127 Film  –  Vintage Camera Film Format

127 Film Format Specifications

Introduced: 1912
   
Type: roll film
   
Typical Frame Sizes: 4 x 3 cm
  4 x 4 cm
  4 x 6.5 cm
   
Currently: in production

127 Film Format Overview

127 Film is a roll film debuted by Eastman Kodak in 1912 as a compact alternative to 120 and other larger format films. Like many of Kodak’s other film formats, 127 was released alongside a new trendsetting camera. In this case, it was the diminutive Vest Pocket Kodak, a model whose selling point—as its name might suggest—was that it was small enough to fit in a gentleman’s vest pocket. Because of this, 127 was also commonly referred to as “Vest Pocket film” during the early part of its existence.

There are three frame sizes commonly used with 127 film: 4×3, 4×4, and 4×6.5 centimeters. Frame numbers for the different sizes are printed in different heights on the paper backing so that only the relevant set of numbers are visible through the red window on the back of the camera. The original size, 4×6.5, has its numbers printed in the center. Cameras such as the Acro Model R and Zeh Goldi that use the half-frame 4×3 format have a pair of red windows aligned to the center through which the photographer would count each 4×6.5 frame number twice. As for 4×4 square format cameras, models like the Bilora Bella 44 had red windows on the bottom.

Because its size allowed for smaller cameras, 127 film enjoyed widespread success immediately after its introduction. When the First World War erupted two years later in 1914, compact cameras like the Vest Pocket Kodak were marketed heavily towards British and American soldiers, many of who went off to battle with them in tow. Even the Great Depression did little to affect the popularity of the film; many new cameras simply shifted from 4×6.5 to 4×3 format to double the number of frames per roll. It wasn’t until Kodak’s standardized 35mm cassette started taking off that 127’s pervasiveness began to wane. Later in the 1950s, there was a renewed interest in the format as the market became flooded with inexpensive cameras like the Kodak Brownie Starflash and Imperial Satellite 127. This revival, however, did not last long and 127 declined rapidly by the early 1960s as manufacturers began abandoning it for good in favor of 35mm and the Kodak’s new easy loading 126 cartridge. Eventually, mainstream production of 127 film ceased in the mid 1990s but other smaller companies have since picked it up, making it readily available to this day.

In a veritable sea of plastic boxes, there are a relative handful of intriguing 127 cameras out there. These include the Ihagee Exakta A which was one of the format’s only SLRs, the half-frame KW Pilot Reflex folding TLR, the stylish Kodak Brownie Vecta which was designed by Sir Kenneth Grange (who also did the modern London Black Cab), and the Purma Special which had a unique gravity-powered shutter mechanism.

Interested in finding 127 film or cameras that use it?
Check eBay to see what’s available.
References:

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), 271, 282, 289-290, 331, 333, 407.

“The Vest Pocket Kodak was the Soldier’s Camera,” The National Science and Media Museum, https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/the-vest-pocket-kodak-was-the-soldiers-camera/

“127 film,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/127_film

“127 film,” Camera Wiki, http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/127_film

“Kenneth Grange,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Grange

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