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Film Friday: 120 versus 35mm


May 31, 2019

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Film Friday: 120mm Versus 35mm Film

Before we dive into our comparison of 120 versus 35mm film, I want to give a little background on my transition into film. I know a lot of photographers that started their journey into photography with film. Then, they transitioned their talents to the digital world and digital cameras. Me? I’m of the generation that did that backwards. I started on a digital camera….and now here I am trying to figure out how to bring film back.

When I first started thinking about diving into the world of film, I just wanted to dip my toes. No real commitment here, just trying things out. So of course I sought out the cheapest solution. I bought the cheapest Nikon film camera, which allowed me to use the Nikon lenses I already had, and use the cheapest kind of film: 35mm.

And, of course, the inevitable happened: I fell in love. Switching to using more film has not been without its ups and downs. Extra costs (purchasing the film, shipping the film, scanning the film), extra stress, brand new learning curve. Trying to figure out how to edit now that I’m incorporating an entirely new medium into my workflow. But the more I used my little Nikon F100, the more I started to get frustrated with its limitations – things like inaccurate focusing, but also my film images just weren’t looking as dreamy as others’ I’d seen.

I thought perhaps it was my camera, but it turns out that wasn’t exactly correct. More important than my camera body was the TYPE of film I was using. Learning how to shoot film AT ALL had been intimidating, but now I knew I needed to dive deeper into the realm of film. I started asking friends and reading blogs and discovered that I needed to get some 120 film in my hands asap!

Pros and Cons of both 120 vs 35mm

So what’s the difference between 35mm film and 120mm film then? Well, the answer lies in their name! 35mm film is much SMALLER than 120mm film. This means it is more portable, but it also means it has less space for details and resolution. This is one reason why my 35mm images weren’t looking the way I wanted them to! However, shooting in 120mm film does add its own unique challenges. Because it is a larger film, this means each roll contains only 16 shots instead of the 36 shots on a 35mm film. You know what that means – yep, it’s way more expensive to shoot 120mm. You have to purchase more rolls to shoot the same amount of frames. Plus, the rolls themselves are larger and now you have to carry more of them! So it’s also more cumbersome to add 120mm to your stock.

To see a great visual of the size differences, check out this post.

I decided to rent a camera capable of shooting 120 film since my Nikon F100 is meant for 35mm film. I rented the Contax, and I did a few side by side comparisons. Then, because I can’t quite afford the hefty cost of purchasing a Contax just yet, I found a good deal on a Pentax 645n. So far I have been really happy with my decision.

I still shoot 35mm, but now I also shoot 120. So now, this means I have gone from shooting on one digital camera and only needing to bring a few extra memory cards with me, to shooting with THREE camera bodies. My camera gear on a wedding day has increased exponentially. Three camera bodies, up to 6 different film stocks (various 35mm and 120), different lenses (some for my Pentax, some for my Nikon), film backs, and needing storage for my used rolls of film. It’s a little….complicated.

Contax Comparisons

I absolutely could not believe my eyes when I saw the difference between the two images below. This is THE photo that convinced me that I absolutely needed to commit to shooting 120 film if I was going to continue to shoot film. I could no longer rely solely on 35mm.

120 on the left, 35 mm on the right

120mm film versus 35mm film 120mm film versus 35mm film 120mm film versus 35mm film

Look at the differences between the whites in the photos below! So much more pure in the 120 (left).

120mm film versus 35mm film 120mm film versus 35mm film 120mm film versus 35mm film


Pentax 645n Comparisons

Here is a recent experiment I did after purchasing my Pentax 645n. Again, 120 film is on the left, 35mm is on the right. These are straight scans, no additional edits are done to them. They are both shot on Fuji 400.

120mm film versus 35mm film

Can you see the inherit differences in contrast? The 35 (right) looks so much more flat than the 120 (left)

120mm film versus 35mm film 120mm film versus 35mm film


Can you see the difference? Can you see why I decide to commit and purchased a camera that would enable me to shoot 120? If you shoot film, what film stock do YOU love?

For more film comparisons check out these Film Friday Posts:

Editing Film to Match Digitals: Kindred Vs Noble Presets

Film vs Digital: Sarah + Sam

Film vs Digital: Spring Minis


120mm film versus 35mm film



  1. These are incredible photos and you can clearly see a difference in the tonality of both formats. I will say, as a correction, there is no such format as 120mm. It is just 120, a designation of the type of format and nothing more, much like 135 is for 35mm film. 120 film can be had in 6×45, 6×6, 6×7, 6×8, 6×9 and up to 6×17 all measured in millimeters.

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I'm Meghan and I'm so glad you're here! My blog is where you'll find advice on planning your wedding, tips on what to wear to a session, and of course, my beautiful clients!

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