How did 120 survive?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by emilio_graff, Dec 24, 2009.

  1. First a preface: I am too young to ever have used 70 mm film. I bought my first medium format camera in 2001.
    I've all but given up on film. Right now I have no way to process it or print it. Still, once in a while I take a trip and take a lot of pictures, then pay out the nose to have it processed.
    What I can't understand is how 120 format survived while 70mm went a long time ago. Even more perplexing is how 220 has survived longer than 70mm. As far as I know there is no (or it's hard to get) perforated 70mm film, so unmodified Hasselblad backs are out of luck.
    Here's what I see, from my limited experience:
    220 Film:
    This is a hardly satisfactory mutant hybrid of roll film and sheet film. Have to load it in the dark, like sheet film, but at least you get more exposures. I guess if you're willing to carry around a changing bag you can still use it. Otherwise, you better buy as many backs as you're going to take rolls for the day. I can't believe it still exists.
    120 Film:
    Wasteful packaging---a "brick" comes wrapped in plastic, inside that ten little boxes, inside each a little bag, then the paper strip to unroll the film. Kodak and color films are marginally better in the single box with five baggies inside. You load the film, take 16 or less exposures, then you lick it like a stamp, and hope it holds. At least in Hasselblad backs the adhesive strip at the exposed end frequently gets caught in the back and ripped off. Thankfully, you can load it in the daytime. A minimal, but functional, selection of films is still available.
    70mm Film:
    In the Hasselblad's case, make your back a bit longer (70mm vs. A12) and you have a huge number of exposures. Presumably can be loaded in daylight if it's already in a cartridge. Bulk loaders were available for the real fanatics. Hasselblad had a 500+exposure back that was enormous (and rare) and the typical 100-200 exposure back. I don't know how the pros do it, but I am certainly not changing film emulsions every 12 exposures on a single day while on a project. So if I had two or three fully-loaded standard 70mm magazines I'd be set. By the end of the day I bet not having to reload film would gain me an extra 30 minutes to an hour. Hell, I'd bet the back plate on the camera body would look nicer after 10 years, too.
    So how is it that 120 (and even less likely, 220) outlived 70mm? Any thoughts?
  2. 220 roll film doesn't require a changing bag to load or unload.
    On a humorous note, Fuji's end-of-roll lick and stick has a much more pleasing taste than some of the others...
  3. First, 220 film does not have to be loaded in the has a paper leader and trailer to allow it to be handled in the light.
    Many of us still like the 6x6 negatives and the precision of our 6x6, 6x7, 6x9. 6x12, and 6x4.5 cameras...I'm not about to give my Hasselblad, even for a 'blad digital (though I would like to have one of those, too!) any more than I'll give up my 4x5 view camera. Of course, I shoot mostly architectural photos and these tools are well suited for that job. I still use 35mm, too! :) Just mark me down as old fashioned. There are alot of pretty reasonable labs around to process the stuff, then you can scan the film and print it digitally if you don't want to pay for prints.
    As to why the 120 has done better than the 220 and 70mm, most of the folks using it would rather have only 8 to 16 shots on a roll...I'd never finish a 50 exposure 70mm can before I had to pull it for the shots on it. The only thing I ever used 70mm for was for school portrait shoots in my youth...its even too long for weddings! I do much better with my 6 magazines on the Hasselblad than I would with a single 70mm back...just too long! And lets not even talk about processing cost on the 70mm! :) I can't tell you how many times I've pulled even 20 exposure 35mm rolls after shooting only 5 or 6 shots because I needed the pics immediately!
