Earlier this summer I shot a roll of ADOX HR-50. I had seen this film online and since I live in a country which can be very sunny I had decided to try slower films this summer. I went to the photography store (In Zurich I recommend ars-imago, the customer service is good and they have a good stock of film and analog photography equipment and chemistry) and looked for it. At first, they said they had none left but after looking they found one roll at the back of a shelf that was expiring in August that same year (2021). I bought it and set my goal to treasure each exposure while — as I often do with film stocks I try for the first time — test it with different styles and conditions to find out how it’s best used.
ADOX HR-50 is a black and white film rated at 50 ISO. As a result, the grain is fine and tones blend nicely. I found that this film both gave soft and nice mid-tones when shot in bright light and high contrast in lower light. What interested me about the high contrast, however, was that it still retained bright highlights and dark shadows. Sometimes high contrast and low light lead to muddied mid-tones and a sacrifice on the vibrancy of the tones or colours depending on film type.
When I shoot new-to-be film stocks, I do research first; I look at photos taken with the film stock. I do this to see how the film looks in different settings and because I put a lot of time into deciding which film to shoot. I have a box of film in my room, some of it is expired and there are budget films and high-end films. I have all of this film because while studying in the UK I often ordered from Analogue Wonderland and would put the film in a drawer. I wasn’t hoarding, my parents say I was, I was saving it for the perfect shooting time and I have no regrets. In that box, I have rolls of film such as Rollei Blackbird, a film which I hope to review soon and which from what I know is not available anymore.
I also do research after shooting the film stock that I’m trying. I try to shoot the film in bright light and shadow. I shoot different subject matter and scenes with a wide range of tones. I do different tests of subject matter depending on the film and what I know about it so for example with Cinestill’s colour films I focus on looking for halation. Since this film is slow and therefore likely fine grain, I chose to try to shoot subjects with fine details. I took a photograph of a spider and its legs are clear despite being so thin thanks to the fine grain (below, left).
Some films don’t handle extremes of daylight, an example is Cinestill 800T which, because of being Tungsten balanced appears blue in cast in daylight when used without a correcting filter, and Cinestill 50D which on cloudy days is murky in colour.
I shot this film on a day with bright sunlight and in the evening time as a big storm blew in as I walked home. The bright day photos are light and the storm ones show the beauty of the light going from bright to overcast. I almost think the photos taken in the storm are better because of the tonal variety but then I am also a photographer who prefers darkness to light. I think ADOX HR-50 could be shot at any time of year based on my conclusions from shooting in sunlight and overcast weather conditions. Personally, I think it could be good for warm autumn days or even Christmas markets given there’s enough artificial light to continue metering and shooting it at its box speed.
As I tend to I shot this roll on my Pentax MX and the Pentax M mount Asahi SMC f/1.7 50mm lens. I find this camera to be extremely reliable despite having a curtain which from time to time stays shut until a few shutter presses. I should repair it but aside from this it is in good working order and I have taken many of my favourite photographs with it. ADOX HR-50 in combination with my camera choices made for a very enjoyable experience.
Sometimes a film will be reviewed with suggestions of what and when to shoot it. This one is a bit tricky because it is in my opinion, more specific in when and what is appropriate to shoot with ADOX HR-50 when compared to ILFORD HP5 PLUS say, which for a long time, I always had in my bag to shoot because it works for basically everything.
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ADOX HR-50 is in its fundament a slow film for technical use that has been modified using ADOX’s “Speed Boost” technology. This I assume means that the film stock it is made from isn’t actually ISO 50 but that in some way it has been modified to be shot at iso 50. I am not a film technician so cannot say much about the chemistry and technology behind this.
ars-imago states that ADOX HR-50 is suited for urban landscape and travel photography and that for portraits they recommend a developer specifically made for HR-50 (ADOX FX-39 II). I haven’t shot portraits on HR-50 but the high contrast could make for good dramatic close-ups. If I would recommend this film for anything based on how I have shot it, it would be for fine art nature photography.
A photo that stays in my mind as being helped by the qualities of ADOX HR-50 is the one below of a group of small white flowers. The details of the petals and flowers are sharp and while the contrast is high there is still detail in the highlights. The leaves around the flowers that are further away are visible but the contrast means that the focus of the subject is on the flowers and they almost look luminous.
I sent the finished roll to a lab for developing and scanning. I tend to scan film myself but for a while, I didn’t have my scanner to access. I think it’s important to mention this since as you likely know different chemical processes and scanners affect the finished result of negatives and scans and I don’t know which chemical process the lab I send to uses. When I’ve developed film at home I have mostly used ILFORD ILFOSOL 3 which is fairly all around but I’ve heard that labs tend to use Kodak black and white chemistry although again this is something I’ve heard or read and not a fact I can defend.
This was the first time I’ve shot ADOX film and despite having 2 rolls of ADOX Scala 160 in my film box (I am waiting to shoot them when I can develop them in the ADOX Scala positive chemistry). The first films I shot were Kentmere Pan 400 and then Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400, affordable films for a beginner who is learning. I then moved to ILFORD HP5 PLUS and explored more expensive Fujifilm stocks like the now discontinued Fujifilm Fujicolor industrial/business (I’ve previously reviewed it on Emulsive earlier this year and was surprised to learn recently that it was no longer being made).
The reason I never tried ADOX was in part that I really enjoyed Ilford and also that the packaging didn’t draw me in. I know that judging something by packaging is not good and I don’t only buy films if I like the packaging but something about the ADOX films looked boring. There are films with attractive packaging that I’m not interested in or have shot and was disappointed by so if shooting this film taught me anything besides how great it is then it is to not judge a film by packaging.
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