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Review of Topaz BW Effects 2 plugin

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Review of Topaz B&W Effects 2 plugin

Converting colour images to black and white


Digital cameras create colour images, – and the best way of exploring the world of monochrome is to convert these images from colour to black and white yourself.

This allows you to take control of how colours and tones are mapped to greys. One way to get a feel for this is a specialist conversion software plugin such as Topaz B&W Effects.

stonehenge

Keith Cooper has been looking at some of the image processing plugins from Topaz Labs. 

We've reviews of all Topaz software. See the Topaz Category in the dropdown menu at the top of the right column.
Studio and Plugins/addons have a free 30 day trial

Whilst we use Photoshop for image editing at Northlight, the Topaz plugins work with a wide variety of image editing packages, including Paintshop pro and iPhoto.

New: Topaz Studio - complete editing package (info)

Buying Topaz Labs plugins:  Direct from Topaz [check link for deals]

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial) - we have reviews of all of the Topaz plugins.

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear. 
Use our 15% discount code 'Northlight' for an additional discount on some promotions.

Latest Topaz Texture Effects 2 [Texture Effects 2 review]
>> Plugins and Topaz Studio

Keith has written numerous articles and reviews about aspects of Digital Black and White Photography – the link goes to our directory of all related articles.

What do you get with Topaz B&W Effects?

The plugin installs on your system and works with whatever application you choose (see the full compatibility list in the Summary below.

There is a photograph I took a few years ago, whilst driving across Wyoming, that I regularly use to test techniques of conversion to black and white.

The strongly coloured rocks, green grass and blue sky can show how different techniques map different colours and brightnesses to different grey tones.

Rocky hills, Wyoming

Although only taken at 100 ISO, there is noise in the image, and those white clouds show up contrast enhancement features/faults quite clearly.

The software interface is broadly similar to other Topaz Labs plugins, with controls on the right, and preset options on the left (this column can be collapsed if desired).

opening B&W effects plugin from Topaz Labs

The simplest conversions to try, come from just going through the various preset options and picking what you like.

If you modify the controls on the right hand side you can alter the look of your images, and even save presets of your own.

A ‘Cool Tone’ look.

cool toned preset for image conversions

‘Coffee Dynamic’

coffee coloured monochrome image

Two more brown effects – move your mouse over the image to see.

Original ImageHover Image

Many effects adjust local contrast, but do look out for unwanted side effects, such as the dark halo round the clouds here.

I say ‘unwanted’ YMMV …

dynamic contrast adjustment

Or you can go further, with this faux ‘Infra Red’ look

infra red photo look

Whilst you can spend ages looking through all the presets, the real power of the plugin comes from fine tuning the various settings and sliders on the right hand side.

Adjusting the conversion settings

The buttons under the navigation image give quick access to many of the settings, however I’ll show more of the detailed adjustments.

There are often several different ways of achieving what you want, and it will take some practice to find what workflow suits you best, but in general you work from steps 1 to 4.

main adjsutment settings

The adjustment steps expand to show more detailed options, which can be turned on or off (checkboxes).

This can be a bit overwhelming at first, so experiment with presets, and then modify settings to see what effects appear in your image.

There is help available and a detailed manual (PDF).

conversion fine tuning for B&W effects

You may find it helpful to work in split screen mode.

The example below shows a higher contrast preset (right) compared to a simple conversion(left).

split screen view

There are histogram views, and a ‘Zone Mode’ that replicates -some- aspects of the Zone System, from film photography.

histogram and zone system views

In the example below I’ve applied the equivalent of a red filter on B/W film to the image.

This has darkened the blue sky and brightened the orange rocks.

red filter

The ‘filter’ can be adjusted.

Below, a ‘Blue’ filter lightens the blue sky and darkens the green grass and orange rocks (but not the lighter ones in the foreground).

blue filter

You can also use the colour sensitivity adjustments to give a finer control over what colours are ‘brighter’ and what colours ‘darker’ when converted to B&W.

Overall contrast and brightness can be adjusted (move mouse over image to see a variation).

Original ImageHover Image

Adaptive exposure adjustment attempts to alter image contrast in a way that depends on image content.

Used well this can add a great deal to an image

Move your mouse over the image to see a variation of this effect

Original ImageHover Image

The sliders do interact to some degree, and it’s always worthwhile zooming in to see how things look at finer resolution.

detailed view of image

Such contrast adjustment can come at a price though.

Look how image noise in the blue sky, and dust spots have all been boosted too (had you spotted the moon in the colour version?).

contrast enhancement and noise

There is a useful curve tool available, which may be all you need to adjust with some images.

applying image adjsutment curve

Wondering how? See my article about the full process of making a B&W picture for more details.

