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'My Date With Diana' - How To Use Film Cameras Creatively

John Duder has been perusing eBay again but this time, he's picked up a second-hand analogue Lomo instant camera to see if nostalgia and the Lomography philosophy are something he can enjoy in 2020.

|  Film Cameras and Film
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Diana F+ complete with the flash unit.

 

Men of a certain age have a very specific view of what an Englishwoman is like, and an Englishman. It all comes from watching The Avengers on Saturday nights, with a little bit of assistance from Adam Adamant.

John Steed and the eponymous Mr Adamant, played by Patrick MacNee and Gerald Harper were impeccably turned out, gentlemanly, and tough as old boots - but it’s Diana Rigg as Emma Peel who really etched an image. Lithe, clever and resourceful, she brought together centuries of tradition and the Sixties in clothes that were straight from Swinging London…

 

Walsall’s famous concrete hippo demonstrates that the lens is better at controlling flare than the viewfinder is at allowing precise framing.

Walsall’s famous concrete hippo demonstrates that the lens is better at controlling flare than the viewfinder is at allowing precise framing.

 

Sadly, the Diana in this tale is redolent more of Sixties toys bearing the label ‘Made in Hong Kong’ than anything stylish or svelte. From the turquoise plastic of the top plate to the riveted chrome lens surround, everything about the camera proclaims it to be both cheap and nasty.


On Trend

But, for some peculiar reason, this Woolworths-style camera is still in production and will set you back by £40 or more new. This seems inexplicable. So what’s the story?

 

2 You have to wonder why it’s got such a following – Betty B Bashful’s quizzical expression says it all, for me…

You have to wonder why it’s got such a following - Betty B Bashful’s quizzical expression says it all, for me…

 

Skipping back and forth along the timeline as though my car was a modified De Lorean, let’s drop in on the Eighties, and a new Soviet camera in Jessops. Costing - if I remember rightly- around £35, it was a completely new design, very pocketable, and with autoexposure. Ideal for street photography, the Lomo seduced many: a friend who bought one eventually completed a film with the fifth exchange…

And somehow there’s a cult following, and a whole range of products being sold under the banner of Lomography. There are rules, some of which are sensible, and some not: we’ll deal with all of that shortly!

One of the products that Lomography has taken up is the Diana, because it brings a whole new aesthetic to photography - a sort of trashy hipster vibe, where chance plays a large part, and technical excellence is not so much dispensed with as despised.

 

3 Results, results – actually, if you get the exposure right, focus with care, use half-decent film, and hold the camera steady at its single speed of 1/60 second, the results are perfectly acceptable.

Results, results - actually, if you get the exposure right, focus with care, use half-decent film, and hold the camera steady at its single speed of 1/60 second, the results are perfectly acceptable.

 

"Trendy but terrible…"

 

Technically

My Diana, at £10 from eBay, a fraction of the price of a new one, has a shutter with a single speed of 1/60 second, plus bulb, and an f/8 75mm lens, with Waterhouse stops to give f/11, f/16, or a pinhole. To adjust focus, you reach inside the front of the lens housing (this needs reasonably small fingers, and definitely no thick gloves). There are three marked settings - 1-2 metres, 2-4 metres, and distant.

To adjust either aperture or shutter, there are metal tabs sticking out of the side of the lens housing. They are very easy to move by accident, as is the shutter release.

One of the many mixed blessings with the Diana is that it has a lens cap provided. This means that when you accidentally press the shutter release with the camera over your shoulder, it doesn’t expose the film and waste a frame. On the other hand, you can easily forget to remove it, and end up with a blank roll of film…

The back and bottom of the camera slide off to load and unload, and there’s a recessed locking lever on the bottom. The light trap is relatively small, and the materials flexible - my initial thought is that the reputation that the camera has for light leaks may be the result of the body flexing during less-than-gentle handling. I’ve developed more theories since!

4 This view shows the simplicity of the build, and a couple of notable features – you have to slide the film under the top of the light trap, below the viewfinder: and there are two levers sticking out of the lens – on the right, the shutter release, and on the left, next to the strap, is the aperture adjustment. Both are easy to move by accident, as is the shutter control (the camera offers a B setting as well as 1/60 second).

