The Utility of 120 Roll Film Holders for Large Format
Few products in photography look as amazing as large format transparency, whether it be 4×5 inches or even larger. Even large color or black and white negatives bring a sense of satisfaction not equaled in 35mm or digital photography. The problems plaguing film these days are amplified in the large formats. The number of emulsions in 4×5 are dwindling, and even larger formats like 8×10 and 11×14 are as rare as platinum and nearly as expensive.
An old standard slide film, Fujichrome Provia 100F (RDP III), is now running $3.60 per 4×5 inch sheet, and that is before processing, which, if you can find it, can cost you just as much. Bracketing exposure, which can be a good idea for transparencies and old shutters that may not be quite in tune, will add to the cost per image. As much as $40 an image with processing is quite possible. How can hobbyists keep the old large format cameras alive and shooting on a budget? Roll film adapter backs can reduce the costs of shooting these cameras while at the same time making them easier to use. By using a roll film holder, the price per exposure before processing now drops to $0.72 for 6×7 cm, $0.90 for 6×9, and $1.80 for 6×12.
Roll Film backs differ in their function. Most of them clamp onto the back of a large-format camera in place of the ground glass. Others slide between the ground glass like a regular but thicker sheet film holder. The most cumbersome and awkward to use are slider backs. These backs replace the 4×5 back and have their own ground glass to focus and compose on. When it is time to take the photo, the roll film holder slide over to make the exposure. Slider rollfilm backs are a good option in the studio but a poor choice for fieldwork because of the bulkiness and relative fragility.
Toyo Roll Film Holders 67 45 and 69 45
I have found the Toyo roll film holders to be well constructed, and easy to use. They came in two models whose designations are pretty self explanatory. The Toyo 67/45 takes 10 exposures of 6×7 cm on 120 rollfilm and fits 4×5 cameras. The Toyo 69/45 takes 8 exposures of 6x9cm format on 120 rollfilm and fits 4×5 cameras. Film advance with these is accomplished by two cranks of a lever like that of a manual 35mm SLR. There is no lining up of numbers through a red window like on the new made Chinese rollfilm adapters.
The Toyo rollfilm backs can attach to the camera in two ways. The first is pretty much the standard with roll film backs. You focus the camera using the ground glass, lock everything down tightly, remove the graflock back, replace it with the roll film holder, and take the picture. Every time you recompose, or move on to a new subject the process must be repeated. However, if you have a camera with an accurate rangefinder the film back can just be left on the camera full time.
The major drawback in using holders by replacing the ground glass is that you now have a free-roaming piece of glass to keep track of. It is easy enough to fumble and drop it on the ground. The best that will happen is it will get dirty, and the worst it gets broken. A broken ground glass can be a real pain. Not only will you have to buy another one, but it will also ideally have be installed by a technician to calibrate it. Many do-it-yourselfers are quite capable of replacement, but not me. Anyway sending a camera in for service increases both cost and downtime.
The second way to attach the roll film back is to simply insert it between the ground glass and the camera, just like you would use a sheet film holder. This is the most convenient way to use the film holder. There are a few other manufacturers that made similar holders. The Toyo is thicker than the others which means it does not have to force the film to take such a tight turn. Likely this aids in keeping the film flatter, but I have not seen any tests and have not conducted any myself. The extra thickness makes it incompatible with some cameras, such as my Linhof Technicha V. I think I could force it with a hammer, but there is no way I am about to do that. The option of being able to use the holder in place of the ground glass means I can still use it on the Linhof, while I can use it like a sheet film holder on my Pacemaker Speed Graphic.
If you’re looking for a roll film holder either of the Toyo’s would be my top choice. On the used market, they are both affordable and usually still in good shape. The backs are among the easiest to use as well.