120 (also known as medium format) roll film
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120 (also known as medium format) roll film

120 is the most common film for medium-format cameras (there are other formats, but they're fairly obscure or discontinued, see below). With a ~61mm wide negative, it provides better resolution and less visible grain than 35mm. 120 is a roll-film format like 35mm, but instead of a sealed canister, the film is wound onto a plastic reel with a black paper backing that provides protection from stray light. Since the film has no canister, there is no felt light-trapping material to potentially scratch the film, and no need to rewind – the camera winds the film onto the take-up reel, which is then removed from the camera, and the empty reel is moved into the take-up position next time the camera is loaded.

A 120 roll of film is 82cm (roughly 32 inches) long, and the number of exposures each roll provides depends on the camera format. 645 cameras shoot a 6x4.5 cm negative for 15 shots per roll, 6x6 (also known as 2¼” square) takes 12 pictures per roll, and a 6x7 camera will take 10 pictures per roll. Similar formats include 220, which doubles the length of the roll and has no backing paper, and 620, a Kodak proprietary format that uses a different size spool.

120 advantages

  • Higher image quality
  • Less visible grain
  • The film doesn't have to pass through a cassette light trap

120 disadvantages

  • Fewer images per roll than 35mm
  • Trickier to load
  • Higher film and camera costs
  • Fewer camera options

120 film today

120 film is still quite popular, though it offers fewer emulsion choices (particularly with color) than 35mm. Lower-cost 'consumer' emulsions like Kodak ColorPlus and Gold are not offered in 120 format. 220 format has been discontinued. 620 can be made by transferring 120 film to 620 reels, and several retailers sell pre-spooled 620 film.