Adox CMS 20 Review

By Paul McKay

Our Adox CMS 20 review combines the community's comments, recommendations, sample images and feedback to give you an excellent overview of CMS 20 film's strengths and weaknesses!

Also please note that full name of this film is Adox CMS 20 II Pro.

Produced for Analogue WonderBox subscribers in May 2021 but useful for anyone wanting to learn more about the self-proclaimed "sharpest image recording system in the world" 😊

Sharp as a 500MP knife

According to the manufacturer, "Adox CMS 20 is the sharpest, most fine-grained and highest resolving image recording system in the world".

That is a massive claim, but there is great technical information to back this up. Its resolving power is so good (i.e. the amount of detail that you can recover from a 35mm film negative) means that you can get enlargements of these photos up to 2.5m diagonally without seeing any grain 🧐

For those of you who have ever shot digital photography, then this is roughly equivalent to 500 Megapixels.

Which is just incredible!

You can see this in the community example below - where Richard  has kindly zoomed in on his photo of the letterbox to show that you can read individual letters from over 3m away. And in fact he thinks that it's the scanner's resolution that is limiting going even closer, rather than the detail included in the film!

Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - postbox
Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - close-up of postbox

(c) Richard

Adox CMS20 "Imaging System"

I was careful at the start of this article to refer to Adox CMS20 as an ‘imaging system’ rather than just a film - and there’s a good reason for this.

The technical excellence of this emulsion has been developed in tandem with a special developer. So to capture the incredible detail and non-existent grain up to 2.5metres, you will need to develop this with Adotech developer. This is available to buy for home developers - and if you’re looking for a lab that develops then SilverPan Film Lab will be able to help - just make sure that you let them know that it's Adox CMS coming in!

I appreciate that this is an extra step and cost versus usual B&W process, but it is worth it to get the exceptional details and subtlety we’ve shown.

However - there is an alternative. This is officially not recommended by Adox, because the results aren’t the super-detailed non-grained images that this film is created for. But you can develop the film in more regular B&W chemicals - and in return you will get VERY contrasty images. Think... literally black and white. No greys. Which could be a look you enjoy in which case, go for it!

If you’re going to do this then aim at low contrast scenes and expose at 3-6 ISO.

Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - flowers on a tree
Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - three men posing
Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film -two men walking in a field

(c) @heyadamwhitmore

How to Maximise Sharpness

We do have a couple of technical tips for you to get the maximum detail from the film.

Firstly, even in Adotech this will be quite contrasty - which is why it recommends different ISOs for sun (high contrast) vs cloud (low contrast) - to help contain that tendency to amp up the drama in the scene.

The film has reasonable reciprocity, with guidance that you increase shutter speed by +50% if the metered exposure suggests between 1-10 seconds, and to increase by +100% if the metered exposure suggests more than 10 seconds.

And finally - the film cannot be sharper than your lens. So using a more premium lens will allow you to capture more detail - and clearly images from a Diana or similar will not be able to be blown up to 2.5m free from artefacts!

Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - dreamcatcher

(c) Moritz Hausler

In Summary

Adox CMS 20 II Pro is one of the most technically advanced films in our store, designed specifically for capturing the maximum amount of detail with a 35mm film camera. If you're after technical perfection then this is a fantastic place to start!

For full tech specs, more reviews, and community sample photos then head to the product pages as below:

Ilford Pan F Plus Film 35mm B&W ISO 50 - Analogue Wonderland

Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - graffiti
Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - close-up of pencils
Sample photo of Adox CMS 20 film - close-up of dice

If you enjoyed this Adox CMS 20 review and found it informative then check out our other WonderBox film reviews here:

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