Camera Review: Diana / by Simeon Smith

August 5th is #DianaDay, so ahead of the geeky camera festivities, here’s a review:

Questions people get asked when out and about with film cameras:

·       Can you still get film for that? (Yes, obvs. I’m shooting on it so… Duh.)

·       I think I’ve got one of those lying around, is it still worth money? (Probably, no)

·       Why are you still shooting on THAT?!

No camera brings that last question out like the Diana.

I mean, to the undiscerning, there’s nothing good about it.

It’s plastic. Pretty much all of it. There’s a metal spring to trip the shutter, and some of them have metal tripod mounts, but other than that, this thing is flimsy, bendy, crack-prone plastic.

The lens? Yup, that’s plastic too, and of the plastic lens cameras out there, this is one of the most basic and least technically-thought-out lenses. It doesn’t respond to normal metering, as the light bounces around so much inside the plastic, it’s kind of like taking a shot through the bottom of a milk bottle.

It’s bulky, and the top is bright blue. You’re more likely to look like a kids TV presenter than a photographer when using it.

It’s big and bulky and plastic and the image quality is…

Just amazing.

Unique, sure.

But amazing.

A brief history: It’s the 1960’s. Companies in Asia are starting to make butt loads of plastic novelty items. Promo items, Giveaways, prizes, junk. One of them makes the Diana camera in the cheapest possible way to get images from medium format 120 film. A load of other companies rip off the design and make dozens of clones. Fast forward to the early noughties and people are still using the camera to make artsy, soft focus images. Lomography, marketing miracles that they are, start making these old cameras again, almost identical to the originals in every way.

There are two debates that have been talked about on photography forums ad infinitum:

Old 60’s Diana vs New Lomography Diana: Second hand prices are around the same. Results are around the same. Take your pick, people, but don’t discuss it on the internet.

Diana vs Holga: Holga cameras are similar plastic medium-format and pretty crappy cameras. In my book, Every Shot Matters (plug alert!) I ridiculed this argument because, well, the Diana isn’t as good. I don’t get as consistent results as with the Holga. The Diana seems bulkier and even flimsier than the Holga. That said, in the race to the bottom, the Diana wins, hands down.

Which is why I still occasionally shoot with this thing. It removes all technical control from the photo, and adds so much randomness, you’re left guessing. And that’s the beauty of this camera. The zen of letting go. Did I get that shot? No way to tell. You’re left pushing the shutter for the sheer joy of it. And it’s just so addictive.

If you’ve never tried one, get your hands on a Diana ahead of August 5th and join me. If you’re local to Swansea drop me a message and we can head out together.