(2013 Updated review for BWEffects 2 here)

So it’s been a long while since an update to this site, mainly because of work commitments, and the summer holidays.

With the kids heading off back to school next week though, I thought it time to actually sit down and absorb my emails.

And one email in particular caught my eye. Topaz Labs produce plug-ins for Photoshop (amongst others) and I recently purchased their Topaz Adjust plugin for general tweaking of my images. However to hear that they had a Black & White plugin coming up certainly caught my attention.

Now, I understand that some people feel that Photoshop’s Black & White conversion tools are more than capable, but as I used to do a good deal of black & white work, I spent a good bit of time hunting down plug-ins to do the job. Also, I spent a lot of time reading other people’s reviews of these plug-ins.

To most, Silver Efex Pro is the king of B&W plug-ins – however it has a rather prohibitive price tag for the enthusiastic amateur. Currently, it’s showing as about £140 which is a lot of cash for something that could be argued is do-able in Photoshop (or even Lightroom). At the other end of the scale is BW Styler for $50 (about £30) which is pretty good, but lacks the finesse of the Nik version UI (User Interface). There really isn’t much in-between, and for most, it’s a case of messing about with the various options Lightroom and Photoshop have to offer.

BW Effects is an excellent mid priced tool, and may even have the edge over Nik’s offering. Let’s take a look at what it has to offer…

Overview of the Topaz interface.

A view of the main plug-in window

When launching this from Photoshop, it is best to duplicate your image (CTRL+J) into a new layer first. Then click on “Filter”, “Topaz Labs”, “Topaz BW Effects”. This launches the above window. Creating a duplicate layer allows you to make changes without altering your source image, and is always good practice before making any changes.

This interface window maintains continuity with other Topaz products (in particular Topaz adjust) which makes everything a little easier to understand. 1, 2 & 3 are all areas dealing with presets. 2 being a “top level” menu with 3 showing the expanded versions underneath. If you hover over a preset, you can see the effect in the preview window (1). And there are a LOT of presets! What I tend to find though, is that presets are great to give you a launching point, and by selecting a preset, you will change all the sliders buried in the menus (6).

4 is the main window where you get to see your edits and changes as you make them. Left clicking on this image (with no tools selected) will reveal the original image underneath, but if you prefer a split screen view you can click the option in the top right corner of the window. 5 will show you your original image.

6 is where all the business happens. Clicking on a menu header will open up a series of sub menus underneath. Each of these “options” can be toggled on or off with the check box –  a handy feature for turning off an effect quickly.

An expanded view of the main menu windows

So here you can see the screen with the menus exploded. And there are a lot of controls!

Every time you click on a preset, these controls will change, allowing you to “fine tune” the preset to your own preference. You can then go on to save your tweaked settings as your own preset. No doubt over time, the Topaz community will create new ones…

I’m not going to go through each tool here, as it’s probably best to play around with them as you go.

BW Effects – The Verdict?

It’s $60. However until September 18th, there is a significant reduction on this to $30 with the code “bwandbeyond” entered during the checkout stage. This is an awful lot cheaper than Silver Efex Pro – especially if you buy it before 18th September.

But even after that date, $60 for a plugin of this quality is really very good value for money. My pros and cons below all benchmark this plugin against Silver Efex Pro, which is over five times the discounted price!

The Cons…

I’ll do these first, as they are really nit-picky.

– My biggest bugbear with this program is that as you move the sliders, you have to “let go” of the left mouse button before you can see the effect on the screen. Silver Efex Pro makes the changes as you move the slider, so you can get realtime feedback with your mouse moves. BW Effects has to calculate the effect of the change before presenting it on screen, making it relatively slow in terms of seeing your effect.

– The “extras” aren’t brilliant. The borders are fairly plain (black or white, just a simple extended canvas, no fancy border effects), the “Creative Effects” are of limited use and can be easily replicated within Photoshop. Also,I have been really struggling to get the “Quad Tone” feature to work intuitively, although that could just be comprehension fail on my part.

The Pros…

– Controlled masking. The “Local Adjustments” allow you to really selectively edit/retouch areas of your image with Dodge, Burn, Detail and Smoothness sliders. Whilst this is all available in Photoshop, it’s very handy to have in the plug-in itself. Even Silver Efex Pro doesn’t offer this level of control (although it does have selective retouching – it’s just a circle though).

– I love the duo tone functionality. It can be really really subtle and is one of the few B&W plug-ins that makes subtle duo-toning easy.

In closing, I only really asked myself one question. Is Silver Efex Pro five times better than BW Effects? No. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s right up there with it in terms of functionality and useability. The slider issue (which is really just me being grumpy) is the only thing that lets it down.

So. Head off over to Topaz Labs and download the trial. Don’t forget though – if you decide to purchase, and it’s before September 18th, use the code “bwandbeyond” for a $30 discount.

Thanks for reading! Here are a couple of finished images…

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin