Over the course of more than a century Kodak has created and supplied many different film sizes. Early film sizes were larger because grain was larger then and large negatives made better prints. Some photographers still believe that, but the number of films supplied by Kodak and other manufacturers has dropped dramatically. Most old film sizes are unavailable. Some sizes are no longer manufactured as such, but are formats which can be loaded by specialty film suppliers and by users because the raw film stock of appropriate sizes can be adapted.

Kodak continued making cameras that used 116 and 616 sizes until 1948 when the Tourist replaced the Monitor and Vigilant, that were available in both 620 and 616 sizes. While 116/616 is only a few millimeters wider than 120/620, the images are significantly different in aspect ratio, since 116/616 images are an inch longer (2 1/2 x 4 1/4). This provided the last relatively standard panoramic format, though camera manufacturers have adapted special body/lens configurations to do this within 120 and sometimes other formats.

If you have a camera that uses 116/616 film--these are essentially the same format with differences in the spool size--you can still shoot with your camera in one of three ways:

  • Adapt the film chambers of your camera with spacers to accommodate the slightly shorter 120 rolls
  • Buy 116/616 film from specialty film suppliers who recycle and sometimes produce film spools and backing paper, then load 70mm bulk film on them
  • Purchase 70mm bulk film and load your own if you have a sufficient supply of 116/616 spools and backing paper.

For years, I was unimpressed by adaptations of 616 cameras to use 120 film, thinking that film flatness would suffer because the 616 film gate did not support the narrower film size on the top and bottom. Recently a collector who is also an engineer sent me a link to a document that describes methods to create both spool adapters and a new film gate that exploits the aspect ration of the 616 format to create a mild panoramic format. Best of all for collectors, the changes to the 616 body are reversible and should be possible for those comfortable using an Xacto knife and a Dremel grinder. Peter Lerro's procedure is clearly documented in a PDF that you can view in most browsers and download. Other 120 adaptations that use only spool adapters may produce acceptable results in simple 616 cameras or if you are not critical of negative quality. Any procedure that allows using 120 film has the obvious advantage of allowing the use of current emulsions that are readily available without the hassles of respooling. Peter's has the advantage of doing this with good film handling in the best of Kodak's design and manufacturing efforts--Monitor 616 and Vigilant 616 models with Kodak Anastigmat Special lenses. This package will produce negatives of about 6 x 10.5 cm from a lens with good definition and contrast for about half the cost of a used 6 x 12 rollback adapter for a 4 x 5 press or technical camera.

Buying 116/616 film from a specialty supplier is an easy if more expensive source of film and this will typically be supplied in emulsions noted below, though some suppliers may also have supplies of discontinued emulsions and some may not spools all emulsions available in 70mm bulk. Cost is about $31 in mid-2003, and only color print emulsion is available from the supplier listed below, but market conditions can easily change available supplies in either direction.

Buying your own supply of 70mm bulk film has a high frontend cost--a bit over $100 for 100 feet--but the unit cost is much lower. Since 70mm was often used by school photographers, you may find good buys of bulk rolls on eBay.

Spooling 116/616. Unlike 620 users who get new backing paper with every reloading, 116/616 users must jealously guard their supplies of precious backing paper, since both it and the 116/616 spools must be recycled. This is less a problem for users who do their own processing, but using a professional processor can create problems. While they are set up to process 70mm film, they are not in the habit of keeping track of used backing paper and spools. Negotiate this return out front and remind them each time you take film for processing. As an alternative, remove the film yourself from the backing paper, wrap it in surplus black-coated foil used for lightproofing, put it in a container (paper or sheetfilm box, for example) and deliver it to your custom processor with instructions. If you are not in a hurry for your processing you may find a processor who is willing to add your film to a larger 70mm processing order.

Here is a sketch of the film configuration of rollfilm.

The goal is to cut a piece of unperforated 70mm film to the right length and attach it in the right place to the 116/616 backing paper.

Before Respooling. Film respooling requires the cleanest conditions to avoid dust specks on negatives and slides. Your work surface must be clean and chemical-free. Static electric charges form inversely to moisture content of the surrounding air, so dust problems for reloading and printing will increase with low humidity. A humidifier or vaporizer run for an hour or so before darkrom use is helpful. Those processing in darkened bathrooms might just run the shower for a few minutes. Taping several sheets of legal copier paper over your direct work space provides a clean surface. At a minimum, wash your hands and rinse them in hot water to remove skin oil and chemicals or, better, wear latex or cotton gloves that are free from substances. To the degree possible, handle film by the edges. In all winding operations, note that 116/616 spools have two unequal spindle slots--a longer, narrower one and the other that is about half that length, and wider. Backing paper should be threaded first though the longer of the slots. You will need a piece of masking or Scotch tape about 2 1/4 inch long for each roll. You will have to break the seal on the front end of the backing paper. This may be the only identification of film type. Save and reseal it with Scotch tape or otherwise label the film type you have respooled.

