Color Efex Pro, part of the DxO Nik Collection is practically an application in itself. It has no fewer than 54 different filters, all of which can be used on their own or in combination with others in ‘Recipes’.
Not all of these filters are equally useful, I’ll admit, but many are very good indeed, with unexpectedly deep controls and features.
One of these is the B/W Conversion filter, right at the top of the list in the left sidebar. Now you might think that the Nik Collection has other, better tools for black and white, like Silver Efex Pro and Analog Efex Pro.
But the B/W Conversion filter has a few surprises of its own. It offers three different conversion modes, with the ability to apply a black and white ‘contrast’ filter in each to change the tonal rendition, and other controls for perfecting your black and white shots.
Perhaps the key thing is that this filter needn’t be used on its own. You can add the Levels & Curves filter for a little dodging and burning, the Film Grain filter for a textured analog look or the Paper Toner filter for a toning effect.
But let’s just see what the B/W Conversion filter can do on its own first.
1. A color image as a starting point
This is my start shot, a seaside scene in late afternoon with a rich, blue sky. I’ve opened it in Color Efex Pro with no filter applied, and highlighted the B/W Conversion filter in the left sidebar. You just click the filter to add it.
2. The default conversion
The default conversion looks pretty plain, dull even. I’ve blown the panel up in this and subsequent screenshots to make the controls easier to see. Now you can stick to this method, adjust the Filter Color to separate the tones a little better, experiment with the Brightness and Contrast and get some pretty good results. The real fun begins, though, when you choose a different option from the drop-down menu at the top of the panel.
3. Tonal Enhancer mode
Switching to the Tonal Enhancer mode gives a very different, more dynamic black and white look. There are now three ‘Methods’ to choose from in a new drop-down. Method 1 is more low key, Method 2 is neutral and Method 3 gives a strong high key effect. I’ve stuck to Method 2 here to show the difference made by the Filter Color slider. Here, it’s set to the default, which is a yellow-green filter color ideal for landscapes, as it makes blue skies richer and darker and vegetation lighter.
4. Blue/magenta filter effect
If you want to know what color filters can do in black and white, look at this! If I push the Filter Color slider to the right into the blue/magenta range, the tonal rendition changes completely. The foreground becomes darker, the sky lighter.
5. Strength, Brightness and Highlights
A red-yellow filter color gives the best tonal depth with this photo, so I’ve swapped back to that and increased the filter Strength setting. I’ve also increased the Brightness – though a side effect of this is that the brightest wooden posts start to clip to white. To fix that, I’ve pushed the Highlights slider over to the right at the bottom of the panel. This recovers highlights clipped by the settings.
6. Dynamic Contrast
This is the third mode for the B/W Conversion filter and the one that gives the most dramatic effect. Moving the Filter Color slider into the green part of the spectrum has given the best tonal separation and I’ve increased the Strength of the filter, the Brightness of the image and the strength of the Contrast Enhancer slider.
7. Adding a Paper Toner
The B/W Conversion filter may not have the depth of Silver Efex Pro, but it is fast and dramatic in its effect, particularly in Tonal Enhancer and Dynamic Contrast modes. And I mentioned at the start that one of Color Efex Pro’s strengths was to add other filters, and that’s what I’ve done here. I’ve used the Paper Toner filter to add a subtle blue tone to this black and white image for a little more richness and depth.
So which black and white tool is best?
It’s easy to get into long and technical comparisons with different black and white conversion tools – and to miss the point in the process. I think it’s much more important to know what to do with an image than worrying about which tools you use to do it.
On another day I might decide that the technical depth of Silver Efex Pro will suit me better, or that the analog anarchy of Analog Efex Pro is just what I need. On this occasion, however, with this image, the B/W Conversion filter in Color Efex Pro 4 did a pretty stellar job.
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