Sunday, May 29

Loading a box camera with film

I planned to show you how to load a box camera on one of my brownies but then I picked up the synchrobox instead. I've never put film through it yet :)

I am using 120 roll film here which is the same size as 620 film but comes on different size spools. It fits the syncrho box just fine but is a tighter fit on a brownie and might damage the mechanism. However, the 620 format most Kodak box cameras are built for is available from some photographic suppliers (e.g. photo supplies). Whether you use 120 or 620 film, the process of loading your camera will be the same.

If you are unsure if your camera is in working order there is only one way to find out for sure: Putting some film through it.

The main defects you might find with this type of camera is a worn shutter (open the back flap and look through the inside of the camera while releasing the shutter. If you see a tiny flicker of light you're good to go!) and a worn film winder (you'll find out when loading the film). Of course light leaks are also to be expected but hey, it's a  feature ;) (If you do want to fix a light leak or the latch at the back of the camera doesn't close tightly, gaffa tape is very handy. )

Here goes:

 First, open the flap at the back. 

You will find the film winder on the left side of the camera (lens facing you). It's usually a knob or little handle that turns. Push it up to release it.

Now the film carrier should come out easy.

Pull up the spring a little and retrieve the empty spool. Then insert it on the opposit side.

Now your empty spool should be on the left (lens facing you).

Open the sticky tab of your roll film. Make sure you have firm hold of your roll and fit it in the empty side of the film holder (right of the lens).

I am using an expired roll of film here. I'd recommend using negative film (definitely NOT slide film, much too unforgiving) between 100 and 400 ISO. 100 is quite slow but on a sunny day it should give you some nice results. 400 is faster and better suited to overcast days. 

Pull the film across to the empty spool

If you haven't yet, remove the sticky tab from the roll of film. Unstick the  tongue of the film backing paper and thread it into one of the holes in the empty film spool. Make sure it is straight/flat.

Now insert the film holder back into the camera.

Troubleshooting: Feeling more resistance when the film holder is three quarters in? The winder probably isn't pulled all the way up.

Push the winder back down. It should now be gripping the spool, allowing you to wind on the film.

Wind the film until the backing paper is taut and close the latch.
It depends on the dimensions of your camera whether there will be any markings on the film backing paper when the film is loaded. I quite like the way the arrow lines up on this one ;)

Winder not gripping the film and no matter how long you wind it doesn't tighten at all? Sadly your shutter isn't doing its job. Still a pretty ornament though :). You can take the film back out of the spool holder and wind the backing paper back up tight. Use a little piece of masking tape to secure it and you can use the role another time.

Carry on winding the film on until you can see a number 1 in the little red counter window at the back of your camera. Don't let all the arrows and circles confuse you, carry on until you get to a number. As you can see I took the image after the fact ;)

The shutters on box cameras are rather slow, so if you don't want movement in your images you will need to rest the camera on something or use a tripod.

I think that's all folks, you're good to go!
Give me a shout if you have any questions :)


  1. How great is this! I always have problems with loading film and wait for a handy boy to come and help. So thank you for the step-by-step!


  2. I love your camera/photo tips posts. I recently thrifted a couple old box cameras that would work with 120 film (I think) and am excited to use them once my life is more settled. I'd love to see a post where you post a picture of each camera you use and also an example of the types of photos each makes. 

  3. Thanks for your suggestion - It might be a while but I certainly will. :)

  4. this was cute. and helpful!

  5. So interesting I have a box camera thank you for these tips!!

  6. That was really informative - very nice post. I've always wondered how to spool an old brownie - now I know ;)

  7. My husband collects old cameras. He is fascinated with the michinery itself more than photography as an art, not good to me. We have been taken over by old cameras in this house, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
    About the word Verification, fingers crossed in over a year I only had one spam commet: sombody selling watches. As soon as I stopped anonnymous comments no more spam.
     I like commenting, it is part of the dialogue that makes a blog a live page rather than a magazine article, but I was going blind with so many words and letters. In thi en what is more important spam or your loving people who want to comment???

  8. A lot of my cameras are hidden away in suitcases right now but one fine day I'll have them all on display. We're happy in our shoebox home but it isn't exactly roomy enough for all my trinkets :)

    Links to x rated sites are something I don't want to see on my blog so I think I will always stick with a more hands on approach to moderation myself. While I find word verification texts quite hard to decypher myself on occasion and have to generate a new one I don't begrudge their use. Horses for courses :)

  9. CheesecakeMay 30, 2011

    testing the test

  10. Brilliant! I've got quite a few box cameras I've been meaning to put film through but never got around to looking up how to. Now I don't have to! =D Thanks.

  11. Did my last comment work? I logged in then it sort of disappeared from the comment box...

  12. Emily, Resplendent TranquilityJune 01, 2011

    Just what I needed to see! Thank you, Stef! I don't have a box camera (yet), but I've been keeping my eyes out for one.

  13. Crystal LeeJune 02, 2011

    Thank You! This will definitely come in handy one day. I am scared of medium format film, but I want to try it for sure.