This view shows the simplicity of the build, and a couple of notable features - you have to slide the film under the top of the light trap, below the viewfinder: and there are two levers sticking out of the lens - on the right, the shutter release, and on the left, next to the strap, is the aperture adjustment. Both are easy to move by accident, as is the shutter control (the camera offers a B setting as well as 1/60 second).

 

The body is compact for the film size: when you load it, you have to pass the backing paper of the 120 film under a lip at the top of the film chamber. Both spools are held on springy metal retainers at the bottom: they don’t engage very positively with the end of the spools. Nonetheless, you need to make sure that everything is precisely aligned, or else the back won’t close perfectly, and there will be very definite light leakage!

Winding the film with the knob on top of the camera produces a sound that yet again brings back memories of cheap toys. But there’s also a bit of feel to it: if you’ve got the spools located well, winding is easy, while a bit of mislocation will lead to stiffness. With my first roll, I found that the problem was that the film wasn’t taking up tightly, and it overflowed the spool when I opened the back of the camera.

This may be part of the reason that the camera has a reputation for light leaks, although the light trapping is OK, in itself. As a control, I unloaded the second film in the darkroom. Unnecessarily - it had wound tight to the spool. Subsequent films varied, and I have a strong suspicion that how carefully you load the camera is a major factor - I haven’t worked out the trick of getting it right every time.

 

5 A closeup view of the end of a roll of film. At the top (around ten thirty to one o’clock in the image), you can see layers of paper and film sticking out beyond the end of the spool – this will always give light marks on the developed film.

A closeup view of the end of a roll of film. At the top (around ten-thirty to one o’clock in the image), you can see layers of paper and film sticking out beyond the end of the spool - this will always give light marks on the developed film.

 

Pinhole

Some models have a pinhole setting on the exposure control. To use this, you’re supposed to take the lens off - without an instruction manual, I had to look this up on YouTube, but it’s actually pretty simple. The front of the lens twists off.

The overall spirit of the Diana encourages you to improvise, rather than attaching the camera to a solid tripod - in any case, it offers neither a shutter delay or a cable release socket, so your results are likely to be compromised by camera shake as much as diffraction.

 

Although the Diana has a tripod bush, there’s no facility for a cable release or delayed action. It seemed entirely in the spirit of the camera to hold it against a wall. Set the shutter to B, and hold the release button down for a second or so. Precision is not part of the Diana toolkit, but it seems to work…

Although the Diana has a tripod bush, there’s no facility for a cable release or delayed action. It seemed entirely in the spirit of the camera to hold it against a wall. Set the shutter to B, and hold the release button down for a second or so. Precision is not part of the Diana toolkit, but it seems to work...

 

Accessories

They are numerous, and some are costly. The standard kit includes a flash, with two adaptors: one to use a conventional hot shoe flash on a Diana, and the other to allow the Diana flash to be used on other cameras. A question hangs over the contact voltage - many old-school flashguns simply discharge the capacitor through the camera’s contacts. This is fine where there’s a physical switch with metal contacts, but it’ll fry a modern electronic camera.

 

7 Lomography ringflash unit in its most conventional mode. It uses one of the two flash adaptors that come with the camera kit to trigger it, as it has a conventional hotshoe fitting, while the Diana has a unique, two-prong fitting. Spot one of two deliberate errors – the unit blocks the greater part of the viewfinder…

Lomography ring flash unit in its most conventional mode. It uses one of the two flash adaptors that come with the camera kit to trigger it, as it has a conventional hot shoe fitting, while the Diana has a unique, two-prong fitting. Spot one of two deliberate errors - the unit blocks the greater part of the viewfinder…

 

I have also acquired a Lomography ring flash unit. It isn’t really a ring - there are four small tubes around the circle, and you can put various filters and modifiers onto it.

Neither flashgun is terribly powerful (each runs on a single AA cell, and recycles decently quickly) - if you think of portraits, that’s around right. Full-length shots? Ambitious, even with 400 ISO film, I reckon.

 

Literature

My Diana came with a book dedicated to the camera and frankly, it’s got production values ten times higher than the camera. Lots of pictures, some stories inspired by using a Diana. But bugger all advice on how to take pictures with the damn thing.

