Conquering Diana

“Conquering Diana in a few several easy long and drawn-out steps”

(This project may only involve few rolls of film, but the rolls themselves were taken over the course of more than a year.)

I’ve been hung up on a camera named Diana for some time now.

Diana+ and Diana F+ are Lomography versions/recreations of a classic toy camera called a Diana that originated in the 1960s. I thought using a Diana F+ would be no step for a stepper, since I have used its sister from another mister, Holga, with great success (IMHO.) The two cameras couldn’t be that different, right?


I assumed the Diana had similar specs to my Holga. But I failed to notice some key differences before I set out to conquer Diana. I bought a Diana F+ from Urban Outfitters in the autumn of 2012, just before I went to England for a couple of weeks. I didn’t need the camera nor did I need to take a camera I’d never used before on an international photo expedition, but I did it anyway. The results from my first rolls were mixed at best.

Examples of photos executed with varied levels of success from England 2012. To be fair, I’d never used the camera before and didn’t really know what I was doing. And they don’t look half bad, compared to what was to come with the Diana+…

When I say that there are some “differences I failed to notice” between the Diana F+ and my Holga, I’m mainly speaking of the apertures available on each camera. On both of these cameras, the apertures are chosen by using icons on the lens. The Holga has “sunny” and “cloudy.” The Lomography Diana cameras have “cloudy,” “partly cloudy,” “sunny,” and a pinhole aperture.  On the Holga, the cloudy exposure setting is f/8 and sunny is (supposedly) f/11. I only ever use the cloudy setting though . On the F+, cloudy is f/11, and partly cloudy and dunny are f/16 and f/22 respectively (plus the pinhole that’s f/150.) In layman’s terms, the Diana F+ is more light hungry than the Holga. It needs more light to get a good exposure than the Holga does. If only I had realized this when I had the F+ in England! Since I had a Holga that I loved and understood, I ultimately sold my Diana F+. I just didn’t feel like I was any good at using it!

Bye bye, Novella Diana F+. I kinda of want you back now.

But several months later, I got a bee in my bonnet about getting another Diana so I could feel as if the camera hadn’t defeated me. I ran across an auction for a used Diana+ in my favourite special edition, the Edelweiss, for about $10. I bought it. It arrived and, gee, it was pretty.

I made a poor choice in film my test roll: some Lomography Lady Grey black and white film. As with all Lomography branded films, the Lady Grey is another manufacturer’s film but with Lomography’s name put on it. In this case, I had Lady Grey film that was made in China and is brand called Shanghai. Diana+ and Lady Grey film did not mix well. I even made notes of which settings I’d used for each frame of film, so I thought maybe I could learn from my mistakes. I couldn’t really learn from my mistakes this time, because the film itself was so terrible.

Roll #1 in progress – an attempted (unsuccessful) pinhole photo. The resulting photo is the fifth one below here:

(Accidental double exposure)

(Aforementioned pinhole exposure)

(Pinhole exposure)(Pinhole exposure)

Lady Grey looks like a “fat roll” (common problem in rolls shot with Dianas.) It was just husky to begin with. Fat rolls usually have light leaks because the film isn’t tightly wound around the film spool.

Not wanting to give up on the Diana+, I ran another roll through it. I used film from my stash of expired Fuji Provia 400 (slide film) and had it cross-processed. Results were an improvement over Roll 1, but not great. Roll 2 also revealed that light leaks were going to be a problem. Womp womp.

(Pinhole exposure)

Roll 3 was another roll of expired Provia 400 to be cross-processed. Maybe I should have tried some fresh film in the Diana+ for once…but every time I thought of putting a better grade of film in it, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I try prefer to use the good stuff in better cameras!

(And just look at those light leaks!)

(Pinhole exposure)

I did put tape on a couple of the seams for Roll 3 to try to keep out stray light, but I can admit that I didn’t do a thorough job of it. The camera is so pretty that I didn’t want to ugly it up with black electrical tape! After the third roll, I decided I had to try one more time but would tape the camera more thoroughly this go round.

For Roll 4, I used Provia 400 again. I figured, at that point, the film was the “control” factor in my Diana experiments. Trust me: I taped the camera up BIG TIME for my fourth roll.

This is actually a double exposure, but the first of the two exposure looks very faintGasp! This picture is one of my top favourite toy camera photos now! It’s everything I could ask for in a cross-processed, toy camera photo.

By golly, I was somewhat happy with my fourth Diana+ roll!

