The Dianain Reviews: Film Cameras
By jmcolberg/Joerg (206)
on December 18, 2002 9:34:50 PM CST
What is the Diana?You might have heard of the Diana already. Chances are you're familiar with what people call "toy cameras" or maybe you even own one. I've never fully understood what the term "toy camera" is actually supposed to mean. As far as I can tell, toy cameras are usually cheap cameras, preferrably made of plastic and when I say made of plastic that includes the lens - like the Holga. You can buy the Holga, a plastic camera made in China, over the internet and there are photo stores which also sell them. Holgas are around US$15 a piece.
The Diana is usually considered to be some kind of cooler Holga. So it's also made of plastic. But unlike the Holga, Diana cameras aren't produced any longer and it's not as straightforward to buy one. But why would you want a Diana when you can buy a Holga?
The Diana vs. the HolgaLet's ignore the fact that we're talking about plastic here for a little while and let's compare the Holga and the Diana.
First of all, both cameras use the same kind of film - 120 aka medium format film. However, the sizes of the negatives are different. With the Holga, you have the choice between 6x6 (cmxcm, divide those numbers by 2.54 or so to get inches) and 6x4.5 (I believe, I never used this smaller format). The Diana's negatives are 4x4. What this means is that the Holga produces 12 photos per roll of film (for 6x6) whereas you get 16 from the Diana. If you're unfamiliar with these sizes, the 35mm negative's size is 2.4x3.6 so the Holga and Diana negatives are larger by a factor of 4.2 and 1.9, respectively.
The Holga has four distance settings, the Diana has three. As far as shutter speeds are concerned the Diana is somewhat more flexible. It has three apertures ("sunny", "partly sunny", and "cloudy" - corresponding to approximately f16, f6.3, and f4.5 - don't quote me on that!), plus a "B" ("bulb") setting. "B" allows you to leave the shutter open as long as you want. I believe it's called "bulb" because you need it if you want to use a flash. I have used one of my old Dianas with an original flash (using flashbulbs) and if you don't use the "B" setting and wait for the flash to go off the shutter is too fast. Anyway, the Holga seems to have two apertures even though I still don't believe there actually is a difference. In a sense, it doesn't really matter too much anyway because unlike Leicas, say, neither the Diana nor the Holga is a precision instrument.
What the Diana and Holga have in common is a tendency for light leaks. You basically have to tape over every possible hole or leak before taking photos - unlike you think light leaks are cool. I personally think light leaks are very uncool so I use a lot of masking tape.
But why the heck would anybody want to use something like the Holga or Diana? Plastic?? Light leaks??? Not to mention that weird shutter/aperture business????
In Praise of PlasticWell, I don't want to add too many words here really. In principle, both the Holga and the Diana have horrible optical properties. The plastic lenses are very soft - it's like using a soft-focus filter -, they tend to yield some heavy vignetting (especially the Holga): light falls of from the center a *LOT*. In comparison, I think the Diana lenses in general give much nicer results. I think it's time to have a look at some results.
One of my photos - didn't know whether it'd be kosher to include other peoples' work here. Further examples can be found for example in Emil Schildt's portfolio (see e.g. his very lovely "Benedicte by Diana"), or in Don Brice's portfolio (especially his wonderful "Lighthouse"), or in Laerke Posselt's portfolio (see e.g. "The Reality is More Realistic Than Me").
I think if you look at those photos you get a pretty good idea what you can use a Diana for. Assuming you got curious where would you get one?
Where/How to get a DianaYou might want to play with a Holga first to see whether you really like taking pictures with a plastic camera - it's a lot of work and it can be quite frustrating. They're all somewhat different so you have to experiment a lot. When you get one use 400 speed film, tape it up and then try to fix what needs to get fixed using hints and tips from the internet. You can order a Holga online. Ebay is actually not the cheapest option.
But where do you get a Diana - assuming you think you really want to go for it? I think there are three ways to get one:
1. You find one in your parents'/grandparents' attic. That might work. Chances are, however, that those cheap plastic camera people used to play with got thrown out. My wife remembered they had a couple Dianas when she was little but none survived.
2. Thrift store and/or garage sales are an option. I found a Diana, actually a clone, at a thrift store here in Pittsburgh. Speaking of which, Dianas come with various names but they all look the same. The ones with the name Diana on it are called... guess what... and the other ones are usually called Diana clones even though they're basically the same cameras. They're all blue/black.
3. Ebay.com is an obvious option. However, they usually are quite pricey. You can get one easily if you're willing to pay up to US$50 or more. That's quite steep fpr a plastic camera which cost around US$1 or less when it was sold in stores. However, if you're patient you should get one for around US$20-25. I managed to do that several times. Ebay is probably the best way to get one. It can backfire a bit, though, because the shutter might be sticky. Make sure that the seller confirms you that the shutter really works before you bid. That Diana clone I found in the thrift store has a sticky shutter. You can fix that but why all the hassle when you can get a working one?
SummaryThe Diana is a nifty little camera which requires quite a bit of experimentation but which can produce excellent photos once you know how to handle it. Those light leaks are usually easily controllable! If you're into artsy photos with a little bit of an old look-and-feel check one out!
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