For most of my photojournalism work I prefer to produce Black and White images. I cannot pin point why exactly, but it could be based on traditions or fact that it seems to concentrate the viewers attention on the content of the image making it more graphic. I find that sometimes color can over power the message of the image, unless handled correctly. When I used to use my trusty Pentax 35mm slr I started off using ilfords HP5 before moving on to Tri-X 400 from Kodak. I really liked the way Tri-x could handle being rated at ISOs producing usable results whilst being pushed as high as iso 1600.
Since moving to digital I have experimented a lot with different methods of getting Black and White images, I've used photoshop actions and Lightroom presets (I have to say that LR 3 presets do a good job) but have struggled to find a method that is fast, but produces great results with easy customization. Enter two pieces of software, DXO filmpack and Nik Silver FX pro. In a previous blog post I raved about the merits of Nik Software collection so I have to admit to already using Silver FX pro, where as DXO filmpack is reletivly new to me.
DXO Filmpack 2
This is not my first experience with DXO filmpack as I have previously used version 1 a few years back, but this is the first time I have really delved into the functions and studied the results in any way. DXO filmpack can act as a stand alone program or as photoshop plugin, although there is no support for CS5 64bit (should be supported in version 3). I used the stand alone program for this test. The user interface is very much old school windows and reminds me of programs running on XP.
It is easy to navigate though. Using the drop down menu "color Rendition Profiles" you can choose first of all wether to use "color negative", "color Positive", "B&W film" or "cross processed". Then there is a choice of film profiles to choose from. All the major films are covered from the likes of Agfa, Fuji, Kodak and Ilford. This then gives you a set contrast, saturation and brightness to mimic the film. One thing I do like with DXO filmpack is that the grain is handled separately, you can get the look without necessarily having the grain, it also enables you to mix things up a bit with using separate film profiles with grain profiles, without having to use individual sliders. Another good feature is being able to change between grain from 35mm film, Medium format and Large Format, this is a nice touch and can really change the look of the image.
Nik Silver FX Pro 2
Similar to DXO filmpack, Silver FX Pro (SFX) can be used as a stand alone software or as a plugin for Photoshop. To start with the first good thing with SFX is that it works with 64 bit photoshop, this saves a bit of time as I often work with my images in photoshop after processing the RAW files in LR. However it can also be accessed from Lightroom as can DXO FP. On launching you are faced with a much more modern UI.
On first glance it seems a bit more complicated with plenty of options. It should be remembered that SFX is not just a film reproduction software and can only handle B&W conversions. In this regard it offers much more in terms of B&W processing. On the left hand side you have a filmstrip showing all presets available and the effect they will have on the image. For this test though the important issue is film mimicking. In this regard SFX is not quite so intuitive with the options hidden on the right hand side in the drop down menu "film types". When I first used SFX pro I assumed from the layout that you process your B&W image then choose the film type to replicate the grain, however this is not how it works as any film chosen within the menu will over ride any previously chosen options. This makes me wonder why the film types is not under the preset options on the left as this would make a bit more sense. Ones into this option though you again have a similar selection of film presets (only B&W in this case). As mentioned before with DXO FP, you can use Grain Presets to quickly change between Grain profiles, whilst with SFX you only have a selection of slider which can easily go wrong if you are not careful, although similar results can be achieved by playing around with the settings.
For a fair(ish) test I have taken a recent image of mine and converted it to B&W using the Tri-X filter. This not a scientific test of the software but just a visual comparison of how both pieces of software interporate the process.
DXO filmpack 2
Silver FX Pro 2
Out of the two images I think the SFX one is probably more true to the original Tri-x results and has slightly more contrast resulting in a slightly punchier image, however there is not much difference between the two and the film grain presets in DXO FP are good to use and a quick way mix things up a bit and I do like having the option of color film presets too. Color film presets can be done in NIK color fx pro, which would be available if you bought the complete collection, however it is nice to have all film presets in one program.
If B&W processing is the main priority then I think SFX has the edge due to the level of customization allowing you to create very individual B&W images. Any recipe created in SFX can be saved as a preset which is good. If you wanted to replicate all different film looks both color and B&W then I think DXO FP is a very viable option (especially if version 3 works with 64bit CS5). All in all both work really well and although I think I will probably stick SFX for the time being I will have a closer look at version 3 of DXO FP as I think it could find a place in my workflow.
Thanks for reading.