Progress in imaging and metrology depends on exquisite control over and comprehensive characterization of wave fields. As reflected in its name, coherent diffractive imaging relies on high coherence when reconstructing highly resolved images from diffraction intensities alone without the need for image-forming lenses. Fully coherent light can be described adequately by a single pure state. Yet partial coherence and imperfect detection often need to be accounted for, requiring statistical optics or the superposition of states. Furthermore, the dynamics of samples are increasingly the very objectives of experiments. Here we provide a general analytic approach to the characterization of diffractive imaging systems that can be described as low-rank mixed states. We use experimental data and simulations to show how the reconstruction technique compensates for and characterizes various sources of decoherence quantitatively. Based on ptychography, the procedure is closely related to quantum state tomography and is equally applicable to high-resolution microscopy, wave sensing and fluctuation measurements. As a result, some of the most stringent experimental conditions in ptychography can be relaxed, and susceptibility to imaging artefacts is reduced. Furthermore, the method yields high-resolution images of mixed states within the sample, which may include quantum mixtures or fast stationary stochastic processes such as vibrations, switching or steady flows.