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Basic Guide to Rollfilm Cameras

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Even if you are used to 35mm photography - rollfilm cameras can seem very difficult. Some of the knobs and markings may seem familiar - but what film to use and how to load and operate the camera are not obvious.

This page is an attempt to cover some of the questions we get frequently asked - especially concerning folding rollfilms cameras. Its by no means complete and will be extended with more information and pictures hopefully soon. Currently it most closely covers the
Agfa Isolette II but is applicable to many other similar cameras.

Q) What is rollfilm?
A) Rollfilm is a wide strip of film backed with a paper backing which is wound onto a spool.

Q) What sort of rollfilm do I need?
A) Rollfilm is available in colour print/slide and black and white print types just like ordinary 35mm film. Also it comes in different sizes - the most common of which is 120. This is still used by professional photographers. You might also come across mentions of 220 film. This is double length 120 without the backing paper and is NOT suitable for the sort of camera we're talking about here.

Q) Where do I get 120 rollfilm?
A) This is available from all good photographic/camera shops - and from a large variety of mailorder companies. You are unlikely to find it in your local chemist/drug store. All rollfilm sizes other than 120 (and 220) are effectively out of production although there are sources available for some of them.

Q) How do I load a rollfilm?
A) Some cameras wind film left to right, others the other way around. First point to note is that unlike 35mm - rollfilm is not rewound at the end. Therefore you should have a winding knob but no rewinding knob.

First you need to load an empty spool under the winding knob. Then  remove the paper tab from a new spool of rollfilm and load into the  other side. Then draw the film across the camera and insert its tongue  into a slot on the empty spool. The paper backing should be  facing you whilst the black shiny side should be facing into the camera.  Then wind the film on until you see the start line. Close the back and  keep winding. Watch for the number '1' to appear in the red window. Now the  camera is loaded for the first shot.

If you're wondering how to set the film speed on the camera - don't worry - you probably don't need to! Click
HERE to find out why.

Q) How do I take a picture?
A) First thing to do is set the focus. Your camera might have a
rangefinder built in - but most types of cheaper folding cameras just rely on guesswork. Almost all folding rollfilm cameras have a focus ring around the front lens. This can be set to the distance required just by turning it.

Cameras vary enormously - but basically you have to set the aperture and shutter controls on the front of the camera to get the right exposure. If you have a light meter or a modern SLR which gives meter readings then use this. Otherwise just guess or use the information printed in the inside of the film carton.

Most shutters require cocking (the tensioning of the firing spring) before use - so now is the time to do this. The cocking lever is usually at the top of the shutter and moves left or right. On Prontor type shutters it will stay in the cocking position, whilst on some Compur type shutters the cocking lever will return to its starting position after you take your finger away.

The actual firing of the shutter (taking the picture) is activated by either a button on the top plate of the camera or directly by a lever on the shutter itself.

After each shot wind the film on until the next number appears in the red window. When you've run out of film, winding on will not show you another number. Instead  the backing paper should go to black in the red window.

Q) How do I unload the rollfim?
A) Once the backing paper has changed to black, wind on a bit for good measure and open the back up. Be ready to hold the  spool which the film has been wound onto so it does not unwind from it when the back is released.

Carefully remove the film spool (holding it tight at all times) and seal  it with the gummed paper strip which will have become visible. Then send  the film for processing.

Now remove the empty film spool and reinsert it on the other side of the camera. Now you  are now ready to load another film.

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