 

8 The Diana F+ book and the two flash adaptors. According to the book, the remanufacture design team worked hard on the sounds the shutter and winding mechanism make, as well as the precise degree of edge softness the lens gives…

The Diana F+ book and the two flash adaptors. According to the book, the remanufacture design team worked hard on the sounds the shutter and winding mechanism make, as well as the precise degree of edge softness the lens gives…

 

In the last few pages of the book, there are the 10 Golden Rules which are summed up by the motto ‘Don’t Think, Just Shoot!’ - maybe a free-spirited approach, but not necessarily a great way to work with a camera that gives twelve images on a film that costs a fiver or more.

There are a variety of books coming up if you do a web search, but most seem to be the results of taking a trip with a camera… It’s all about the results and, specifically, their artistic unpredictability. I really struggle with this as a central idea for any project. You don’t randomly select which pump to use to refuel your car and find out later if you’ve put DERV into your petrol-burning motor. Why should you gamble with your pictures?

 

9 As good as it gets: the Diana at f/16, and best resolution. Vignetting and softening in the corners is not unattractive with many subjects.

As good as it gets: the Diana at f/16 and best resolution. Vignetting and softening in the corners are not unattractive with many subjects.

 

The other reason enthusiasts cite for using a Diana or the (more modern-looking) Holga is the softness of the results, the lack of the sort of sharpness that we usually seek in our images. I can understand this - I use a variety of lenses which produce images that are precisely as sharp as they need to be, and parlously soft by most standards. Just like Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits.

 

Results

I put two films through the camera before I realised that the little mask that reduces the frame size to allow sixteen images on the film instead of twelve was in the body when I received it - so small frames with really big gaps between them. The viewfinder (which is delightfully large and easy to see through) is more in sympathy with the fuller frame, and I haven’t found any suggestion that there’s a way to predict what’s in the frame when you use the insert. Inspired guesswork would be entirely in accordance with the overall Lomography philosophy…

 

10 Light leaks may be wonderfully  unpredictable for Lomographers: I simply found the camera’s occasional inability to wind film onto the takeup spool tightly annoying. Unloading the camera in the dark is a good way to prevent this – and massively inconvenient!

Light leaks may be wonderfully unpredictable for Lomographers: I simply found the camera’s occasional inability to wind film onto the takeup spool tightly annoying. Unloading the camera in the dark is a good way to prevent this - and massively inconvenient!

 

And the results were decently sharp. Further films shot without the inserts showed that falloff in the corners is full-time, whatever the aperture - it gets slightly less on stopping down, but it never goes away. People spend time processing super sharp images to get this from high-resolution digital cameras.

More worrying is the way that poor spool-positioning means that badly-spooled film is likely to lead to light leakage. My experience of the camera makes no suggestion that the body of the camera allows light in - but poor spooling certainly will.

 

Film Camera Top Tips

First, buy secondhand on eBay, or at a car boot sale. Don’t go for a complete outfit unless you’re going to have a lot of fun, or actually make a profit. Look for a body only at a tenner, or a body with flash for fifteen or twenty quid.

We’re used to cameras that won’t let you get it wrong, and which require little care or attention. We expect warnings which aren’t needed. It’s not like that with a Diana - you need to look carefully, examine how things work, test out how to load film, and double-check everything. It’s very possible to half-close the back, so you need to make sure that you see how the shut lines look. Tale the backoff and put it back a few times before you think of loading film.

 

11 Home territory for the Diana is the sort of shot that you might expect to see taken on a mobile ‘phone. Here, a selfie with model Sasss in the background shows the way that you can have either the right exposure or correct focus. The flash isn’t powerful enough to allow both except under optimum conditions (and preferably with fast film!)

Home territory for the Diana is the sort of shot that you might expect to see taken on a mobile ‘phone. Here, a selfie with model Sasss in the background shows the way that you can have either the right exposure or correct focus. The flash isn’t powerful enough to allow both except under optimum conditions (and preferably with fast film!)

 

Always check the focus setting and the aperture control before taking a picture. If the aperture control has got knocked to an intermediate setting, the Waterhouse stop won’t be in the middle of the lens and may blank it off completely.

Take the lens cap off before taking a picture! And put it back on afterwards to avoid unintentional double exposures. And beware a loose lens cap falling off…

The flash units both work form a single AA cell and recycle rapidly. Consequently, don’t expect much power, or, indeed, consistency of output. I think if I’d bothered taking readings with a meter before trying to take any flash images, I’d not have bothered.