    In summation, I think 120 has been more popular than the others because the others are too long alot of the time and because the equipment that shoots the 120 is Hasselblads, Rolei's, etc.!
  4. First off 220 film does not have to be loaded in the dark. It has enough backing paper to allow this. Same with unloading. What kills a film type is lack of sales. 70mm sales fell off for this reason and 220 is headed there also. In 220 there are a few types of negative and chrome available. In black and white only one. As far as the packaging is concerned I fell that it is the minimum necessary to insure you get a good undamaged product every time. Fuji roll films have a little adhesive sticker so you don't have to lick anything. Digital was the death sentence of 70mm film and to a degree, lack of processing availability. I have several 70mm backs and the 500 exposure back. The standard 70mm Hasselblad back will accept about 55 images. The 100-220 backs used a special order thin based emulsion. Nasa and the like order those. None at all available now I believe. Pretty much boat anchors now although I do have some 70mm black and white I might drag out sometime. The standard practice now is to load multiple backs and go out on your photo trip. Actually reloading a back on location is not that big a deal.
    120 film will be around for a long time I believe.
  5. 120 continues to survive (present tense), because it still a very viable medium. And as good as digital is getting, I am hardly the only one who realizes that it still falls short of film, medium format at least. I know several professional photographers for whom the digital honeymoon is over and they are going back to film. Why? Because they know that film is still better. I don't know where you get your film processed, but my local lab charges me $3.10 (including tax) to process 120 Ektar 100 and I do all my 120 B&W processing myself. I would continue to do the color too but the kits from Unicolor or Beseler are no longer available and I am not shelling out several thousand dollars for an automated processor. As for a changing bag, one goes with me everywhere I go. Anyone who shoots film should always have one in their camera bag. The only really problem I have with my Nikon F2's and MD-2's is you cannot remove the motor if film is loaded in the camera, therefore, if you need to remove the motor, you must resort to using a changing bag.
    Tom, I think you mean 120 doesn't require a changing bag; 220 does, or at least a darkroom, as there is no paper backing. I do agree, I like the taste of the glue better on Fuji than Kodak, but I like Kodak film better so I put up with the taste :)
  6. Well, I used quite a lot of 120 rolls. That's why they survived.
  7. Goes to show that many people still don't know enough... ;-)
    220 does not require a darkroom or changing bag.
    220 film is a daylight loading film, with a paper leader and paper trailer on the ends.
    I don't know why you like to taste Fuji glue, when it does not need to be licked, since the Fuji sticky tabs are self-adhesive.
    Re 70 mm backs:
    The regular 70 mm back held enough film for about (guess... ) 70 frames. Not 55.
    That, not the width of the film, is what it takes it name from.
    The 100/200 back does not need special film, will take the same film the 70 back takes. Not being in cartridges, there is room for about 100 frames then. Upto 200 when thin base film is used.
    Again, the number of frames are what the thing takes its name from.
    The 100/200 back is as usuable today as any other 70 mm back. All it needs is film. ;-)
    Merry Christmas everyone!
  8. Funny, I get Fuji 120 in 20 pacs--just a box and 20 cute wrapped rolls. Most Kodak 120 I see is boxed in 5 roll pro-pacs or bulked in 20 roll boxes. Not exactly excess packaging.
  9. The childrens 120/Brownie film is over a century old; it once had wooden spools long ago; that is why the bobbin is large; ie to be made out of wood; a spool was like the wood of an old sewing machine thread.
    The format was named after Brownie in the kids comics; so it would appeal to children.

