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Dunedin New Zealand

Dunedin New Zealand Cafe chair New Zealand

We had just spent a pleasant morning buying some fruit , vegies and cheeses at the weekend markets in Dunedin New Zealand. Across the Railway Station where the markets are held we stopped and had a breakfast coffee at a little cafe. The four of us sat around a small table outside, sipping our coffees and discussing our purchases and the meal we were preparing. As we left the cafe I was suddenly struck by the curved form of the vacated chair and the diagonal shadow. Traveling with a 21/4 square Yashica 124G.

Busker, Dunedin Markets, New Zealand

Street art near Save Mart, Dunedin, New Zealand
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New Zealand on a Yashica 124G Roll Film Camera on Holidays

Matakana, New Zealand

I love the simplicity of my Yashica 124G roll film camera. As a photographer you are often stuck with a difficult choice as to what camera or cameras you should take when traveling overseas on holidays. There is an expectation that you will be taking the latest digital offering with all the usual accoutrements. As I usually work with a 4×5 film camera and tripod there was a temptation to take this with me, after all, New Zealand has stunning landscapes.

However, I resisted. This was a holiday. Nor was this my first visit. The key here is the word holiday. I wasn’t on an assignment, just kicking back and relaxing with family, so why burden myself with photo gear for which I had no clear purpose to use? I wasn’t tramping in the back country and I certainly was not interested in doing too much of the tourist sight seeing thing (I did visit some galleries and art practices, which is always interesting).

I decided I would travel light, no tripod, one camera with a fixed lens. Limited choices. Keep it simple, keep it flexible and above all keep it fun. So I packed my 21/4 square Yashica 124G and 20 rolls of 120 Tmax 400. My subjects were largely urban images and portraits with a couple of landscapes thrown in.

The 21/4 square format  yields a lovely full tonal range in black and white, and the camera wonderfully simple to operate and light enough to take everywhere. And when I came across an image that I really liked I knew I had a quality medium format negative to make a print with. This image was made in Matakana, a popular weekend getaway for Aucklanders. They make some nice wine there too.

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Processing 120 film with excessive curl

Processing 120 film with excessive curl in the film base

When you have just 5 or 6cm of film unrolled from the backing, pinch the very top centre leading edge of the film with finger and thumb of one hand and with the other holding the film reel and film roll, pull the leading edge of film under the entrance lips into the very first reel track. (Do not cut the corners of the leading film edge as this will make loading in this reel more difficult with a curling film).Processing 120 film with excessive curling can cause the film to jam or be damaged when loading into spiral reels for tank development. The following is a description of how I load 120 film with excessive curl into a daylight film tank for processing. Obviously all the steps shown must be completed in total darkness, ie in a darkroom or using a changing bag. I suggest you try this on a practice film before you try loading an important film.

I have been processing 120 films for several decades. In that time I have used stainless steel reels, Paterson reels and my current favourites, the Jobo duo reels shown here. These “newer” Jobo reels are made of white plastic rather than the earlier clear plastic reels. Unlike Paterson, Jobo reels do not have any ball bearings at the film loading mouth to engage the film edges. Unlike other reels, Jobo have two indented reel edges, one on opposite sides of the reel, where my finger is pointing. This is important as it allows the films edge to be contacted by your fingers within that small range of indent.

In a darkroom or change bag collect all the items necessary to start film loading. You will need daylight film tank and top, the white plastic film reel with its black central column and of course the roll of film.

Processing 120 film with excessive curl in the film base

In total darkness, tear the thin paper tab securing the exposed roll and begin to unroll the backing paper away from the film spool.

In total darkness, tear the thin paper tab securing the exposed roll and begin to unroll the backing paper from the film spool.

After about 10 to 15cm of backing paper is unrolled, the loose end of film will begin to curl into a small tight roll. The film is thicker than the paper backing and is firmer, so you will feel the difference between the two. Unless touching the very first of last 2cm of film, always handle the film at its edges.