 

 

If the winding has got stiff as you use the film, unload in the dark, and make sure the film and backing paper have wound onto the takeup spool good and tight. If not, work the spool in your fingers to tighten it up - or, if you have somewhere really dark, unroll it all and wind it tight by hand.

It’ll be tempting to use old film stock because it’s cheap. That’s fine, but be prepared to give extra exposure to out-of-date film, and don’t expect miracles! It’s probably worth using one roll of film of known quality and reliability to establish that the camera works and that you can control it!

"Don’t think of the Diana as a cheap way to do film pictures..."

If you want to get the best quality for the least cost, buy a late-model consumer 35mm AF camera and standard zoom. Everything will be better about it - but sheer quality and reliability will be best of all. A Diana eats £5 of film up in twelve pictures, and you’ll pay another fiver to get them developed.

Does all of this seem rather negative? It’s a bit like going out on the town with an old friend who is somewhat more than slightly disreputable. Some of what happens will be very worrying. Some of it will be a great deal of fun. You’ll attract attention from a good many people, some of them colourful. People around you will smile a lot, and some will snigger. You may well acquire new friends, some of whom you will definitely not want to take home. It may cost you more than you expected, and beware making any promises that you may regret in the morning…

And it will leave you with a few memories that you won’t want to lose.

 

The upside – even with badly outdated film stock and iffy exposure, results can be colourful, and it’s hard not to be fascinated by the camera.  Digital processing will let you pull half-decent quality from all but the most awful negative, as this picture of my daughter on colour print film more than a decade past its promise date shows.

The upside - even with badly outdated film stock and iffy exposure, results can be colourful, and it’s hard not to be fascinated by the camera. Digital processing will let you pull half-decent quality from all but the most awful negative, as this picture of my daughter on colour print film more than a decade past its promise date shows.

 

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder has been an amateur photographer for fifty years, which surprises him, as he still reckons he’s 17.

Over the last two years, he’s been writing articles for ePHOTOzine, as well as being a member of the Critique Team. He also runs lighting workshops and provides one-to-one photographic tuition.

He remains addicted to cameras, lenses, and film.

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Comments


dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1716 England
27 Feb 2020 1:47PM
If there's anyone out there who desperately wants to own a Diana, I seem to have more than one in the house...
TanyaH Plus
17 1.3k 409 United Kingdom
27 Feb 2020 3:52PM
Er, no thanks John - I might have to pass on that dubious offer! Although good article above ... a fair and honest assessment of the Diana's capabilities (or lack thereof, as seems to be the case ...) and a good laugh in the reading Grin
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1716 England
27 Feb 2020 8:43PM
We aim to amuse...

It's good fun, but frustrating: I suspect that the group who started the whole Lomography thing are not particularly interested in the technicalities, and maybe have a fairly post-modern approach to art.
TanyaH Plus
17 1.3k 409 United Kingdom
28 Feb 2020 9:45AM
True, but that's also a valid approach to art, and it does have a place in the grand scheme of things.
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1716 England
28 Feb 2020 10:02AM
I tend to believe in craftsmanship as a Good Thing, rather than an aggressive denial of it.

Which is not to say that happy accidents don't happen. Then, I think, the art is to recognise them, and to throw away the dross. Or, at least, not claim it's art!
TanyaH Plus
17 1.3k 409 United Kingdom
28 Feb 2020 10:20AM
Well, yes - good craftsmanship is, ultimately, what we all strive for Grin And you doing this image plus the article makes me want to dig out my Lensbaby Velvet and try to get to grips with it finally!
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1716 England
28 Feb 2020 10:51AM
Now, a Velvet is another kettle of fish altogether! It's well made, utterly controllable, and the only common factor is that it's hard to use. But once you've mastered it, very rewarding.

The thing is, though, that any Lensbaby requires a lot of inspired guesswork on a DSLR. As soon as you put it on a mirrorless body, where the viewfinder accomodates to the exposure and stays bright, and you can magnify any part of the screen, it gets vastly easier...

