Why New Film Photographers Need to Give 120 Film a Try

Just getting into analog photography and curious about 120 film and medium format? Our latest infographic has you covered.

While much of the photo industry is dominated by digital, there’s never been more interest in analog photography. The production of popular film stocks has been steadily increasing. New film emulsions are also regularly introduced. Despite the 35mm format being more common, many film photographers are turning to medium format cameras and shooting with 120 film. If you’re new to the world of film photography, our latest original infographic will tell you everything you need to know about 120 film.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

There are plenty of formats available when it comes to 120 film. You’ve got 645 (sometimes known as 6 × 4.5), 6 × 6, 6 × 7, 6 × 8, 6 × 9, and 6 × 12. 645 is the smallest, while 6 × 12 is the largest. The same roll of 120 film can be used for all of them. It all depends on the medium format camera (or the interchangeable back) you’re using. Medium format cameras with interchangeable backs allow you to shoot in multiple formats. Think of the different formats like you would different crops on digital.

Bonus Reading: For a more in-depth look at some of the more popular 120 film formats, be sure to check out Which Film Format Is the Right One for You?

Reverse Crop Factor

Due to the prevalence and popularity of the 35mm format, it is often used as a reference for other film formats. When shooting 120 film, you’ll need to keep the “reverse crop factor” in mind. The numerical values on medium format focal lengths and fields of view will be larger. However, they actually equate to shorter focal lengths and smaller fields of view on 35mm. An 80mm medium format lens will behave more like a 50mm lens for 35mm cameras. This reverse crop factor can also vary depending on the 120 format that you’re using. It’s basically the same concept when comparing differently sized sensors on digital cameras.

Shallower Depth of Field

Many photographers prefer shooting 120 film because of the unique characteristics of medium format lenses. Medium format lenses will have shallower depths of field than their 35mm counterparts at any given aperture. The shallower the depth of field, the more bokeh there will be as a result. This is what photographers refer to when they talk about the “Medium Format Look.” There are formulas you use to calculate the equivalent depths of field between medium and 35mm formats, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. If you’re a fan of all things bokehlicious, you should definitely pick up some 120 film and give medium format a go if you haven’t already.

Versatility Is the Name of the Game

You wouldn’t necessarily reach for a medium format camera if you’re photographing wildlife or sports. Medium format is ideally suited for portraiture and landscape photography. Annie Liebovitz, Ansel Adams, David Brookover, and Steve McCurry are some of the most renowned photographers to work with medium format film. If 120 film is good enough for the masters, it’s certainly good enough for the rest of us. At the end of the day, the most important thing you need to know is just about everyone looks great when photographed on 120 film. The same goes for landscapes. You’d have to try really hard to screw things up. So, what are you waiting for? Go out and shoot some 120 film!

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.