The truth about 120mm film...

Quick version: there's no such thing.

Yes, there’s no such thing as 120mm film.

You likely mean 120 film.

What?

 

Yep. Medium format roll film used in cameras like Hasselblads, Rolleiflexes and Pentax 67s is called “120”, not “120mm”. That simple ~120-year-old designation is all you ever need to use.

You can find extended articles covering this in more detail over at EMULSIVE and 35mmc

 

 

It’s a standards thing

 

Nearly every single film format in existence has a formal designation/standard. In fact, all of the roll film format designations we use today were created by Kodak. The designations ensured that multiple film formats with close or identical specifications could be separated and we still use them today: 110, 120, 135, etc.

In fact, over the years, they’ve evolved into standards. It’s those standards which help ensure any interested party can use a set of predefined, universally understood specifications to produce a photographic film and/or cameras that use it.

They are also the reason why you can use – for example – 35mm film made in the USA today in 35mm film cameras made a century ago in Europe.

 

Here’s a table of Kodak roll film designations from the EMULSIVE article:

 

Film # Introduced Discontinued Image size
No.35 1916 1933 1 1/4 x 1 3/4 in
101 1895 1956 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in
102 1896 1933 1 1/2 x 2 in
103 1896 1949 3 3/4 x 4 3/4 in
104 1897 1949 4 3/4 x 3 3/4 in
105 1897 1949 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 in
106 1898 1924 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in
107 1898 1924 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 in
108 1898 1929 4 1/4 x 3 1/4 in
109 1898 1924 4 x 5 in
110 1898 1929 5 x 4 in
110 1972 ~ 13 x 17 mm *1
111 1898 Unknown ​6 1/2 x ​4 3/4 in
112 1898 1924 7 x 5 in
113 1898 Unknown 9cm x 12 cm
114 1898 Unknown 12cm x 9 cm
115 1898 1949 6 3/4 x 4 3/4 in
116 1899 1984 2 1/2 x 4 1/4 in
117 1900 1949 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in
118 1900 1961 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 in
119 1900 1940 4 1/4 x 3 1/4 in
120 1901 ~ 56 x 56 mm *2
121 1902 1941 1 5/8 x 2 1/2 in
122 1903 1971 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 in
123 1904 1949 4 x 5 in
124 1905 1961 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 in
125 1905 1949 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 in
126 1906 1949 4 1/4 x 6 1/2 in
126 1963 2008 26.5 x 26.5 mm *3
127 1912 1995 1 5/8 x 2 1/2 in
128 1912 1941 1 1/2 x 2 1/4
129 1912 1951 1 7/8 x 3
130 1916 1961 2 7/8 x 4 7/8
130 1916 1961 2 7/8 x 4 7/8
135 1934 ~ 24 x 36 mm *4
220 1965 2015 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 *2
235 1934 Unknown 24 x 36 mm
240 1996 2011 30.2 x 16.7 mm
335 1954 Unknown 24 x 24 mm
435 1934 Unknown 24 x 36 mm
616 1932 1984 2 1/2 x 4 1/4
620 1932 1995 2 1/4 x 3 1/4
828 1935 1985 28 x 40mm

 

  1. Original 110 format was an early roll film which was later replaced by today’s 110 film, aka “Pocket Instamatic”.
  2. 120 and 220 films were designed to produce a nominal image size of 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches (that’s 56x82mm, or more frequently known as 6×9 today).
  3. The original 126 designation referred to 4×5 inch aerial roll films, such as those used in the Kodak K24. It was later given to the “Instamatic” format.
  4. 135 format film – colloquially referred to as “35mm” film – produces a nominal image size of 24x36mm. The “35mm” name comes from the gauge (width) of the film strip, which is 35mm wide (as shot horizontally through a motion picture camera).

Data from the table was sourced from Wikipedia and archive.org.

 

 

So what do I call different photographic film formats?

 

Use “110” as a shorthand for 110 format film.

Use “35mm” or “135” as shorthand for 135 format film.

Use “120” as shorthand for 120 format film. 

Use “127” as shorthand for 127 format film.

 

In case you’re interested in a quick bit of history on these four formats:

110 film is essentially 16mm film for still cameras. One cartridge produces ~24 17x13mm images and as of 2019, the only company selling fresh 110 film is Lomography.

120 film was created for the Kodak No.2 Brownie to make 6×9 images. It can also produce 6x3cm, 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×8, 6×12, 6×17, 6×24 etc., images. It’s worth bearing in mind that the actual image size from 120 (medium format film) is always a little smaller. For example, the most well-known image format for 120 film cameras these days is 6×6, which produces a 56x56mm image.

127 film can produce 4x4cm, 4×3 and even 4×6 images depending on the camera.

135 is the ubiquitous “small format” (kleinbildfilm) film. It’s most common format is “full-frame”, producing 24x36mm images. There’s also half-frame 24x24mm, square, 64mm wide. etc.

Things get a little funny with large format films depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re from.

4×5 is generally called “five by four” in the UK and “four by five” in North America. The same goes for 11×14 and 8×10, with the long edge being named first.

In and amongst all this you’ll note that there’s no reference to 120mm film. Not surprising really, as it doesn’t exist. 

For the dad-joking pedants out there who will inevitably point out that 9x12cm film exists and is “technically 120mm film”. Your jokes are part of the problem. It’s not clever, funny or unique, stop it.

 

 

What can I do?

 

Spreading the word is important and your involvement is crucial. It might simply take the form of nudging folks you see using “120mm” on social media.

For serial offenders and those individuals, groups and organisations in positions of trust, vocally calling them out might be the only option. It’s your call. Do something, anything, just don’t stay silent.

We’ve also created various social media accounts to help.

Use the hashtag #120NOT120MM on Twitter, FB or IG. Drop it into offending posts by way of a comment and tag @120NOT120MM while you’re at it. If you want to give those accounts a follow, here are links for IG, Twitter and the Facebook group.

Finally, for all things truth, point people at this website to share a quick hit of facts.

Oh, and one more time: there’s no such thing as 120mm photographic film. 

Cheers,

EM and Hamish

Spread the word on social media