A Short Story of Long-Roll 220 Medium Format Film
By David Gremp
Much like many of the products that Calumet was responsible for engineering and bringing to market during the 1950s and 60s, 220 film never became a household name. About the only people who knew what it was, or that it even existed (and why!) were professional photographers and those who worked behind the film counters of camera stores. Here’s the story behind one of the photo industry’s best-kept secrets.
Medium format, 120-roll-film cameras were extremely popular during the middle of the 20th century, and remained so with professionals for decades after that. Roll film was a lot more convenient to process than sheet film, and the cameras allowed for handheld exposures. This was also before 35mm really became popular in the mid-to-late 60s. However, the one disadvantage with medium format 120 film was its length. Because it required a paper backing to protect the film from light, a spool, or roll, could only hold 34″ of film, which produced 12 exposures on a 21/4″-square (6x6cm) format camera, and 10 exposures on a 21/4 x 23/4″ (6x7cm). What that meant for photographers who were shooting weddings and fashion was a lot of time spent loading and unloading film, and not shooting.
Calumet, being the industrious company that it was, decided to see if they could create a longer roll of film that would double the amount of film and exposures, and still fit onto the existing 120 spools and be developed with existing processing equipment with as little modification as possible.
An experiment began in 1964 by Calumet employee, H. Lynn Jones. He went into a darkroom with two rolls of 120 film, unrolled them from their spools, removed the paper backing and taped them together end-to-end. He then taped a short paper leader and trailer to each end and rolled it all back onto the spool. “Thereafter,” Jones says, “I carried it around the block in the hot Chicago summer sun, waving it about and giving it every opportunity to fog (or be exposed to even the slightest amount of light). Then the film was processed for twice the normal developing time and it showed no signs of fogging.”
The initial plan was to take the idea to Kodak and have them private label the long-roll film for Calumet, which had also developed a slide-in roll-film holder for 4×5″ view cameras that would take both120 and 220 films. The concept was such a hit with Kodak that they decided to produce 220 films under their name, and began production in 1966.
The new 220 long-roll films were a huge success with wedding, portrait, fashion and studio photographers until digital backs replaced film backs in the professional domain. Today, the only 220 films available through Calumet are Kodak Professional PORTRA 160 and 400, so we seem to be nearing the end of a long, and winding road.
Calumet C-2 Roll Film Holder
Calumet introduced the world’s first 120/220 roll film holder in 1966.
The C-2 holder featured a unique design that allowed it to be used in virtually
all 4×5″ view and field cameras, making it extremely popular among all types of