D'oh! I didn't realize that you don't rewind 120 film… until today

Pentax 6X7
(Image credit: Hannah Rooke)

This year I vowed to shoot more film. Not only did I want to shoot more film, but I wanted to try a different form: medium format. My friend just happened to be selling her Pentax 6x7 with a 75mm lens and as it was an absolute bargain, so I just couldn’t say no. Faced with this enormous camera and no idea what to really do, I turned to YouTube to find out how to load film and set the exposure. 

I’ve used a few of the best film cameras over the years; I started out with the Canon AE-1 before moving across to the Nikon FM2. Despite the rising film costs and development expenses, I just can’t stop. Film delivers a quality that is hard to replicate (and that’s coming from someone who has spent a lot of time perfecting my Lightroom presets) but the magic of the film lies in the unknown. The surprise. The mystery of getting back a roll of film and not remembering what’s on it. 

• Check out the best medium format cameras – but these are strictly digital

Rather naively, I thought that shooting medium format would be much like 35mm only bigger and with fewer shots. In some ways, I wasn’t completely wrong – you still need to work out your exposure with a light meter and you have to be more thoughtful when it comes to shots, as they’re finite. But one of the big differences between 35mm and 120mm (that I somehow managed to not fully clock) is that you don’t rewind 120mm film. 

The funny thing is, I’ve actually “rewound” – or should I say, unloaded – a couple of rolls of 120 film (which are still waiting to get developed) and still didn’t clock that I was transferring the film from one spool to another, rather than rewinding it back into the case as you do with 35mm. The other day when I heard someone on Instagram talking about how you don’t rewind it, I had a heart-sink moment where I thought all the shots I’d taken would be ruined because I hadn’t unloaded it correctly. Turns out I’d been doing it right all along, without even realizing. 

Whether I'm the first person to have gleefully glossed over this fact or not, I’ll never know. But you can be sure it made me feel like a prize idiot when I fessed up to my fellow film friends. Shooting medium format has been a learning curve for sure, and until I get that first roll developed I have no idea whether I’ve just wasted money or created something beautiful. So to set some intentions for the weekend I will get it developed and share my results – no matter how good or bad. 

The moral of the story? Even professional photographers are on a constant learning journey. 

Check out the best film for 35mm cameras, and the best 120 roll film, along with the best light meters to help master your exposure.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.