The Diana and its LSI re-incarnation the Diana F+ are much beloved by Lo-Fi photographers. However shooting 120 film isn’t necessarily the cheapest options. So what 35mm cameras come close to the Diana experience and images
The Diana was first made by The Great Wall Plastics Company in Hong Kong in the 1960’s. The camera was rebadged by Great Wall and copied by others and numerous version exist. They typically were given away as fairground prizes or promotional items. Their product ceased in the 1970’s when cheap more practical 35mm giveaway cameras took over.
But within years the Diana and it’s clones would be sourced by experimental photographers and would tie in with the rise of the Lo-Fi and then the Lomography movements. The camera inspired the later Holga and then Lomography’s glorious rebirth of the Diana culminating in the Diana F+
But 120 film isn’t the cheapest for the canny photographer. Luckily there’s plenty of 35mm shooters with that classic look.
(1) Lomography Diana Mini
A no-brainer for this list is LSI’s 35mm hommage to the Diana. the mini certainly matches the looks and is preset to deliver square sized frames. And those frames when it works are pretty good with a Diana like charm- soft especially at the edges and a smidge of vignette. However there’s a characteristic of it’s own which makes this worth any lo-fi shooter worth stopping. It mirrors the Diana F+ with choice of apertures and a normal & bulb shutter setting. You can use the Diana F+ flash or any hotshoe (as long as you have the adaptors – a flash set is worthy here). It even has a cable slot !
On the negative the focus is erm.. pointless and the camera is notorious to get the exposure right. The second half frame mode is pointless . Not the cheapest camera here either new or second hand. but arguably the closest match.
(2) Halina 1000 (aka Ansco 35)
Haking produced the Halina 1000 and several related cameras (including the Ansco 35, Halina 35, Ansco 1035, Haking Junior G etc) in the 70’s and 80’s. All share the same mechanics but subtly different designs. There’s a core 45mm 1:8 fixed focus plastic lens with 3 apertures. Some like the 1000 are marked for a single film speed. others for 100 & 400 ISO. It is not bad centrally but softens to the edges and there some pincushion distortion evident.
It’s styled to resemble a late 1960’s shooter 2014 but is bigger and feels quite flimsy. That said they seem to last unlike….
(3) Color Optical Lens Cameras
The Diana gave way to these. In the 70’s and 80’s legions of theses cheaply built were given away as prizes or promo models like the Time Magazine camera or the Barclaycard Visa. Styled like SLR cameras of the day, these ain’t compact. There’s also some outright shameful attempts to trap the wary with Olympic, Nippon, Cannon and Mintax cameras that especially later looked like AF SLRs.
Models like the Time Magazine camera (especially the rare glass lensed ones) have become sought after. And they do give a Diana rivaling image. They all have a 50mm usually plastic lens with a choice of 3-4 apertures and fixed shutter.
Shame the plastic they are all made for goes brittle with aging. The rewind is prone to exploding. The viewfinder is rubbish as it covers just a fraction of the frame. But get one that works and they provide a retro shooter that is better than you might think.
(4) Olympus Trip 500
I’d come across the Trip 500 in my on going search for the Olympus Lomo. I’d excluded it as it’s too soft, prone to abberations and …oh hang on – does it fit the bill here ?
And weirdly it is. Shame the camera looks so modern and has a pretty annoying autoflash. there’s really no user control (nor much in the way of auto exposure control either). Still there’s something of the Diana in the images.
(5) Holga 135BC
The Holga 135BC is one of several cameras based around the original Holga 135 design. The 135BC is one of the commonest you find and only differs from the original with a mask to give vignetted corners. The lens has its own signature.
And its competent enough as lo-fi goes. It’s spec is similar to the Diana mini with a choice of 2 apertures , bulb & normal shutter and a dubious focus lens . You also get cable threading and easy multiple exposure.
More pricey to source than a Diana mini but at least you get full frame.
(6) Recesky TLR clone
This is arguably the cheapest new camera you can buy on this list. It also is the only DIY option. And heck you do get a a fully functional TLR to boot. and there’s certainly a lo-fi feel to the images…
i mean really lo-fi with a quality that’s not for the faint hearted. The camera is prone to leaks assuming you don’t break it in making it but hey that’s the appeal right ? The shutter and aperture is fixed unless you hack the camera,. The focus screen is awful (many folks actually replace theirs) but there’s something about making and using this. Widely available to buy online.
(7) lomography la sardina
Second appearance on this list for a LSI product. The La Sardina harks back to the Sardine tin cameras made by folk like Irwin. The camera has a 22mm 1:8 lens. Aperture is fixed and the shutter offers 1/100 or Bulb. You can select a close mode 0.6-1m or 1m+.
Ultra Wide and soft with some vignetteing and a retro styling. Perhaps just too soft for some and limited feature for some.
(8) Agfa Isoly 100
Before the Diana, there was the the Agfa Isoly series of 120 cameras. The Diana would hommage/copy/blatantly rip off the isoly, so it’s no irony the last Isoly features here.
This 35mm gets a look in mainly due to it’s looks. It actually arguably not that shabby for what it is. It’s no Olympus Trip 35 but the images are pretty good for a plastic shooter, Fixed focus with a fixed f/8 shutter but a variable shutter. It’ll take a standard flash too.
(9) Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim and clones
The VUWS lives on in the guise of the Superheadz Wide & Slim and some other makes. The orginal VUWS was given away as a promo camera but now often changes hands for £20+ making it’s moniker of the poor man’s lomo in part debatable.
Fixed focus with a fixed shutter and aperture in one of the smallest 35mm camera bodies. Shame that body is actually quite dull rivaling only the Trip 500 for the designed by committee award. The camera’s lens however is much better than you’d expect. However it’s more like the LC-A image wise (hence the moniker does stand).
(10) The Diana/Holga lens mount
The ultimate solution to having a Diana feel lens is to buy a converter mount and use an actual Diana lens. Lomography make one for both Nikon F and Canon EF (EOS) mounts. You can buy direct from lomography and other retailers like amazon (if you click on images you’ll be taken to the relative pages
Alternatively you can buy a holga lens with a varying mount covering Nikon, Canon and pretty much any digital system camera you can think of.
Aperture will be fixed and this will have an impact on light in your viewfinder. For the Diana adaptor the other thing is focal length. The standard 75mm Diana lens become a telephoto on the smaller 35mm mount *and this is worst still on a cropped frame digital sensor. You also loose the vignetting effects. So it’s not really a proper diana lens experience.
The holga experience is nearer the mark as the lens sits closer in and you actually get a near Holga 120N image.