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.

For the most part only 120 remains. For a brief period of time there were a small number of hand-rolled Lucky 220 rolls available on eBay.

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 82 mm and 85 mm 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.

In order to use rolls of 120 or 220, you must have an empty spool for the exposed film to be wound onto. Obtaining an empty spool can be a problem if you are shooting your first roll and there isn't an empty spool in your camera.

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 120 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 discontinued many years ago.

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

How Many Photos Do You Get per 120 Film Roll?

The number of photos depends on the aspect ratio of the frame the camera is capturing. Smaller image frames will allow for more shots per roll of 120 film.

The ISO 732 standard lists the 120 film size as 61mm (2.4 inches) wide and between 820 mm (32 inches) and 850 mm (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.

220 is twice the length of 120 at around 144 cm. The added length means that it is more difficult for a photo lab to process.

It was targeted at professional photographers. They would be able to get twice the number of photos with a 220 roll before needing to load another roll, compared to a roll of 120.

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, 220 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 with 120 and 220

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.

Any medium format camera introduced in the late 1980s through the 1990s should have some way of using 220.

Finding 120 and 220 backs in good condition can take some time. Many were used by professional photographers and heavy use has taken a toll on them.

2 comments on “The Key Differences Explained - 120 vs 220 Film”

  1. Hello

    220 Rollfilm was "Made" für Science Jobs in Astrophotographie and Military/NASA. NASA used 220 Film in Space an final on the Moon, the Astronauts "farmed" the Filmbacks from the Cameras and returned them to Earth dumping the Equipment in the Moon Lander Base.
    However the Moon Missions got Superthin 220 Film an the Special Filmcase made 4 Meter with 70 Frames possible but needed Motordrive with Torque Control ("Softstart"). The Handcrankcameras had smaller Backs with only 2,1 Meters Film (36 Frames)

  2. Lucky brand 220 film, out of China, is still being made as of May, 2020, and is available on eBay and possibly other channels.

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