    The kids format grew up and became the normal for family photos with box cameras; these were the norm before Kodapak/Instamatic of 1963. Rollei TLR used the kids 120 format it the 1930's and later. The kids format survives because like many kids things it is a classic and easy to make; it is used by a centurys worth of cameras.

    220 came out in the mid 1960's mostly for wedding photographers; I got a 220 back for my C3 TLR.
    70mm is not used by many cameras; and has a low sales; thus even it is better it has less to keep it afloat in a down market.

    As far as populations of cameras and users; one has many 120 users; way less 220 users; and way way less 70mm users.

    The question is like asking why More stores have 3.5 inch floppies than zip discs or jazz discs or 5 1/4 floppies.
  10. IMO 220 was nothing more than extended shooting of 120 film, so nothing really different with it.
    If you knew you would take a lot of shots, than 220 was way to go. Problem was, that people had different films for different lighting, and even shooting scenarios. Most of the cameras I used simply took inserts that you could preload with a film rather than a complete back and swap them out mid roll if camera allowed.
    120 worked best for me as I was doing good to rip through one complete roll in one sitting.
    Afraid I never used 70mm...
  11. One reason for the "brick" to have 10 little boxes from some manufacturers, is that not all people buy a brick. Therefore dealers can open up the brick and sell one film in its own little box for more than 1/10th of the price of the brick.
  12. Re packing: i buy most of my 120 film in boxes of 20 rolls each.
  13. I don't use a changing bag for either my 120 or 220 film and haven't had any problems. Should I be using a bag for one or both?
  14. Graham, No changing bag needed for either film.
  15. 120 roll film? Loads of cameras made for it and it is still a convenient film length for many. And I guess there are enough people out there who, like myself, who appreciate the qualities of film and know what they are doing.
    For the Hasselblad, I own and use 120, 220 and A70 backs. For Linhof, again 120, 220 and Cine Rolex.
    As stated above, digital displaced most of 70mm film usage in the School and studio wedding portrait business. 70mm film is still used in scientific applications, and some of the special emulsions can be processed to yield good pictorial images. But typically the minimal purchase quantities are too large for the average Joe ( ... or Jill) I picked up a roll 500' roll of Plus-X Aerecon which is very thin compared to the normal base we are used to, so requires especially careful handling. I first need to reel some onto a 100' spool to fit the Alden 70 Loader.
    Rollei Infrared is also currently available in 70mm Type II perforation, single 100' rolls from Maco-Direct.
    Harman Technologies will coat 70mm Type II in either HP5 or FP4 for a minimum order of 40x100' rolls.The London retailer Silver Print will be the eventual 'single roll' shop when/if sufficient firm orders are on the books, and I expect with down payment.
    Similar sized orders are required for delivery of Kodak emulsions.
    However, to your question, 120 is simply the most convenient for most general use. But I'm glad I have Velvia 50 in 220, because we're expecting more snow tomorrow and I'll be out in it, photographing historic buildings, estimating that about 24 frames of chrome will cover the job in mind. An A70 loaded with Tri-X will also be in use.
    Hmm ... Why has 120 survived? Because I have ;-)
  16. Just my added thoughts. Was and is and has become a professional work tool. You open fresh what you need of which type and how much. Then you can process accordingly, push pull do whatever you need. I used to keep about 8 different types in the fridge. Now sadly just two.
  17. "I am certainly not changing film emulsions every 12 exposures on a single day while on a project".
    If you know what you're doing 1 or 2 shots are plenty. A lot of what you said makes me suspect you're putting us on or don't understand photography.
  18. 120 and 220 survive because there are a lot of cameras out there and people using them. Kodak recently released Ektar 100 in 120 and it seems to be doing well. It's a good, versatile format and sells to the high end crowd as well as the . As for 220, it's not as inconvenient as all that, it does twice as many exposures and a lot of the 120 cameras can take it. If you want to take twice as many shots you can save costs and load time.
  19. " . . . I have no way to process it or print it."
    This stood out to me, right away.
    With no way to process or print film, I'd say you were giving up maybe 80% of the work and creative control over the media [not counting visualization and the like]. If I hand you an unprocessed image, in any photo media, and ask you to do 80% of the work, I imagine I'd get quite a bill for the 80%. I think that line of thinking may be a good part of the reason why good processing can be high in price.
    Even if you could only process the negatives, I'd say a fair number could be done, chemistry and equipment, for under $100. Equipment-wise, $50 or less would be plausible.
    Give developing a try.
    For the change-overs and some of the camera operation parts of the OP, I'd say: well, that's part of using the camera. Changing over films, and a line of thinking to match, is often not a big deal. It's another aspect that can be used to your advantage; idea being, choose film from what's on hand to match your ideas for a given location.
    While I'd often maybe use one or two, I have used four or five kinds of film in one day; that's infrequent, but it's no tougher than changing your line of thinking to match different settings on a DSLR.
    Are you kind of new with medium format? It seemed to me that maybe you might have run into some early hurdles with the films?
  20. My understanding is that Hasselblad introduced 70 mm backs to the public after they had already made some for NASA, thus not requiring any additional R&D work. 70 mm emulsions were always fewer than 120, most people didn't need rolls that long and processing was trickier, meaning that uptake of 70 mm backs didn't influence the use of 120 a lot. If somebody already has a few 120 backs and doesn't really need to shoot 70 pics without changing, it makes no sense to mess up the system of getting backs for different formats. Having just one film type makes logistics much easier.
    Currently, with all the active backs vastly outnumbering the new backs and 120 backs vastly outnumbering the 70 mm backs, there's not really any future left for 70 mm.
    The current selection of 120 films is more than enough for me, as it is important to focus on a few films that one knows and one likes.
  21. While I am 99 % digital SLR, there is a crucial break point where the actual performance of practicial digital (systems affordable to most users) simply fails. That is face detail in a large group shot. Large group shots are needed. Period. For those who doubt, try a large group shot at your next family reunion, and go for an 11 x 14 print. Read 'em and weep.
    120 film emerged as the workhorse format for commercial, wedding, and high school annual photography, ensuring its perpetuation for quite a while. Technically, 70 mm had some advantages, but simply never caught on to grab a critical mass of users, remaining a narrow specialist tool.
    120 film is a very nice breakpoint for minimum format for superior image detail. If you need it.
  22. I'm guessing that all the people using Holgas and Dianas might have helped 120s popularity.
  23. 70mm was used in sold high school annual photo shoots too. The century old 120 format is easy to develop; long ago Verichrome was Othro film and old could develop it under safelight in old soup bowls or trays. One burned up the wooden spools in the fireplace. A folders 2x3" negative makes a nice contact print; to make a 8x10" print only requires a 4x to 4.5X enlargement; even a simple triplet or tessar works super with such a small enlargement.

