Image Sizes From Way Back To APS

By ralph

It must have been 3 or 4 years ago when I asked for a roll of 120 film in a small, suburban camera store that the clerk looked dumfounded and asked, “what's 120”. That surely was the last straw. Okay I can live without film sizes like 117, 122, 123 and 118 which came and went before I took my first box camera shot, even though some of those old sizes did neat things like shoot 4x5 on roll film (and the old postcard size was even larger).

But since then I have watched as ever more neat sizes of film petered out and died. There was 828 - bantam which I shot as kodachrome for several years. It was really an advanced 35mm that put a larger 28x40 mm image on 35mm film by eliminating most sprocket holes. Unfortunately it was daintified by being put out as tiny 8 shot rolls at twice the per frame cost as 35mm. No wonder it died -it was stabbed in the back. Another dainty was 127 which was intended for tiny, pocket size folding Kodak's (some painted pink). This size almost made it big when the square format version became adopted as the "superslide”, measuring about 38mm square. Some serious cameras such as the jewel like 'Baby Rollies' were made in that size (called "4x4') so it 's a heartbreak that they are now consigned to museum shelves. While 120 has been around forever Kodak brought out slimmed down 620 in the 30's (same amount of film on a slimmer spool) and put a big push behind it with many new camera designs. For a while it was my "main film' as I cranked out piles of 6x9cm images with a Medalist and a folding Kodak Monitor. This size petered out slowly with various types dropping out year by year till only kodacolor 200 was supplied, and that disappeared in the last 3 to 5 years.

Then there was the series of ever smaller sizes like the hugely popular 126/instamatic which was a hit due to its easy loading, (can anyone find this film any more?) and the ill conceived disc camera - just too small for any serious quality. Ditto for the tiny 110, a sort of mini instamatic . Again some nifty cameras were made for 110 including a Minolta Zoom SLR and a Pentax SLR with incredibly tiny lenses, (well maybe this size is still being supplied).

These market duds can easily fuel suspicion that the manufacturers were motivated far more by a desire to cause obsolescence and replacement with new equipment and, especially in the case of Kodak, a strategy of simply selling less film for more money. This leads up to APS, the new format/system that is so widely promoted. True, a lot of small, amazing new cameras have appeared and some of the new features are appealing, but others are more dubious. Again we are offered less film for more money. Many of the advertised features, like mid roll rewind with auto-return to the same frame on reloading, are simply not there at the lower price level. Another feature, storing the film back in its can (cassette/whatever) really fills me with horror. This is only for the convenience of labs since it's likely to lead to more wear and scratching and 'core set' (permanent curling) in the long run. Also this form of storage is far bulkier than flat film in sleeves and makes frame by frame identification difficult. Also how many home users will have the specialized equipment the labs use to unspool the negatives?

I'm also unhappy about the frame formats offered. Most pros, amateurs, editors, etc. have carped for years that the 2x3 proportions of the 35mm frame are too long and narrow for most uses and they dreamed of an improved format which would be wider. So along comes APS where the widest format is 2x3 and the rest are more elongated. The panoramic format (the longest) sounds interesting until you learn that the image is no wider --the print lab is merely instructed to print a narrow strip in the middle of the

negative which could have been done with any camera since the Postcard Kodak.

uld an improved format be from a real users point of view? Well they could slim down or eliminate the sprocket holes which waste 11 mm out of 35mm's width and open up to a 30x40mm frame whose nearly ideal 3x4 proportion would give 72% more area and only use 11% more film. Or, and here's a real sleeper for people who want a really tiny camera, how about the so-called half-frame format (really a single frame in the sense of its original use as 35mm movie film). It is more practical than ever now that films are so fine and sharp. There have been some nice cameras made in this size like the elegant Olympus Pen and Pen FT reflexes (which still sell for high prices), and the Konica A-mini series which looked like current APS cameras. Imagine a 24-exposure roll giving you 48 shots or a cheap 12 giving you 24 shots. Frankly the filmmakers must be scared to death of this format and would love to bury it. Best of all, the frame measures 18x24mm, an ideal 3x4 proportion and that width is actually 2mm wider than an APS frame - at 1/3 to 1/4 the cost - though it's a bit shorter.

Try this for another dream scenario. A 'half frame" camera on sprocketless 35mm film shooting 24x32mm vertical frames, again in ideal 3x4 proportion, yielding 50% more frames on the same length of film. 36 exposures now become 54 and the images would be very close to the present size (Another nightmare scenario for Kodak and Fuji).

Unfortunatly you’ll never see either format while the market is driven by a cabal of top manufacturers eager to sell new toys and less film for more money.