Software Review: onOne Software Perfect B&W

May 17, 2013

By Dan Havlik

I’ve reviewed onOne Software’s suites of software plug-ins over the years and have been impressed with how much functionality the company packs into these packages of photo apps. I looked at onOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 6 back in January 2012 and then I blinked and Perfect Photo Suite 7 emerged some time during the fall of last year. Since then, the bundle has jumped to Version 7.1. (My, how time flies!)

As usual, there are a lot of good tools in the new Perfect Photo Suite including five new apps and some revamps of the older products. Rather than delve into all that Suite 7 has to offer—believe me, there’s some good stuff there and, at the very least, it’s worth a free 30-day trial to see if you like it—I thought I’d look at just one of the new products in the pack: Perfect B&W.

As its name suggests, Perfect B&W is a black-and-white conversion app and it’s similar to Nik Software’s popular Silver Efex Pro 2 program but with a slightly different approach. Perfect B&W is one of the apps in Perfect Photo Suite 7, which you have the option to purchase on its own either in a Premium Edition ($99.95) that works as a plug-in with Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture, and as a standalone app; or in the Standard Edition ($29.95), just as a standalone application. (The Premium Edition of Perfect Photo Suite 7 sells for $299.95, or $149.95 as an upgrade from previous Perfect Photo Suites.)

Black-and-White World
While I’m somewhat ambivalent about the nostalgia behind the continued, niche popularity of traditional film, black-and-white imagery will always have a place in my heart. I think this is true for most photographers, which is probably why products such as Nik’s Silver Efex Pro have such a devoted audience. And, in all honesty, if you already have Silver Efex Pro on your computer, there’s really no need to also purchase Perfect B&W.

Perfect B&W is a solid black-and-white conversion program in its own right, however, adding a level of brush control I think both professionals and advanced amateurs will appreciate. The layout of the program, while not particularly original, is functional and easy to understand, even to those who have never used onOne’s apps before.

Pick an image you want to convert and it will open virtually full-size in the main window of the program. There are also options to zoom in to 100 percent, or to show the shot at 50 percent or 25 percent. The background defaults to a neutral gray, and everything has a familiar Adobe Lightroom-like look and feel to it, which has become commonplace for most plug-ins these days. (That’s not a criticism; more of a comment as to how ubiquitous the Lightroom style has become in photo software.)

When you open a color shot, Perfect B&W will offer a basic, default black-and-white conversion and, if you’re in a hurry and you like what you see, you can just go with that one and you’ll be done. Of course, the fun comes from all the different ways you can tweak the black-and-white look of your image, either through onOne’s preset effects or through your own custom creations.

Special Effects
There are a lot of effects built into Perfect B&W and many of them are quite good. Half the fun of the program is quickly running your images through these presets, which are accessed on the left-hand panel and sorted via nine categories: All, Basic Fundamentals, 19th Century Processes, 20th Century Classic Silver, 21st Century Modern Digital, High-Speed Documentary, Hint of Color, Hollywood Portrait and True Film. Yes, those categories sound a little odd and arbitrary but they’re really just loose groupings for the myriad of options.

The thumbnail previews in the left panel will show you what the converted image will look like once the effects have been applied. The previews are small and it’s hard to get a good idea of how some of the more subtle effects will change the image. Click on the thumbnail and, in a second or two, the effect will be applied to the full-size image. In other words, it’s a fast and seamless process to see the before-and-after comparisons of the effects. As with Silver Efex Pro and similar software programs, you can do side-by-side, or above-and-below, before-and-after comparisons of your image.

There are a lot of presets to choose from, some of them good, some of them so-so, and some of them on the cheesy side. A few of the names of the effects can be silly but it’s all in good fun. For instance, there’s an Ansel in the Valley effect in the 20th Century Classic Silver category, and a Bogart Cool in the Hollywood Portrait category. As with Silver Efex Pro, Perfect B&W offers a batch of simulated film effects in the True Film category, 16 in all, including an Ilford Delta, Kodak T-Max and a Fujifilm Neopan. These are kind of neat but, as I said, I’ve seen this before and done more extensively. (If you really like old film looks, try Alien Skin’s Exposure 4, which I named “Software of the Year” for 2012.)

Of course, there are some effects you’re going to return to again and again and others, not so much. Perfect B&W lets you flag your favorites, which are automatically placed in the Favorites category.

Brush It On
Many Perfect B&W users will just turn to the presets but others might want more granular control. For that, the software offers several brush tools allowing you to dodge and burn your images, add some contrast and detail, or apply selective coloring, if that’s your thing. (It’s not my thing.)

I also really liked the new Perfect Brush tool, which lets you paint in specific black-and-white effects to precise sections of your image, while recognizing the edges of the sections you don’t want to affect. So, for instance, if you want an Ansel Adams-type effect on a sky but don’t want it to alter someone’s face, Perfect Brush will let you do that.

There are also blending modes, letting you mix your black-and-white image with the original to create a hand-painted look or a style some might refer to as “grungy.” Neither of these looks are really my thing, but some photographers out there might like them. If you like adding borders, edges or vignettes to your shots, Perfect B&W lets you do that, too. And finally, if after all this tweaking you create a look that you’re going to want to use again, Perfect B&W will let you save it as a preset for the future. All in all, it’s a pretty comprehensive black-and-white package for a little less than $100.

The Bottom Line
OnOne Software has produced another great package of plug-ins with its new Perfect Photo Suite 7 and one tool that stands out is Perfect B&W. While it’s not a revolutionary program by any means—much of what’s in the software was done years ago by Nik in Silver Efex Pro—it’s a very good black-and-white conversion app if you don’t already have one. You can download it for free at the onOne website for a 30-day trial but I’ve got a feeling you’ll eventually want to plunk down the $99.95 and buy it for yourself.

Pros: Tons of excellent preset effects; familiar, easy-to-use interface; brush tools and adjustment sliders give you precise control

Cons: Owes a lot to Nik Silver Efex Pro; some of the effects are a little cheesy; selective coloring is not for everyone

$99.95, Premium Edition; $29.95, Standard Edition;

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