Affordable. Supports interchangeable lenses. Pinhole capture. Selfie mirror. Powered by AAA batteries. Uses Fujifilm Instax Square film.

Doesn't include flash. Extremely heavy vignette. Black-and-white materials currently unavailable. Clunky controls.

The Lomography Diana Instant Square takes the all-plastic build and low-fi aesthetics of the Diana F+ but uses instant film for immediate gratification.

The Diana camera is a legend—cheap and plastic, but with big medium format negatives. Lomography has long offered kits to convert it from a medium format film camera to one that uses Instax Mini film. But it's a patchwork solution that drops a big part of the Diana's appeal—a square image format. The Lomography Diana Instant Square ($99) is a ground-up design for square-format Fujifilm Instax film, and manages to evoke the same charm as the original. I think there are better choices out there for instant film lovers, especially those with more artistic inclinations, but if the ability to use external lighting and change lenses is key, the Diana is worth a look.

The Diana Instant Square matches the aesthetics of the non-instant version, the Diana F+. It's an all-plastic build—including the lens optics—with a chunky, squarish look and feel. The camera measures about 4.5 by 5.0 by 4.0 inches (HWD) and weighs a pound with batteries and film loaded. Because of the light materials, ejecting film is a particularly noisy operation—the motor used isn't likely any louder than in other Instax Square cameras, but it certainly sounds like it has more volume. It's something you can easily hear in a room, even if there's a good amount of background conversation happening.

The standard version of the camera, which we received for review, features a two-tone color scheme—black on the bottom and teal on top. It's also available in the premium Adriano finish, which replaces the black with a more colorful pattern made up of light and reddish brown hues. It sells at a $10 premium, a reasonable cost if you like the way it looks.

The basic Diana kit doesn't include a flash, though it does ship with a removable hot shoe so you can use your own. I would never recommend buying this camera without a flash. So really, consider the price to be $129, which is what you'll pay to get the standard edition ($139 for the Adriana) with a bundled flash. You will absolutely need to use the flash for indoor snapshots.

Charging a bit more for the flash is understandable—and if you have one already, you can use it. I used the flash that shipped with the Diana F+ for my indoor snaps. It doesn't offer control over power, so you can end up with overexposed shots when working close to the minimum focus distance, even though the Diana's lens opens up to f/11 at the brightest.

Ergonomics aren't great. Focus is done via the removable lens, but you have to reach into the center to set its position—it's marked for 1 to 2 meters, 2 to 4 meters, or 4 meters through infinity. There are no detents to the manual focus system, so it's best to visually confirm where you've got the lens set before snapping a photo.

The shutter release is a metal arm, on the right side of the fixed segment of the lens barrel. It's joined by the shutter setting at the top—there's N for Normal, a fixed 1/100-second exposure, and B for Bulb, which will keep the shutter open for as long as you hold the lever. It's useful for light painting and other long exposure photography. There is a small plastic tab covering the bare metal lever, but the cover fell off after very light use. The metal isn't sharp, but you can definitely cut yourself if it catches your finger at the right angle.

The aperture control is at the bottom, and is designed similarly to the shutter control. It can be set to Overcast (f/11), Cloudy (f/19), or Sunny (f/32), or you can remove the lens and use the Pinhole setting. There are detents, but even with their help I had a few shots where the aperture wasn't fully locked in place, resulting in an off-center image with a heavier vignette than the Diana produces normally. On the plus side, the plastic tab stayed put on this lever during my time testing.

The optical viewfinder is external and slides into a cold shoe, centered behind the lens. The design choice means you can swap out the finder, necessary if you invest in any of the various add-on lenses. To the left you'll see two holes—they accommodate the dedicated flash Lomography sells separately. An adapter with a hot shoe is included, so you can use your own flash or studio strobes if desired.

A selfie mirror sits on the front, just above the lens. It's very reflective and clear, despite having the Diana Instant logo engraved at its center. I had no problem framing up a selfie using the mirror alone, although the 3.3-foot minimum focus distance required me to provide some extra stretch to nail the shot. I think the selfie function is more conducive to a wider angle lens, as the angle of view provided by the Diana's standard 75mm prime is too tight for group shots, and doesn't do a great job capturing the environment around you when held at arm's length.

