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120 film

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Original 120, 620 and modern 120 film spools with modern 120 exposed color film
Original 120, 620 and modern 120 film spools with modern 120 exposed color film

120 is a film format for still photography introduced by Kodak for their Brownie No. 2 in 1901. It was originally intended for amateur photography but was later superseded in this role by 135 film. It, and the longer 220, survive to this day as the only remaining medium formats, popular with professionals and amateur enthusiasts.

The 120 format is typical of roll film. The spool was originally made of wood with metal flanges, later all metal, and finally plastic. Frame number markings for the three standard image formats are printed on the backing paper. The film is 72 cm (28.3 inches) long.

Frame sizes

120 film allows several frame sizes.

120 frame sizes
Name Aspect ratio Nominal size (mm) Exposures
6 4.5 1.35:1 56 41.5[1] 15 or 16
6 6 1:1 56 56 12
6 7 1.25:1 56 70 10
6 8 1.37:1 56 77 9
6 9 1.50:1 56 84 8
6 12 2.1:1 56 118 6
6 17 3:1 56 168 4
6 24 4:1 56 224 3

Due to better control of frame spacing, modern 64.5 format cameras can fit 16 exposures onto a roll of 120

The 67 frame enlarges almost exactly to 810 inch paper, for which reason its proponents call it "ideal format". 64.5 is the smallest and least expensive roll-film frame size, equipment to take photos in this size is also the lightest.

The wide 612, 617 cm, and 624 frames are produced by special-purpose panoramic cameras. Because of the need to cover such a wide piece of film, some of these cameras use lenses intended for large format cameras.

Cameras using 120 film will often combine the two numbers of the frame size in the name e.g Pentax 67 (67), Fuji 617 (617), and many 645's (64.5).

Other similar 6 cm roll films

Original 120 spool (left) versus a 620 spool
Original 120 spool (left) versus a 620 spool

The 220 format was introduced in 1965 and is the same width as 120 film, but with double length (144 cm) film and thus twice the number of possible exposures per roll. Unlike 120 film, there is no backing paper behind the film itself, just a leader and a trailer. This results in a longer film on the same spool, but there are no printed frame numbers. Moreover, it cannot be used in unmodified old cameras that have a red window as frame indicator. Also, since the film alone is thinner than a film with a backing paper, a special pressure plate may be required to achieve optimal focus if the film is registered against its back side. Some cameras capable of using both 120 and 220 film will have a two position adjustment of the pressure plate while others will require different film backs (e.g Mamiya C220, Mamiya C330).

The 620 format was introduced by Kodak in 1931 as an intended alternative to the 120 format and is essentially the same film on a thinner and narrower all-metal spool (the 120 spool was made of wood at that time):

  • 120 2.466" width, 0.990" flange, 0.468" core
  • 620 2.468" width, 0.905" flange, 0.280" core

The 620 format was discontinued by Kodak in 1995, but it is possible to re-wind 120 film onto a 620 spool in the darkroom to enable use of 620 cameras.

The 105 format was introduced by Kodak in 1898 for their first folding camera and was the original 6 9 cm format roll film. The 117 format was introduced by Kodak in 1900 for their first Brownie camera, the No.1 Brownie, 6 6 cm format. These formats used the same width film as 120 film, but with slightly different spools. The 105 spool has a much wider flange, similar to the 116 spool. The 117 spool is slightly narrower than the 120.

 

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