Adox CMS 20 II Review / by Jake Horn

Island Lake WY:  Pentax 645Nii  | Pentax-FA 75/2.8

Island Lake WY: Pentax 645Nii | Pentax-FA 75/2.8

Adox CMS 20 II has been marketed as an ultrahigh-resolution film, with up to 800 lp/mm resolution. This places it as the finest grain and highest resolution film on the market. This is not the type of film you throw in your camera to shoot hand held or for walking around exploring a city. This film shines when used on a tripod with the best possible glass. Adox's directions call for shooting at ISO16 for normal contrast situations and ISO20 for reduced contrast scenes. 

First off, lets talk price. A roll of 120 in September 2017 cost approximately $8.50 and a roll in 35mm is $14! At this steep price, I am going to slant my review towards value rather than overall image quality. My take on black and white film is that it needs to be cheaper than a roll of color film. Medium format CMS 20 carries a 50% price hit over normal brands like Ilford and double the price in 35mm. For this premium, a film must have something very special to offer.

Death Valley NP:  Fotoman 69HPS  | Schneider Super Angulon XL 47/5.6

Death Valley NP: Fotoman 69HPS | Schneider Super Angulon XL 47/5.6


This film has one major quark...its high contrast, so don't expect to be using it in high contrast scenes. In my dune image above, I used a 3-stop graduated ND filter to control the clouds, and also brought some detail back in Lightroom. For every well exposed shot, I had two that either blocked up the shadows or blew out the highlights. Careful exposure bracketing is highly recommended.

Resolution, as expected, is fantastic. Using Schneider lenses on my Fotoman 69HPS and using a sturdy tripod produced detail that out-resolved my scanning capabilities. Any image quality issues in the 100% blown up samples, I can assure you, came from my scanning limitations. CMS 20 has very thin emulsion, so the film is more sensitive to flatness during exposure and scanning. I use anti-newton ring glass to hold the negatives flat. I am very excited to print these photos optically on my Beseler enlarger. 


This is a great film for creating dynamic contrast in your black and white shots. But executing this well takes much pre-planning and patience. I've enjoyed the images produced, but getting them was hit or miss. I've had a lot of issues in the dark room with negative curl and water spots. For some reason, I had two of the six rolls sampled with major water stains on the finished negatives. This is something that I've never had in my fifteen years of developing my own film. I did use the specially paired Adotech developer for all six rolls (the max amount a bottle will handle), but I hear you can also develop with other brands. What is unknown, is whether or not there is a resolution reduction by doing this. If I decide to use this film again in the future, I may try different developers and see for myself. Unfortunately, I just can not justify the price of Adox CMS 20. It's a shame too cause it's a very beautiful film. If you don't have medium or large format cameras, but have high quality lenses, you may want to try some CMS 20 II. Other than that, I would just stick to some Ilford in a larger format to increase resolution.

El Capitan Guadalupe NP:  Fotoman 69HPS  | Schneider Super Angulon 120/8 

El Capitan Guadalupe NP: Fotoman 69HPS | Schneider Super Angulon 120/8