After about 10 to 15cm of backing paper is unrolled, the loose end of film will begin to curl into a small roll. The film is thicker than the paper backing and is firmer, so you will feel the difference between the two. Unless touching the very first of last 2cm of film, always handle the film at its edges. (Yes what you see below is the pink emulsion of real, undeveloped film)

Notice how the film below is already curling in on itself to form a tight shiny roll. This action can make 120 and thinner 220 films particularly troublesome to load at times without scratching or jamming in the reels. The degree of curl will vary from film to film, brand to brand,  and manufacturers may change the polymer base without notice.

Notice how the film below is already curling in on itself to form a tight shiny roll. This action can make 120 and thinner 220 films particularly troublesome to load at times without scratching. The degree of curl will vary from film to film, brand to brand, and manufacturers may change the polymer base without notice.

When you have just 5 or 6cm of film unrolled from the backing, pinch the very top centre leading edge of the film with the finger and thumb of one hand and with the other holding the film reel and film roll,  pull the leading edge of film under the entrance lips into the very first reel track. (I do not recommend cutting the corners of the leading film edge as this will make loading in this reel more difficult with a curling film).

When you have just 5 or 6cm of film unrolled from the backing, pinch the very top centre leading edge of the film with finger and thumb of one hand and with the other holding the film reel and film roll, pull the leading edge of film under the entrance lips into the very first reel track. (Do not cut the corners of the leading film edge as this will make loading in this reel more difficult with a curling film).

Again using finger and thumb to grab the leading centre edge of film and pull the film into the reel past the indents, whilst holding the main film body and backing in place with the other hand.


Continue pulling the film around as far as you can. You will have to unroll some of the backing paper from time to time to free up the film so it will enter the reel freely.  You can let go of the main film roll once you have a good 10 to 15cm of film in the reel  as this should be sufficient to hold it.

Continue pulling the film around as far as you can. You will have to unroll some of the backing paper from time to time to free up the film so it will enter the reel freely. You can let go of the main film roll once you have a good 10 to 15cm of film in the reel as this should be sufficient to hold it.
Paterson reel users will be familiar with the backwards and forwards ratcheting movement of the reel halves to load film. A similar affect on the Jobo reels can be achieved using index fingers on each side of the reel at the indent points, as you alternatively advance and then hold the film.

Paterson reel users will be familiar with the backwards and forwards ratcheting movement reel halves to load film. A similar affect can be achieved using index fingers on each side of the Jobo reel at the indent points to alternatively advance and then hold the film.

I do not recommend this method with excessively curly 120 film as it is likely to pop the film edge out of the film guide channel, causing the film to jam.

I do not recommend this method with excessively curly 120 film as it is likely top pop the film edge out of the correct chanel in the spiral, causing the film to jam.

Instead, hold the reel perfectly still. With a finger and thumb placed at opposite sides of the film indent, push/feed  the film with light pressure in the circular direction of the film guide channels. You can only push/feed  the film the circular length of the indent at any one time.

With a finger and thumb placed at opposite sides of the film indent, push the film with light pressure in the circular direction of the reel channels.
Keep repeating this pushing /feeding action, it is surprising quick to load a whole film. The even pressure on both side of the indent prevent the film from popping out of the guide channels.

You can only move a small amount of film the length of the indent at any one time, but it is surprising quick to load a whole film. The even pressure on both side of the indent prevent the film from popping out of the guide channels.

From time to time release more backing paper away from the film and reel to make it easier to push / feed the film into the reel. You can feel the film edge traveling deeper into the reel at the indent.

Keep push / feeding the film until you come to the end of the film where it is taped to the backing paper. Carefully tear the backing paper from the film, taking care not to kink the film or dislodge it from the reel.


Leave the sticky tape on the film and fold its sticky edge down onto the under side of the film.

Push/feed the remainder of the film right into the reel so that the taped edge is under the guide lips.

You are just about done. Load the film reel and central column into the daylight tank. Place the lid on top and secure. Turn on the lights or remove the tank from the change bag. You are now ready for processing 120 film in the tank under normal room light.