    If one includes simple 120 cameras; then only say 1 out of thousand or ten thousand 120 and 220 cameras made hold 220 film.

    In the heyday of 120 one could buy Verichrome in ANY drugstore in the USA; it was as common as them carrying a D cell battery or Aspirin or Bandaids for a cut. Even Kmart and Walmart and Walgreens carried 120 films at one time; where 220 was almost never carried. I saw 220 at a Kmart once in Kansas City back in 1976; they also had 110 Verichrome too.

    *****If ones gig is color transparencies (color reversal) ; what did 220 offer in the 1970's during heyday of slides?

    *****(SLIDES )Let us review the Kodak pro catolog P2-1 of 1975/1976 here:

    Kodak Ektachrome Professional (daylight and tungsten) came in 120 only
    Kodak High Speed Ektachrome (daylight) came in 120, 126 and 35mm
    Kodak High Speed Ektachrome (tungsten) came in 120, and 35mm
    Kodak Ektachrome-X (daylight) came in 110, 120, 126, 127, 828 and 35mm
    Kodachrome 25 (daylight) came in 828 and 35mm
    Kodachrome 64 (daylight) came in 110, 126, and 35mm
    Kodachrome II Pro type A (tungsten 3400K) came in 35mm

    ***Thus say IF one had a client who wanted transparencies in the mid 1970's; 220 or 70mm had NO FILMs; except 70mm came in Aerochrome.

    In 1975 during the heyday of color reversal usage; Kodak did offer slide films in 110, 126, 127, and 828 formats; but had NONE in 220 size and it had been around for 1 decade already. Thus there was a greater demand for 127 slide film for Brownie Bullets than my 1960's TLR mamyia C3 with 220 back. Also 127 was the format used in the baby Rollei and made nice BIG 4x4cm slides; ie super slides; thus this was a practical market.
    Alot of 220 film was used for wedding work; ie color negative C41 stuff.

    *****(COLOR NEGATIVE) Let us review what was offered by Kodak in 1975/1976:

    In Kodacolor II (daylight asa 80) in came in 110, 116 (big folders used this), 120, 126,127, 616 (big folders used this) , 620, 828 and 35mm formats (BUT NO 220)
    Vericolor II S (asa 100 daylight for less than 1/10 sec) was in 120, 620 and 220, 46mm and 70mm
    Vericolor II L (asa 50 to 80; tung 3200K for 1/50 to 60 seconds ie long) came in 120 rolls

    ****(BLACK & WHITE) Let us review Black and White Kodak films in 1975/76:

    Panatomic-X (asa 32) came in 35mm and 120 rolls; 120 was the pro variant
    Plus-x (asa 125) came in 35mm, 70mm; and 120 and 220 in the pro variant
    Royal-X (asa 1250) came in 120 rolls; BUT NO 220 ROLLS
    Kodak Tri-X (asa 400) came in 120, 126, 127, 620, 35mm and 70mms; and 120 & 220 in the pro variant for retouching (asa 320)
    Verichrome Pan (asa 125) came in 110, 120, 126, 127, 616 and 620; but NO 220.