The Diana uses Fujifilm Instax Square film. It's currently available in color—Fujifilm sells its smaller Instax Mini and larger Instax Wide film in monochrome, so it's probably just a matter of time before Square owners enjoy the same choice. Power is provided by four AAA batteries. The power switch is on the right side, with positions for Off, On, and MX—multiple exposures on the same frame. To eject your finished multi-exposure image, simply slide the switch from the MX to the On position.

There is a film counter, but it's tricky to see. A small light turns on when the camera is powered up—it's green for standard shooting and yellow for multiple exposure mode. If you peer in you'll see the number of shots you've taken so far. It's certainly something you would miss if you didn't know where to look for it.

It's the lens that gives the Diana's photos their look. It's an all plastic optic, with apertures that can be set at f/11, f/19, or f/32. A fourth setting, f/150, is available for pinhole photography. You'll need to remove the lens to use it—the front element twists off with ease. Exposure can be a bit of guesswork with pinhole, but I found about between one and two seconds to work best in daylight.

For normal photography, even at f/11 and with Instax Square film, which is rated at ISO 800, you'll need some daylight to net bright, properly exposed images. I was disappointed to discover that test images were noticeably underexposed. To be fair, these scenes were in early morning shadow—around 8 a.m. in January in New York City—and had the sun been shining higher in the sky, or more directly on the subject, light would have been ample.

There are some things Lomography could have done to help here. The Diana's shutter is set at 1/100-second, which will freeze most action and is quick enough to not worry about blur from hand shake. But I would love to see a 1/30-second alternative to capture more dimly lit scenes.

Plastic lenses have a reputation for being soft, but the Diana shows a good amount of detail. The very narrow maximum aperture definitely plays a part here—you get plenty of leeway with manual focus given the very large depth of field

You can swap out the Diana's plastic lens for a glass one of the same focal length. The Diana+ 75mm Premium Glass Lens isn't any brighter than the plastic one, but it's worth a look if you're left wanting more clarity. It sells for $49, which isn't a lot of money when talking about photo gear in general, but may be more than you'd expect to spend on an add-on for a $99 camera.

The other lenses are less expensive. For $35 you can get a 38mm ultra-wide or a 110mm telephoto. The 20mm Fish-Eye is priced at $39. Finally there is a two-lens set—a 55mm wide-angle with a close focusing attachment for $45.

All of these lenses can be used on the Diana Instant Square, but also work with the Diana F+ film camera. Lomography also sells adapters to use the lenses with a Canon or Nikon SLR.

There is no shortage of options for photographers shopping for an instant camera. Most are fairly easy to operate and are marketed to snapshooters—if that's you, the Fujifilm SQ6, SQ10, or SQ20 are probably better fits. The Diana Instant Square is aimed at enthusiasts and artists. Its quirky operation, heavily vignetted photos, changeable lenses, and external flash support affirm its position, despite a very affordable asking price.

For some photographers, the Diana Instant Square may be the absolute right choice—more than 2,000 backed the project on Kickstarter after all. But it has left me a bit cold. Yes, you can change lenses and use studio strobes. And if you're a portrait artist who loves working with instant film, there is a lot of appeal there.

Photographers who don't employ complex external lighting should think about other options. For Instax Square, I recommend another Lomography model, the Lomo'Instant Square. It has a quirky folding design, but a built-in flash makes it a bit more of a go-anywhere camera.

I caution casual photographers about buying a Polaroid Originals camera, but at the same time suggest serious photographers take a look at the OneStep+. It produces a larger negative, offers manual shutter speed control via a Bluetooth app, and has both color and black-and-white films available. Just be warned that film is generally more expensive, and color materials are a pain to work with. If you love shooting black-and-white, it's a better option for square format capture, at least for now.

Bottom Line: The Lomography Diana Instant Square takes the all-plastic build and low-fi aesthetics of the Diana F+ but uses instant film for immediate gratification.

Lead camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H... See Full Bio

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