35mm Versus 120 Film Sizes

This post is largely about the difference in image area between 35mm film and the less common 120 film. 35mm was known as “small” format in pre-digital photography days. In digital, 35mm is commonly called “full frame”. Most Digital SLR cameras produce smaller images (see Digital Sensor Sizes).

120 and 220 film is known as “medium” format. 120 and 220 is identical except for the length of the film rolls. 120 is 12 frames long and 220 is 24 frames long, when the camera produces a square image, known as “6X6” (though it is typically 56mm X 56mm). Another common exposure size produced with 120 and 220 film is referred to as “645” and is typically 56mm X 41.5mm. Cameras that make 645 images typically produce 16 frames on a roll of 120 and 32 frames on a roll of 220. A number of other exposure sizes are produced on 120 and 220 film, though the 6X6 and 645 frames are the most common.

The graphic shown here illustrates the relative size difference between medium format (6X6) and 35mm (24mm X 36mm) images. Note that I wrote relative size. The graphic is not to scale.

In the worldwide photographic community, it is generally agreed that the bigger the negative or digital sensor, the better the resulting image. That idea presupposes that all other things such as the camera, lens, and brain behind the viewfinder are equal, though they rarely are. It is just a rule of thumb.

After several years of shooting digital, I’ve been slowly drifting back toward the film side of photography. It is a personal thing. I’m simply more comfortable, more satisfied when shooting film, though I still frequently shoot digital.

On a related note, back when I was in college and fumbling with my first SLR, I was intrigued with Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) cameras, but being a dirt-poor student, I could barely afford to shoot the Canon student model SLR. The TLRs were out of reach. Later, I graduated to being a dirt-poor member of the working class, learning my craft (printing) while trying to raise my family, and I couldn’t afford a TLR. A TLR was so low on my list of priorities for so long that I eventually gave up the idea, allowing it no time to dwell in my frontal lobes.

In recent months I’ve given the idea of working with a TLR a certain amount of frontal lobe time. That time came to fruition a few days ago: I bought the Yashica Mat 124 TLR shown here (the photo was taken from the advertisement). There was little rational thought involved. I just wanted one. I’d like to “play” with it and see what happens. Luckily, unlike a medium format digital camera, it didn’t cost $20,000 to $40,000. The Yashica Mat 124 produces 6X6 images on 120 and 220 film, like those shown in Primitive Kingdom.

I’m (rather impatiently) waiting for the Yashica to arrive on my doorstep. It will be followed in short order by several rolls of film and developing supplies. It is yet another pending adventure…