Photography / Features

Dick Haviland: The Last of the Classic Film Re-Spoolers

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Have you ever wondered how B&H manages to sell fresh rolls of film in spooled sizes that were discontinued by Kodak (and everybody else) 20 years ago? Me too; so when I found out we were purchasing the film from one of, if not the last guy re-spooling film for long-gone film formats, I knew I had to meet him.

Above photograph: Dating back to 1845, the old red mill that sits adjacent to Honeoye Falls is home to the Havilands and their company, Film for Classics.

Honeoye Falls (pronounced HON-ee-oye) is located about 20 minutes outside Rochester, New York, the birthplace of photography in the United States. A block off the main drag—just across the river that meanders through town—sits a former saw mill, dating back to 1815. Stream-powered by the waterfall that flows alongside the structure, the original mill burned to the ground in 1845, was rebuilt, and continued as a sawmill until 1920, when it transitioned into a gypsum mill.

In later years, the building housed a successful heating and plumbing supply shop, and a cabinet manufacturer. After being purchased by Dick and Joan Haviland, in 1999, it ultimately became a combination living space and the home of Film for Classics.

Dick Haviland, owner and founder of Film for ClassicsAllan Weitz

A Milwaukee native, Dick Haviland started taking pictures when he was about 12 years old. He was crowned the official family photographer because he was the only one who could take a picture without cutting everybody’s head off. He remained photographically active through high school, where he photographed sporting events and other school activities.

During his college days, Haviland’s interest in photography gave way to an alternate career path, but even as a Professor of Speech Pathology at the State University at Geneseo, New York, he maintained an ongoing interest in the medium.

In 1987, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Kodak, he was at a meeting of the Photographic Historical Society when the Society’s president, Robert Navias, urged everybody in attendance to take up a photo-related project to mark the occasion.

Accepting the challenge, Haviland decided he was going to kick-start production of discontinued film formats, including 620, 828, 116, 616, 122, and 127. Despite being advised by veteran “Kodakers” against throwing his hard-earned cash into a logistical and technical nightmare, Haviland started Film for Classics.

Dick Haviland at his workbench with a Kodak Brownie Target Six-16 and a folding camera of similar vintage. Though not as sleek and stylish as the film packaging from Kodak and Ilford, the light-tight foil wrappers on Haviland’s re-spooled films clearly indicate the film type, the ISO, and expiration date.Allan Weitz

In 1990, Haviland was able to talk Kodak into selling him rolls of opaque backing paper that he could cut to size. Lacking a truck and forklift, his contact at Kodak arranged to have “the boys” deliver the rolls to his shop. The good news was that, because they couldn’t figure out a way to bill him personally, he could have the paper free of charge. The bad news was that this most likely would be the last roll he would receive, since Kodak would no longer be making backing paper for medium-format roll films.

He was fortunate to find a firm in nearby Rochester that could precisely slit the backing paper to size, along with a local screen printer who could print the backers using artwork Haviland designed for the project.

Some of the tools and materials used in the process of re-spooling roll film that has been trimmed to fit onto film spools intended for use with long-discontinued film sizesAllan Weitz

Early on, Haviland sold film directly to individuals, but over time he found it difficult to keep up with orders. His wife Joan suggested he limit sales to a handful of established dealers, which simplified things and returned the concept of free time to his life. He currently works with three dealers across the country, the largest being B&H, which Haviland readily credits for driving his business over the years.

The Havilands’ process starts with obtaining large rolls of 46mm to 5-inch-wide film from Kodak and Ilford. Working in the dark, the film is cut to the proper lengths and widths for each respective film type. From there it is matched to a precut paper backing, wound onto a spool, wrapped in foil, and labeled which type of film it is, the format size, and an expiration date.

Rolls of re-spooled 620 and 127-format Ilford HP5 (ISO 400)Allan Weitz

With the exception of cutting the large rolls of film down to size, much of the process takes place in a dark box, making it possible to work in standard room light. Depending on the format, about 10 to 15 rolls of film can be cut, spooled, and labeled per hour.

