorbitant prices. Somehow the price-tag always seems worth it though. You’re buying something more than the physical thing. You’re buying the design, the packaging, the overall brand, blah, blah. Yes, we all know that.
The Diana Mini is the little brother of the legendary Diana camera, and is yet another triumph of Lomographic marketing and design. What’s basically a plastic toy camera which should sell for about a tenner on a good day retails for around £40. Even worse it seems to be aimed mainly at the Japanese and Korean teenage girl market. I’m a man. I’m 42. I’m not Japanese or Korean. Why am I even writing about this camera? Help!
It is worth pointing out that a lot of photographers hate everything that Lomography stands for with a vengeance. But a lot of people love it. I’m not going to get rants in my pants about all this right now.
So is the Diana Mini worth buying?
Yes. If you like playing with film cameras of all sorts and enjoy the lo-fi effects these sorts of toy cameras give (and have £40 or so to spare). You don’t have to be a teenager, or Korean. Then a resounding Yes. Here are the reasons why I think that.
The Diana Mini is a small, plastic camera. It weighs almost nothing. If you keep dropping things then this is the kind of thing you’d not want to drop. Buy it and don’t drop it.
Otherwise build quality is surprisingly solid for a plastic camera.
Looking at photos on stock photography sites is a depressing experience. Technically very good. Technically very dull. These photos suck all the joy out of photography.
Luckily no self-respecting stock photo site will go anywhere near your Diana Mini photos. They want the kind of sharp, perfectly-focused, perfectly-lit photos that you’ll never get from a Diana Mini. If you like taking high-quality perfectly-exposed photos of yachts, flowers, animals, trees, fruit, semi-naked muscular men holding tiny babies, etc. then don’t get a Diana Mini. You’ll just hate it.
The whole ethos of toy cameras like this is to have fun taking interesting photos.
Half or square
The Diana mini is unique (I think) in its ability not just to take square format photos on 35mm film, but to be able to switch between this and half-frame format. You can switch between the two formats as many times as you want on a film, although as I discovered this can get very confusing when you’re processing and printing your photos.
Focus? Bah humbug! The focus ring is fiddly and none too easy to change in a hurry (I much prefer the little lever you get in Lomo LC-As.) The fact that the focus ring sticks on the 4m-infinity setting suggests this is the default setting which you can pretty much keep the camera set on all the time. Which begs the question: why bother at all?
The Diana Mini is easy to use once you’ve realised that absolutely spot-on exposure really isn’t all that important. Take photos of something interesting.
There are two shutter settings: ‘N’ for normal (1/60sec) and ‘B’ for… erm… bulb. Of course. The name comes from one of those freaky accidents of history, but it means the shutter stays open as long as you hold the lever down. A second or so is fine for indoors.
There are two aperture settings: cloudy weather and sunny weather. To be honest there’s not much difference between these (one f-stop). As with the focus ring: why bother?
The Mini’s instruction booklet suggests 100 ISO film for a sunny day, and 400 for a gloomy day. Great if you live somewhere permanently sunny and happy (the two are apparently linked) like California. Not much use if you live in the UK. Oh well.
Developing and printing
A very major issue with this camera is what to do with the film once you’ve taken your photos. Taking them down to your local automated film processing lab may work. Probably not. Film processing is becoming less and less common, and processing/printing half-frame or square format 35mm film is almost certainly going to be beyond the cababilities of a standard high street lab. There are still some places which specialise in this kind of niche film photography, such as West End Cameras in London or Digitalab in Newcastle. Black & white home processing/printing is an option for some people of course.
Flash and other bits
The Mini also has a mount for a tripod. A tripod?!? Why would anyone ever want to use a tripod with this camera? It also has a remote shutter release connection, presumably so you can make sure you don’t wobble your tripod-enabled Mini as you take a long-exposure shot.
Slightly more useful is the flash connector, which lets you put a Diana F+ flash on the camera. I have one of these, but I don’t have any example photos yet. You can even insert coloured filters over the flash to get weird Lomo effects. But in all other repects it’s just an oversized flash.
I think it’s worth mentioning that the Diana Mini has at least one rival in the miniature toy camera world: the Golden Half. This is made by the Japanese Superheadz people, and takes half-frame photos. I don’t have this camera, but by all accounts it’s about the same price and size, but a little more robust. Importantly it can’t switch to full-frame square photos like the Mini.
I like the Diana Mini. It’d be lovely if you could buy one for a bit less money than it typically sells for, but there you go. Isn’t that true of everything?
It tries – and succeeds – in replicating the epic Diana camera in 35mm format rather than 6cmx6cm 120 film. In theory this opens up the world of the Diana to mere mortals. But 35mm in square or split-frame format is not really going to be any easier to process than 120, so in practice using this camera will take as much dedication as the original Diana.
If you want an easy photographic experience just get a nice point and shoot digital camera for £100 or so. The Diana Mini offers a nice way to go somewhere different. But you will have to put in a bit of time, effort, and money to get there.