Macphun’s Tonality Pro Versus Lightroom 5 for Black and White Conversion


Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

MacPhun Software recently released Tonality Pro, a powerful black and white converter for Mac. In this article I’m going to compare it to Lightroom so you can see how the conversion process differs between the two programs.

Windows users please don’t stop reading now – I’ll look at some other black and white plug-ins at the end of the article, all of which are cross-platform.

To start, here’s the colour photo that I’m going to convert to black and white.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

Here’s the black and white version I created in Lightroom.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

It’s a fairly straightforward conversion. I increased Clarity and Contrast, and added a vignette using the Radial Filter. I didn’t touch the Black and White Mix panel, and I didn’t add Split Toning.

All these tools will be familiar to Lightroom users. So, how does Tonality Pro differ? Let’s take a look.

Tonality Pro uses presets

Tonality Pro’s presets give you a variety of ready made black and white conversions. Of course, not all of them will be suitable for your photo, but with over 150 to choose from, you are bound to find at least a few that do good things for your images. If you don’t like using presets, just skip them and go straight to the other panels to do your work.

Tonality Pro’s presets are similar to Lightroom’s Develop Presets. The main difference is that Tonality Pro comes supplied with a full set, while Lightroom only has a limited range of built-in monochrome presets. If you want a decent set of black and white presets for Lightroom, you will have to buy them.

Tonality Pro’s presets have two features that make them a very powerful and versatile feature.

The first is a slider that lets you adjust the strength of the preset. This is useful because the number one problem with presets of any sort is that they can be too strong. A subtle touch is better when it comes to post-processing and many presets are far from subtle. The opacity slider in Tonality Pro helps you deal with that. Let’s say you apply the Impressive preset to your photo. Here’s how it looks.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

Too strong? It’s easy to reduce the strength of the effect until it looks just right.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

The second feature (I’m really excited about this) is that Tonality Pro has layers. With layers, you can apply a preset on a new layer, then create a mask using Brush mode so that the preset is only applied to part of your image.

Take a moment to think about what that means. For example, you could apply one preset to the subject (in this case the girl in the photo) on one layer, and another to the background on another layer. It’s got the potential to be very powerful, and it’s something that I haven’t seen in any other plug-in.

Here’s how it works. In these examples I’ve applied the Impressive preset to the model’s face, and the Grunge 1 preset to the background using layers. I used the opacity sliders to keep the effect subtle. These three images show the result.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

Next I added a frame.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

Finally I added some Structure to the eyes, and increased Adaptive Exposure a little to compensate for the way Structure tends to make things darker as well as add detail. You can achieve a similar effect in Lightroom with Clarity, but you will be interested to know that you can adjust Structure in Tonality Pro as well as Clarity (Structure is better than Clarity for bringing out detail).

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

Here’s the final comparison of the two versions of the photo.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

As you can see, apart from the border, most of the differences are subtle. But the way I got there, the editing process itself, was very different.

Now I’m going to show you another application of Tonality Pro that you definitely can’t do in Lightroom. Here’s the original colour photo.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

Here’s the initial black and white conversion:

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

This is the same photo processed in Tonality Pro with a red colour filter applied to darken the sky and add drama to the distant mountains.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

Here I’ve added another layer and applied the El Captain preset, reduced the opacity of the layer to 20 (to keep the effect subtle), and used a mask to apply the preset to the foreground only, not the mountains or sky.

Tonality Pro vs. Lightroom

All this took just a couple of minutes to carry out.

The verdict

This is a simple demonstration but hopefully it’s given you a taste for what Tonality Pro can do, and how it compares to Lightroom.

I’ve only scratched the surface in this article, Tonality Pro has lots more interesting features. Another dPS writer,  Phillip VanNostrand has done a full review here, it covers the software in more depth, so check that out also. In the meantime, if you want to test out Tonality Pro for yourself, or learn more about the program, then you can do so at MacPhun’s website.

How Tonality Pro compares to other plug-ins

Tonality Pro isn’t the only black and white plug-in out there, and you may be interested to know how it compares to some of the others. Don’t forget they all have different features and strengths, and the best one for you depends on what you want to do with your black and white images. You can download trials of all the plug-ins to help you make your mind up. Here’s a brief guide:

Silver Efex Pro 2

Until Tonality Pro came along this was the single best black and white conversion plug-in you could buy. To be honest, I haven’t used Tonality Pro enough yet to say whether it is better than Silver Efex Pro 2. But, there’s no doubt that the layers feature in Tonality Pro means that it is a versatile program that gives Silver Efex Pro 2 a good run for its money.

Silver Efex Pro 2 is more expensive (more than double the price) but it does come as part of the Nik Collection, so you do get the benefit of the other programs within it (Viveza, Color Efex Pro and so on). Silver Efex Pro 2 also has a powerful history function that Tonality Pro lacks.

Alien Skin Exposure 6

One of my favourite plug-ins, Exposure 6 is designed to give your digital photos an analog look. You can use it for both black and white and color photos, and in my opinion it’s stronger on the colour side than monochrome. But it’s still a powerful black and white converter.

It’s more expensive than Tonality Pro, but you get the advantage of being able to use it to process colour photos too. It can be used as stand-alone program as well as a plug-in (as can Tonality Pro).

Topaz Black & White Effects 2

Black & White Effects 2 is a nifty black and white plug-in. Its main benefit is an extensive range of creative presets, including several sets that imitate old processes such as cyanotype, albumen and van dyke brown. It’s also good for emphasizing detail and texture.