    *** Thus even in films 1975/76 heyday a 220 user had a less choice of emulsions; ie NO slide materials; no great Verichrome; no fine grained Panatomic-X; no ultra fast Royal-X; no Kodacolor II. (With Vericolor it had to be kept refridgerated to at least 50 F then to avoid color shifts)

    In the mid 1970's during films heyday one had NO slide material by Kodak in 220. IF one wanted to shoot 220 in color negative; one had a cooler in ones car to keep the Vericolor II cool. If the film was toooo cool then one got dewing if one used the stuff in the humid deep south. Thus some of us just used non pro old Kodacolor in 120 if traveling; or used Vericolor in 120 or 220 and kept stopping off at 7/11's for ice to keep the cooler cool.

    Just to buy 220 Vericolor II would be by mailorder in the 1970's to a NYC dealer say Olden, Cambridge, Garden camera etc. Some local camera stores had Vericolor; but menay kept it at room temperature instead of 50F and thus one got lessor color accuracy.
    Even in 220's heyday it was a pain to use; one had a subset of emulsions available and one had to mail order it and keep a stash. (sort of like some of us due today for abouit ALL of our films! )
  24. 120 became the standard length because the paper backing had markings for where to wind it to on the paper, which worked with the millions of older non-autowinding cameras when the world went color. (Those little ruby-red transparent ports for viewing the numbers didn't work as safelights with color materials in 220 as they had with B&W.)
    Consumers went to smaller formats putting convenience ahead of quality. 120 died with consumers in the 60's with millions of Spotmatics being sold, hundreds of millions of Instamatics in 126 and 110.
    Commercial photographers abandoned ship only as film got sufficiently better. Color neg film was nowhere near as capable as transparency film in either resolution or grain--not even close-- and was shunned professionally in 35mm until the early 90's. It was only then that events and wedding photographers who had to use neg film started dumping their MF gear en masse-- but they started doing this long before digital was on their radar. 36 exposures and autoloading cameras, along with TTL/OTF flash and 1/250s flash sync, suddenly made such photography bullet-proof.
    70mm was hatched as a bulk-length format. Required perforation in most cameras but there was no single standard for perforation. Bulk roll films were most often used for economy and not having to change out short rolls in assembly line photography situations like school photography. Digital may not be superior in quality, but it sure trounces film in bulk situations for convenience and economy. Throw in instant proofing to confirm your strobe settings-- this was the death knell for all but a few peripheral niches.
    Canister on the take-up side of 70mm was a nice touch, though. Allowed some cameras with knives built in to snip and go instead of trashing the unused portion of the roll to get at the exposed images.
    At the bargains they are now I'd get a 70mm roll back for my P645N if the emulsions I like best were available for it. Portra 160VC was about all I found fresh a year or so ago when I last looked, when I still had my own wet darkroom. Hanging and drying long rolls without scratching is not trivial, however.
  25. Oh, and by the way, 220 does not need a changing bag nor darkroom to load. I think we've established that, anyhow.
    120 survived for all the reasons given, plus there were always the Rolleiflex and the 'Blad. And I am sure that Kodak could not bear the thought of orphaning all the Kiev 120 film cameras.
    There are just a lot of cameras that use that size film. I wish they still spooled it on 620 reels too, since re-spooling is a PITA.
  26. IVAN; good point; I forget too about the flash sync issue.
    Even a 1950's Rollie TLR would sync with as strobe at 1/500. My Exakta VX stuff was about 1/30. My later Nikon F was 1/60th. I got a Nikkormat in the mid 1960's; it was fast 1/125 in sync. The first full frame slr cameras that came with 1/250 were alot later.

    As a fun trip thru history; the Kodak data book of 1959 has Kodacolor as ASA 32! ; it came in 35mm; 828/bantum; 127, 120, 127, 116 and 616.

