Film FAQ - Q&A to Film
35mm versus 120mm – what’s the difference?
The digits in 35mm film (otherwise also known as 135) or 120mm film refers to the actual width of the film, e.g. 35mm film is 35 millimeters wide, whereas 120mm film is 120 millimeters wide. 35mm being the smaller width, is physically smaller in proportions to 120mm when compared side by side.
Historically, 120 film usage was very prominent in the earlier days of film existence (think early 1900′s). It was initially designed and intended for amateur photography. 120 film is also known as a medium format film and it survives as one of the only remaining medium format film types still in production today. Another medium format film that is very similar to 120 is the 220 film. The only difference between 220 and 120 is that 220 is twice as long as 120 – allowing double the amount of pictures to be taken.
The film itself is wrapped around a spool, backed by paper. The film is advanced in the camera by wrapping the start of the 120 roll around another take up spool in the camera. As the pictures are taken in the roll and advanced, the film is progressively transferred to the other spool, until the whole roll ends up on the other spool. By the time all the frames are finished, the spool of the new roll is then used to replace the old spool’s position, while the old spool now with the film wrapped around it is taken to the photo labs for development.
120 film is quite versatile in that it allows three different formats. While the width of the frame is fixed at 6 centimeters, the length can be adjusted to 4.5, 6, or 7 centimeters to allow for 6×4.5, 6×6 or 6x7cm prints respectively.
On a roll of 120 film, 16 pictures can be taken using 6×4.5cm frames, 12 frames using 6x6cm frames, and finally 10 pictures using 6x7cm frames. Of all three formats the 6x6cm format is probably the most popular choice as the format represents a perfect square, which makes it a versatile option in composing shots. It also moves away from the standard 24X36mm rectangular frame that 35mm film offers, making it visually unique.
Medium format cameras like the Holga 120 series or Lomography Diana both take 120 film by default (however the Holga can be modified to take 220 too). Most of the Holga 120′s that we stock, such as the Holga 120 N come with film masks which allow photos to be shot in the 6×4.5cm and 6x6cm frames, therefore with these frames 12 or 16 pictures can be taken from a roll of 120.
The term 135 was introduced by Kodak in 1934 as a designation for cartridge film 35 mm (1.4 in) wide, specifically for still photography. It quickly grew in popularity, surpassing 120 film by the late 1960s to become the most popular photographic film format.
So.. 120 mm or 35 mm?
While 35mm is the both the most popular format, and cheaper to print and develop, 120 still stands out in that it is quite a unique format to experiment with. The image quality of 120 film is also substantially better as the physical piece of film is much larger it allows bigger prints to be made (think 20×24″!).
Most Holga users start off with the Holga 120 as it is considered to be the classic Holga (initially designed for 120 film in the 1980′s) and later move on to experiment with the other one’s available like the Holga 135.