Nostalgia plays an important role in Haviland's business. Many of his customers purchase his film “to see if that old camera my Uncle Joe gave me when I was 10 still works.” Other inquiries are far more interesting.

The Chicago Field Museum once placed a large order for 122-format film for a Kodak 3C Folding camera the museum had used decades earlier on a research mission, to Machu Picchu, in Peru. The museum was planning on returning to Machu Picchu and wanted to use the same camera from the original venture. Film for Classics filled the order.

Another time, Haviland had a request for 127-format film from an individual whose uncle had fought in Europe during World War II. This soldier was a photo enthusiast who documented what seemed to be every street corner he visited, accompanied by copious notes as to when and where each photograph was taken. Decades later, the nephew planned on retracing his uncle’s footsteps using the photo diary and the very same camera used to photograph Europe during the war.

Washington, DC-based photographer and folk artist William Christenberry ordered batches of 620-format color film for an older camera he used to document the neighborhoods of his youth as they changed over the course of the years.

The spools and original paper backing of a decades-old roll of Kodak 116-format roll filmAllan Weitz

Haviland readily admits it’s getting harder to carry on with business, mostly due to the increasing scarcity of raw materials. Kodak has dramatically cut back on film production and availability, and Ilford is down to a single production run per year to supply obsolete film widths for those who still “roll their own.”

He occasionally gets calls out of the blue, from people in possession of surplus rolls of obsolete film they no longer need that they are looking to unload. A retired photographer in Chicago once called about ten 500-foot rolls of Panatomic X fine grain black-and-white film that was stowed away in his freezer. The film hadn't been made for years and Haviland was more than happy to take it off his hands.

Fresh-dated re-spooled rolls of film for old, but still working 828, 620, and 127-format camerasAllan Weitz

Many of the supplies, such as backing paper and film spools, are becoming increasingly difficult to acquire. Kodak halted production of backing paper years ago, and third-party paper backings are not as reliable. Given these challenges, Haviland invested in an injection-mold machine that enables him to replicate increasingly hard-to-obtain metal spools in plastic. With the exception of Kodak Medalist cameras, which seem to prefer the original metal spools, the injection-molded spools have proved to be camera-worthy.

Panoramic photograph of the saw mill the Havilands call home, taken with a 1926 Panaram Kodak #3A. The Panaram uses 122 film, which yields three 3 1/4 x 10 3/8" exposures per roll. The film is Kodak Verichrome Pan.Photograph by Dick Haviland

Despite the growth of digital imaging, interest in film photography and older cameras has gained momentum and, although this seems to have peaked about three years ago, according to Haviland, film sales have held their own since.

Films and formats currently available from Film for Classics include Kodak Tri-X, T-Max 100, T-Max 400, Portra 160, Fujifilm Provia 100f, and Fujifilm Velvia 100F in 620 format, as well as Kodak Tri-X and Portra 400 in 828 format. Ilford HP5 is used for 127-format film, and an occasional run of 116- and 616-format film.

At this point in time, the Havilands outsource most of the film-cutting, backing-paper prep, and spooling work to other individuals in the area. As for the future, Dick Haviland would be delighted to pass the baton to someone possessing the drive and enthusiasm he had when starting Film for Classics 25 years ago. “I’m truly pleased it has lasted as long as it has, and if it collapsed tomorrow, it wouldn’t owe me anything,” he says.

Have you had any experiences using cameras with hard-to-find, older film formats? Share them in the Comments section, below.

23 Comments

I just aquired a Kodak 2A pocket folding Brownie.

As I was cleaning it up, after many years of sitting in a display case, I was about to open the back of the camera. A gentle slide of the back, revealed that the camera still had film in it. Quickly slid the back into it's closed position. So, I lost 1 frame.

