So Topaz have released a new version of their BW Effects and I have been playing with it this week. I did do a review of their version 1 release here so this is more about looking at the differences. Of course if you have version 1, you get a complimentary upgrade which is very nice!
If you’re upgrading, it’s worth following the instructions on their website as there are a few comments worth reading through before beginning. Also, I don’t have a standard install and needed to install BW Effects to a different location which meant putting my license key in again. Once installed though, it seems to work just fine – certainly as a plugin to Photoshop.
The email from Topaz states that there are colour filter improvements, a better grain engine, more control over the special effects with a preview pane and a redesigned user interface. The biggest improvement by far is the preview pane though. One of the problems with BW Effects was the fact that you had to actually make the change before you could see the effect. With their presets all now having a preview pane, you can get the general idea before you click. This is a great boost to time spent processing. There is also a “Last Used Settings” preset which is extremely handy if you forget to save your last used composition settings!
The User Interface is definitely improved too. It’s not just marketing speak! It feels more intuitive and less crowded. One thing I’d really love though is the option to turn previews off. As someone that likes to skim through them just for fun before getting to the serious business of B&W’ing a photograph, it can get intrusive waiting for the PC to process the preview every time my mouse goes to the left of the screen.
I’ll be brutally honest here and say I can’t really see any difference to the grain engine. Perhaps dedicated film enthusiasts would disagree but it’s a function I rarely use anyway. After shooting HP5+ and seeing the lovely analogue grain on that it feels… odd… trying to recreate it in the e-Darkroom. Topaz say that these are often requested features, so I must be in a minority. As this is a free upgrade though, I am not going to make a big deal out of it.
Lastly, I thought I’d take a look at the colour filtering options. I really love this capability as it allows true creative control over your image. Colour can be a distraction to a photograph and vibrant bright colours will tend to fall to the extreme end of the B&W spectrum (white or black) when processed electronically. Having control over this is essential. Take, for example, a man in a lurid bright pink T-shirt. Converting to B&W would make this almost white, but having control over the reds allows you to reign that T-Shirt back to middle-grey to let the viewer focus on the story of a scene/image rather than “that big blob of white”.
The only true way to compare improvements would be to do a side by side comparison of a photography with lots of colour in it.
So here’s an image I took earlier. It’s a landscape shot with some blues and greens in it. I deliberately pumped up the saturation of those colours to hopefully better illustrate how this all works.
What I’ve done is taken several screenshots of how BWEffects compares to BWEffects 2 with the same settings. I’ve also done an “approximation” in Photoshop just for curiosity sake to see how that compares too.
Initially, I reset all the settings in both plugins to utterly neutral. This was so that I’d be starting from the same page. I also wanted to make sure both programs don’t do anything “odd” with a basic raw image. To get to this state, you need to click those drop down arrows on the right hand side and uncheck everything to make sure there is no image modification going on. Below we have a full sized Before/After of the UI and the raw image. I’m happy to say that the image looks the same to me in both programs. You can also see the new UI look which isn’t massively different from the old one. That darker background to version 2 looks better to me though.
So now that we know we’re starting from the same point, we can look at how version 1 handles colour filtering against version 2. I made a note of the slider values and made the same adjustments to both images. the resulting shots below are screen captures so you can see there’s no other strangeness going on. No other changes were made, so this is perhaps a harsh test, but I just wanted to see the difference. Here you go!
It’s most certainly different! You can see how version 2 has a much more subtle effect when moving the sliders to the same points. It’s a more refined control which really helps. I’ve gone for a striking process here, pushing green and yellow towards the “white” end of the spectrum and darkening the blues to give an infra-red feel. it really is quite a dramatic difference between version 1 & 2 as you can see.
It also might be easy to say “version 1 is worse”, but for me, it’s just different. I prefer more refined control, and version 2 seems to have this.
To the right here, you can see my Photoshop comparison, using teh B&W conversion tools available there, and they have the same sledgehammer type feel as version 1 (though not quite as pronounced). That’s not to say that v1 is “just like Photoshop”. far from it. Version 1 has a myriad of other controls (detail sliders etc) that do different things. I’m only looking at the colour filters here.
For me – this function alone is worth the upgrade from v1, and I feel that anyone looking to pick up BWEffects 2 without upgrading (i.e. paying for it) is going to get a very decent affordable software package. There are still some improvements to be made (in my humble opinion). I’d like to see images updated as you drag the sliders rather than having to drop them and wait for the software to process the result. I also don’t find the local adjustment brush very useful, but then I have access to layer masks in Photoshop which are much more powerful.
Finally, if you haven’t yet picked up BWEffects and are looking to do so, TopazLabs are offering a 30% discount until 28th February with the code bwfx2.
Thanks for reading!