Abstract Angular distributions of α-particles from the (t, α) reaction on 121Sb and 123Sb have been measured for incident tritons of 12 MeV. Levels up to excitation energies of 5.2 and 4.9 MeV in 120Sn and 122Sn, respectively, have been identified and analysed by the DWBA. Values of orbital angular momenta of the transferred protons have been assigned and spectroscopic factors deduced for all strongly excited levels. The extracted ground-state wave functions of the target nuclei have been compared with the calculated ones. A mixture of collective degrees of freedom is present in the low-lying states, weakly excited by the above very selective proton pick-up reaction. These states are populated by the pick-up of external protons (outer shells). At higher excitation energy (between 4 and 5 MeV) there are many strongly excited states populated by the proton pick-up from the Z = 50 proton core (inner shells); a predominantly 1p-1h character has been assigned to these states.