The Key Differences Explained - 120 vs 220 Film

120 and 220 film are both medium format films that come on film spools. The last 220 film was discontinued in 2018. That leaves 120 as the last medium format film being sold.

For the most part only 120 remains. Occasionally hand-rolled 220 rolls will show up on places like eBay.

Both types of film have the same nominal 61mm (2.4 inches) width. The difference is the length of the film.

  • 120 film has a backing paper and is usually between 82 mm and 85 mm in length. (32 to 33 inches)
  • 220 film does not have a backing paper. It has a paper leader and trailer. 164mm to 170mm in length. (64 to 66 inches)

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.

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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.

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

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.

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
6x4.5 15 or 16
6x6 12
6x7 10
6x9 8
6x17 4

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.

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.

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Various rolls of expired 220 film and occasionally new rolls of Shanghai GP3 or Lucky can be found on eBay.

Medium format cameras that have removable film backs may be able to use both film formats. The Mamiya RB67 or Lubitel 166B 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.