6.01.2016

The World's Longest Roll of 127 Film

There are times in one's life when seemingly small gestures result in meaningful changes to one's routine that were neither expected nor intended.  For me, it all started with a roll of film.

This was not just any roll of film, but a gift of sorts: an ordinary roll of long-expired 220 Kodak Tri-X shared with me as part of a film windfall by Mike Eckman.  And this was a roll, that when I got it, I had no idea what I would ever do with it, given that I didn't have a 220 camera in which to use it.

But Mike had a few rolls of this film too, and also had no official 220 camera in which to load it, yet he had an interesting idea that made perfect sense, essentially to load the 220 film (which lacks any backing like 120) into a 620 camera with an automatically measured advance (lacking the need to peer through a red window to scroll to the next frame) and reset the counter halfway through to make use of the full roll.

I had considered doing something similar in the Yashica 12 or Seagull since they had similar arrangements, but before I ever had the chance to do so, I began getting into the 127 format, and found a lot of interest with the Revere Eye-Matic which also sported a similar  measured film advance and no porthole window to fog film that lacked backing.  And then an idea began to surface, namely to cut down this 220 roll of film to a REALLY long roll of 127 film.  If I was able to do this successfully, I figured I could ferret out 36 shots in 4x4 format from this one roll of 127 film, three time the yield of a standard 127 roll.  Thus, I badged my odd creation as the "World's first roll of 327 film!"

I loaded the Revere in the dark and began my shooting adventure on Easter Sunday of 2016, continuing in the week or so afterward, picking up roadside shots along the old National Road in Maryland, in Downtown Washington DC, and as well as near the Monocacy National Battlefield, giving the Revere a great chance to strut its oft overlooked stuff.  Once I had run the full length of the roll, I quickly sealed up the exposed roll in a light-tight canister and sent it off along with a few others to my favorite lab to give them "the honor" of developing this groundbreaking roll of film.  

But here's where that "meaningful changes" part comes into play.  A few days later, I got an email from the lab asking for some guidance. They had tried several times to load my special roll of 127 onto the reels with no success.  It seems that when I cut it, I slit the film too narrow to fit into the preset reels.  They could send it to a dip and dunk lab or send it back. After a little bit of thought, I chose the latter.  This was just the impetus I needed to perform an even more meaningful experiment: developing my own black and white film.

I'd done some degree of film developing 25 years ago, but most of my darkroom experiments were largely more geared towards printing.  Still, I recalled the general work flow of film developing and thought I could handle it.  But I would need a few things to get this experiment underway.

I decided that a bottle of New 55's R5 Monobath would make the ideal gateway back into the world of the darkroom.  I combined this with a second hand VR developing tank with an adjustable reel (that I could squeeze down to a width a bit narrower than 127) as well as a few other items such as clips, thermometer, and some mixing containers.  It was now time to get off the ground and give it a try.

Loading the film reels was a royal pain, and I eventually had to concede and split the super long roll of 127 in two.  Thus, my hope of a really long roll of 36 continuous 127 exposures as a cover shot for this article was dashed.  The good news is that the experiment worked...well mostly.  The film didn't always sit on the reel right, and I was very rusty about loading it.  As such, some of the film came into contact with adjacent film in the reel, keeping it from developing properly.  Then there is the matter of the exposures themselves.

The Revere seems to be an interesting beast - sometimes it takes flawless photos, and sometimes, it just doesn't seem to have the proper registration.  Add in a film that lacks a paper backing, and things just get a little, well weird.  Just how you may ask.  Tour the results of this loooooong roll of 127 yourself, and you shall see!


The super long roll of negatives was supposed to be the cover shot for this article, but since the roll was split before developing, that never happened.  Instead, I present the first exposure of this roll of "327" film.


A shot of Rose Hill Manor near Frederick on a rainy day provides some of my first tests for the "327" film.  It starts out OK, but there is troublesome tendency of the Revere to distort some of the focus due to what I presume is focal plane misalignment. 

And then it just gets worse.  The gravesite of Francis Scott Key in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick shows decent sharpness on the bottom of the frame but complete blur along the top.

And then it seemed that the film settled into a distorted path that it would follow for much of its path through the camera.  I don't know if this was due to the lack of backing paper or if a snippet of film detached to cause this, but the results more or less are prevalent for much of the roll.  This is the burial monument of a relative of mine. 

Some of the images taken on a ghostly tone, which would be great if I had predicted this.  I thought I was focusing on the tractor - the real wheels came out sharp, but the parts around the center and right came out looking drunk.

Old cabins along the National Road in Howard County, MD.  

The decent focus on the barn at right creates a miniature effect in this shot. 

And then suddenly, the camera cooperated again.  A National Road milestone marker, in the prime area of non-focus for the previous exposures, sits sharply focused in this image.


And then its back to business as usual.  Just odd. 

I told you I was rusty at loading film reels.  The spot across the top border was where the film made contact with the film in the next groove.  

A lucky catch given the degree of distortion across the left side of the frame.  I only wish the subjects walking were closer. 

Again, I happened upon a subject on the right side of the frame, not knowing that the camera's film plane was distorting the left side of the frame.  Dumb luck. 

Not quite wide enough - this composition feels claustrophobic. 

Meanwhile in the nation's capitol, the Revere got a tad bit more even across the frame.  The shot feels a bit too rushed though, and the tree doesn't stand out. 

The distortion is certainly less than in other images, but there is still a distinct difference in the sharpness and focus at the top part of the light fixture. 

One of the better shots of the roll was this one taken in Jefferson, MD on a spring day...

...while this one looks like a 1960's image taken with a box camera.

Interesting to say the least. 

The light spot near top left is not the sun but rather a seeming light leak of sorts.  

Decent 3-D type effect.  This light leak may have been my less that light-tight dark room emitting a bit of a light spill as I struggled to get the film onto the reel. 

And then it starts to work a bit better again.  The shot renders more or less as intended. 

A shot taken near the Gambrill House at Monocacy under shade at f/4 shows focal plane improvement compared to much of the roll. 

An old machine sits in the shade, and despite my attempts to open up the lens and get exposure to the geared wheel, it still sits lost in the darkness. 

More light leaks, presumably from loading. 

And then suddenly, finally, as the film nears the end, I get a pretty sharp image. 

And to finish, a deliberate bokeh test that shows some real painterly promise to the Revere and its rendering of the odd aperture shape. 

Thoughts: Was this my best roll I have ever shot?  Hardly.  Only a very few of these would likely be considered for printing, even at a small size. This was however, one of my more meaningful rolls.  It gave me some insight into the need to be more mindful and careful when cutting down film, and as well to be careful in shooting a backing-free film through a camera that is designed to shoot film with a backing paper.  

The really meaningful part however, is that this roll has changed my habits.  All Black and White film is now processed in house by me, and has resulted in a significant drop in my film developing budget as well as sharply shaving the time I need to wait to see my results. I've even since moved beyond Monobath to Kodak's HC-110 as my film developer of choice, and am gradually getting better at loading the film reels properly as well.  

A very meaningful change indeed, thanks to the generosity of one person, as well as a roll of mis-cut Kodak Tri-X.  Change is good.