The Diana toy camera

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This page is no longer actively maintained. (Pardon?)

(Editor's note: this was the very first article I wrote for the Internet, back in mid-1999, and it's been on my website ever since. The style is a bit different from the rest of my site, and I no longer vouch for much of the content, but I won't even consider rewriting it.)


Hi, I'm Alfred Klomp and I'm a 17-year old photographer-wannabe from the Netherlands. For three years now, I make black-and-white photographs of about anything that comes to eye. I develop my own film and print the photographs themselves in my highschool's darkroom. I have a serious dislike of bombastic studio-made photographs and I like wandering around Amsterdam (or anywhere else for that matter) with my Nikon and 24mm, shooting rather amateuristic photos on FP4 that give me little satisfaction.

Normally, I use somewhat more sophisticated cameras than the Diana (that is, if you would like to call a Zorki-4 or a Nikon F50 'sophisticated'), but sometimes I'm fed up with their too perfect, too sharp and too uninvolved down-to-earth view of things and I pick up my $1 Diana, to make some moody, dreamy photographs. The simpleness of the Di is a relief,compared to modern-day beasts like the Canon EOS-1 or the Nikon F5. No worry about shutter speeds: the thing only has two. Diaphragm? Perforated plate. Contrast? Sharpness? Not on this camera!

I haven't used my Diana a lot since I obtained it in April 1998. I must even admit that I only shot five rolls of film up to this date so I'm certainly not an expert on this camera. Actually, I hardly ever use it and if I had to choose between a FED-5C and a Diana, I would surely go for the former! So concluding, it's fair to say that this website is made by a hardly experienced amateur, seventeen years old and highly arrogant because he thinks he is capable of making a fully informing website about a camera he has only used five times. If you were to mail me something like the above, I would probably have to give you credit. But in my defense: the Diana isn't a professional camera that requires advanced operating skills. Actually, the only thing you need to make good shots with this camera, is some amount of 'image-feeling', meaning that you can judge a situation and convert it into a meaningful photo. Anybody who isn't really retarded is capable of this, especially because there is no real need to compose the shot when using the Diana and because you don't need any special darkroom skills. So I like to think that even I can keep up in the small but delighting world of the toy cameras.

Then another thing: the photos on this site are from the first few rolls of film that I ever shot with the Diana, in April 1998 in the immediate suroundings of my home. So ofcourse these photos are still in the line of my Nikon-work: too much registrations in stead of interpretations. The photos on this page are not meant as a personal gallery nor as exemplary good toy-camera photos, but as an example of the creative potential of the Diana, and to illustrate the text. The photos sin against my own text below, so they should only be seen as examples of what the Diana does to the world.

How it began for me...

My involvement with toy camera photography started when I read an article in a German photo magazine (Das FotoMAGAZINE, they did an article on the Diana in their february-1999 issue). It was an article on the Holga (die Holga und wie sie die Welt sah), but it also vaguely mentioned the Diana: the mother of toy cameras. The article made me enthusiastic. I wanted to have a Holga. I wanted to go back to basics after using a Nikon for two years. I basically wanted to be a toy camera photographer.

But sadly, imported Holgas are rare, expensive and just unavailable in Holland. However, I got extremely lucky: I went to a junk shop a week after reading the Holga-article, and found a good-as-new Diana complete with manual and original take-up spool. The price was a nice surprise. The German magazine said that Diana prices were sky-high after the camera was discovered by art photographers in America, but this one in perfect state was priced at $2! The man behind the counter must of thought I was really mad for wanting to buy such a camera, that he let me have it for one buck. This day couldn't get any better.

I've heard of American fellow photographers who seek the Diana in every nook and cranny and are happy to pay enormous prices to become the proud owner of a nice 'no-label' example. I think that's absolutely ridiculous, this piece of praised junk isn't worth that much effort and money. It's like buying Rembrandts crooked chair for $millions just because this old man sat on it once. Can you see the ridicule of buying a badly made all-plastic camera for about 1000x its original manufacturing cost? I can. If you want to get started with toy cameras, I would recommend the -in America- readily available Holga. OK, so it's too refined. And has better optics than the Diana. And the housing is too good etc, etc. But at least it's affordable! You can actually worsen the Holga's image quality a great deal.

