DescriptionRoll of 35mm film
Time Period
DetailsStorage case with film strip. “Geography in Color, Village Life in India”, filmed by A.D.
Uppadine for the Daily Mail newspaper
DimensionsStorage case: 4 x 5 x 5 cm
Film strip diameter: 3 cm
LocationUCL Cabinet of Obsolete Media
Inventory nºUCL201734

35mm cameras revolutionized photography and radically altered the way in which people were able to capture photographs. 35mm film made photography more efficient and convenient by providing a way to take photographs without having to transport large, heavy machinery. 35mm film and the invention of the 35mm camera made photography easily portable and hand-held which effectively redefined the potential of the medium. The origins of 35mm film are the direct result of inventor, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson’s decision to cut 70 mm film in half and then splice it together at the ends. Dickson’s invention became the preferred medium of the film industry at the end of the 1800s and remained the standard for decades after. Alterations made to 35mm film made it possible to shoot still photography on the film, not only motions pictures. In the early 1910s 35mm cameras where not widely accessible to the average person; despite the new, more convenient size of the device the price point made sure most people where not able to afford to own a 35mm camera. It was not until 1925, when the Leica I was introduced to the market that the buzz around 35mm cameras reached the general public. Eleven years later, in 1936, the Argus A was introduced and for the first time in history the average person could afford to dabble as an amateur photographer. 35mm film cameras evolved and adapted over the decades producing high quality images. 35mm even became “disposable” with preloaded film in a plastic camera, and it was not until the emergence of the digital camera in the 1990s that the popularity of 35mm began to decline.[1]

            35mm film consists of a cellulose acetate strip, commonly referred to as celluloid, that acts as the ideal material for filming with. Celluloid is both resistant and pliable, which allows it to be flexible enough to be fed through a camera, while also having enough durability to be manipulated without fear of the strip ripping or being broken. For the celluloid to be transformed into film it must be treated with an emulsion. The purpose of the emulsion, which gives film its sensitive to light properties, allows the celluloid the ability to hold images. Film emulsion is made up of a nonspecific distribution of silver halide salt crystals, a chemical compound that allows the celluloid to become sensitive to light.[2] Typically film emulsion is constructed from different layers that allow for light sensitivity to three different colors: blue, red, and green. This allows for images shot on 35mm film to be in full color, a once revolutionary aspect of 35mm film. When light comes into contact with silver halide, the chemical reaction alters the structure of the film. These different changes to the celluloid strip are not visible until the film has been developed. Different variations in the silver halide contribute to films differing sensitivity to light and can alter the time in which the film can be exposed to light. ‘Fast’ film requires less exposure time than ‘slow’ film, which has a lesser degree of light sensitivity. Every different type of film has a specific light sensitivity which must be accounted for when exposing the film in attempting to capture an image.[3]


[1] Colleen Welsch. “History of the 35mm: The Original Compact Camera.” The Old Timey. 2017

[2] O.S Gibbs and J. R. Wilder. “Processing Unit for 35-mm Color Film.” Science 111, no. 2892. 1950, 610

[3] Donald Nonnemaker. The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Transition from 35mm Film to High Definition Video Production, 2006, 43