For myself, the most important parts of this plugin are all section 1(conversion), since all the following steps are what I’d do later.

creative settings

Simplify and diffusion – mouse over to see examples

Original ImageHover Image

Posterise and Camera shake – mouse over image to see

Original ImageHover Image

Camera shake? Given the lengths I go to to avoid it, this is not a check box I can see myself using…

3: Local Adjustments

My personal preference is to duplicate the image layer I’m working on and apply B&W Effects to the duplicated layer.

This allows me to mask the filtered layer, or even to create multiple conversions and mask them together (a different conversion for sky and land for example). If your editing application doesn’t support layers, then you can apply a range of local adjustments to your image whilst in the plugin.

These allow you to selectively apply adjustments such as burning and dodging (fortunately with undo/redo functionality).

burning and dodging

4: Finishing Touches

Grain, toning and edges sum up this section.

final image adjustments

If you like toned/tinted photos, then this section gives some of the finest control over settings that I’ve seen.

adjustments for toning

However I find toning and tinting rarely benefits images, and is all too often used to try and give a bit of boost to images that just don’t make it on their own.

It will probably come as no surprise that I have a general dislike for ‘HDR style’ images and ‘Instagram style’ effects and filters. However I do appreciate that not everyone regards them as utterly tawdry as I do ;-) There are a lot of effects here… YMMV.

At a much more subtle level, the plugin does a good job at replicating the look of film grain, and does offer a number of different styles, based on black and white film stocks (if you’ve ever heard of the films that is).

film grain effects

‘Finishing touches also covers a range of borders an other ‘edge effects’. Useful if you are not working in a particularly good editing program, but IMHO best left until after your conversion.

Conclusions

The plugin strikes a good balance between presets and fine adjustment.

As someone who makes large black and white prints, I’m far more interested in the subtle image processing features offered via the various sliders.

Note the changes in fine detail and local contrast in this view of the Roman baths at Bath in the UK.

use of local contrast enhancement

You do need to be careful with image elements such as the dark stonework set against the sky. This can all too easily show up unwanted halo effects. Personally it just looks careless and sloppy when I see obvious halos in images. See some of my other B&W articles for further discussions about this.

This rather bland snapshot of Stonehenge is correctly exposed.

It’s a straight processing of the camera’s RAW file, and similar to the camera JPEG version.

There is detail in the rather low contrast sky and texture of the stones.

Opening the image in B&W Effects, I’ve a ‘basic’ conversion available.

This is the left hand side of the split image view below.

It’s similarly low contrast to the colour version.

A bit of adjustment to the basic exposure and the adaptive exposure settings gives the version below.

Be careful with such images though, since it’s easy to overdo adjustments.

“Just because all the sliders go up to eleven doesn’t mean you should ignore settings of 0,1 or 2 – especially zero”

The software has a lot of functionality – take time to explore what it can do and remember that not every adjustment needs doing at the time of the conversion from colour to B&W.

New: Topaz Studio - complete editing package (info)

Buying Topaz Labs plugins:  Direct from Topaz [check link for deals]

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial) - we have reviews of all of the Topaz plugins.

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear. 
Use our 15% discount code 'Northlight' for an additional discount on some promotions.

Latest Topaz Texture Effects 2 [Texture Effects 2 review]
>> Plugins and Topaz Studio

You can download the full user guide [PDF] to see more details about how the plugin works

There is a fully functional 30 day demo version of the software that is available.

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial)

Summary

Software plugin for a wide variety of image processing functions. Comprehensive examples, tutorials and support cover usage.

Can work with a wide range of ‘hosting’ software.

We've reviews of all Topaz software. See the Topaz Category in the dropdown menu at the top of the right column.
Studio and Plugins/addons have a free 30 day trial

System Requirements (from Topaz Labs)

Mac

  • Intel-based Macs with OS 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8 (Topaz is NOT compatible with PowerPC processors – like G4 or G5.)
  • 2 GB RAM minimum – preferably more
  • Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11***.
  • Apple Aperture 2 and 3, Lightroom 2-5, and iPhoto via Topaz Fusion Express
  • photoFXlab ONLY – Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

***If Photoshop Elements was bought from the Mac app store, the plugin cannot be directly copied into the plugins folder or else you will receive this message: “Cannot proceed: IPC Memory in use or image is too big for the system”. At this moment our plugins are not compatible with the Mac store’s version of PSE due to a sandboxing issue, which we are currently investigating.

Windows

  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 8
  • 2 GB RAM minimum – preferably more
  • Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11.
  • Lightroom 2-5 via Topaz Fusion Express
  • Irfanview
  • PaintShop Pro
  • Photo Impact
  • Serif Photo Plus
  • photoFXlab ONLY – Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

*ReMask is ONLY compatible with photoFXlab, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro. ReMask is NOT compatible with iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom, Photo Impact or Irfanview.

There is more information at Topaz Labs

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