Roll Film Backs, Format Faves


Roll Film Back for the Graflock system

Roll Film Back for the Graflok system

What is my most versatile film camera, well it’s my trusty old 4×5 Gowland Pocket View camera, with a few Medium Format Roll Film backs of various format choices, I can meet any requirement I have. From 6 x 7 cm to 6 x 12 cm (which is half of a 4″x 5″ negative).  I also enjoy the fact that I can use such a wide variety of lenses with this system and yeah the scanned negs are great.  I will be the first to admit, this system does have its caveats.  Firstly it is slow, awkward and heavy.   You wont knock out two or three hundred shots on an outing . . . it is by its nature a slow and contemplating process that makes one think the shot through.

3 main components of a roll film back

3 main components of a roll film back

Lets look at the components of a roll film back.  There are usually 3 pieces for a 4 x 5 camera, 1) base plate; mine are Graflok universal mount which is a combination of film guide and hinged back, 2) next is the film cartridge/advance mechanism; this holds the film spools and has roller guides and pressure plate, 3) lastly is the Dark slide; a component that blocks light from the film and allows the removal and changing of one roll film back with another or for re-focusing the camera via the view screen.

Looking at the photo below you can see the size of the exposed area you will get, (left to right) 6 shots with the 6×12, 8 shots with the 6×9 and 10 shots with the 6×7 back.

the camera side of the film backs showing the size of the formats

6×12, 6×9, 6×7 roll film backs

Next is the cartridge or insert, I will not go into loading the film here as there are plenty of guides online if you want to learn how to load a roll film back.  I use the old Graflok backs in 6×7 and Horseman in 6×7,6×9,6×12 . . . . a quick check on google will have someone showing you how in a video format.

cartridge or insert

cartridge or insert

Note: some film backs are only designed for using 120 and not 220 roll film, make sure before you waste money and film because the back may jam or you might suffer light leaks using the wrong film (220 film the backing paper does not run the full length of the film and if you have that little red window on your back you will fog your film).

Here is a quick run down on how I use the film backs.   I check & clean all the backs I intend to use that day, then load the film.  I also put a fresh marker in the back tab holder indicating film type.  Then they are placed in separate Tupperware boxes.  I will load all that in an old Styrofoam chest in the summer time to prevent them from roasting in the car and only take them out when needed.

When I get to my location I will setup the camera much the same as when shooting full 4×5, the exception is I have a separate focusing screen for use with these formats (it has been marked off with format marks for composing the shot).  1) I focus & compose the shot, 2) remove the focus screen when I am satisfied with composition, 3) install roll film back, 4) setup the camera to take the shot, meter light,  set f/stop – shutter speed, cock lens, close iris, pull dark slide, 5) make the exposure

screen latch, press to remove screen after composing shot

screen latch, press to remove screen after composing shot

pulling focus screen

pulling focus screen

installed roll film back ready for shot

installed roll film back ready for shot

I have not been totally clear here, as there are more steps, such as locking the back in place. Each system other then the Graflok system are unique. I use the Graflok backs because they have been around for a long time and are well vetted.  I can find this system and its components both in new and used condition so it makes it easy to play without grand expenditures.  There are many backs and adapters that fit the Graflok back system.

Lastly my most versatile cameras I own.  I can shoot 4×5 film, 120/220 roll film, and various digital backs and camera bodies with appropriate adapters.

My Gowland 4x5 pocket view

My Gowland 4×5 pocket view

The Gowland 4×5 pocket view camera is a very interesting camera with a very interesting history.  I spoke with Peter Gowland (the designer of this camera) a few years before his death, he was a very gracious man.  I was sad when he passed away.

I will upload a few scans from this system, but I will have to dig up my archives to that.

Sample photo using the 6×12 back & Velvia

Mural, Exeter, Ca. using Roll Film 6x12 & Velvia

Mural, Exeter, Ca. using Roll Film 6×12 & Velvia

My favorite Mural located in the City of Exeter, Ca. Rocky Hill Gardian Artist: Steven Ball-Springville, CA Location: Corner of Maple & E Streets on the west wall of California Temperature Controls, 200 East Maple (2008). A local mountain lion guards the entrance to a cave on Rocky Hill. Notice the images on the cave wall reminiscent of Indian petroglyphs. Look for 2 lizards and 6 flies. I took this with my Gowland 4×5 Pocket View and a Nikkor 120 AM lens using my 6×12 roll film back and fuji Velvia Film.

Go have some fun, shoot a roll of film, and by the way, it doesn’t have to be a 4×5 with a roll film back, I bet you can get a used 35mm film camera for less the $20 at a garage sale somewhere.  Learn how photography was done when you had to think about it and not just snag a digital selfie with your cellphone.





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