Vintage and Classic Cameras

120 roll film

Originally introduced as No.1 film in 1897, 120 film continues in use to this day, when it is commonly referred to as medium format. It's survival stems from the fact that the larger negative size resulted in much finer images than the more common 35mm, it is, perhaps, now in its Swansong as commercial users go digital. In 2007 it is still relatively easy to obtain. Living Image cameras using black and white film usually use Efke stock as its emulsion is of an archaic type and nicely mimics the films that these old cameras would have used.
 The film is wound with a paper backing around a spool. There is a paper leader before the film starts to enable the film to be loaded in daylight, though care needs to be exercised not to allow the film to uncoil when the tape that keeps it tight is released. Most vintage cameras that use this type of film have a small red window in the back that aligns with printed frame numbers on the back of the backing paper, this allows the user to advance the film to the correct position. The majority of cameras using this system prior to the 1950s had no double exposure prevention, so it is important to remember to wind on to the next frame straight after taking a picture. During the 1950s the use of a shutter lock that prevented the it from releasing until the film was wound on became more common. In use the film is wound onto a 'take up spool', which is merely the spool from the previous film transferred to the take up chamber, most 120 cameras you will find, still have the last spool inside. Red window in roll film camera

old camera spools
 A selection of 120 roll film spools dating from the 1920s up to the present day. At one point in the 1930s there was a shortage of the wooden spools and Kodak offered a rebate if you returned spent spools. Modern film will still roll quite happily onto any of the older patterns so it doesn't matter if you have an old one in the take up spool chamber. Also modern film spools will still fit old 120 roll film cameras quite happily. Very fortunately for us the manufacturers still print the frame numbers on the backing paper, even for extinct types. 120 roll film can be used in a number of formats depending on the camera it is loaded into. 6 x 6cm (giving 12 pictures), 6 x 9cm (giving 8 pictures) and 6 x 4.5cm (giving 16 pictures), some even have retractable masks that allow two formats to be used... though not on the same film. Click any of the formats to see an example of a camera in that format.

In use, most cameras use this film with the supply spool loaded into the left hand film chamber. Unlike 35mm film, there is no need to rewind the film after it is finished as the roll has a paper tail that wraps the exposed film several rotations to protect it. The picture at right shows a 1912 No.1 Folding Pocket Kodak with slightly later period film and wooden cored spools, the supply spool leader is in the process of being fed out. It is safe to do this until about two coils around the take spool ensure the paper has sufficient grip - then the back must be closed to prevent fogging.

Most vintage cameras using this type of film will have either self energizing shutters or ones which need to be cocked first.

Aside from these considerations, the user will be required to set the Focus and Aperture. The final consideration is processing. For 120 you either have to develop it yourself or use a local professional lab, as the high street processors aren't generally set up for this film type today.

Inside of lovely old kodak camera

 A variation on 120 roll film is 620 roll film. This film is exactly the same size and backing the paper is identical too, but wound onto a slimmer spool. This makes 620 cameras a little more streamlined. 620 was discontinued a number of years back, but if you have two old 620 spools and are prepared to try, 120 film can be re spooled onto 620 spools easily with a little knowledge. There are several web pages dealing with this subject - so I won't repeat it here.


35mm film

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