    In 1959 High Speed Ektachrome was ASA 160; and when pushed was ASA 400 and was only in 35mm.

    In 1959 Kodachrome was ASA 10 and came in 35mm and 828/bantum
  27. Roll film 120 is practical no nonsense format, big enough for serious work and small enough to be compact. I wouldn't want it any other way, and I'm glad it survived.
    I use it in 6x6 and 6x9 cameras and when it comes to personal work and enjoyment I solely use film. Digital is only for my work, as I am into underwater archaeology, and it is of great importance to have photos as soon as I get out from the water, which is about only positive side in digital technology.
  28. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    70mm was a movie film that also included a magnetic sound strip.
  29. Kodak recently released Ektar 100 in 120 and it seems to be doing well.​
    And remember they started making it in 120 because we asked for it.
  30. Re: Kelly's nostalgic trip through the Kodak catalogue of the '70s.
    Kodachrome 64 was available in 120 during the 80's. and it seems notwithstanding this digital age, we now have more transparency films available in 120/220 than back in the 70's: Velvia, Provia, Astia, Ektachrome, etc.
    We do live in a time of choices!
  31. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    And as long as we keep demand up, they will keep making it. SO buy those old pro cameras at dirt cheap prices n shoot your butts off. Inspire everyone n anyone to go MF or we will lose it all.
  32. The 120 format (2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches) made excellent and handy contact proof sheets for editors, and moving to anything else meant altering a tried and tested workflow method. So, there was just a lot of resistance to going to anything new. 35mm contact sheets were a pain to use, contrary to what many will say. Particularly for high school annual photography.
  33. It survives because I love those big juicy 6x6, 6x7 and 6x9 negs. Once I had shot a roll on my Mamiya C220 I was hooked and, although I still shoot 35mm occasionally, it cannot compare to a 6x6 or 6x7 neg shot on, say, FP4.
  34. I don't want 70 consecutive exposures being put through the same developer at the same time. That limits what vision I will be able to create. I want to be able to push or pull, use different film emulsions for different projects, use different developers for different contrasts and compensation. Even 24 exposures in 35mm is too much, sometimes. So, that being said, 120 is perfect for me. 10 shots of 6x7, and that's plenty. That's why it survived - because creativity thrives where opportunity will allow.
  35. I think that was one of the more fruitful trolls I've seen around here in some time. :)
  36. I had several 620 roll film cameras (620 film and paper backing was identical to 120 but wound on a smaller metal shaft , not posible with the original wooden shaft), slightly more compact than 120 film cameras. Kodak was the main manufacturer of 620 cameras peaking with the Medalist, the Chevron, and the TLR Kodak Reflex. I still can't afford a Medalist and I hate rewinding 120 film onto 620 spools.
  37. 70mm isn't dead entirely. It is still offered in C-41 and aerial film sizes.
    I agree that 120 isn't useful to me. It'd be easier if you were doing studio portraits as there was less opportunity for film waste, but I wouldn't personally want to use it for anything else.

    220 is quite useful though, even in 6x7. About the only advantage of 120 over 220 is a better resistance to light seal leaks and, I suppose, less frames lost in a lab mishap (assuming they don't have all your film loaded in one after the other).
    70mm's only real improvement is for specialized applications where there is minimal downtime for back changes (even these are pretty quick with most modern MF SLR systems).
  38. Goes to show that we need a choice, because we all like different things.
    I often find that i have the shot i want they way i want it, wondering what to do with the rest of a 120 roll. Too many frames on it already.
    220 on the other hand is great for trips and travel.
    A happy new year to all!
  39. I personally would prefer to use 70mm over any other film. I have two A70 backs and am looking forward to using them. I failed to get the bulk loader I needed a few months ago. I hope to get one in the near future. But I came here after searching to see what was available (price-wise) for the A70/500. And no I'm not kidding. The idea of not having to use loading cassettes would be a great plus. Simply loading the entire reel into the 500 exp back would be very nice indeed. My local professional development lab is already setup for developing full spools of 70mm. If anyone here still has one of the 500 exposure backs around, please write me!
    Xavian-Anderson Macpherson
    ShingoshiDao (find me on eBay!)

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