Perfect Black & White

onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite includes the Perfect Black & White module. Like Silver Efex Pro 2, you get the benefit of the other modules in the suite. But unlike Silver Efex Pro 2, all the modules work together and you can switch seamlessly from one to the other.

One of my favourite modules is Perfect Mask. I use it to blend two versions of landscape photos, one processed for the sky and the other for the foreground. Combined with Perfect Black & White it helps you create powerful and dramatic black and white landscapes. It also works as a stand-alone program.

Discussion time

In my review of MacPhun’s Intensify Pro one reader gave an opinion that photographers who use plug-ins instead of Photoshop are lazy. It’s an interesting topic for discussion, so please let us know what you think in the comments. Do you use plug-ins to process your photos? If you do, which are your favourites and why? Or do you agree with the view that plug-ins are for lazy photographers?

Mastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White

Masterlng Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White by Andrew S GibsonMy ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White goes into the topic of black and white in depth. It explains everything you need to know to make dramatic and beautiful monochrome conversions in Lightroom, including how to use the most popular black and white plug-ins. Click the link to visit my website and learn more.

Read more from our Post Production category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

  • have run out of hard drive space for all my adjustment softwares 🙂

  • Luis A.

    “In my review of MacPhun’s Intensify Pro one reader gave an opinion that photographers who use plug-ins instead of Photoshop are lazy.” It could be argued that using photoshop and not getting everything right in camera is lazy too. The software’s not important, your vision is and whatever tools get you there whether photoshop or another are only a means to an end.

  • Mariusz

    Continuing this way, taking photographs is lazy, you can paint

  • Gerard

    How is anything you can do with this software different from Photoshop? True, there aren’t any default presets to choose from, but layers, adjustment, filtering etc have all existed in Photoshop for years.
    This kind of software comes in handy when requiring quick edits, but for anything else Photoshop is the go-to software. It can do anything in one program, instead of using different programs and modules which eat valuable space and resources.

  • In terms of bang for buck theres no doubt that the Nik software package is hard to beat & for photographers looking for a suit of plug-ins Its a no brainer. I cant comment on Tonality Pro specificcaly (Wimdows user) but don’t forget Silver Efex provides control points which is an effective and relatively simple way of making local edits. I also use Topaz and this is also a product worth serious consideration.

  • The main advantages of black & white plug-ins over Photoshop (generally speaking) is that they are quicker and easier to use and give more control over micro-contrast (which really helps emphasise texture, an important part of many monochrome images). Also, Photoshop doesn’t have presets and is much more expensive. Yes, you could probably do most things you can do in Tonality Pro in Photoshop, but it’s harder and there are more steps involved.

    Remember that not everybody has Photoshop. Plug-ins come in very useful for people who use Lightroom (or similar Raw conversion software) then look to plug-ins for extra functionality rather than Photoshop.

  • Hi Stuart, you’re right about the Nik Collection, it’s great value for money. I really like Black & White Effects 2 as well. There’s a lot of good software out there to choose from.

  • Yves

    Plug-ins are absolutely not for “lazy” photographers. They are fabulous tools, like Silver Efex Pro, to help the photographer to develop his creativity. Each plugin has its own feature which allows to get a unique result, very often faster than with other tool like Photoshop. People using them are just clever !!! Why should we have to reinvent the wheel with Photoshop if a plugin can give a you a similar result easier and faster ?

    Do not forget also the price to pay for Photoshop,…

  • maxfishes

    Silver Efex Pro 2 has been a stand by for a number of years because it comes as close as possible to what I can do in the darkroom. I am a minimalist and basically rely on burn and dodge. What Tonality offers is more distinct variations some of which provide slightly better results than Silver Efex. I am slowly shifting from Aperture to Lightroom 5 (not the iCloud version) and am in the midst of comparing the same image using Silver Efex and Tonality. It is just about a toss up but I am not as skilled with Tonality as I might.

    The basic issue is that these plug-ins are exceedingly strong and effective tools and save much of the aggravation of Photoshop. And after a number of years in the darkroom they provide high quality results similar but not exact. They require different skills and that may be the rub for those using Photoshop and for those who have not had a long history with black and white film.

  • Thanks for the comments everybody. I have to say I agree that photographers who use plug-ins are not lazy. I love them as they are fun to use and make processing much easier.

  • Hi Andrew, thank you very much for your clear and detailed review of Tonality Pro. Actualy, we tried it a few weeks ago and loved the way it could be easily integrated in our daily workflows with Lightroom and Photoshop.
    Building presets in Tonality Pro is easy and saving them as favorites is a must.
    Our only concern is that you have to proceed pictures one by one (no bulk effects so far), which can be really annoying in case you have a huge collection of photos. We also had our own coverage of Tonality Pro in case you’d like to share it with French readers at

  • Scott Valentine

    Regarding the use of plugins, they’re just another set of tools. When it comes down to it, very few plugins actually do anything differently than the foundation software itself, but that does not mean they are useless or for the lazy.

    In the case of Photoshop plugins, about the only tools I’ve seen that truly extend capabilities beyond simply tapping into the API are aimed at technical users. Things like FFT, forensic tools, and the like. These are not applications the overwhelming majority of users need.

    So plugins are really just different dials and knobs on the same data set. And that’s actually pretty important. The way the controls allow you to interact with your image really speak to the need for tools to get out of the way of your vision. Getting the same results is not really the issue; getting to your vision is.

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