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  index hints'n'tips using 620 film
u s i n g   6 2 0   f o r m a t   f i l m
The 620 film format

The 620 film format was developed by Kodak in the early 1930s in order to regain some of the lost market share for film. The film has actually the exact same size as the 120 film format and only the spool is different. It's a little smaller than that sold with the 120 film format. So the film compartment of cameras made for the 620 film format is usually a little smaller than that of cameras made for the 120 format. Very clever because this means that Kodak did not have to change anything in the film production and -cutting lines but they only had to spool standard 120 format film on new spools. Since they had the single right to market and sell this format, they were the only one able to sell film for their cameras. Well, as we all know, this did not work out in the end so film in the 620 format disappeared and noone was able to use their old Kodak cameras anymore, or is there an easy solution?

Using 120 Film in a 620 Camera

Using 120 size film in a 620 camera is fairly straight forward, but there are a few points to be aware of. The 120 spool is physically larger in diameter than the 620 spool, and there is usually no opportunity to modify the 620 camera to take 120 film. The film however is identical, so all that needs to be done is the 120 film be wound onto a 620 spool. This is a two step operation, as the film has a start and an end, therefore the film needs to be wound off the 120 spool then back onto a 620 spool, you will obviously need at least two 620 spools for this as one is also needed in the camera as the take-up spool.

This whole procedure has to be conducted in complete darkness. If you are not familiar with handling film of this type in the dark, it may be worth while trying to get hold of a roll of outdated film cheaply to practice with.

The film itself is fastened to the backing paper at one end only, the start end, so it is pulled through the camera smoothly. The problems arise when the film is being rewound in that the tension changes and the two surfaces do not usually line up exactly. At this point, assuming there is only a few millimetres or less of misalignment, the trick is to detach the backing paper from the film and refasten it so that it lies smooth on the spool, being extremely careful not to tear the backing paper, a fresh piece of adhesive tape will probably be needed here. If the misalignment is more than this, it is best to restart the whole procedure. The whole time one must be careful not to get fingerprints on the emulsion.

The film winding procedure can be best achieved by using the camera body to wind the film onto a 620 spool whilst feeding from the 120 spool in the hand, then when winding back again, onto the second 620 spool, so the start of the film is at the beginning, carefully tuck the loose end of the film under the backing paper as it winds onto the spool, the whole time keeping up a reasonable tension so that everything fits snugly within the spool flanges when the operation is completed.

Theoretically at least, for 12-on-620-film cameras, one could simply wind the film through once, fasten the loose end as it passes by, then use the film "backwards", but I've not tried this. This would not be practical for 8-on-620 or 16-on-620 cameras, as the numbers on the backing paper will be on the "wrong" edge of the paper. There will also not be the wording before the number appears in the red window, so extra care would be needed when winding.

A couple of "less-elegant" solutions are as follows. Firstly the supply spool containing the un-exposed 120 film can simply have it's flanges clipped or sanded down to fit in the camera. This method has been mentioned several times to me, obviously there is a risk of physical damage to the film as well as light-fogging, but there is no reason why it shouldn't work in some cameras with a little care. Secondly, the 120 film could simply be unspooled and placed in the supply chamber of the camera with no spool at all, then needing just a take-up spool, though this procedure is probably only appropriate to a camera with a pressure plate to keep the film flat. This would obviously need to be done in complete darkness, so a changing bag would be necessary if more than one spool of film was needed at a time and there was no access to a darkroom. A supply of take-up spools would also be necessary.

Doug Wilcox has prepared a page similar to this, with pictures, on his website. As is often the case a second view on things may make them clearer.

I've been asked occasionally "Where can I get extra 620 spools?" My best advice is to investigate any local second-hand or charity shops for other 620 cameras which you may be able to purchase cheaply, or even negotiate for any spools in the cameras separately. Alternatively, one could make a one-off purchase of fresh 620 film from Film for Classics or Central Camera Company. Their contact details can be found in the finding film section on this website.

However the spools are sourced, if you don't do your own processing, ensure you emphasise to the processor you use that you require the spools to be returned. An alternative that has been mentioned, is to rewind the exposed film back onto a 120 spool to give to the processor. This could double the risk of fingerprints or other damage to the emulsion, but a tip passed to me by Ed Perper can bypass this. There is a cheap camera called a "Rollex 20" that will use both 120 and 620 film, I have seen reference to some UK-made cameras, (possibly "Ensign" or "Kershaw") with a similar capability, also the "Voigtländer Perkeo I" will use both sizes. Ed uses a Rollex to both to load his 620 spools in the first place and then to rewind the film back off the 620 spool onto a 120 spool to give to the processor. One could, of course, use almost any 120 camera to perform the latter function. Ed recommends using a second piece of tape to fasten the loose end of the film to the backing paper as it passes, to ease rewinding. Again, this procedure would have to be conducted in complete darkness, either in a changing bag or a darkroom.

To answer a query that has come up a few times, 220 film is twice the length of 120 film, on a 120 spool, but does not have a full length of backing paper, just a leader and a trailer, otherwise it wouldn't all fit on the spool. 220 film cannot be used in any camera with the little red window in the back for the frame numbers. It is designed for cameras that use a winding system that measures the film as it passes through the camera.

With the advent of modern chromogenic C41-compatible black & white films, many of the older "snap-shot" cameras can give surprisingly good results in a wide range of lighting conditions, as this type of film will give useable-density negatives when exposed between 50-3200asa on the same roll, with no adjustment needed in the development. For the less-technical, that means it doesn't have to be bright sunshine for you to take good pictures with your old camera.

Any comments or clarification needed, please contact me.


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