Some facts about the Diana and its relatives

The Diana is an all-plastic camera that was made in Kowloon, Hong Kong by the Great Wall Plastic Co. during some unclear period, probably from the fifties/sixties until the seventies. The company obviously didn't care about making quality products, because they used some kind of cheap plastic that seems to keep its smell for years and years on end. The top covering is made of light blue plastic and the bottom part is black. The Diana came in many different shapes and kinds, and carried various names: Anny, Arrow, Arrow Flash, Asiana, Banier, Banner, Colorflash Deluxe, Debonair, Diana, Diana Deluxe, Diana F, Dionne F2, Dories, Flocon RF, Hi-Flash, Justen, Lina, Lina S, Mark L, MegoMatic, Merit, Mirage, Panax, Photon 120, Pioneer, Raleigh, Reliance, Rosko, Rover, See, Shakeys, Stellar, Stellar Flash, Tina, Traceflex, Tru-View, Valiant, Windsor, Zip and Zodiac. Some models had an in-built flash, others didn't have focusing, others again didn't have the three apertures. The Diana has become to be the most sought-after of all these models, probably due to its slightly more reliable construction and the possibility for focusing as well as a moveable aperture and two shutter speeds. All cameras of the Diana family have a type code on the locking key: the standard Diana has code 151.

Diana specs:

The Diana is basically a 4x4 viewfinder camera that feeds on 120-film. The Diana is all-plastic and has a light-blue top and a black body. The original Diana permits manual focusing by turning the lens out. Three positions are marked: 4-6 feet, 6-12 feet, 12-inf. The aperture is a perforated plate with an 'all cloud' setting (f/4.5), a 'fair' setting (f/8) and a 'sun' setting (f/11). The apertures are set by a lever below the lens and the three positions are indicated by three symbols: a cloud, cloud and sun, and a sun. The Diana actually has TWO shutter speeds: I(nstant) and B(ulb). The I-setting varies from camera to camera: some Dianas have a fast shutter whilst others have a slow version. However, the speed ought to be somewhere around 1/100 sec. The B-setting will hardly ever be used, I reckon, especially since the Diana doesn't have a tripod mount!

As mentioned, the Diana takes 120-film. The film advance knob states this very directly: 'use 120-film'. The Diana has never heard of an exposure counter, instead it has one of those crappy red cellofane windows.

---The text below is still to be re-edited, so I apologise for the rather stoopid text---

  • 4x4 viewfinder camera, uses 120-film
  • focusing range from 4 feet to infinity
  • two shutter speeds: I (exact speed may vary, usually +/- 1/100 sec) and B(ulb)
  • three aperture settings: f/4,5, f/8, f/11, indicated by cloud symbols
  • gets 16 images on one roll of 120-film
  • no exposure counter, red window instead
  • no flash possibility (on the original Diana-151 at least)
  • focusing by turning the lens further out
  • manual focusing, aperture setting, winding, and lens cocking/tripping
  • Removable back for film loading
  • black and light-blue '60s plastic (yuck)
  • no prevention against double exposures
  • plastic one-element non-coated lens

The Diana's renowned optical quality

This is what the Diana has become truly famous for: it's supposedly 'lesser' image quality. Well, the way you think of the image quality depends on the way you review the camera. If you compare the Diana with, say, a Hasselblad, the 'Blad will win on any test. But at the same time, the Diana might take the more satisfying image of the two, making the photo more the way the photographer had in mind.

What makes a Diana image so typical? It consists of:

  • dark edges (light loss)
  • stretched blurriness (spherical aberration)
  • lowered contrast (lens barrel leaks light)
  • no real sharpness

The light loss is not really a problem. It focuses the eye on the center where generally the subject is. It keeps the eye from leaving the photo.

The stretched blurriness in the corners, like the effect you get when zooming in whilst taking a picture, gives a 'tunnel-vision'-effect and creates in-leading lines which focus view on the center as well.

The lowered contrast is the Diana's strong part. Light can leak into the lens barrel through the aperture scale, softening the image. The silly non-coated lens helps as well. It's basically an all-plastic disc. The lens-plastic must be of an inferior quality, I think the impurity of the plastic is what softens the image.

The contrast in the picture is generally soft, glow-like. Surreal. Dreamy. Ethereal. Photos made with a Diana look ghostly and almost supernatural. The Diana gives an unexplainable twist to reality.

The Diana has no 'sharpness'. Everything is always out of focus, but the middle is more sharp than the corner. The image in the corner tends to be radially stretched outward from the center. That's Spherical Aberration and you won't ever find that in a Nikon or Canon. Due to light diffraction, colors in the corners are split up in their primary colors, creating a 'rainbow-effect'. Of course, this only shows when using color film.