The camera is fully functional. I want to take some photos with this camera, but I need some info on the 116 film that is still inside: it seems to be a 8 or 12 exposure roll?, as when I advanced the film, the film counter is now at number 7. even if I get 1 photo, i would be thrilled to see what is on the rest of the roll.

Now my question, what is the film speed of this 100 year old film? Camera is from 1912-1913, as the 1914 -1915 versions had folding backs, whereas this unit has a sliding back.

I am planning on using my Gossen light meter to get the "correct" exposure.

any assistance would be greatly apprecaited.

thanks,

Sam

I've been rolling a lot of 127 film lately for my very olde cameras. I use 120, split it with a film slitter I made. The left over remnant I use to reload 110 film carts as the remnant is 16mm wide. The Minolta 110zoom SLR doesn't need the sprocket holes. It aligns differently so a backing paper of 24 exposures gives me 19 exposures. I've loaded 110 made from Ektachrome, Provia, and also Eastman 16mm movie stock 7222 b&w, the same movie stock as the 35mm 5222. These new 110 films work so much better than the original stuff. 110 works well...not for gallery 8x10's but for uploading 4x6's onto flickr and the web it's perfect. I've run thru all the expired stuff and the new Lomo 110 Orca b&w is good but the Tiger colour print is okay, the Peacock slide film is really sad.So when I'm doing 127 in good film I always have good remnants of 16mm. Of course, the 120/620 conversion is simple. I will have to start printing 127 backing paper as my originals are wearing out and I've been cutting up and renumbering the 127 remnant paper from the 120 film...that and White-Out. I really plan to pring my own, though. Hugs....Nyms

Boy... I thought I was obsessive. Thanks for sharing and glad to hear you enjoyed my article.

AW

What a wonderful story. Really hope that somebody can step up and continure the process so that these cameras can still be used well into the future. I have recently started processing/developing my own black and white medium format film and now have a very small darkroom in my basement. It's been the most satysfing and gratyfing experience I've ever had in photography. Hope film stays around for a very long time - in all formats!

We ditto your thoughts!

Thanks for sharing!

AW

The members of film legion owe to the dedication of people like Haviland. I just wanted to say, "Thank you."

I second that...

AW

I must emphasize the statement about Kodak Medalists and plastic spools on 620 film.  These cameras wind film against a lot of tension  from the exposure counter and shutter-cocking mechanism, and only metal spools can handle this without being destroyed and jamming the camera.  Jammed Medalists can be very tricky to repair. I am speaking from experience over many years.

127 spools can be problematic also, depending on the camera in which they are used.  Again, metal is important, especially in " baby rolleis".

To my knowledge, no one makes these metal spools anymore, so recycling is essential.  . Does B&H work with Havilland on this?

Hey Allan,

Sounds like your'e a film trooper. As for your statement about nobody making metal spools anymore, that's precisely why Haviland invested in an affordable method of producing alternative spools. And no, aside from a retail/vendor relationship, B&H and Film for Classics are not involved in any manufacturing relationship.

BTW, it's nice to run into another 'Allan'. My name was suppoesed to be 'Alan' but somebody at the hospital fat-fingered my birth certificate. I'm good with it...

Thanks for your input.

AW

I loved the article. I started with a Kodak kit that had a light box & trays chemicals and great directions. I was eleven years old. I had to work in the only family bathroom. My new hobby was not a big hit with the rest of the family especially since my prints were only the same size of the negatives. I loved it. I was especially lucky as there was a supper camera store in my town were I could get my supplies. I worked in my local Pharmacy dusting shelves at 50 cents an hour (I was 11) I saved my money and bought a used enlarger. Eureka !!   I was president of the photo club in High school,ran the photo craft shop after hours when I was in the Army in Fort Benning upon my return from Vietnam. Now I am a digital guy.

I love it!

Glad you enjoyed the story - it was fun producing it.

