Film Format and the “Full Frame”

Over the years I’ve had to opportunity to do my photography using both film and digital cameras. Occasionally the word “full frame” comes up which concept and size comes from the 35mm film camera and the frame it produced on film (36mmx24mm), which is in todays language the “full frame” sensor we speak about in 35mm digital photography.

With this in mind, I thought it would be great to show just how large this 35mm “full frame” is in comparison to the film I have used during my career as a photographer. You may have heard or even used a 4×5, which is the largest film I used while using Sinar F or Horseman 4×5 cameras. Also known as Large Format.

Another format using 120mm film is also known as Medium Format. This is a very versatile format using either a fixed camera which would be a larger version of the 35mm camera, or camera’s like the Hasselblad V or Mamiya RB 67, that have interchangeable film backs.

The most common formats using the 120mm film that has been used in commercial photography have been 6×7, 6×6 and 645 as seen below. Depending on which one you used will depend on how many frames you would get on one roll of film. A 6×7 would give you 10 frames, 6×6 would give you 12 frames and 645 would give you 15 frames per roll.

Some of these film backs were however made to fit onto a 4×5 camera and would give you a format of 6×12 as seen below.

The more famous 35mm film would come in three lengths, 12, 24 and 36 exposures and if you had a 12, that’s all you had, 12 photographs on one roll of film. That would be the same as shooting with a 6×6 medium format camera giving you 12 frames on one roll of film. Needless to say, 36 exposures on one roll was better that 12 when you have a lot to do. Some cameras like the Hasselblad XPan, would give the option of shooting a panorama by doubling the frame. This can be seen below along with the standard 35mm frame.

Film would be available as “negative” to use for prints and “positive” like the ones above, that need to be scanned, then digitized before retouching and going to print for magazines and advertising etc. Another use for “positive” film were slide shows where images are projected onto a screen or wall. Today however, we make use of programs like Keynote and PowerPoint and insert our digital photographs into these programs.

Photography has come a long way from film and continues to expand the digital horizon both in 35mm and medium format. The legacy of film has not lost its charm and many are using film for the first time, or out of nostalgia, or just because it is still one of the best ways to slow down the digital pace, think about the shot and create something beautiful in a non technological way.

Full frame 35mm digital photography has become the standard by which many photographers, be they professionals, students and amateurs live by. This is a format that will not be going away soon, but will continue to adapt itself whether as a DSLR or Mirrorless. Below are the different formats in perspective from 4×5 to 35mm. So next time you look at a 35mm camera, whether film or digital, remember the journey that has led to this powerful format.