Maybe there's a basis for a future article there?
TanyaH Plus
17 1.3k 409 United Kingdom
28 Feb 2020 10:56AM

Quote:As soon as you put it on a mirrorless body, where the viewfinder accomodates to the exposure and stays bright, and you can magnify any part of the screen, it gets vastly easier... Maybe there's a basis for a future article there?
Ooh, that's interesting to know! I've been wondering about these mirrorless thingies and wondering if it's all hype or whether it's actually a lot better in terms of quality (and back strain!). Lots of kit is great, but not if it's going to put you on a flat surface for a week or so to recover from an outing Sad Definitely the basis for a future article.
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1716 England
28 Feb 2020 11:20AM
I can only really speak for the Sony system, which I use a lot. I also have an Olympus, but I haven't explored its capabilities so thoroughly.

An Alpha 7r isn't perfect, but it works wonderfully for me. The quality is amazing, and the AF on the A7r III takes it to a whole new level. I no longer feel intimidated by Canon and Nikon AF - for what I do, the Sony is stunningly fast and accurate.

It's lighter, providing you don't use G-Master or Sigma glass. You can get adaptors for Canon and Nikon lenses, if you want. I think the Z7 from Nikon comes close, might edge ahead when the lens range is fully developed. Canon are, at present, lagging a LONG way behind, though I've heard there's a new one coming to blow the Alphas away with all the missing functinality and 75mp. We'll see.

If you do go Sony, anyone, it's well worth looking at the Samyang lenses, which are better balanced for the weight of the bodies, and the slimness of my wallet.

Happy to chat and demionstrate to anyone wh odrops by, or attends a workshop...
28 Feb 2020 1:25PM
Fascinating article John and I did consider one of these a few months back. However after a steaming mug of M's MO (you know what that is by now!) I dismissed the notion along with a cold caller's offer of a time share lobotomy bundled with free chakra realignment. (The semantic precision of this being on par with the technical precision of the Diana but, as you have demonstrated, not everything has to be precise to raise a smile - even if it's born out of bafflement). In the end I pottered off up the road to Sheffield and bought a second hand Olympus Trip for 65 with a one year warranty. (I'm not naming the shop because I don't want to breach any EPZ protocols though many will, I am sure, know of it.) It's each to their own but I fear that the Diana would have reduced me to howling at a full moon. 🐺 🦇 🌕 🤪
Many thanks John and all the best, G. Smile
mistere Plus
7 6 4 England
28 Feb 2020 5:56PM
Fascinating stuff John. A very basic, entry level, cheap and cheerful camera for the very experienced and
patient photographer Smile All sounds very complicatedly uncomplicated with a very large dose of the
'hit it and hope' approach required. Modern cameras are very clever and have lots of functions and gadgets,
probably too many for most of us. I don't think The Diana, even at 10 quid, will be competing. I suspect you
had a lot of 'Fun' putting this article together, it was a very enjoyable read. SmileSmile And educational as they always are.
Thanks and best wishes.
Dave.
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1716 England
1 Mar 2020 6:39PM
Good decision, Graham: though I didn't realise Trips had inflated so much - when I had one around 30 years back, it was 20, and felt heavily priced at that. But the guarantee is worth having. Make sure the meter's accurate!

I have an Olympus Mju that I acquired hen a friend cleared his studio on moving out. I think it was headed for the bin. It actually works very decently, and gives nice negatives. But it is a plastic camera (albeit nice Olympus plastic, and precise, robust, handy), and every time you switch it on, it defaults to auto flash. And I see they go for 150 and up on eBay.

Makes a lot of the less trendy but more competent stuff (like the Olympus 35 RC) seem like a bargain!
4 Mar 2020 2:23PM
Ah pity you used a 21st C one. The originals had a ' great' / bad rep for imperfections in the very cheap plastic lens. Apparently this made them popular with artistic types. Think air bubbles in lens / misshaped lens etc. The backs also have a habit of warping if exposed to too much warmth [think leaving in a car in a UK summer ], or if regularly stored with heavy bits on top. Not exactly sure how the Lomography ones compareto the Great Wall company ones tbh.
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1716 England
4 Mar 2020 5:00PM
I know I wouldn't leave it on the back shelf of a car (mind you, that's not a great place to leave any film, or camera), and hte lens is pretty ropey at the edges.

I am absolutely sure that the back would warp with heat or the slightest mechanical stress!

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