Black and White Effects 2 review: Add style to your monochrome image conversions

While the options in Photoshop for converting images to black and white have increased with recent versions, there’s still plenty of room for third party plug-ins like B&W Effects 2 from Topaz Labs. This is a free upgrade if you already bought B&W 1, which is fairly generous to say the least, otherwise it’s modestly priced at $59.99. There are over 200 one-click presets, arranged within eight collections. These cover traditional effects, stylised looks, the Albumen collection, Opalotype, toned collection, Cynaotype, Van Dyke Brown and platinum collections. In themselves, there’s a huge range of looks here that can be applied without ever having to do anything else with the plug-in. However, that would be missing out because the devil, as they say, is in the details.

The format of the layout is the same as before with the collections and presets on the left, the image in the middle, a preview window, local adjustments and then the conversion parameters on the right. One immediate difference is the preview window that is generated when moving the cursor over the presets. It’s twice as large as before and really does give a good idea of what the preset will do before applying it. There are also options to snapshot conversions when you are playing around with effects and the ability to save a final one. These can then be accessed under shortcuts for Favorites and Snapshots.

A split screen window is useful when applying colour filters and subtle enhancements like one of the many choices of film grain.

Over to the details then and the first point of interest is that you can add a colour filter to the conversion process. This makes any incidence of the selected colour in the original image appear lighter and the other colours appear darker. So, adding a red filter will make skin tones lighter and skies darker, whereas adding a blue filter will make skies whiter and skin tones darker for example.

There are also global controls for exposure and contrast and local brushes for dodging and burning. Then there’s the main options, split into four categories, covering conversion, creative effects, local adjustments and finishing touches. Here the exact method of black and white conversion can be tweaked and adjusted. Also, special processes can be added to simplify the image, posterise it or, for that really handheld look, at camera shake. The local adjustments again allow for dodging and burning, smoothing and tweaking the strength of the effects in specific areas. The final section covers the finishing touches which include toning, adding film grain, borders, edges, vignettes and transparency. There’s actually a nice choice of simulated film stock grain to choose from, with favourites like Kodak TriX 400 and Ilford Delta 3200. The choice of borders though, is disappointing. These are either solid black or solid white with a variable thickness. Compare these to the spectacular wet plate effects of Alien Skin’s Exposure 4, although that package is significantly more expensive.

To add those finishing touches to tricky images, use the local adjustment brushes and masks to add light or dark where needed.

OUR VERDICT

Lots of great effects without having to try too hard. Plenty of adjustments, both global and local with brushes and masks, that can tweak an image to make it perfect. Extras like film grain and vignettes are welcome but borders are disappointing. The ability to save complex adjustments as your own presets is a winner. Still, very affordable and very flexible, a really handy filter to have if you process a lot of colour into black and white.