Cutting the Film. 116/616 images are 2 1/2 x 4 1/4 , with a 2mm interframe space, and about 15mm on each end, so you will need a piece of 70mm film that is about 36 inches long. Here are a couple of ways I have used, and I'd be glad to hear of other clever ways to measure 36 inches.


Method A. Cut a piece of posterboard 2.5 x 36 inches and tape it next to the ruler guide on your paper cutter to use as a length guide. Method B: Take two pieces of 36 x 2.5-inch posterboard and tape them together on both sides with plastic packing tape to make a hinged template. You can use this to measure lengths of film, almost without touching the film surface. While I have sterile conditions set up around my paper cutter, I cut more strips than I will load that day and store them in an empty film canister sealed with black electrical tape. You can refrigerate or freeze these. Thawing for 24 hours is a good idea and if you have a light safe, opening the canister will help reduce condensation problems.

In rolling the film, the biggest challenge is to determine where on the 116/616 backing paper to begin winding the film into the backing paper, since you are winding it backwards and that end of the film is untaped. I put a piece of hopefully chemically inert Scotch tape with a texture different from the paper on the outside of backing paper at the point where the film should end during its normal winding operation. That also is a tactile hint in total darkness that I am winding the paper correctly backwards. You can start winding the backing paper on to the empty spool in room light if you have a supply of empty spools and backing paper. If you are removing an exposed roll and loading fresh film in the same operation, knowing backend from frontend gets dicier. Once you have tucked the backend of the film strip into the spool you are rewinding, keep sandwiching the film and backing paper until you come to the frontend of the film, then tape it to the backing paper with precut strips of 2 1/2 inch long tape. I have put Scotch tape on the inside of the backing paper at the taping point to reinforce the paper, since this is a stress point and 116 backing paper was paper, not the plastic composite used today on rollfilm. Reseal the respooled roll with tape or some label material that allows you to record the emulsion you've loaded. Remember, that 116/616 backing paper is very dear, so use materials that don't damage it.

Sans Backing Paper. If no backing paper, here are a couple of ideas:

  • It might be possible to make backing paper, but I have not found a source of paper of the right composition and finish that is black on one side and a lighter color on the reverse.
  • Another idea would be to create what would in effect be 216 film, using only leader and trailer strips, in the fashion of current 220. Such an arrangement might work with 616 Kodak Monitors, which have a mechanical film counter that can be started effectively when frame 1 is reached. With some experimentation, an index mark could be established well ahead of the paper/film joint. This index mark, viewed through the ruby window would be a signal to advance the film a prescribed number of turns to reach frame 1. I would put a piece of black electrical or masking tape over the outside of the ruby window to avoid fogging should the window cover handle be bumped. The ruby window couldn't be permanently covered since it is needed to see the index mark. Hasselblad users will object to this strategy on the basis that the pressure plate is calibrated for thicker 120 rolls. Monitor owners will respond that Real Men don't worry about Pressure Plate Calibration!
  • 116/616 backing paper for this 216 arrangement could be made from existing 120 backing paper, which is 4mm narrower. Take the backing paper from two 120 rolls and split it so that the cut for each half is 2mm beyond the center line, as shown below by the red lines. Butt the cut edges together and join them with thin plastic tape. Woodworkers who work with wood veneer will recognize this technique which is used to splice thin strips of veneer for gluing to wider surfaces. Pinning the strips to a soft wood work surface keeps them in place while applying the tape. Since this joint will only be on the leader/follower strips, its added middle thickness will not cause a lens/film distance error. Since the part of the backing paper with the printed 120 frame numbers will be discarded, this widened 120 paper should work as well as 116/616 paper.

Tips and Links

  • Load respooled film into the camera in very subdued light to compensate for a less than perfect tension in the rerolled spool.
  • Save those 116/616 spools and backing paper judiciously. The spools are metal and will rust , so I keep 116/616 spools with my cameras, rather than in the darkroom.
  • As of May 2003, I am aware of only one source for spooled 116/616 film, Central Camera in Chicago. They have color print film for about $31/roll. B&H Photo in New York City and Film for Classics in New York no longer list these sizes.
  • As of 09-30-05, 70mm bulk rolls were still available from B&H, though they have now been moved to the Film |35mm | Long Roll (Bulk) Print category.


08/07/2008 17:38