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Roundup: 9 Cool Black-and-White Photo Apps | PDN Online


Roundup: 9 Cool Black-and-White Photo Apps

December 25, 2014

By Greg Scoblete

It wouldn’t be an article about black-and-white photography tools without the obligatory reference to the master of the genre, Ansel Adams, so here goes: “You don’t take a photograph: You make it.” While the process of taking monochrome images may have changed from Adams’s day, modern technology still leaves plenty of latitude for creativity and craftsmanship when it comes to making monochrome images.


onOne Perfect B&W

A part of onOne’s recently updated Perfect Photo Suite 9, Perfect B&W has gotten several noteworthy upgrades. Among them is the ability to print images directly from Perfect B&W and Smart Photo, which lets you re-edit images with all your previous settings preserved. All your custom tweaks can be saved as a preset, and you can share your custom presets with other Perfect B&W users. Monochrome makers will appreciate the updated automatic tone algorithm that can quickly add brightness and clarity to images. There’s also a new noise-reduction tool that can smooth out an entire image or be targeted at trouble spots in the shadows or highlights. Beyond the retooled black-and-white capabilities, Perfect Photo Suite has had a soup-to-nuts upgrade with a new Browse module that delivers 30-percent faster RAW previews and preset load times, plus new organizational tools to help you manage your sprawling image library. The Premium Edition of Perfect Photo Suite 9 can be used as a standalone app, or as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop (CC and CS6) and Apple Aperture 3. A basic edition drops support for plug-ins.

Price: $149 (Premium); $99 (Basic) 


Macphun Tonality pro

The newest monochrome software tool on the block, Tonality Pro is also one of the most powerful. This Mac-only software runs standalone or as a plug-in for Photoshop CC and Lightroom, as well as Aperture. It can process 16-bit RAW images and offers eight image layers to work with. There are over 150 presets to choose from, including a generous catalogue of film emulations, and each preset can be further adjusted using the software’s extensive editing sliders. You can make edits to the presets and save your tweaks as a custom preset, or save your own custom-built presets from scratch. You can further adjust your digital images with the software’s library of 24 textures, which include paper, metal and film variants. Alternatively, you can upload your own custom textures into the program and apply those as well. Tonality Pro brings a number of clever software tricks to bear, such as an Adaptive Exposure tool that lets you adjust the brightness in your image without blowing out the highlights or losing details in the shadows. The software supports stylus editing with variable brush diameters and can add lens blur effects as well. Be sure to check out our review of Tonality Pro in the November issue of PDN and at

Price: $69


Google Nik Collection Silver Efex Pro 2

Silver Efex Pro 2 contains 38 presets that are broken out into classic-, modern- and vintage- themed libraries. The software’s preset libraries also include space for recently used presets, as well as favorites for easy access. All of Silver Efex’s presets allow for fine-tuning parameters like tone, sensitivity, color filters and more, using the thorough editing toolset. If you’re not satisfied with the canned variety, you can create and save your own personalized presets as well. The software can apply effects globally across an image, or let you dial down using the control points tool to make selective adjustments to portions of the image. If film emulations are your fancy, the program has 18 to choose from, organized by ISO so you’ll have a sense of how grainy you’re about to get before you choose a film. One of the best features of the software is its History Browser, which gives you a visual history of your edits so you can walk back your process to fix mistakes, or simply review just how you created such a fantastic image. Another useful feature of Silver Efex Pro 2 is the ability to pick your editing background from a choice of silver, gray or black to better distinguish your image from the software’s editing window. Since it was absorbed into the Google empire, Nik now packages Silver Efex Pro 2 with its other titles, so you have to spring for the whole suite if you want to flex the Efex.

