Recently, my brother-in-law gave me an old camera – a lovely Kodak Six-20 Bull’s Eye. It is, however, a camera that is built for 620 film. As much as I love obscure film, 620 film was discontinued nearly 20 years ago… so what’s a camera lover to do?
I turned to the internet of course! I found a few places online that sell 620 film, but it was a bit too expensive for my liking…
I found an online tutorial on how to re-spool 120 film onto a 620 spool, but this seemed like an effort-intensive and risky option – you need to have a spare 620 spool in order to do it, and re-spooling requires some pretty careful manoeuvring of the film in the complete dark, all without touching the film. I’m not the most dextrous person, so I wasn’t too keen on that idea…
But the reason you can re-spool 120 film onto a 620 spool is that the actual film is the same, in both length and width! The only difference between 120 film and 620 film is the spools that the film is on – 120 spools are slightly longer, and slightly wider than 620 spools. So instead of re-spooling an entire roll of film, I thought that it might be a lot easier to modify the spool on a 120 roll of film.
Being a long time Diana F+ user, I have plenty of 120 film chilling in the fridge, so I grabbed a spare roll and got started!
So, what do you need?
- a roll of unexposed 120 film on a plastic spool
- a metal file, or coarse sandpaper
- small, sharp scissors (nail scissors are perfect)
- newspaper or something similar to protect your work space
- about half an hour of spare time
It helps if you have a 620 spool (your old camera might have a blank take-up spool still left in it!), just to give you have something to compare your modified 120 spool with, but it’s not critical.
Start by putting down newspaper (or something similar) to protect your work surface – filing down the plastic creates a lot of really fine plastic dust, and it can get pretty dusty and messy!
Take your roll of 120 film, and starting on the flat end of the spool, just start filing! I prefer using a metal file, because I feel like I have a bit more control about the pressure and direction of my filing, but course sandpaper will work fine too.
Once this flat end has been thinned out enough, take the nail scissors and trim around the edges of the spool. You can use your file or sandpaper on the edges, but I’m lazy and nail scissors are easier! I believe that some 620 cameras like the Brownie Hawkeye won’t require this step, as they can accommodate wider spools, but most will.
Then turn the film over, and file and trim the other end of the spool! It only takes me about half an hour to finish modifying a roll of 120 film – but I also take a few short breaks to give my arm a rest!
Once you think the edges have been filed down enough, take the roll to the nearest sink or outside, and blow and brush away any of the plastic dust that is still clinging to the film. Try to get as much of the dust off your roll – you don’t want any dust getting in the way of your photos (or maybe you do – it might create some interesting effects…)
Before you pack everything away, pop the modified film into your camera, and check that it turns freely and smoothly – you really don’t want to get two or three shots into your roll before you realise you haven’t filed the roll down far enough and it’s really too stiff to keep turning at all (…and yes, I speak from experience!).
You will probably need to have two 620-sized spools for your camera – one with the roll of unexposed film on it, and another empty one to use as your take-up spool. I was lucky enough to have the original 620 take-up spool still in my Kodak Six-20 Bull’s Eye, but if there isn’t a take-up spool still in your camera, there are a few things you can do! You can ask your local photolab if they have any spare 620 spools that you might be able to purchase (or have, if they’re really kind!), eBay usually has some up for auction, or you can keep the spool from a roll of 120 film that you’ve already used, and modify that empty spool!
Time to take your camera and start shooting! Have you come across a camera that uses film you can’t easily source? What did you do?