Film holder

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A film holder is a device that holds one or more pieces of photographic film, for insertion into a camera or optical scanning device such as a dedicated film scanner or a flatbed scanner with film scanning capabilities. The widest use of the term refers to a device that holds sheet film for use in large format cameras, but it can also refer to various interchangeable devices in medium format or even 135 film camera systems.

Camera optical device for recording or transmitting photographic images or videos

A camera is an optical instrument to capture still images or to record moving images, which are stored in a physical medium such as in a digital system or on photographic film. A camera consists of a lens which focuses light from the scene, and a camera body which holds the image capture mechanism.

Sheet film is large format and medium format photographic film supplied on individual sheets of acetate or polyester film base rather than rolls. Sheet film was initially supplied as an alternative to glass plates. The most popular size measures 4×5 inches; smaller and larger sizes including the gigantic 20×24 inches have been made and many are still available today.

Large format

Large format refers to any imaging format of 4×5 inches (102×127 mm) or larger. Large format is larger than "medium format", the 6×6 cm or 6×9 cm size of Hasselblad, Rollei, Kowa, and Pentax cameras, and much larger than the 24×36 mm (0.95×1.42 inch) frame of 35 mm format. The main advantage of large format, film or digital, is a higher resolution at the same pixel pitch, or the same resolution with larger pixels or grains. A 4×5 inch image has about 15 times the area, and thus 15× the total resolution, of a 35 mm frame.


Sheet film holders

Graflex 4x5 Sheet Film Holders. Holders.jpg
Graflex 4×5 Sheet Film Holders.

The most common instance of film holder is the sheet film holder. Also referred to as a dark slide or double dark slide, they are flat devices, slightly larger than the films they hold, which commonly hold one sheet of film on each side. The plate holder, which is a very similar device, holds glass plates instead of sheet film. A dark slide, from which the device derives its alternate name, is simply a dark cover that slides into a recess in the holder to protect the film (or plate) from exposure to light. Many dark slides have differently colored bands or handles on each side, one usually light and the other dark, so the photographer can distinguish between exposed and unexposed film.

Photographic plate target medium in photography

Photographic plates preceded photographic film as a capture medium in photography. The light-sensitive emulsion of silver salts was coated on a glass plate, typically thinner than common window glass, instead of a clear plastic film.

Traditionally, sheet film and glass plate holders have been made out of wood. Wooden holders, properly treated, can last a very long time, and apart from possible warpage, many very old specimens are still in service. Some companies continue to make wood models today, particularly for more uncommon film sizes, and as many are mostly handmade, they can be quite expensive. The majority of new sheet film holders are now made out of plastic.

When using a sheet film holder, the device is inserted into the camera, often a view camera, and the dark slide is withdrawn, making the film available for exposure. After the exposure has been made, the dark slide is reinserted into the film holder, and the device is removed from the camera for later processing of the exposed film.

View camera type of camera

A view camera is a large format camera in which the lens forms an inverted image on a ground glass screen directly at the plane of the film. The image viewed is exactly the same as the image on the film, which replaces the viewing screen during exposure.

Multi-sheet holders

Grafmatic "45" Film Holder. Grafmatic.jpg
Grafmatic "45" Film Holder.

Some film holders can hold more than two sheets. One of the most common is the Grafmatic, manufactured by Graflex, which holds six sheets of film in individual septums. They were available in "23" and "45" models, corresponding to 6×9 cm (2¼×3¼ inches) and 4×5 inch sheets. [1] It takes little effort to quickly cycle through all six sheets, which makes the Grafmatic ideal for press camera usage. Burke & James produced a similar device called the Kinematic, which holds 10 sheets, though was only available in 4×5 inch format.


Graflex was a manufacturer that gave its brand name to several models of camera.

Press camera medium or large format camera

A press camera is a medium or large format view camera that was predominantly used by press photographers in the early to mid-20th century. It was largely replaced for press photography by 35mm film cameras in the 1960s, and subsequently, by digital cameras. The quintessential press camera was the Speed Graphic. Press cameras are still used as portable and rugged view cameras.

Graflex also produced the Film Magazine. It is commonly referred to as a "bag magazine" (or "bag mag"), and uses a leather bag that hangs on the side of the frame to exchange the septums from front to back. It is a much more manual device than the Grafmatic, as exchanging a septum is done manually through the bag, rather than by a simple manipulation of the magazine's dark slide. They were sold in separate versions for film and glass plates, and held 12-18 sheets/plates, depending on the model. [2] They are found in 3×4, 4×5, and 5×7 inch formats.

Though all are superficially similar (a "bag mag" film (not plate) septum is the same thickness as a Grafmatic septum, but has slightly different width and length; a Kinematic septum appears almost identical to a Grafmatic septum but is in fact considerably thinner) in fact use of a septum from a different type of holder in any of these multi-sheet holders is very likely to jam the entire magazine and bend internal parts, which can then damage yet another holder if used with it. As replacement parts are no longer available one must be careful not to interchange pieces of different types of multi-sheet holders.

