The Key Differences Explained - 120 vs 220 Film

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: July 13, 2019
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120 vs 220 film backs
Image from Wiki Commons, provided by Viaissimo.

120 and 220 film are both medium format films that come on film spools. Until 2018, they were the last medium format films being sold. Now only 120 remains.

They share the same nominal 61mm (2.4 inches) width. The key difference is in the length of the film rolls. 120 film has a backing paper and is usually between 82cm and 85cm in length. (32 to 33 inches)

220 film is twice the length of 120, and does not have a backing paper. Instead, it had a paper leader and trailer.

120 Film

120 Film Rolls
Image via Wiki Commons, provided by Jacopo188.

120 film was introduced by Kodak in 1901 for use in the Brownie No. 2 camera.

Rolls of the film come wrapped around a spool and have a backing paper. Frame numbers are printed on the backing paper. This allows the frame to be seen by looking through a red window on the back of the camera.

The backing paper helps to prevent light leaks that could fog the edges of the film. A downside is that the backing paper can cause the film to not sit as flat against the film plane as 220 film.

Is 120 Film Still Available?

Yes, 120 film is still widely available in a variety of film stocks. It can easily be purchased online and from camera stores.

Why is 120 Film called 120?

Because it was the 20th daylight loading roll film format released by Kodak.

In the late 19th century every new camera model would use a different size of film. Technological advancement played a part, but it was mainly done so that people would have to buy film from the company that manufactured their camera.

As more cameras were introduced, it became difficult for people to buy film. You would have to know the image size and model of your camera.

To solve the problem Kodak numbered their film, starting with 101, in the order it was released. You don't see the other numbers because those film formats were phased out over time.

For more information see the History of Kodak Roll Film Numbers.

How Many Shots Do You Get on 120 Film?

The number of shots depends on the aspect ratio of the frame the camera is capturing. Smaller image frames will allow for more shots per roll.

The ISO 732 standard lists the 120 film size as 61mm (2.4 inches) wide and between 820mm (32 inches) and 850mm (33 inches). That does not include the length of the backing paper.

Frame Size (cm)Frames
6x4.515 or 16
6x612
6x710
6x98
6x174

220 Film

220 film was released in 1965. It does not use a backing paper, which allows the rolls to be twice as long as 120 film.

It was targeted at professional photographers. They would be able to get twice the number of shots before needing to load another roll of film.

As is does not have a backing paper, it can not be used on cameras that rely on a red window to see the frame number.

Instead, it must be used with "newer" professional cameras. These cameras are able to correctly advance the film without the aid of frame numbers.

Without the backing paper, this film stock is more likely to have the edges fogged. Another downside is that it can be difficult and/or expensive to find a lab that will develop the film.

220 Film Availability

There was a short period of time when 220 film was no longer available. This occurred after Fujifilm discontinued production, with the last batch being made in December 2018.

Various rolls of 220 from the last batch or expired roll can be found in limited quantities on eBay.

Recently, there was some hand rolled Lucky Brand 220 rolls available on eBay. However, it has been months since I've seen any.

Medium Format Camera Compatibility

Medium format cameras that have removable film backs may be able to use both film formats. The Mamiya RB67 would be an example of a camera capable of using both films with the correct film back.

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