Best software for b&w images?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by Rick Helmke, Dec 15, 2021.

  1. Evening everyone,

    Back in the old days when I first ventured into digital I tried converting some jpegs over to b&w. I’ve burned so many miles of Tri X and several others that it’s what I like best and prefer to work in. Those early attempts were discouraging to day the least and I just kept on shooting film. I’m seeing so impressive work now and would like to find out what software is used. Lightroom or the more recent versions of PS? I’ll keep shooting film but I haven’t kept up with software and need to get up to speed.

    Rick H
  2. I use the Silver Efex module of the Nik Collection for this purpose. I think you can still download the 2012 version for free. I expect a few people have kept downloads of it too.
  3. IMO, almost anything will work, so long as it has curves to play with.
  4. Different post-processing software has different purposes, capabilities and prices. So IHMO, you first need to think about how you might want to post-process your photos.

    Adobe software (including Lightroom, Photoshop) is the post-processing 'industry standard'. Compared to other alternatives, it's relatively expensive. I have an Adobe 'photography plan' subscription which includes both Lightroom and Photoshop for $10 a month. For me, it's worth it because I use Lightroom for all my cataloging and general 'whole photo enhancements/edits'. Lightroom enhancements edits are 'non-destructive' so I can always create multiple versions, rollback edits, etc. I use Lightroom as a 'light' editor for 90% of my photos.

    Photoshop is a much more sophisticated editor for single photos. It allows me to build up different 'layers' of enhancements/edits and filters and to blend these layers in sophisticated ways. So for example, I can apply a 'sharpening' filter' in Lightroom and the result is (non-destructively) applied to the whole photo. In Photoshop, I can apply the same filter but decide to which areas of the photo it should be applied (by masking in or out) and to what degree from 0% - 100%..I can also choose the tonal range it applies to and the 'blending mode' (color, tone, and many more). I started using Photoshop for the digital restoration of old photos. It's also useful for removing 'distracting' parts of a photo (clutter). Photoshop is ideal for 'fine tuning' individual photos.

    With my Adobe 'photography' subscription, I automatically get the latest versions of both Lightroom and Photoshop: all the latest features/filters and no worries about 'vulnerabilities' for hacking. Neither of these programs specializes in B/W conversions, though both provide for it.

    Some alternatives for Lightroom are given at:
    - techradar
    - have camera will travel
    - Digital trends
    - Skylum

    Some alternatives for Photoshop are given at:

    For dedicated B/W conversion software, I give a +1 for Silver Efex Pro.
    Until fairly recently, you could still get a download link to the (free) 2012 version of the Nik collection (including Silver Efex Pro) e-mailed to you via the DXO website. It looks like DXO no longer offers this option. All the "free download Nik collection 2012" links mentioned in various 2020/2021 articles and blogs now redirect to the DXO webpage on the 'newest' Nik collection. The main problem with the (free) 2012 version - which I still have installed - is that it no longer works as a plugin (filter) for the more recent versions of Adobe products like Lightroom and Photoshop (and maybe other software). In principle, the 2012 version can be used in 'stand-alone mode' but I've never tried this.

    The current - DXO developed/maintained/supported version of the Nik collection, with a 'holiday discount' - costs $100. This version of the Nik collection does a whole lot more than the 2012 version ever could. In general, I'm not a fan of using old, unsupported software like the 2012 version. So if you really want to explore the options for - and fine-tune - your B/W conversions, the 'official' Nik collection (Silver Efex Pro) is definitely the way to go!
  5. I like Lightroom for the basic B&W conversion because it's entirely nondestrctive and reversible, has very good controls for changing tonality by color (like using filters in the old days, but far more flexible and powerful), allows virtual copies so that you can have several processing approaches side by side, and seamlessly integrates with Photoshop when you need more powerful editing. Silver Efex has a lot of effects, in particular, film emulations. Silver Efex also works as a plug-in to lightroom and photoshop.I don't use Silver Efex much anymore, but when I use any Nik filters, I use them as plug-ins toward the end of the editing process.
    digitaldog and mikemorrell like this.
  6. I agree. NIK Effects or its descendants IS nice.

    When converting color film images, the Photoshop IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>B&W is my personal favorite.
    mikemorrell likes this.
  7. Since we're pitching software, I'll add that Affinity Photo is way less expensive than the alternatives and has pretty good black and white conversion options. It also supports HDR, focus stacking and many other things. Been on sale recently, not sure if there are still holiday offers.
  8. PS: In case you are new to B&W conversion, this is what I meant by tonality controls by color. This particular version is in Lightroom, but any conversion software worth considering should have something similar. (Some have fewer color choices.) It allows you to darken or lighten pixels that are of any given color in the unconverted original--e.g., to darken a sky, much as us old folks used to do back in the day with a red filter.