Fuji created a 4×5 system in the late 1990s called QuickChange, which is somewhat similar to a Grafmatic in principle. It is made of plastic rather than metal, making it lighter, and less prone to bent septums, but also less durable. It can hold 8 shots, and inserts are purchased already loaded with film. Though not sold as such, these inserts can be reloaded a limited number of times with standard sheet film. Because, like Grafmatic or "bag mag" holders, the Fuji holders used sheet film of normal thickness, they offered higher image quality than the older "film packs" (see below), but never became widely popular before digital imaging brought much production of traditional large-format materials to a halt. [3]

Fujifilm Japanese multinational photography and imaging company

Fujifilm Holdings Corporation, trading as Fujifilm, or simply Fuji, is a Japanese multinational photography and imaging company headquartered in Tokyo.

Digital imaging or digital image acquisition is the creation of a digitally encoded representation of the visual characteristics of an object, such as a physical scene or the interior structure of an object. The term is often assumed to imply or include the processing, compression, storage, printing, and display of such images. A key advantage of a digital image, versus an analog image such as a film photograph, is the ability make copies and copies of copies digitally indefinitely without any loss of image quality.

Film pack holders

Graflex and Polaroid produced film pack holders that could be loaded in subdued light. Film packs were available from various film manufacturers in 12 and 16-sheet units. The classic film pack consisted of several "sheets" of film (actually much thinner than standard sheet film, as they were cut from large-format roll film, for economy and physical flexibility) taped together and wound in a series of S-bends around a metal frame. To "advance" the film, the user pulled a paper tab that protruded from the side of the film pack. The tab was attached—facing the opposite direction—to the junction of each sheet and its intervening section of tape. The thin film and only slight tension this system provided resulted in poor film flatness, and negatives are often sharp enough only for contact printing. They were primarily used by press photographers, and demand fell off dramatically as photojournalists converted to roll film cameras.

According to former Kodak employees at the Eastman House photographic museum, Kodak stopped producing film packs when the last employee trained to assemble them (which required working with the very sharp metal frame in total darkness) retired in the 1980s. This rendered all traditional film pack holders in the world obsolete at once. Polaroid film packs, though mechanically similar, are not (and never were) available in standard film sizes. The Fuji QuickChange system was sometimes referred to as a film pack system but, as noted above, was a mechanical multi-sheet holder.

Instant film holders

Polaroid produced the widest range of instant sheet and pack film, but discontinued all production in 2008, leaving Fujifilm as the only producer of instant film and backs. The Polaroid 545, the lighter and more modern 545i, and the 545 Pro backs were 4×5 inch instant sheet film holders that many photographers used. New55 Holdings, LLC started producing a black and white P/N film for the 545 and 545i backs. This new instant sheet film produces a black and white negative and a positive image. The older Polaroid 550 packfilm back can take Fuji FP-100C film (3.25x4.25 inches), which was the last product of this type and was discontinued in February 2016. [4] Polaroid also produced 8×10 inch film holders and films. Polaroid produced 10-sheet 4×5 inch instant film packs and holders.

Preloaded systems

Some 4×5 inch films come in light-tight envelopes that can be loaded into a special holder in daylight. The envelopes are much smaller and lighter than a dark-slide loaded with film, so a photographer can carry a larger quantity of film than the same amount of film in dark-slides. Fuji Quickload TM film and holders, and Kodak Readyload TM film and holders, are of this type. These have not been manufactured for several years, although old stock may sometimes be sold online. New55 Holdings, LLC has started producing a variety of Ready Loads called 1SHOT TM for the preloaded systems, these include Black and white negative, color negative and color slide films.

Rollfilm holders

Film holders that adapt rollfilm to sheet film cameras are usually called film backs. Film backs for 4×5 inch cameras are particularly commonthere is little point in taking 6×9 cm pictures on a 20 cm × 25 cm (8 in × 10 in) camera. Horseman, Linhof, Graflex, and other manufacturers have made roll film holders in 6×7, 6×8, 6×9, 6×12, and 6×17 cm formats. Some models can slip under the ground glass like a normal sheet film holder, while others require that the photographer replace the ground glass with the roll holder.

Medium format film holders

Film holders are available as accessories for some medium format cameras. The most usual case is the Polaroid back taking instant film, often used to check exposure values, color rendition, etc. before taking final photographs on conventional film.

Several of the types of holders made for large format film, including darkslide sheet holders, Grafmatic multi-sheet holders, the Graflex bag mag, and film packs were also manufactured in medium format sizes, almost always 214"×314" (6×9 cm). Press camera manufacturers often produced smaller versions of their 4×5 cameras in this size, often called "23", and while later versions of these cameras could use rollfilm adaptors, these were not widely available until almost 1950, and were expensive in their first years of production.