As I said, the center of the photo is sharper than the corners. That's not to say it's sharp! Diana-users reject the Holga, a modern-day Diana clone, because of its sharpness. And I wouldn't call the Holga sharp!

If you use the 'sun'-aperture (f/11) the photo is obviously sharper than full open. So don't stop the lens down but rather use a ND filter to always use the lens wide open (cloud setting, f/4.5). That setting gives the weakest sharpness, dreamiest contrast and maximum corner darkness.

The lens is focused by turning its mount further out. The focusing range is from 4 feet to infinity. The mount has an arrow which points the point of focus in a graph. But don't bother to focus: I've found that everything is always in focus, except at really close range.

The aperture setting is a rotatable perforated plate. It has two holes: cloud/sun (f/8) and sun (f/11). Rotating the plate away gives the cloud setting (f/4.5). As I said, try not to stop the lens down, it'll better the image quality drastically.

The lens barrel looks like it has a focusing ring like normal lenses, but this is all fake ofcourse.

The Diana's shutter is a worthless piece of crap. It's a very simple construction that gives two shutter speeds: the unreliable 'normal' setting (about 1/100 sec, can vary) and the 'bulb' setting. I wonder why they didn't make a tripod mount on the Diana, so the B-setting could actually be USED!

The shutter is tripped by pulling a lever down and is cocked by pulling the same lever up.

The Diana's viewfinder isn't really meant to be actually used. Though it is quite accurate, looking through it strains the eye because the image is a bit out of focus and your eye has to compensate by continuously focusing. The eyepiece is a rather small hole, through which people with glasses can't oversee the whole image.

So, don't use the viewfinder unless the framing's critical.

The Diana uses 120-film and makes 4x4 exposiours. It gets 16 on one roll. As you might think, the Diana has never heard of an exposiour counter, but has a red window instead. The transport mechanism, operated by a knob, is not so accurate.

Practicality

The Diana is a camera to use in the field rather than a studio, so this chapter is on the practicality of the little plastic box.

The Di is a very light camera to carry, because it's all plastic and has no extras. It's size is modest, too. It's not a Leica or a Minox, but it's still only 8 cm high and 12 long. I attached a strap to my Diana to have it within reach at all time. The Diana has a plastic, cheap feel to it because of its lightness.

It's necessary that you tape the camera with thick black duct tape, because Dianas tend to have severe light leaks. Attach rubber bands around the camera to put pressure on the removable back to keep it from shifting and letting light in. Transport the Diana in a dark environment, like a coat, to eliminate most light leaks.

Winding is done by a black knob on top of the camera. Make it a habit to always advance the film after taking a picture, otherwise you'll forget if you already did so or not.

When photographing with your Di, you're bound to be noticed. The Diana is one ugly thing with its awkward shapes and colors. The shutter makes a noticable click-noise. You'll look like an idiot with this camera. But no thief will want to steal it!

Nobody will take you seriously with this cam. People will start acting funny and pulling faces when you take photos of them, because you're not threatening to them with your $1 camera.

Finding the right subjects is the difficult part. Not everything is fit for a toy cam image. Ever seen war photographers with this camera? The Diana gives everything a surreal etherial look, and as a photographer you have to take full advantage of that. What subjects should you look for? That's up to you. But in general, try not to photograph reality, but surreality. Try to put meaning in your photographs, to not just let them be registrations, but interpretations. The way you do this is very personal and satisfying if it works out.

As you're photographing, don't worry about technical aspects, worry about them in the darkroom. Don't think about apertures and shutter speeds. Toy camera photography is about going back to basics, to be creative without technical ballast. To let go of the technically perfect photography that you made before. To just see.

In the beginning, it takes time to get used to. You'll find yourself checking composition and shutter speeds. But after a while, you'll get used to it and discover the fascinating possibilities that the Diana holds for your photography.


And finally....

This page was written by Alfred Klomp, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Auf und Zu

What's the similarity between a Leica and a Diana? That both their base plates read "Auf" and "Zu". I don't know if this is just courtesy towards the Germans on the Hong Kong manufacturer's part, or that they actually believed "Auf" and "Zu" were photospeak for "open" and "close".

Banner deluxe

In my collection is also this "Banner deluxe" camera, which shares a lot of characteristics with the Diana and is probably its successor.

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