The Diana+/F+ is a toy camera through and through. It can give you mega vignetting, light leaks, a lens that renders images both blurry and sharp in places, and very limited exposure settings. But, heaven help me, I don’t hate all the vignetting or even all the light leaks. What is even happening to me?? I will say that I wish I’d kept my original Diana F+ because it didn’t have catastrophic light leaks, even though I never taped it up.


I still don’t consider my story with the Diana+ to be over. Therefore, I’m not really ready to give definitive conclusions as to whether or not I will end up putting put it away, never to see the light of day again. I will, however, tell you what I consider to be the pros and cons for this camera (and draw some comparisons between it and my Holga 120N):

  • Bulb mode – My Holga has bulb mode, too, but the Diana is equipped with a little piece of plastic (pardon me, it’s the “shutter release lock”) that you can jam into a slot in the lens in order to keep the shutter open for a long exposure without having to hold the shutter lever down by hand the entire time. The Holga has no such feature. I consider this to be a pro. 
  • Shutter speed selector – This actually isn’t so bad. It’s on top of the camera. The Holga’s is on the bottom, and even though it’s virtually flush with the body, I found quite often that the switch managed to find its way over to “B” unexpectedly and ruined shots from time to time. Whereas, with the shutter speed switch being on top of the Diana+’s lens, at least I can see it without turning the camera over – I might be more likely to notice that it’s switched over to bulb. Pro (?)
  • Aperture range/selector – I mentioned earlier that the Holga has a different set of lens opening sizes than the Diana+. While the Diana+ has more aperture sizes, the fact that they are smaller than the Holga’s actually turns its aperture range into a  “con.” Also a con is the aperture selector switch itself. It’s on the bottom of the camera. When the camera’s being stored in a camera bag or being put in/taken out of the camera bag, it’s very easy to accidentally change the lens opening without realizing it. That means you could think “Oh, I left the camera on the ‘partly cloudy’ setting last time I used it,” fail to double check the setting, and end up taking a photo with the pinhole aperture selected instead. Or the lever can fall somewhere between the various settings, and the photo being taken will be partially obscured. Which is bad. Con.

Photo accidentally taken with the aperture selector in an in-between position

  • Pinhole – Speaking of pinhole: I am not ashamed to say that I have no major interest in doing pinhole photography. The lens opening is, as the name suggests, only the size of a pinhole. That means you have to do long exposures even in broad daylight. I mentioned earlier that I decided to do a couple of pinhole exposures on each roll I shoot with the Diana+, as a way to test the waters of pinhole photography. And I have actually been happy with those shots. I was expecting them not to work out at all! With the Diana+/F+, you can remove the lens completely or leave it on for your pinhole photos. I always take the lens off.  You can’t really compose the photo through the viewfinder when you do that. So, I usually just put the camera a few inches in front of whatever I’m photographing and hope for the best. It seems counter-intuitive to use a meter with a toy camera, but using an exposure meter with pinhole cameras is common. That’s what I did for the pinhole exposures I made with the Diana+. I took a reading with a hand held light meter, then used the Mr. Pinhole site to calculate the time needed for the exposure. It worked out pretty well! Pro.
  • Focus selector – I don’t like the way focus distance is chosen on the Diana+. It’s done with a little dial that is on the front of the lens. I much prefer the Holga’s way of focusing, which is done with a simple turn of the lens, with icons on top that indicate which distance you’ve chosen. It’s a lot quicker, has become second nature as the years have gone by with my Holga, and makes the Diana+’s focusing method seem fiddly and impractical. Con.
  • Viewfinder – The viewfinder in the Diana+  feels a lot less accurate than the one on my Holga. Granted, the cameras’ lenses are two different focal lengths. I feel like Diana+’s photos look more “zoomed in”/like there’s less included in the photo than when I composed it in the viewfinder. Though, strangely, the Diana’s manual says the viewfinder shows LESS than what is actually being captured when you look through it. Con.

So here’s the deal: I don’t know if the Diana is conquerable. I found that with trial, error, and effort, you can come up with photos that are pleasing. Especially when you just accept the camera for what it is.

2 Thoughts on “Conquering Diana

  1. Steve on July 28, 2018 at 5:29 am said:

    Thanks for the article, well written.
    I’ve just purchased my first Diana F+ – I bought it to play around with some pinhole shots and relive some glory days of building pinhole cameras in highschool… many many years ago 🙁
    Do you still use the Diana? Your article is a few years old and wondering if you’ve had any more luck with it since this was written?

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