120 into 5×4 does go

Some time ago I bought a 120 roll film back made by Horseman which has a plate to mount the back to a 5×4 camera fitted with a Graflok back. The Graflok fitting has been the de-facto large format accessory mounting standard internationally for the past seventy years or more. My simple aim was to use 120 roll film with my Intrepid 5×4. My first roll was a disaster, I simply couldn’t get the film advance to work correctly, and try as I might I couldn’t get to grips with it. I had been able to load it correctly and that first test roll eventually became a sacrificial lamb as I struggled in vain. I decided to leave it for another day, but I was at least confident in actually loading the back so I loaded a roll of Fomapan 100 ready to try again in a day or so.

That was last October.

Yesterday afternoon, I came across the back, along with its cardboard template, in a cupboard and with time available decided to work it out once and for all. I reread the manual, not once but a few times, and after playing with the back noted what I’d been doing wrong. There’s a silver switch you move to the left to enable wind on. I’d been holding it to the left which was why the film was continually advancing as I stroked the wind on lever. It needed pushing to the left and immediately releasing! Bingo! And Doh!

The template sits on the ground glass of the 5×4 Intrepid to show the area of the scene covered by the 120 film (see example of the mask in use below)

Time to expose some film in earnest. I’d used my Zero Image 5×4 as the host camera whilst I experimented, and eventually solved, the problem yesterday and had ended up with six exposed frames (the back is 6×9 so I should have got eight.)

Zero Image 5×4 pinhole camera and 120 Fomapan 100
I just love pinhole sunlight scattering – flare? Fomapan 100

Encouraged, I developed the film to make sure all was well. It was – see examples above. So, I loaded a roll of Fomapan 400, collected the Intrepid 5×4, and exposed a couple of frames in the dining room with the 180mm lens fitted.

The next morning I took the Intrepid and the 90mm lens into the backyard and exposed the final six frames. Forty minutes later there is a roll of film hanging to dry with eight successful negatives.

Cracked it!

The 6×9 mask in place. I remove the mask for focusing.
This what happens if you don’t use the mask – that’s the full negative on the right. The view of the ground glass has been rotated for ease of comparison – it is usually upside down

The beauty of this is four-fold I think. Firstly, I can practice with the Intrepid without wasting more expensive sheets of film. Secondly, it gives me access to a much larger range of films to use in my 5×4 cameras. Thirdly, I can change film whilst out; as I finish a roll I can put another in and keep working. Finally (fourthly), I can also use this film back on both my Zero Image 5×4 pinhole and my Intrepid field camera meaning I can get both pinhole and lens-based images on one roll of film.

90mm Fomapan 400
90mm f16 1/4sec Fomapan 400

Despite the unintended crop I do like the image of the two wine bottles (one mine and one the Boss’s). It was an oversight to forget the mask but serendipity was on my side as I had photographed the ground glass with my phone so it was an opportunity to illustrate the value of the mask.

Backlit (window light) 180mm f16 with front tilt and 230mm extension.
3.5 minutes exposure allowing for reciprocity failure and bellows extension. Fomapan 400
Only here because I was pleased with my spot metering! Fomapan 400

So, there you have it. A 5×4 camera and a 120 roll of film. All the benefits of tilt etcetera and quality large format less with the convenience and economy of medium format roll film. Eight 5×4 sheets of Fomapan would set me back around £6 whilst a roll of 120 is around £3.50. But, cost isn’t the big factor her, film choice is. In particular colour film. I have stopped using colour film almost totally but with Autumn approaching I’m beginning to wonder what a few rolls of Ektar 100 would look like through this combination. I can send the exposed film to Peak Imaging for developing and if needs be scanning too – a tempting proposition.

8 thoughts on “120 into 5×4 does go”

    1. I have. It flops about. The back is considerably slimmer than a 5×4 film holder. Will try securing it with rubber bands and report back 👍

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! I was assuming it wouldn’t be a perfect fit but slimmer is good as it should be able to be wedged or rubber banded. 👍

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Dave,

    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve enjoyed having recently made your electronic acquaintance.

    First, it was listening to your engaging conversation with Andrew Bartram on the Lensless Podcast where your wide ranging photographic interests struck a chord. This was borne out as I looked at your photographs on Flickr where there are striking images of the world at your door step. As a “photographic butterfly” of similar vintage, I thought, “now here’s an interesting fellow who is on my wavelength”. Mind you, I did have second thoughts when I found myself on EBay bidding on Russian Horizon cameras into the wee hours.

    But when I looked at your blog I knew my original intuition was sound. Your recent post about the Nikkormat had me smiling in recognition but today’s post about 5×4 cameras and 120 film really hit home. I recently had a very similar experience. I’m new to large format and was trying to figure out a way to test a light leak issue in my new Crown Graphic that would not involve expensive sheet film tests. So I purchased a Graflex 6×7 rollback and as I tested the camera yesterday with a roll of 120 film I had to congratulate myself for now being able to take 10 test shots. I had taken a cursory look at the rollback manual and there was something about flicking a lever to the left as part of the film advance so I did that, or thought I did. But after making 13 exposures I knew that I had done something wrong. There were also some lapses in dark slide usage…I haven’t developed the roll yet so don’t know if I will have anything to show for my brilliance. The timing of your blog post was uncanny but also confirmatory. Even even if I botched things this time, it will be worth another go!

    Thanks for your engaging observations and images. I look forward to more.


    John Alton jdapb@rogers.com Toronto, Ontario


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morning John, thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to respond to my post. It was an unexpected but very welcome surprise when I awoke this morning. I’m glad it struck a chord. I’ve always imagined that there are probably very many of us in a similar situation and it’s great to hear from you. Good luck with developing the film … is there anywhere I can follow what you are up to online? I use Flickr for my 365 but my main place to socialise is Twitter @elland_in

      All the best for now and thank you again


  2. I have a 6×12 version of the Horseman back and made exactly the same mistake with the wind-on process. 6×12 is a useful format if you like panos but, like me, find 6×17 too wide. Unfortunately the 6×12 backs are now ridiculously expensive, so the user has to shoot an awful lot of 120 film before saving money compared to 5×4. As you say, wider film choice is a significant benefit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 6×17 would be a fabulous format for me … sadly my wallet disagrees massively! Thanks Kevin, really appreciate you taking the trouble to respond


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