Enter the Diana Mini

Thanks to my darling, adorable wife and my awesome Mom, when my birthday arrived, everything on my wish list had arrived and was sitting in boxes next to the door. One of the boxes held a couple of fun new toys from Lomography: the Diana Mini, and the LC-A Instant Back!

More about the instant back later: today, it’s all about the Mini!

The Diana Mini is the little 35mm sister to the plastic fantastic Diana F+. And Mini is right…

The whole camera measures 101x70x60 millimeters (width, height, depth) and is so light that you can feel a noticeable weight shift towards the take-up spool side when you get near the end of a roll. (Believe it or not, there’s an even smaller, 110 format Diana Baby… can’t imagine how small that would be.)

Feature wise, it’s a bit limited, but it’s a fun little toy… perhaps because of those limits.

It has two shutter speeds: “N” and “B.” The ‘N’ setting is something around 1/60th (some say 1/100th, but I have no way to test); the ‘B’ is Bulb.

It has two apertures: ~f/8 (cloud) and f/11 (sun).

It has a threaded cable release and a tripod socket, and twin holes on the top that accept the Diana F+ flash…

The plastic lens is a 24mm scale focus affair, with markings for .6, 1-2, 2-4, and 4-∞ meters, and there’s a switch on the back that allows you to switch between square (24x24mm) and half-frame (17x24mm). The focal length shifts slightly as you shift formats, so it’s 30mm in square mode and 35mm in half frame.

One of the most fun and interesting things about the Mini is its’ rocking quick load system.

With every roll I’ve tried so far, the factory-produced leader is almost enough to get the film over to the clip side, then it’s flip closed the film guide thing, reattach the back, and start shooting.

Forget frame 0: the Diana Mini lets me get half a shot on the XX frame!

I didn’t even know there was an X frame, let alone a XX frame… I’ve seen 0 and 00 plenty of times, but X and XX? Subhan Allah.  (If you’re curious, that line on the left is where the binder clips I use to hang film to dry bit into the film… I didn’t crop much off the left edge of the frame at all, just enough to make the jagged cut I made in the dark bag a bit straighter.)

I opened the box early in the morning, quickly loaded a roll of Kodak HD 400 into it, and had a roll of about 40 pictures shot in a couple of hours.

All the negative reviews I read mentioned that winder locks up sometimes, if the switch to go between half and square frame gets accidentally toggled after winding, and that the Diana Mini has a tendency to tear the film if you overwind it. I had no torn film problems with this roll, and Lomography warn users about both. There’s even a post on their website about how to take the camera apart and shave off some bits of plastic to make the switch stiffer to operate and stop the winder getting jammed.

On my copy, the switch only works after tripping the shutter, but before winding. If you wind even one click, the switch becomes very difficult, if not impossible to flip, so either I got a good copy, or they’ve made some changes to manufacturing for the Petite Noire variety (and maybe some others).

I shot the first roll switching back and forth sort of at random. If you switch mid-roll, Lomography recommend that you shoot a blank frame, because otherwise your frames will overlap.

And indeed they will.

That’s a half-frame on the left. After shooting, I flipped the switch, turned around, focused, and shot, and it did overlap a bit. I can see some creative possibilities with that…

But that’s just the beginning. The Diana Mini’s shutter and film advance are not coupled, so you can shoot multiple exposures to your heart’s content, and, for even more fun, you can easily make overlapping, multiple-exposed panoramas.

The Scan-O-Matic 7000 can only get about 2.5 half frames (normally wound) in one shot, and so this is about as wide as I can go with my current scanning rig.

I had loads of fun shooting through that first roll. My sister in law and nephew came by for a bit, and I got a couple of nice shots of them.

This one could’ve been bit nicer, maybe, but my real intent shooting it was to check how the lens deals with flare, and check it:

I had two main intentions when I stuck this camera on my wish list: making diptychs, triptychs and panoramas—and it excels at both, maybe not as well as, say, an Olympus Pen, but certainly vs. traditional 35mm cameras—and playing with the short, hand-rolled films from Labeauratoire.

(More on those later.)

Since the half-frame setting results in a vertically-oriented image, you have to turn the camera sideways to get a horizontal image, and with the right setting, you could make almost something that looks like a filmstrip. Fun times.

The lens is a bit finicky: it’s very slow (f/8 or f/11), and has some wicked barrel distortion.

But focused properly and with some care, you can get some nice shots with the Diana Mini, much like any other camera.

Not that I got (m)any with this first roll…

So after shooting an entire roll in less than 2 hours, I sorta took my time with a couple of rolls from Labeauratoire, and I’ll share those and some further comments over the next few days.

Happy Birthday to me, and thanks for all the fun new toys, Mom!

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