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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.
Here’s the black and white version I created in 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’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.
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.
Too strong? It’s easy to reduce the strength of the effect until it looks just right.
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.
Next I added a frame.
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).
Here’s the final comparison of the two versions of the photo.
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.
Here’s the initial black and white conversion:
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.
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.
All this took just a couple of minutes to carry out.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
My 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.