Sheet film or glass plate holders for medium format rollfilm cameras can be found, but are of mainly historical interest. Some rollfilm cameras have interchangeable backs to accommodate different film types. Some 35mm cameras have motorised backs that hold longer than normal film lengths, with a mechanism that automatically advances the film after each exposure.

See also

Related Research Articles

Film format standardized set of characteristics for photographic film

A film format is a technical definition of a set of standard characteristics regarding image capture on photographic film, for either stills or filmmaking. It can also apply to projected film, either slides or movies. The primary characteristic of a film format is its size and shape.

Speed Graphic

The Speed Graphic is a press camera produced by Graflex in Rochester, New York. Although the first Speed Graphic cameras were produced in 1912, production of later versions continued until 1973; with the most significant improvements occurring in 1947 with the introduction of the Pacemaker Speed Graphic. It was standard equipment for many American press photographers until the mid-1960s.

Land Camera

The Land Camera is a model of self-developing film camera manufactured by Polaroid between 1948 and 1983. It is named after their inventor, Edwin Land, who developed a process for self-developing photography between 1943 to 1947. After Edwin Land's retirement from Polaroid, the name 'Land' was dropped from the camera name. The first commercially available model was the Model 95, which produced sepia-colored prints in about 1 minute. It was first sold to the public on November 26, 1948.

Instant camera type of camera

The instant camera is a type of camera which uses self-developing film to create a chemically developed print shortly after taking the picture. Polaroid Corporation pioneered consumer-friendly instant cameras and film, and were followed by various other manufacturers.

Instant film type of photographic film

Instant film is a type of photographic film introduced by Polaroid to be used in an instant camera. The film contains the chemicals needed for developing and fixing the photograph, and the instant camera exposes and initiates the developing process after a photo has been taken.

Monorail camera

Monorail cameras are view cameras with lens mount, bellows, and interchangeable viewing and film backs all fitted along a rigid rail along which they can slide until locked into position.

Polaroid SX-70 camera

The SX-70 is a folding single lens reflex Land camera which was produced by the Polaroid Corporation from 1972 to 1981.

History of the camera camera

The history of the camera can be traced much further back than the introduction of photography. Cameras evolved from the camera obscura, and continued to change through many generations of photographic technology, including daguerreotypes, calotypes, dry plates, film, and to the modern day with digital cameras.

Polaroid transfer is a photographic image-transfer process, or print making technique, which uses instant film. This way an image can be put on textiles, cups, glass and many other surfaces. The process gains its common name from the Polaroid brand film, when Fuji brand film is used the process may be called Fuji transfer. It is more commonly known as emulsion transfer.

Polaroid Type 55 film is a black-and-white peel-apart Polaroid film that yields both a positive print and a negative image that can be used to create enlargements.

Instax brand of instant still cameras

Instax is a brand of instant still cameras and instant films marketed by Fujifilm.

Dark slide (photography)

In photography, a dark slide is a wooden or metal plate that covers the sensitized emulsion side of a photographic plate. In use, a pair of plates joined back to back were used with both plates covered with a dark slide. When used, the dark slide is removed for the period of the exposure and then replaced. Modern dark slides are used in conjunction with a film holder, that either holds in place pieces of cut sheet film or, if modified, some piece of light sensitive material such as glass.

Polaroid 20×24 camera

The Polaroid 20×24 camera is a very large instant camera made by Polaroid, with film plates that measure 20 by 24 inches, although at least one camera takes pictures that are 23 by 36 inches.

Polaroid Originals is a Dutch photography company and manufacturer founded in 2008 by Florian Kaps, André Bosman and Marwan Saba. It manufactures its own cameras, the Impossible I-1, the OneStep 2, the OneStep+, modelled on the original Polaroid OneStep Land Camera, the i-Type instant film for its original cameras, and instant film for select Polaroid Corporation instant cameras.

Mamiya Press

The Mamiya Press is a line of medium-format rangefinder system camera manufactured by Mamiya. The first model was introduced in 1960, and the final model was discontinued in the 1970s. It was targeted at the professional press photography market, and a wide array of accessories was offered. The maximum image size that can be captured is 6 cm × 9 cm, but images can be taken in a number of different formats, and using several types of film. All of the lenses have leaf shutters, which are released on the lens itself, not through the body as is typical with most cameras. The shutter is typically triggered from one of several models of removable grips, all of which have a built-in release cable. The lenses also have flash sync terminals. The camera lacks an internal dark slide, so one has to be inserted into the film holder before changing the lens.


  1. "Grafmatic Sheet Film Holder". Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  2. "Re: Your film back". Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  3. [ dead link ]
  4. "インスタントカラーフィルム「FP-100C」販売終了のお知らせ : お知らせ - 富士フイルム". Retrieved 23 October 2018.