For many people, 120 rollfilm automatically implies square images, 6x6cm, or only slightly rectangular images, 6x4.5cm or 6x7cm. And there's nothing wrong with those formats if they're what you like. Square negatives are perfect for portraiture or projected slides, but I like landscapes, and in my opinion landscapes are usually better suited to a wider format that more nearly matches the human field of view.
The 3:2 width-to-height ratio of the 6x9 format is equivalent to the 24x36mm frame of most 35mm cameras, but has many times the area, allowing for much more detail. You can, of course, crop just a 4x6cm area out of a 6x6cm or 6x4.5cm negative, but that seems to me a minor waste of film -- why expose a negative that you know is a poor match to your intended print?
Apart from 4x6 inch paper, most black and white paper does not match the aspect ratio of these wider formats. Rather than waste much of each sheet in border space, for wide landscapes I cut standard paper in half, e.g. making two sheets of 10x16 inch paper out of one 16x20 inch sheet. The 1.6:1 ratio of 10x16 inch paper is a fairly good match for 1.5:1 negatives.
I cut the paper to size with a standard hinged-blade paper cutter in the darkroom. Rather than trying to read the rulings on the cutter, I tape down a cutting fence made of foam core backing board, ensuring much better alignment, especially when cutting several sheets at once.
Seeing what it costs to buy a printing easel any larger than 8x10, I can't see why so few people make their own, even for standard formats. My 10x16 easel, like my 16x20 easel, is made from formica-covered shelving material, with a solid fence along one edge of the paper, and a series of headless brads holding the other edges in place. These are both borderless easels, but when I want to print with borders, I can simply lay black mat board with the appropriate opening over the headless brads, keeping the paper and the mat properly aligned.
I don't do enough color to justify the expense of keeping fresh color processing chemicals in my own darkroom. So I rely on commercial processing for color, whether 35mm or 6x9cm.
Even many labs that process a lot of 120 film still aren't really set up for negatives wider than 6x7cm. If you drop off a roll and ask for 4 inch machine prints, the default will be 4x5 inch prints made by sticking your negatives in a 6x7cm carrier, and you'll lose nearly 1/4 of your image. Even something as simple as 4x6 prints will cost custom print prices at labs whose machine printing capability stops at 6x7cm.
One solution is to get a contact sheet instead. Assuming it is well done, a proof sheet of 2x3 inch prints does give a pretty good feel for the exposure and composition, and a loupe will let you see a lot of detail.
Alternatively, if none of your local labs will do proper prints at a reasonable price, you can mail your film to a lab that will. I know from searching for such labs myself that they can be hard to find, so I will gladly add to the list below any labs that send me a price quote under $10 to process a 6x9 on 120 roll of C-41 film and make eight 4x6 inch prints from the negatives.
(I have not been paid to list anyone, I'm not getting kickbacks on orders that mention my page, I have no commercial interest in any photo labs, and images in your rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear.)
This page written by Josh Putnam. Please feel free to email questions, comments, corrections, suggestions, etc.
© Joshua Putnam