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Power Retouch Black White Studio 1.3 pro review

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Power Retouch Black/White Studio 1.3 pro review

A Photoshop plugin for converting colour to black and white

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There are lots of ways of converting colour to black and white.

This plugin tries to make the process more like some of the steps you might consider when working with film and paper in a darkroom.

Latest versions of the plugin no longer support use on Macs – check with the producer for full compatibility.

deep shadows

We have a collection of methods available on this site, so what made Keith look at another black and white conversion plugin?

Several novel features of Black/White Studio from Power Retouch mimic aspects of Keith’s normal black and white workflow. These offer the equivalent of sophisticated masked adjustment layers within the plugin itself.

The Apple Mac version of the plugin is covered here, but the PC windows version works the same (although the interface is slightly different)

What’s in the software?

Black/White Studio is one of a wide range of Photoshop plugins available from Power Retouch (demos available).

What sets it apart, is the range of adjustments you can incorporate during the conversion.

image converted from colour to black and whiteThis is from the developers site:

  • Light sensitivity of professional films (Kodak Tri-X, T-MAX, etc.) preset.
  • Define your own light sensitivity curves – and save them for later.
  • Colour filters (like camera-filters: yellow, orange, etc.).
  • Multigrade range 00 to 5 – with an extra step at each end.
  • Exposure equivalent to f-stops.
  • Highlight and shadow control.
  • Zone adjustments – three zones available with eyedroppers and zone width option
  • The Black & White Studio plugin works with these image modes (Windows and Mac)…
    8, 16. 48 & 64 bit: RGB, Greyscale, Duotone, CMYK

I’ll show the basic features of the plugin, but to really get the feel for the range of options, you should download the demo and have a play yourself.

If you are new to digital black and white and wonder how different colours get converted to greys, you might want to have a look at my basic introduction to digital black and white

Many of the controls should be familiar to anyone who has worked in a darkroom, but even if you haven’t, some experimenting on images of your own should give you some ideas about what everything does. There is also plenty of information about the different functions on the developer’s site.

Opening the plugin shows a sample of your original, converted to black and white.

black and white conversion plugin

In this instance the effect of an orange filter with conventional black and white film is simulated.

However, filters would vary in their effects with different types of black and white film and you can simulate this too.

One of the distinguishing features of different types of film were their sensitivities to different colours (wavelengths) of light. The default setting is an even sensitivity (perceptual luminance).

film types

Below I’ve selected Tri-X, which was a film I remember using a lot when starting out in my B&W film photography. As with all settings on the plugin, you can save favourite sets, so as to be able to easily re-apply them to other images.

Tri-X film effect

You can change the display to show your original image as well

double view

or even split the view

split view of black and white conversion

The slider allows you to zoom in, while you can also drag the image in the window to see other parts.

conversion settingsThere are two more collections of settings, these are where the effects can get more complex and are sometimes quite subtle.

Many conversions may just be OK with a coloured filter setting, or even a film type.

The print options are related to a lot of the processes that you might use when printing in the dark room, but have the advantage of being much quicker and don’t leave your fingers smelling of chemicals…

In this first example I’ve just increased the intensity of the shadows – there is still detail visible there, it just doesn’t show up very well in this reduced JPEG of a screen shot

bw print related settings

Notice the checked highlight and black alerts.

These give you a quick guide to clipping, and show up like this if you really push things.

clipping indicators

The most novel feature comes under the ‘Zones’ control

It is very similar to the masked Photoshop adjustment layers that I make heavy use of in many of my black and white landscape prints.

You can select up to three zones (areas of similar brightness) and adjust them. In the picture below I’ve selected some of the shadowed wall (with the eye dropper) and can alter it’s look.

zone alteration for black and white

You can see the areas being affected by enabling visibility of the masks.

zone indicators

This is a very powerful tool and can save a lot of time in setting adjustment layers

Note that the selection is based on lightness, not area. This means that you do have to be quite careful in using the tool.

Just in case you are concerned about having to do your work in a small window – it can be resized (here on a 23″ monitor)

large screen


The results were quick and showed no obvious artefacts from the conversion.

I like the speed at which you can experiment with different effects, and I found that the zones feature was of use for me in quickly sketching out possible alternatives for a black and white photograph. One minor thing to note is that the zones vary with adjustments, so if you have a selection of light areas and darken them, then the zone may shrink or change shape.

I suppose that since I do a lot of this sort of stuff, I’m looking for more detailed control over the zones effects. However if you are less experienced in digital black and white I think it would be of great use, in helping you get more out of your work.

During my teaching work, I often find one of the hardest things is for students to get used to visualising the finished results they are aiming for. I’ll certainly use this plugin for quickly showing some of the wide variety of approaches you can have to converting colour images to black and white.

The plugin also works in CMYK mode, where the conversions look somewhat different. If you are working in CMYK, then hopefully you will know many of the pitfalls and features, however most people (photographers) need never go near it! Suffice to say I will -only- supply images to clients in CMYK if they can prove to my satisfaction that they understand what they are doing – and many can’t!

There are lots of detailed sample images showing the effect of all the various settings, available at the Power Retouche site along with a demo that I’d suggest you try…


A very comprehensive and easy to use plugin for converting colour images to black and white, both in RGB and CMYK

Lots of useful effects that should be familiar to those coming from a film background, while not putting off those who regard film purely as a historical aspect of photography :-)

The plugin is available either on its own at $75 or as part of various packages of the many other plugins offered by this developer.

Note (from developers info)
Power Retouche Photoshop plug-ins are also for Paint Shop Pro, Corel Draw, Illustrator, Fireworks and other graphic software and photo software for photo editing, restoration and retouching. Mac version is only for Photoshop.

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