Is ADOX Silvermax 100 film the same as the old and revered Agfa APX 100 film? One day I decided to find out. I loaded two identical Nikon 35Ti compact cameras with a roll of each film, and sneaked both cameras into a model photoshoot I was doing with one of my medium format cameras. Would one film emerge triumphant, or would it be a draw?
First, I should explain the issue. Agfa made some fantastic films back in the day. Perhaps Agfa did not have the global reputation of Kodak and the like, but that was just because Agfa advertised less in English speaking countries. In reality, Agfa made some of the world’s best films. Agfa APX 100 was regarded as one of the best of all.
When Agfa stopped production of APX 100 in 2006, it was rumoured to have frozen a large stock of bulk film. Some believe this stock was purchased by ADOX and packaged as ADOX Silvermax 100 film. However, ADOX itself seems to suggest Silvermax is a new film based on APX 100 technology. Either way, I wanted to see if ADOX Silvermax performs the same as Agfa APX 100.
APX 100 may be Agfa or “Agfa”
I should clarify that I am referring to original APX100 made by Agfa. Just to confuse the issue, another company bought the rights to the name Agfaphoto, and currently markets Ilford Kentmere 100 film as Agfaphoto APX100. It is a good film, but it is not the original Agfa APX 100 that is related to ADOX Silvermax. I have a small stock of the original Agfa APX 100 in my film fridge, and I purchased some Adox Silvermax for this test.
Testing the films in a model photoshoot
I was booked to do a photoshoot with model Olivia Harriet using one of my medium format Rolleiflex cameras, and I threw the two little Nikons in the bag so I could take some snaps with them after the main photoshoot. (The concept of the photoshoot was to do a no make-up shoot, as an antidote to all the highly made-up images of women on social media.)
I must say it was great fun to just snap away with the two automated compact cameras! Once I got back home, I immediately developed both films together in a two-reel tank. I used ADOX’s recommended developer for Silvermax film, called – wait for it – Silvermax Developer. Here is a scan of the two films:
You can see that they have different markings. The Agfa APX 100 film is labelled as you would expect. The Silvermax, on the other hand, is numbered as though it is cine film, with two numbers per frame. I wonder why? Conspiracy theorists might speculate that ADOX may have bought bulk Agfa cine film and converted it to Silvermax. Obviously, that would be nothing more than wild speculation!
Comparing like with like
Here is a comparison of two very similar shots from the two films:
I left the film edges in the images so you can see the whole frame. I found both films quite hard to scan: they have a wider tonal range than home scanners can capture (I used an Epson V750, which is about as good as flatbed scanners get).
If you let the Epson software set automatic settings, it makes a hopeless hash of it with these films, badly clipping the whites. If you manually alter the endpoints to stretch the range, you get dull, grey scans. Probably the ideal solution would be to scan each negative twice, once for the highlights and once for the lowlights. Then the two images can be combined in software.
I have to confess that I lack the patience to do that. So I scanned each negative once as best I could. Allowing for any slight variation caused by the scanning, I think you can see the two films look pretty much identical.
Here are two more:
They both have the same contrast and tonality. Let’s look at another two:
Not only do they have the same general “look”, they also have the same fine grain. You won’t be able to see that in the internet-sized shots, but when I zoom in on screen, the grain is quite distinctive: unusually fine, and unusually soft. That could be partly due to the ADOX Silvermax developer. I guess if I used Rodinal developer, the grain would be more obvious. I might try another developer next time, just in case it gives a fractionally punchier look.
Do we have a winner?
Overall, then, what is my conclusion? They are not the same film – as evidenced by the different markings – but they are the same film. To me, they appear to be identical. Both films are winners. Either ADOX has managed to manufacture a new film with spectacular fidelity to the original, or Silvermax is actually Agfa APX 100 film. Whichever it is, I’m happy. ADOX Silvermax is a wonderful film. I am thankful to ADOX for continuing to make that Agfa quality available long after Agfa shut up shop.
While I feel ADOX Silvermax is one of the best ISO 100 films in existence, I have to be honest and say it might not be right for every photographer. You see, it is not as characterful as some films such as Kodak Tri-X 400. Tri-X has a vintage, gritty character precisely because it is grainy and does not capture all tones equally well. Compared to Tri-X, ADOX Silvermax is almost too good! If that smooth tonality suits your photography, I think you will love ADOX Silvermax.
Back to the photo shoot
By the way, just in case you were wondering, here is a photo from my main photo shoot. This was taken on Kodak Portra 800 film using a Rolleiflex 6008AF camera. This medium format look is why I always return to 120 film after I’ve had a little fling with 35mm!
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