Diana F+ Review : Or How I Learned to love the Plastic bomb

Diana F+ Edelweiss Variant
Diana F+ Edelweiss Variant (note plastic chuck on left for wedging shutter open in bulb

Lomography’s plastic classic left me strangely disappointed when it arrived. I’d been impressed by its little brother, the Diana Mini, but this seemed a shoddier affair and worryingly idiosyncratic. However a few rolls later and I’m warming to it.

The camera is still one of the poorest build quality shooters I’ve ever had but it actually can take reasonable shots if you like the lo-fi retro style it ensconces.

Table wait
Diana F+ with Kodak Porta 400NC

For those who don’t know the history the Diana F+, is a modern re-imagining of the Diana camera of the 1950’s. These were cheap mass produced shooters from Hong Kong that were a blatant rip off Agfa’s more basic Isoly 120 film cameras but made with a lower build quality often given away as promo items or as prizes at fairs. 50 years later they developed  a cult status.

The Diana F+ are one of the Lomography Society International’s (LSI) biggest sellers and come in a range of styles from bling gold, designer styled to the classic blue-black in hommage to its origins.

Diana F+ Specs

  • Lens:    75mm 1:11
  • Focus: Scale/Zone
  • Metering: None
  • Aperture: f/11, 16,22
    (& f/150 pinhole)
  • Shutter speeds: 1/60 + B
  • EV theoretical¹ : 13-15 (+20)
  • EV in practice¹ : 15-17
  • Filter-Thread:  none

It also is not just fixed lens simple camera, it actually is a whole camera system with interchangeable lens, film backs (for 35mm and instant). Even the basic camera comes with masks to allow you to switch shooting from 12 shots at 5.2×5.2cm to 16 at at 4.2×4.2cm for those of you who are more frugally minded. There is also a 4.6×4.6 mask that allows you to shoot what LSI calls an endless panorama ( basically you use the 16 shot film count window and aim to get your images overlapping). Taking the standard lens off creates an instant pinhole camera too.  For a new build camera, the fact that you can buy this for £39 ² is pretty  good

Surveillance Culture
Diana F+ with Kodak Porta 400NC. Note Vignetting

Let’s focus on performance and usage though beginning with the standard 75mm lens (excuse the pun). This is a simple all plastic affair which you rotate between the  3 focus zones (1-2m, 2-4m 4m-∞). This actually works okay but the focus is best centrally with lots of blurring on the edge. This is not the 120 P&S you want for crisp imaging (try something like the Agfa Isoly III or Halina 6-4 if you like the style but would rather have sharper images) but does what it says on the tin give you a nice retro lo-fi/instagram effect. Sharper at f/22 not surprisingly,  and there is some vignetting (again more obvious at f/22)

Diana F+ lens detail
Diana F+ lens detail tweaked on Fotor

Behind the detachable lens you get the shutter and aperture base. The camera has just 2 shutter speeds – Bulb (B) and Normal (N). N is 1/60sec according to LSI but as we’ll see that goes a bit wonky with the sunny 16 rule. The camera should come with small plastic peace that you can jam in to keep the shutter open in B. The shutter lever sits about 2cm away from the body which I find a bit irritating. No cocking is required and there is no exposure lock making multiple exposures whether intended or not easy.

Double trouble
Accidental double exposure with Diana F+ & Kodak Porta 160 NC. 4.2×4.2 cm mask

On the base of the lens a switch with 4 pictograms sets the aperture. One is Pin Hole for when the lens is removed (a whopping f/150). The other three are geared for using the camera more normally  with  recommended 400asa film in N shutter mode. They are weather pictograms (sunny (f/22), partially cloudy (f/16) and cloudy(f/11)). This actually works well with 400asa and with a bit of nounce you can apply to slower films (shoot 160asa in sunny conditions at partially cloudy for example). The camera uses Waterhouse stops so you can’t wedge between. The system I find works pretty well with reasonable exposure but am aware that others have described variation in exposure

Parkred wheels
Diana F+ with Kodak Porta 400NC

The main problem with the exposure is hypothetical. It actually doesn’t make sense with the usually laws of exposure. For 400asa film we would expect in bright sun to shoot something at around 1/400 sec at f/16 or 1/200 at f/22. The Diana actually shoots 2 stops slower at 1/60 f/22 !!! The explain for this may be in lens length and I’ll make way for the opinion on Flickr of Gabriel Velasco (aka Gimel Vav) perhaps one of the people on the planet whom most understand LSI cameras. As he puts it just ignore the Sunny 16 rule with the Diana F+.

Cone'd
Diana F+ with Kodak Porta 120NC. 4.2×4.2 mask

Weirdly its kid brother the Diana mini also breaks the Sunny 16 rule but the other way round. The Diana mini although a much robust and cute camera is a bit more harder to use to get good results (although it shoots cheaper to buy and process 35mm out of the box)

Black & White
Diana Mini (Petite Noir Version) & Diana F+ (Edelweiss)

I actually was impressed with the results but there are niggles. The build quality isn’t great. The shutter button sits too far forward for me and unlike the Isoly there is no cable release forcing you to try to wedge the shutter open in B with a wee plastic piece (LSI do sell a cable kit however). Word of warning when loading don’t grip the camera too firmly as I wasted a couple of rolls which tore and as I’m writing this I’ve got a roll of expired Kodak T400CN that has been miswound waiting to see if anything could be salvaged. Finally the flash fitting is propitiatory.  You can buy the flash with camera as a kit (if you’re likely to use I’d do so as much cheaper) or on its own but the flash costs as much as the camera (pretty galling when you can get pretty good vintage units for a fiver or less on eBay) .  The flash will fit the mini and however you get it will come with a set of adaptors to allow your Diana to use any hotshoe flash and to use your Diana F+ camera on any hot shoe.

Waiting for the feast
Diana F+ with Kodak Porta 160 NC. Note blurring at edges. This was at f/11. 4.2cm mask

It’s rare for me to review a in production film camera so for once not a lot to say about faults. I got mines for a craft price on Ebay (odd colour and seller didn’t make the effort methinks) but actually the price at retail is not bad as you’re getting a small volume camera with interchangeable lens, accessories and some glossy books for the money. For the Nay sayers whole point out you’re paying £39 for a some flimsy plastic, I’d just point out that in 1976 Argos was selling Kodak Instamatic 126 cameras for £7-8. That translates to £49-64 in current money and the Kodaks where much higher production runs.

Alternatives

  • Agfa Isoly Series – The historical basis (isoly I closest)
  • Halina 6-4 –  Haking 120 P&S  a Glass lens
  • Diana Mini – LSI 35mm take on the F+

Helpful links

¹ based on EV at 100asa
² LSI website price at time of writing excluding P&P

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