AW

Very interesting story indeed.  I wonder how the people buying these rolls are getting them processed and printed. In India, we closed our darkrooms long back and have almost forgotten all the formulae of making solutions at home !!All my younger days, about three decades, Black & White films and thier processing was a part of life , even I was in School, helping my father with work of his small photography studio. Quite early I learnt loading slides of his plate cameras with cut-film to be exposed in studio. I am talking of early seventies onwards. 120 roll film was the main film we used with our Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords. Being the giant of the industry Kodak had its own way, and had a different format for most of its roll film cameras, the 620, the same 120 film on a different spool. It took my father atleast fifteen years to accept 35mm when I forced him to buy our first Nikon. I wish the days of 120 came back sooner than later, so that many like me can relive those days, once again.

Dev,

It's so cool hearing all of these old-school, enlarger-on-the-toilet-set stories.

We grew up on opposite sides of the planet yet we share many common memories.

Thanks for dropping us a line!

AW

Great article, thanks.  Many of us spent a lot of time in the darkroom, loading and unloading film, memorizing a blind sequence of events that allowed us to take, process and print photgraphs.   None of us could have imagined film, chemistry, and printing would be displaced by digital sensors and injet printers.  I still have a darkroom, dormant, that I've promised myself I'd return to and print up some negatives the old fashioned way.  Good to know there's film being sold!  Keep up the good work.

Tell you what Jim - I'll keep up the good work if you promise to fire up your darkroom at least once a year.

Did you know that according to the US Surgeon General shooting film helps build stronger bodies and extends ones lifespan?

It's true... I read it on a Snapple bottle cap...

AW

I've been collecting and shooting old cameras for a few years. 620 film is nothing more than 120 film on a narrower spool so all one needs to do is have a supply of empty 620 spools and a dark place to respool 120 onto to them, the backing paper is identical. There are plenty of videos out there about this.

With most other roll paper formats, if you have an original spool and paper it can easily be respooled with a format that is slightly smaller. 626 paper can fit 120 film, 127 and 828 can take 35mm. It may not fill up the frame so just don't shoot tight or enjoy the "sprocket hole" effect.

The pleasure with shooting vintage cameras and formats is the "happy accidents" that happen that one just wouldn't get with a more controlled set up, like digital. Face it, if you want exact photos, just shoot your digital. But if you want to get back in touch with the essence of photography, play with an old roll film camera. And if you really want spectacular photos, shoot a large format 4 x 5 or bigger film camera.

And if you really, really, really want truly spectacular photos shoot with an 8 x 10" technical field camera... and just to make sure you got something to show everybody back home shoot a quick pic with your iPhone!

Glad you enjoyed the story.

AW

I wondered where B&H got 620 film! A few years ago a coworker gave me a Kodak Monitor 6-twenty, so I bought some film, and shot 1 roll to test it. Unfortunately, the bellows is full of pin holes. I should have checked it more carefully, but I was too excited to  run a roll through. I hope he keeps up the good work for us who still love to shoot film. Thanks for the history lesson and an interesting article. Anybody know where I can get a bellows repaired/replaced? Thanks again.

Glad to hear you enjoyed the story Sam.

As for your bellows problem, enter 'camera bellows repair' in Google and you'll find a choice of repair facilities as well as DYI YouTube videos on bellows repair. 

AW

Amazing story and article! Thanks for taking us on this adventure, B&H!

Thanks Roy - happy to hear you enjoyed the journey...

AW

Allan Weitz wrote:

Thanks Roy - happy to hear you enjoyed the journey...

AW

I t is very interesting to hear that there are photographers still have this kind of interesting stories of the good days of real photography sorry to say what we are doing today is far from the good old days, in the old days you talk to your camera, today the camera talk to you, that not fun to me, I have a mamiya 645 s1000 and a Nikon fm2 and even though I am fully digital i still cannot part with them, have had many thoughts of selling them but changed my mind, they need some servicing now but not sure where to do it, please keep up the good work let's keep it alive I like this forum I have been learning this art from I was a small boy in my early teens

Love it! Thanks for sharing!

AW

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