In 1931, Kodak introduced a new film size--620. This was not actually a new film size, but rather a redesign of the spool used for 120 size film. Before you accuse Kodak of the proprietary shenanigans practiced by contemporary software manufacturers, let's consider some of the issues. The 620 spool is more compact. It has a smaller spindle and thinner and smaller flanges; thus the overall size of a spool of 620 film is smaller. When Kodak developed its roll film formats, wooden spools were used, but these were later replaced by stronger metal spools that could be smaller. This allowed Kodak to make somewhat thinner cameras and minimize the size of the film spool chambers. Coming at about the same time as 828 film--unsprocked 35mm film in 8 exposure lengths spooled on what amount to mini 620 spools--it is possible to see the introduction of 620 as a design trend in film packaging. That said, did the redesign significantly benefit the film-buying public? Probably not. The smaller spindle size probably increased film curl somewhat and introduced a complexity for retailers and camera users.

Virtually all U.S. and German Kodak cameras that used 2 1/2 inch wide film used 620. If you want to shoot with these cameras now you have three choices:

  • Have your camera body modified to take 120 film: expensive (~ $250) if you have it done professionally and may be beyond the skills of all but machinists. It is also uneconomic for all but the most expensive models.
  • Reduce the size of the 120 spool: if you are careful to blow away debris, does not expose the film to dust or handling problems; it is covered in the Tips and Links section.
  • Respool 120 film onto 620 spools: buy respooled film or do it yourself.

Spooling Principles. The backing paper's size and the ruby-window numbering for 120 is the same as for 620. If after reading this procedure, you think it is beyond you and/or your resources, you can buy 620 film for $8-10/roll. Contemporary 120 film, in all its emulsive variety, is relatively easy to respool onto 620 spools in a darkroom or changing bag. Here is a sketch of the film configuration of rollfilm.

The goal is to get the 120 film and its backing paper tightly wound onto the 620 spool, which involves a double winding operation.

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 620 spools have two unequal spindle slots. Backing paper should be threaded first though the longer of the slots. You will need a piece of masking or Scotch tape 2 1/4 inches 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.

Respooling. First wind the film into its exposed configuration, which is most easily done in a 120 camera that has no mechanical shutter wind/film indexing linkage, just the ruby window in the camera back. The tape shown in red above is there to keep the film properly registered to the backing paper and to get the film winding operation off to a good start. Once on the exposed 120 spool, reroll the film by hand in a darkroom onto an empty 620 spool, making sure to save the 'Exposed' label. Keep the spools close to each other and keep the film and paper tightly wound onto the 620 spool during the entire rewinding operation. I cup both rolls in one hand and turn the 620 spool with the other until I feel the free end of the film, then lay both spools on a clean flat surface and tuck the film's free end in where the paper of the 620 roll meets the 620 reel. Making sure that the film and paper are now flat against each other, I begin winding the two reels again as previously described.

.......... Avoid the Dreaded Backing Buckle..

It is nearly impossible to keep the registration perfect during this operation and you will find that when you come to the factory taped point, the film has moved slightly forward or backward in relation to the backing paper. If you are careful to keep the rewinding tightly controlled on the 620 spool, this difference will not be enough to cause problems in the image placement when you shoot the roll, but it does cause a buckle in the backing paper or the film and that can cause light leaks at the flanges. The workaround is to carefully remove the existing tape from the backing paper and the film and replace it with fresh tape about 2 1/4 inches long that you have prepared before you turned the lights out. Masking tape works well, but you can also you cellophane tape. Modern backing paper is either plastic or plasticized paper and is very tough, so you won't damage it when you remove the existing tape. Reseal the respooled roll with the original film type label or tape.

I do a dozen rolls at a time and hit my stride after about the second roll. This reduces my reroll time to only a couple of minutes per roll.

