35mm Film in a Medium Format Camera

Recently I’ve been posting a few images shot on 35mm film in a medium format camera, and as well as people being really supportive, a few folks have enquired about how I do it. Even though there are some articles online that speak about this process, I thought I’d produce an article that encapsulates everything I’ve found, and share what I’ve learned from my many mistakes.

First of all, what am I on about? A medium format camera is designed for 120 film, but it is possible to put 35mm film into some medium format cameras. Doing this allows you to create some unique panoramic shots, with your exposure reaching the edges of the film, showing the sprocket holes too. Here are a few examples:

They’re pretty cool, right? Even though you might think that this is straight forward, there’s actually a few things you’ll need to know before attempting this yourself.

First of all, you will need:

  • a medium format camera - I’ll be using a Mamiya RB67 Pro S.

  • 35mm film - any should work, but I’ll be using some old Ilford XP2.

  • 35mm to 120 adapter - you can make your own, but the 3D printed ones online are quite affordable. I purchased these ones.

  • an empty 120 take-up spool - you should pretty much always have one of these in the camera anyway.

  • paper, scissors and tape - this is just to make a film leader so you’re not wasting film. You don’t need this, but why wouldn’t you?

  • a changing bag/darkroom - this is just for unloading the film once you’ve shot it.

  • scanner/DSLR - you don’t necessarily need anything special for this, but your lab might not be able to scan them for you.

I’ll be talking about my experiences, and even though I only have experience with Mamiya RB67, I gather a lot of this information will be transferable to other cameras.

First of all, we’ll begin by prepping the film. You’ll need to cut a length of paper that has the width of the 35mm film you’re using. Then you’ll need to tape it to the leader on your 35mm film. I’d recommend taping both sides. After that’s secured, then you’ll need to pop your canister into the adapters - it’s clear which adapter goes on which end.

Then we’re ready to load the film. There’s only a few things you need to consider. First, make sure it’s in properly. It fits just like a 120 roll, so it’s tough to do this part wrong, but I’ve done it before… Don’t judge me. Secondly, make sure film appears centred. This should happen naturally, but just make sure. Thirdly, make sure it is properly taken up by the empty 120 film spool. You can us tape if you need to, but it should be fine if you use a paper leader. Finally, I’d recommend testing that the film advances. As you’re using smaller film than 120, the film doesn’t actually make contact with the mechanism that advances the film counter. This means that besides feeling it, you can’t tell if the film is actually advancing once in the film back. Once you’ve done all of this, close the back up as usual, and attach it to the camera body.

Next, it’s all about shooting! There’s only a few things to note in this section. Perhaps the most important part of this whole thing is that your film back has to be switched to multiple exposures. This small detail plagued me for ages - the camera will not fire if this switch isn’t flicked. This is due to the mechanism I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The next consideration whilst shooting is that you need to be aware of when you’re advancing the film. As the frame counter is not recording this, it’s your responsibilty to keep track. If not, you’ll do accidental double exposures, or waste film. Then make sure you’re enjoying the format. The whole point of doing this is to experiment, to capitalise on the panoramas, to shoot images you’ve only wished of doing, and so much more. Don’t be boring - try being creative with this opportunity. The last consideration when shooting: be aware that the viewfinder doesn’t know you’re shooting a different format, so you’ll have to estimate what will be included in the frame.

Once you have completed your shooting, it’s important not to unload the film as you usually would with 120 film. This is because the 35mm film is exposed on the take-up spool. You’ll need to take your film back, and put it into a changing bag, or into a dark room. Once you’re comfortable that it is not subject to light, you can either retreat the film back into the canister, or load it into your developing tank.

Developing is then carried out as normal. As for having a lab process your film, I’d assume they can carry this out as usual, but I have no experience in this department sorry. I assuming the developing would be the same, but you might have to ask them about manually cutting the negatives. I’d recommend asking them about it before you have them process the film.

Scanning - this part isn’t as straight forward as you’d perhaps think. This really depends on how you scan your film. If you’re using a DSLR to ‘scan’ your film, your process should be the same, just shooting a little wider to include more negative in the frame. I personally use an Epson V550. I suspend the 35mm negatives in the 120 film holders so that I can scan the whole negative. It’s not always straight, but as long as the film is taut, I can correct the orientation in Adobe Photoshop.

Once you’ve done that, you should all be done! That’s everything I could think of anyway… If you think I’ve missed something, or you’d like to ask me anything, then simply contact me via Instagram here. Also, make sure you use the #YOUREXHIBITION hashtag so I can see you attempting this too. I look forward to seeing your images.

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