    The little circle in the top left of the mix panel is particularly useful. It's one of Lightroom's "targeted adjustment tools". Click on that, then place the cursor any place you want in the image, and drag up (to lighten) or down (to darken). It will mix the the sliders based on the mix of colors in that area of the image.

    digitaldog likes this.
  9. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    What software do you currently have?
    You know that doing this on a JPEG is going to introduce more data loss, got a TIFF or better, a raw?
  10. Rick It's not clear to me whether you want to convert color film to digital BW or just convert BW film to digital? Here are samples of both. I use Lightroom Version 6 originally purchased licensed, not the on-line CC version. Curious, how will you convert film to digital? I'm scanning with an Epson V850.
    Ektachrome 100 color positive film 4x5 converted.
    [​IMG]Dey Farm Wheels by Alan Klein, on Flickr

    Tmax 400 4x5 BW negative film
    [​IMG]Craig House 1 by Alan Klein, on Flickr
  11. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    Now the question I have for Alan: is the original film really utterly blown out in most of the sky, and the window frame or was it scanned that way, on purpose???
  12. The scans are clipped but I don;t know if the originals are. I haven't checked.
  13. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    So this is supposed to be an illustration of good photographic (film) exposure, scanning or conversions to B&W? And why are the scans clipped, you prefer having no image detail in that part of the image?
  14. What I want to do is take digital images from a D4, D8xx or whatever and be able to make good quality b&w images for a website and high quality prints. Printing from b&w film is no problem but early on in digital I couldn’t get anything I was happy with so I quit trying. It looks like printers and software have improved so dramatically that I’m need to catch up.

    Rick H.
  15. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    Rick, do you have a desktop photo printer?
    What raw converter are you using?
  16. I'm not entering these photos into a contest. Yes, there are effects in them that some might not like or may like. The white window in the wheels shots is somewhat clipped, hardly noticeable. But I accept your complaint. On the farm shot, I deliberately clipped the sky completely out for effect because some of it was originally clipped in the film. Interestingly, 133 people liked the shot.

    In any case, the purpose was to show two film types scanned for the OP so he can decide what scan process he might use in the future.
  17. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    First point; good idea, don't.
    2nd point, do attempt to provide the OP good examples!
    3rd, listen to the OP who is using a digital camera and when shooting film, hardly needs examples of what appears to be poorly scanned film.
  18. I also recommend NIK Silver Efex Pro 3, part of NIK Collection 4. It has some new features I really like like Clear View. Here is one webinar on it. Look for others too but make sure they are for the latest version.

    I access the NIK collection from DXO PL5. You can access it in different ways.

    DxO Webinar: Artistic B&W Landscape Images with Nik Silver Efex
  19. That's not correct. Yes, it is true that the update to photoshop 2022 does not port over the (Google) Nik Collection of plugins. In my case, the update deleted the photoshop 2021 version (though I didn't want to but missed to check that I wanted to keep the older version) but left behind the "Google" folder in "plugins". Just copy that folder (which contains the Nik Collection) to the "plugins" folder for Adobe Photoshop 2022; restart photoshop and the plugins work as before. I just tried that very same procedure after your post alerted me to the fact that in photoshop 2022, Nik was no longer present.
    Thanks for the reminder; I just purchased it. Quite clear that the old free google version eventually will fail.

    To the OP, DxO also offers a DxO Filmpack; I have no experience with it though. I believe I tried it a few years back but I am not generally a friend of the "film look".
    mikemorrell likes this.
  20. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    Rick, there are two paths here, one you can fully control, one you can't control at all.
    Print path: there are modern ink jet photo printers which can produce B&W prints that are dead nuts neutral and have a higher Dmax than any conventional silver print. For example, Epson's pro line has a mode called Advanced B&W. There are many advantages, a few disadvanages. Advantages are, it has a proprietary mode for B&W, using less inks (saves you money) that can produce perfect neutral prints under nearly any lighting condtion. In the past, there were issues in such prints due to what is called metameric failure. Prints woudl take on an ugly color cast (often greenish) depending on the lighting. This is totally fixed today with this mode. The prints are also more lightfast (archival) again due to using less inks. The disadvantage is this is black box; proprietary. You can convert a full color image as you desire, or use one of the products mentioned but using this mode will do a conversion itself and not honor that B&W conversion. Using Epson's Print Layout (free), you soft proof what it will do. You can tone the print (sepia etc) and see the results. But if you go to the trouble of doing a 'custom' conversion, that isn't honored.

    The web is another ball of wax. You can't control what others see of your images there. Some are not using color managed browsers. If they are, many are not calibrating their displays. Or they calibrate them differently. Perfect example are Alan's two examples shown above. On my calibrated NEC SpectraView, they look awful: over exposed, too bright, clipped highlights (well the highlights are massively clipped, the RGB values don't lie). He may see them as looking fine,they look pretty awful on this end. A perfect example that the web is a crap shoot as for as what others see; B&W or otherwise.

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