Price: $149


Totally Rad Replichrome I & II

Most black-and-white software developers make a very close study of classic film grains before writing algorithms that will pepper your photo with realistic grain. Totally Rad has gone a step further in its Replichrome I and II by studying how particular films looked when scanned by Fujifilm and Noritsu scanners. The result is the ability to process your images not just by the film type you desire, but by a particular scan type as well. Noritsu “scans” in Replichrome I & II will produce greater saturation and warmer shadows, while the Fujifilm Frontier process will produce darker reds and flatter images. Replichrome I offers four Kodak black-and-white film emulations in addition to a more numerous collection of color films. The second installment, Replichrome II, was launched late summer and delivers 19 new films and 203 unique presets focused on slide films. When you’ve found the film you want, you can choose to under- or overexpose the final image to jack up (or down) grain and color shifts. Both Replichromes are available as plug-ins for Lightroom, Photoshop (CS 6 and CC) and Adobe Camera Raw—but will only work with RAW images files. You can install the software on two computers with a single license.

Price: $99 each


AlienSkin Exposure 6

AlienSkin takes film emulation seriously. Really seriously. For the new Exposure 6, the company shot test films and scoured photographic archives to put discontinued films under the microscope to ensure their digital simulations were as faithful as possible. The object, the company says, is not to apply a film emulation universally and haphazardly, but accurately across the dynamic range of the image. Exposure 6 does far more than render monochrome images—and we covered the ins and outs in Theano Nikitas’ review in the October issue. For our purposes, Alien Skin’s black-and-white chops are impressive. Film stocks include some vintage daguerreotype, wet plate and cyanotype emulations. There are even infrared films like Ilford SFX 200 for that false- color vibe. If you have presets, textures or borders you love, you can sync them across multiple computers so they’re always at hand. Effects can also be applied in batches to speed your workflow. You can use AlienSkin as a standalone program or as a plug- in for Photoshop (CS6 and CC), Lightroom and Aperture 3.

Price: $149


Topaz Labs B&W Effects

Like the other monochrome software tools mentioned here, Topaz Labs’ B&W Effects draws its emulated film grains from the careful study of scanned film. It boasts one of the more generous libraries of effects, with over 200 of them divided into eight “curated collections.” Ansel Adams fans will appreciate the software’s Zone System view. Using this view, you can break down an image into 11 different zones between pure black and pure white, so you can target edits at specific photo zones while paying homage to the days when doing so was a more painstaking process. You can preview any of the effects before you apply them on a large thumbnail view. Any custom adjustments you make can be saved as a preset for future use. If you want to leave it up to the algorithm, the Quick Tools menu gives you a series of one-click adjustments to stylize images in a snap.

Price: $59


Mobile Apps


Not to be confused with the Australian pop singer of the same name, Lenka is actually the brainchild of noted photographer Kevin Abosch. This iOS-only app is not quite overflowing with features, and that’s the point. The simplicity gives you a toolset that lets you get snapping quickly. You can choose between a regular black-and-white filter or a high-contrast one, with effects previewed on your phone’s display in real time. Image aspect ratios can be changed from rectangular to square. Images on your camera roll can be converted to monochrome in Lenka, but the app’s other editing tools consist of just crop and rotate. The app can turn on the flash to use as a continuous light source, but won’t allow flash photography. It also allows for very sensitive touch focusing.

Price: $2.99


Jixipix Dramatic Black & White

JixiPix Dramatic Black & White is a more extensive editor than Lenka, with tools to spotlight images and sliders to tweak texture, contrast, tone, grain, color and opacity. There are three categories of presets—black-and-white, dramatic black-and-white and infrared—that can be further modified to suit your taste. Feeling lucky? A dedicated randomizer button plucks out a random image effect for you. You can crop photos and share to your camera roll, or out to your social network of choice. Dramatic Black & White is available for both iOS and Android devices.

Price: $1.99 (iOS and Android) 


Red Giant Noir Photo

Red Giant is a purveyor of advanced video graphics software that has dipped its collective toe into the mobile world with Noir Photo. This app not only transforms iPhone images into striking monochromes, but lets you play with lighting in a way that the aforementioned apps don’t. The goal, of course, is to achieve a style evocative of film noir in your iPhone photography. Your lunch has never looked so ominous. The app ditches the customary sliders in favor of buttons Red Giant says were modeled after “analogue spaceship dials.” You can create vignettes by touching and pinching portions of the screen while using dials for contrast, outer exposure and inner exposure, to work in and around the vignette to fine-tune your creation.

Price: $2.99