Top Black & White Software

Unlike analog film photography, where you would choose either color or black-and-white film before even touching your other camera settings, in the digital era, photographers generally shoot in color and then convert their images to black-and-white using digital software. While many experienced black-and-white photographers previsualize their images in monochrome, knowing which images they’ll convert as they’re composing the shot, others make the black-and-white decision during their postprocess workflow as they spontaneously experiment with individual images.

Whether you previsualize every image, experiment as you process or fall somewhere in between, using specialized software to convert your images from color to black-and-white can make the process easier and help achieve better results.

While most software gives you the ability to customize and personalize your images through individual edits to highlights, shadows, contrast, color filters and grain, many also have preset filters. These presets are useful, as they can be used to match specific analog film grains for a desired look or as a starting place for your own experimentation.


Silver Efex Pro (above), part of the Google Nik Collection, is the go-to plug-in for many pro photographers. The Dynamic Brightness and Soft Contrast features allow you to customize brightness and contrast, emphasizing lines and shapes while maintaining highlight exposure and defining depth of field. As you edit, the built-in histores your changes side by side, so you can undo any unwanted edits at anytime. Preset filters include 18 popular film types, as well as additional toners, borders and vignettes. Customize your own presets and import additional presets from company updates and other users. List Price: $149 (entire Nik Collection). Contact:


onOne Software’s Perfect B&W has a fully stocked effects library that you can add to with custom presets. Browsing this library is easy with the Quick View browser, which creates a full-screen thumbnail gallery of your image in each effect for you to preview. Making individual changes to an image is quick and easy. The dodge and burn tool can be used to control local contrast and detail. The tool is compatible with the Wacom tablet for pressure-sensitive brush size and strength changes. The software also recognizes edges for smooth line adjustments and has additional film grains, borders and vignettes, plus you can add layers, allowing for composites, blends and HDR exposure processing. The Standard Edition works as a stand-alone app, while the Premium Edition can also act as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. List Price: $99 (Premium); $29 (Standard). Contact:


The designers at Alien Skin worked with professionals who shot with different types of film, as well as researched archived stocks of discontinued film types in order to create the wide variety of textures and exposure presets that are available with Exposure 5. Each monochrome preset can be modified for personal preference and saved for batch processing. Exposure 5 integrates with Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom and Aperture, and works as a stand-alone application. Exposure 5 also includes color filters in addition to black-and-white filters. Estimated Street Price: $199 ($99 upgrade). Contact:


With more than 200 filter effects packed into the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in, black-and-white conversion is as fun and easy for the amateur as it is for the professional. Topaz B&W Effects is loaded with authentic grains developed from scanned film, as well as vignettes and borders with an effects preview. Customize and save your own presets for use later. For more advanced, in-depth work, use global contrast controls and local dodging, burning, smoothing and detail control. List Price: $59. Contact:

TIFFEN Dfx 3.0

Tiffen Dfx 3.0 is a robust suite of filters and effects that includes customizable presets specifically for black-and-white photography. With its 125 individual filters, Dfx 3.0 gives you the ability to layer multiple effects, creating infinite possibilities. Analog-type filters include film grains that emulate Kodak, Fujifilm, Agfa, Polaroid and Ilford. Dfx 3.0 also includes filters that simulate Tiffen glass optical filters, specialized lenses, natural light and photographic effects. In addition to filters, the software includes basic nondestructive cropping and scaling, masking tools, batch processing, denoising and vignette tools, making it a stand-alone editing tool or a powerful plug-in. List Price: $129 (stand-alone); $169 (plug-in). Contact:

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