How to get great black and white in DxO PhotoLab… but you’ll need FilmPack 5

DxO PhotoLab can create superb black and white imagery, both in terms of image quality and in creative control, but you need to get the DxO FilmPack 5 Elite add-on to do it.

DxO PhotoLab 2.1 review

This does make things more expensive, and it does feel a bit like you’re paying for some things that other programs offer as standard. DxO FilmPack 5 Elite currently costs €129 on its own, though DxO does offer a DxO Photo Suite Elite edition which offers savings compared to buying its products separately and includes its ViewPoint perspective control add-on.

DxO FilmPack 5 does work as a standalone program, but it also integrates with DxO PhotoLab to offer a whole new set of tools for recreating film effects, and this is where it’s probably most useful because it can work alongside PhotoLab’s excellent tonal controls and local adjustments.

When FilmPack 5 is installed it adds a new dedicated palette to the PhotoLab workspace where you’ll find all the new analog and black and white adjustment options. So here’s a quick guide to how wha these the extra palettes and options can achieve.

01 Color Rendering

This panel exists in the regular DxO PhotoLab but you’ll need FilmPack installed to get the full set of different film simulations. Under the Category, menu choose Black And White Film and then in the Rendering menu choose the film you want to simulate. For this bright street scene I’ve chosen an old favourite, Agfa APX 25.

02 Style – Toning

The is another panel you’ll find in DxO PhotoLab already but, again, you’ll need FilmPack installed to get the full list of options. You have a choice between Simple Toning, using a selection of single colour toning effects, or Split Toning, where you can use different toning for the shadows and highlights. I like the Sepia terra tone, and lowering the Intensity value gives a subtle vintage look.

03 Filter

The Filter panel is for use with colour images rather than black and white. It simulates the effects of different-coloured filters place over the lens, but these are to apply tints to colour images, not to adjust the colour sensitivity in black and white. Here’s an enlarged view to show you what it looks like, but you wouldn’t use it for black and white.

04 Grain

Choosing a film in the Color Rendering panel does not automatically apply the grain pattern associated with that film, which is slightly annoying. Instead, you apply this separately in the FilmPack Grain panel. You can choose the grain type to match your film or choose a different ‘film grain’ altogether. I’ve used the grain pattern for Agfa APS 100 film just to make it show up a little more here.

05 Contrast

You get the Contrast panel in PhotoLab already, but FilmPack adds a Fine Contrast adjustment which is a little softer than the regular Microcontrast slider, and the ability to adjust contrast separately in the highlights, midtones and shadows. The handlebars and other details on this bicycle are pretty crisp already, but extra microcontrast and midtone contrast really makes them stand out.

06 Channel Mixer

Some kind of channel or colour mixing panel is standard in most photo-editors offering black and white conversions, but here you need FilmPack 5 Elite installed. You can now adjust the mix of Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue and Magenta used to create the black and white image. It’s like using contrast filters when shooting black and white film. I’ve been pretty aggressive with the sliders here to darken the blues and lighten the reds to darken the blue sky as if I’d shot with a red/yellow filter over the lens.

07 Creative Vignetting

PhotoLab’s regular vignetting feature is designed to correct the corner shading produced by many lenses. This adjustment is different, allowing you to add creative vignetting for a retro/analog look. You can adjust the Intensity and the Midpoint and choose where to place the centre of the vignette effect. Used subtly it can help pick out the image’s focal point, which is the bicycle in the foreground – and that’s where I’ve placed the vignette centre.

08 Blur

The Blur panel added by DxO Filmpack offers two options. The Vignette option lets you blur an image towards the edges with adjustable intensity and centre point, while the Soft Focus option applies a very effective overall soft focus effect. If you want a tilt-shift blur effect, that comes with the separate ViewPoint application/plug-in. I shot this scene with a 35mm lens at f/1.8 to produce very shallow depth of field, but I’ve enhanced that by adding a gentle blur effect centred on the bicycle.

09 Frame

DxO FilmPack brings a modest but useful selection of frame/border effects. You can change the size and position them inside or outside the image. What I like is that you can position these frames on the outside of the image, so you don’t lose any of the image area.

10 Texture

In this panel you can apply a small selection of paper or ‘stain’ textures to give your images an old or distressed look. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think the brown staining on the right side of this picture does complement the other effects quite well.

11 Light leak

It’s also possible to add the kind of light leaks you get from badly sealed backs on old cameras or accidental partial exposure of the film. You can chose from a small range of light leak styles and adjust their position and their strength. They’re pretty subtle but useful nonetheless. I’ve positioned this one to lighten the left side of the frame.

Before and after comparisons

Here are three versions of this picture. The first is the colour original, the second is a straight mono conversion using PhotoLab’s Style – Toning panel. The third shows what’s possible with the extra tools provided by FilmPack.

The original image.
Converted to black and white with the Style – Toning panel.
The final version with the whole of DxO FilmPack’s additional tools and features in action.

One thought on “How to get great black and white in DxO PhotoLab… but you’ll need FilmPack 5

  1. It’s kind of difficult, these days, having both grain AND digital processing. The grain does tend to collide with the pixels. I rather tend towards allowing the grain of a digital image to take the place of the grain we used to have with analogue (which of course is quite impossible when you scan old negs onto the computer).
    I love DxO PhotoLab & DxO ViewPoint – but they’ve not sent me any promo on this one yet. Maybe it’s “in the mail”!

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