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Software review Convert to BW Pro 3

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Convert to B/W Pro 3 – just like ‘real’ black and white?

The latest colour to black and white conversion plugin from ‘Theimagingfactory’

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Software plugin that converts colour images to black and white.

Keith has come across many different techniques for converting colour images to black and white, and we have a specific page devoted to the collection.

restaurant print soft

Note [2010]- the company no longer updates its software – their site still has downloadable versions of all their software (with activation codes) If you are using software newer than CS3 then you may be out of luck.

This review covers a Photoshop plugin from Theimagingfactory that comes at the conversion process from a different angle. It is designed to give a lot of the feel of what you would traditionally do in a darkroom, even to the point of simulating film and paper characteristics.

Converting from colour to black and white

The images captured by your camera are in colour, if you want black and white (aka monochrome) you need to get rid of the colour. Even if you use your camera’s ‘Black and white mode’ the images are still captured initially in colour. By all means experiment with your camera if it offers a B/W mode, but remember that for the best results, shoot at as high quality as possible (preferably raw format) and then convert to B/W afterwards

I’ve written articles on the fundamentals of digital black and white that goes into the details, but suffice to say, most techniques take parts of the colour information and selectively use this to build up a greyscale image.

What does the plugin do?

The Plugin works with Photoshop (I was using CS on a Mac) and will convert a colour image into black and white. OK, you’re saying, so can the PS ‘Convert to Grayscale’ function — what’s different?

The plugin allows you to make many of the choices that you might make when using traditional film and print photography.

  • Do you want a coloured filter in front of the lens?
  • What black and white film type do you want to use?
  • Is your film under/over exposed?
  • Are your prints under/over exposed?
  • What grade paper do you want to print on?
  • Do you want to tone/tint your print?

All traditional photography stuff, but with the plugin you can quickly compare results.

How does it work?

Old John - sample image used for black and white conversionI’m initially going to use the same test image that I’ve used in my collection of B/W conversion techniques.

The software is available as a thirty day trial, so do try your own photos.

Remember, I’m showing tiny compressed JPEG images here, so the actual quality and subtlety of tone is difficult to convey on the web.

With all the various settings you can save your own custom sets for re-use

Old John, near Leicester, England.

If the colours don’t look quite right to you, remember the problems of colour management on the web :-)

The black and white versions pictures below are shown quite small. You can enlarge the plugin window and the image within it to a comfortable working size

default conversion, but with a red filter

Adding a red filter – you can change the filter colour and intensity

Film type

With each film type you get a spectral response curve. You can tweak these and save your own ‘custom’ data. The Gamma setting allows you to adjust the image gamma, or overall tonal response (much like altering your negative development time).

simulating Ilford FP4


Simulating Ilford Delta

Ilford delta

simulating Kodak Tri-X

Kodak Tri-X

Simulating Kodak T-Max

Kodak T-Max

Simulating Agfa Pan APX

Agfa Pan APX – also showing the image info display

Contrast – the darkroom side of things

simulating exposure and paper types

The settings are fairly clear, if you’ve some darkroom experience. There is documentation provided which explains more about how the sliders affect the image.

The example shows an underexposed (thin) negative being printed on fairly high contrast (Grade 4) paper. It is important to note that the curves adjustments being applied here are non-linear and based on the actual behaviour of film and printing paper. The response curves for the Multigrade settings are based on actual paper data from Ilford.

Toning and Tinting

Toning and tinting your conversion

Adding colour to your prints…

More examples

The photo below was taken with a Canon 1Ds and processed as a raw image to get a 16 bit RGB image. The dynamic range of the image is quite large, with very slight clipping at both ends. One technique I often use for getting a black and white image is to convert the file to Lab mode and just use the luminance (‘L’) channel.

Colour photo of a local restaurant Colour photo converted to black and white using Lab luminance channel Simulating a red filter, using Ilford FP4 film and printed on soft grade 1 paper
High contrast colour original Convert to Lab, Luminance channel Red filter,FP4, printed on soft (grade 1) paper

The last image could be produced with a bit of curves and masked adjustment layers work, but has given me a black and white conversion that may be easier to work on.


Very easy to use plugin that gives excellent conversions and handles 16 bit images as well. The design of the functionality should appeal to those with previous darkroom experience looking to move into digital black and white. One slight problem is that the plugin is not currently scriptable, although instructions are provided showing how to create a Photoshop ‘Last Filter’ script for batch processing.

Of course the conversion won’t be -exactly- the same, since film and digital sensors are completely different technologies and capture images in different ways. If this really bothers you then I expect you will mutter a bit and go back to your darkroom… :-)

I turned my darkroom into a server and printer room several years ago and really don’t miss it that much. I was expecting to look at this plugin and think, “Hmm, very nice but I could do this easily in Photoshop — and save $99”

The example that changed my mind was the picture I’ve shown above. Sure, I could have produced a similar effect in PS, but it would have taken me some time. With the plugin I was able to quickly try a lot of variations and come up with one I liked. The examples above should be looked at as starting points for producing a final image — Convert to B/W pro just started me out a lot nearer to my objective.

At $99, it is not cheap, and perhaps for the more ‘serious’ digital black and white photographers. Even if you have never worked in a darkroom and used B/W film before, I’d say give it a try.

Update [2010] – available for free with an optional donation – no longer supported, so only if you are using older versions of Photoshop.

Currently, Version 3 of ConvertToBW Pro is only available for Apple Macintosh — see web site for windows availability

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