120 Film  –  Vintage Camera Film Format

120 Film Format Specifications

Introduced: 1901
Type: roll film
Typical Frame Sizes: 6 x 4.5 cm
  6 x 6 cm
  6 x 7 cm
  6 x 8 cm
  6 x 9 cm
  6 x 12 cm
  6 x 17 cm
  6 x 24 cm
Currently: in production

120 Film Format Overview

120 Film is a medium format roll film introduced in 1901 by Eastman Kodak. Each roll of film is wound around a spool which is typically made of either wood/metal, metal, or plastic. Unlike 35mm film which is pulled out of a light-tight cassette for shooting and then later wound back into it for processing, the act of shooting 120 will transfer the film from the spool that it came with to a second empty one (known as a take-up spool) after all frames have been exposed. Unlike its closest cousins 220 film (identical except twice as long) and 620 film (identical apart from having thinner spools), 120 film is still widely available today.

Originally intended for simple box cameras like Kodak’s Brownie No.2, 120 film played a vital role in making photography accessible to the masses. In a world of sheet film and glass plates, the smaller cameras now made possible by 120 and other medium format roll films became an extremely attractive alternative to the prohibitively expensive, bulky large format models of the time. Because of this, 120 film was synonymous with amateur photography for decades until 35mm film, which allowed for even smaller cameras, eventually took over.

There are three primary frame sizes associated with 120 film: 6×4.5, 6×6, and 6×9 (all in centimeters) which means that the film’s paper backing has three corresponding sets of frame numbers—each at different predetermined positions—printed on it. A typical roll of 120 film will allow for 16 frames at 6×4.5, 12 for 6×6 (the most common size), and eight for 6×9. Cameras are typically locked to a particular frame size (for example, the Mamiya 645 uses 6×4.5 and the Spartus Spartaflex uses 6×6) and will either have their red window positioned to display the appropriate series of numbers or have a mechanism that will automatically space the frames accordingly. There are, however, some cameras such as the Toyoca Six which can be adjusted for different frame sizes before the film is loaded.

Notable cameras which take 120 film include the Rolleiflex and Rolleicord series, the Hasselblad 500 C/M, and the cult favorite Holga. There are also some unusual 120 cameras like the Welta Perfekta folding TLR, the Ernemann Bob 00 which is also capable of accepting glass plates, and the eccentric lizard-skinned Hunter Gilbert.

Interested in finding 120 film or cameras that use it?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 325, 579-583, 676-677.

“120 film,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/120_film

“120 film,” Camera Wiki, http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/120_film

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