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 620 spools judiciously. They are metal and will rust and no developer formula I know requires iron oxide, so I keep 620 spools with my cameras, rather than in the darkroom
  • Glenn Stewart has an illustrated page describing respooling which you may find useful if you are having trouble visualizing my description.
  • You can buy 620 film from Central Camera in Chicago, B&H Photo in New York City or Film for Classics in New York. 2002 prices average $8-16 based on emulsion and seller.
  • Discussion of 120 film emulsions and availability
  • Photography on Bald Mountain can convert Medalists and other cameras for 120 film.
  • Conversion for 120 use tends to be unique to camera design. Where Kodak exploited the smaller spool diameter to make thin bodies, there is often not enough room in the film cavities for 120 spools. In other designs, this is easier, particularly where there are supplementary baskets for the film; Rick Oleson describes such a design for a Kodak Monitor. Be alert to suggested changes that may remove film rollers, which are the more effective ways of keeping film flat during exposure.
  • Doug Wilcox offers six different strategies for dealing with the need for 620 film:
    1. Some cameras have sufficient space in their supply side chamber to accommodate 120 supply reels.
    2. Some 120 reels can be trimmed with scissors or nail clippers to fit in the supply side chamber.
    3. Some chambers are so thick that 120 spools will fit only by removing one entire end of the spool.
    4. When no modification of the 120 spool is possible, the 120 film must be respooled on 620 spools.
    5. If you have a camera, like the Foldex, that will accept both 120 and 620, you may be able to respool 620 from 120 by two winding passes through that camera. Doug reports that the untaped film end is reported to not cause a problem. Others have tried Brownies with varying results.
    6. Buy 620 film from a retail store specializing the out-of-production sizes.

Testing of Strategies

Since Doug's strategy list is the most organized I've come across in discussion lists, I have adopted it for reporting my experience with different Kodak cameras.



  Kodak Tourist I and II Fixed pin in bottom; retractable pin on top Edge trimmed (2) roll is too tall to fit; only end-removal (3) would work.
  Kodak Reflex II No pins, bale retains supply roll Edge trimmed (2) rolls will fit, but edges must be smooth and round for roll to rotate.
  Kodak Regent (Kodak Stuttgart) Top pin is fixed; bottom pin is mounted on ball joint. Edge trimmed (2) roll is too tall to fit; only end-removal (3) would work.
  Kodak Medalist II No pins, bale retains supply roll; tight fit Edge trimmed (2) rolls will fit, but edges must be smooth and round for roll to rotate.
  Vollenda 620 (Kodak Stuttgart) Fixed pin in bottom; spring-loaded pin in top Edge trimmed (2) rolls will fit and rotate with no problems

Uses either 620 or unmodified 120 rolls.
-- Colm McCarthy

  Duoflex   | Colm McCarthy reports these will both
| work with edge-trimmed rolls

Testing Conclusions

  • Obviously strategies 4, 5 and 6 will work with any 620 camera. Finding a Foldex or other 120/620 model is the slickest solution. Buying already rolled film is the most expensive (about $8-16/roll), but arguably the most convenient. Rerolling your own is the cheapest ($2-4/roll), and with practice, is probably nearly as fast as the Foldex method, but it requires a darkroom or changing bag and a supply of 620 spools.
  • Trimming 120 rolls with scissors leaves flange edges that have flat spots and didn't work well in the cameras with bales. Nail clippers seem to do a somewhat neater job if you find a clipper whose cutting arc is close to the shape of the rolls.
  • I don't have any less expensive Kodak 620 cameras to test with, but I recall some with pins mounted on flat springs. These may be less sensitive to spool length and oblivious to ragged edges.
  • Completely removing one spool end seems like an extreme solution and difficult to do without damaging the film and/or introducing debris. Rerolling in this case seems distinctly preferable.
  • Certain sensibilities will be offended by introducing into their pristine Kodaks, rolls that look like ragged fingernails. This may be an issue they should take up with their analysts.
  • Since I have cameras where no single trimming strategy will work, respooling will provide film I can use in any of my cameras. Your needs may differ.

Related Topics


12/09/2007 17:38