HP5+: Diana Mini vs Nikon FE

Can a tiny, (almost) all plastic camera with one mechanical shutter speed and two apertures compete with the precision engineered, metal and glass late 1970s consumer grade masterpiece from Nikon?

First off, it’s not the tool, it’s what you do with it. I expect you’ve heard similar lines before.

Second off, well, from the brief gallery here, it appears the Mini won: 3 vs 2 in the favorites category, and 2-love in from-the-hip sneakiness. There is a catch, but it’s small…

Of the shots in Gainesville and Dallas and the week after, the Diana Mini produced some really pleasant shots, for example, the endless reflections in this one.

And for unobtrusive, from the hip shooting, the Mini has no equal in my current equipment.

Granted, this would’ve been better if I’d waited for the gentleman to round the corner a bit, but 1) I get nerves on when shooting people like this and 2) I was on my way to the car after another day of fun at work, and just wanted to get home and nap, and therefore didn’t make the time to, say, pause at the Observer dispenser thing and fish out a paper, which would’ve allowed the guy to get a step or two down the stairs, or stop to tie my slip-on shoes, or drop my lunchbox or something to legitimately delay myself enough to get a better shot.

But I digress.

In situations where stealth and invisibility are a premium, the Mini fills a nice spot.

Granted, something like the LC-A or maybe one of the numerous late 1970s fixed lens rangefinders would’ve been just as good, but I also would’ve needed or been tempted to focus, to frame, etc. With the Diana Mini, most of that is mostly impossible, so you just point and click, and if that’s what you’re after, then something like the Mini would be a good bet.

That said, the Diana Mini does have its issues.

It’s easy to mis-wind and end up with overlaps. This is great if you want to make a nice panorama, but not so great if you’re shooting squares and have everything lined up right but then have to chop off 1/4 of the frame because you miscounted clicks or the camera just didn’t wind that time or something.

 

And my sample does this strange thing sometimes where it gets this jittery blur in the center of the frame… I think it’s a shutter malfunction, but I’m not sure.

If deep limitations and random unpredictability is your thing—and many would argue that the heights of creativity come from exactly that combination of unchosen restrictions—then the Diana Mini (or something like it) may be just the ticket, as long as you have some good light for it, and it good light, it can do some wonders…

But if you want to focus, frame, change lenses, apertures, and shutter speeds, etc. and have way more options to choose from, settings to accidentally bork, etc., then you want something like the FE.

With a nice, older film camera like the Nikon FE and a well-regarded, older piece of glass like the stellar 24mm f/2.8 ai, you can get pleasant-enough, if busy, bokeh, razor sharp in focus areas, and a clarity that the plastic lens on the Mini just can’t match in a wide variety of lighting conditions.

And with just that combination, I got a shot of an ordinary house plant that reminds me somehow of a Saul Leiter photograph, that one of the ribbon in the girl’s hair… Really, they’re nothing alike, but somehow when I look at this one I think of that one.

MashaAllah.

So is there a winner? Yep.

Photographers.

And people who like to look at pictures, maybe.

And can a tiny, (almost) all plastic camera with one mechanical shutter speed and two apertures compete with the precision engineered, metal and glass late 1970s consumer grade masterpiece from Nikon?

Absolutely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *