Thursday, April 28, 2011

Film Format Guide

During our recent reader survey, one general topic that kept coming up in your suggestions was that you wanted to learn more about the older film cameras, and breaking into different formats of photography other than digital (like medium format). So today we're kicking off an entire set of posts about these topics. First, we have to start with a basic guide to film which is what we'll be covering today.

Throughout the next month we will also be covering the basics of medium and large format, where to start with them, where to find different types of film for purchase (and suggestions on where to get them developed), as well as highlighting a few vintage film cameras that we have in stock.

Now, on to film!


Your main formats for film are: 35mm, medium format, large format, and motion picture. But, there's plenty of other formats that were previously made and may no longer be available, and multiple types and sizes of films within each of those main categories. Then, within each of those categories are subcategories because there are many other elements which make films different.

Types: You have black and white, color negative, color reversal/transparency/slide film, instant film (B&W or color), and infrared film. Most of these types come in different formats or sizes. For example, you can get 35mm, medium format, or large format films in black and white negative film.

The easiest to find these days, say at your drug store, is 35mm color negative film. This is what is used in disposable cameras, and most commonly used in point and shoot film cameras. It can be processed at drug stores like Walgreens or CVS with a picture center, or at Walmart. These types of places usually only have the chemistry available for this type of film since it's typically all machine-fed these days.

Black and white and slide film use different chemistries to develop and for these you will need to find a professional film lab to have them developed at. And along with the types, formats other than 35mm will also typically need to go to a pro lab because the drug store machines don't fit the larger sizes. This is of course, if you don't develop your own either in an at-home darkroom or school/lab facility.

And just like with everything else, quality (and other variations) changes depending on brands and specific types within those brands, but we're not going to get into that. This type of thing is usually personal preference and best to experiment with.

Speeds: Film speeds can range from ISO/ASA 25-3200. The most common (consumer print films) are 100, 200, 400, and 800. Film speed is the film's sensitivity to light. The lower the number speed, the slower the film and the more exposure or light it needs. And vice versa, the higher the speed number, the faster it is and the less exposure it needs. If you are shooting in sunny conditions, a 100 or 200 speed film is ideal. In low-light (or indoor) situations, a 800 (or greater) is recommended.

Film Sizes:
Common (all of these are still in production)-
* 135, or "35 mm" (cartridge)
* 120/220 (medium format roll film)
* 127 (roll film)
* Sheet film (Comes in many different sizes. Nowadays primarily used in large format. Most common is 4X5.)
* Instant film sizes are listed at bottom

Left-right: APS (Advanced Photo System)/ Advantix film, 35mm negative film (or 135)

Color reversal/slide film (mounted and sleeved)


Less common sizes-
* APS/ Advantix (Advanced Photo System. Discontinued cartridge)
* Disc film (Obsolete format used in disc system cameras, discontinued.)
* 110 (early roll film, c. 1898-1929. Discontinued.)
* 110 (cartridge, 1972-2009. Discontinued.)
* 126 (early roll film, c. 1906-1949. Discontinued.)
* 126 (cartridge, 1963-2008. Discontinued.)
* Minox subminiature films (8x11mm cartridge. Still being produced.)
* Motion picture films: 8mm (standard and super), 16mm (silent and sound), 35mm, 70mm.

Disc film

Top-bottom Cartridges: Kodachrome 64 126 (color slide), 110, Minox (subminiature)

Left-Right: 220, 120, 116, 620, 127

70mm (motion picture) film


8mm movie film


16mm movie film


Clockwise from top left (instant films):
 Polaroid 100 (pull apart), Type 600 (SX-70 is the same size), Spectra, Type 52 4x5 land (pull apart)


Instant film types/sizes:
* Picture Rolls (Many sizes. Discontinued)
* Pack Film (aka "peel apart". Many types. Most common: 100 and 600 series)
* SX-7
* 600 series land film
* Image/ Spectra
* Pocket Film (sticker, iZone, etc. Discontinued)
* Instax, Instax Mini, Instax Wide 210 (FujiFilms newest instant lineup... Polaroids new equivalent is the 300 camera and film)
* There are many other discontinued Polaroid film types (there's a good list of these here.)


Stay tuned for part 2 where we'll offer some suggestions and links for places to buy and develop film!