Software Review: Macphun Tonality Pro

November 19, 2014

By Greg Scoblete

Canadian photographer Ted Grant reportedly mused that when you photograph people in black-and-white, “you photograph their souls.” We’re not sure if Mr. Grant would impart the same existential significance to post-processing software, but Macphun’s new Tonality Pro will definitely give your photos an ethereal aura.
Available for Macs only, Tonality Pro is a feature-rich black-and- white image editor that can be used as a standalone application or as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop (including Elements), Lightroom and Apple Aperture (R.I.P.). For our test, we used the standalone version as well as the plug-in for Photoshop CC. We started with a basic question: Does the world need another software tool for monochrome images? We began as skeptics. We ended as true believers.
Tonality Pro takes a layered approach toward editing, providing you with a total of eight layers to work with. It can process native 16-bit RAW files, so you can draw on the complete tonal range in your image data. In addition, Tonality supports the usual image formats such as JPEGs, PSD, TIFF (both 8-bit and 16-bit) and PNG files.
There are two basic ways to work with Tonality Pro. The first is to lean on the generous assortment of presets. There are more than 150 in all, arranged into themes such as basic, architecture and portrait. Pick a theme from the right rail and you’ll see a selection of presets running filmstrip-style along the bottom of the program to preview the effect. We liked that you could actually adjust the opacity of the preset directly on the filmstrip preview with a slider.
Once you’ve settled on a preset, you’re not married to it. Everything can be further tweaked using the entirety of the Tonality tool kit. You can save your customizations as your own preset for future use, which is nice. You can also build and save custom presets from scratch.
If you chafe at the notion of a preset narrowing your creative palette, you can dive right into a very extensive and compelling set of features. They’re too numerous to catalog here, but we’ll single out some highlights.
We really liked the adaptive-exposure tool, which lets you intelligently dial down areas of over exposure without simultaneously losing details in the shadows. In the Tone tool, there are sliders for making adjustments to highlights, mid tones and shadows. We zoomed in on an image at 109 percent to see how well the software could identify the boundaries between each zone and found it did an excellent job at finding and adjusting them. We also were impressed with the clarity tool, which adjusts contrast in the mid tones to really emphasize the detail in your photo.
If you’re a fan of film emulations, Tonality will likely have many of your favorites, and you can layer your own custom textures onto an image if the software’s collection doesn’t suit your needs.
Tonality’s user interface is very clean and intuitive. There’s a small assortment of editing tools, such as a brush and mask, aligned at the top of the program. The bulk of your tools are positioned on the right rail, leaving a generous workspace for image editing. You can zoom in on a single image or work in split-screen view to compare edits against your original file.
We liked that you could make very precise edits using the pressure sensitive brush. The program can magnify a photo by 300 percent, so we had no trouble singling out even extremely tiny details in our photos. Tonality supports tablet editing, but even without a stylus/ tablet combo, we found the brush and eraser to be highly accurate. One quibble: While you can adjust the diameter of the brush, you can’t adjust the bristle type. It’s limited to a circular pattern. Plus, the brush controls for size, opacity and softness are displayed in two separate places, which can be a bit confusing when you’re just starting out.
When your masterpiece is finished, it can be shared from within the program via email and iMessage, or to several social networks, including Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and SmugMug. If you’re working in the standalone app, you can export images to Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and Macphun’s own Intensify, Snapheal and FX Photo Studio apps. There’s no support for FTP or cloud services such as Dropbox, which would have been nice.
While Tonality Pro is impressive in its own right, it’s not the only black-and-white game in town. If you’re already happily using apps or plug-ins from onOne, AlienSkin, Nik or Tiffen and agonize over the thought of parting with $70, Tonality Pro isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk choice. If you’re casting about for something new in your black-and-white tool bag, or have yet to fully explore the potential of monochrome image-making, Tonality Pro is a no-brainer. There are enough features to keep seasoned users engaged for hours, and enough presets and simple tweaks that newcomers should be up and running in no time. You can download a free trial version on the Macphun site and judge for yourself. We think you’ll be impressed.
PROS: Great user-interface, powerful feature set, efficient workflow and a wealth of presets.
CONS: No cloud sharing options, only one brush shape. 
PRICE: $70