Ever wondered why when you convert full colour digital camera images to black and white they just don't look the same as 35mm black and white film? Because black and white film reacts differently to differet parts of the colour spectrum, and most photo packages don't take this into account. But help is at hand! SilverOxide have a set of Photoshop plugins which can reproduce the look of various brands of B&W film from existing colour digital images. And it really works!

Note, these Photoshop plugins are only currently available for Windows (forgive my ignorance of Mac for not mentioning this in the first release of this article).

The reason why...
(courtesy of SilverOxide.Com)

In the beginning, when film was first devised, it had a problem. It reacted mostly to blue light; red and green hardly registered on the image. Manufacturers added elements to the emulsion to make it Panchromatic, reactive equally to the three primary colors. With each emulsion the mix of these agents differs slightly. The result is that T-MAX has a different color palette, if you will, than Tri-X or Agfapan APX 100. And that's a good thing. If your model is wearing a red, green and blue jacket, you would want some separation of tones to show that it was different colors.

You can see the difference using the Kodak Color Control Patches below:

As you can see a simple desaturate in Photoshop leaves several colours with exactly the same gray value (blue & green, cyan & yellow & red & magenta). Photoshop convert to grayscale is a little better but still leaves blue very dark and red & magenta & green the same shade. The key with SilverOxide's plugins are that they map different shades to distinctly different shades, indeed the same response you would have seen if you'd originally shot the image with that particular type of B&W film.

The SilverOxide filters are installed as Photoshop plugins and allow you to play with the brightness and gamma of the B&W conversion before it's applied to your image. Here's another straight colour spectrum example, as you can see desaturate is NOT the way to go:

Some Photographic Examples

Original Image Photoshop Convert to Grayscale
SilverOxide Kodak Tri-X B&W SilverOxide Ilford FP4 B&W

Original Image Photoshop Convert to Grayscale
SilverOxide Kodak Tri-X B&W SilverOxide Ilford FP4 B&W

Available Photoshop plug-ins (modeling filters):

  • Kodak Tri-X B&W
  • Kodak PanX B&W
  • Kodak TMAX B&W
  • Kodak TMY B&W
  • Kodak T400CN B&W
  • Ilford HP5 B&W
  • Ilford FP4 B&W
  • Ilford PanF B&W
  • Ilford Delta100 B&W
  • Ilford Delta400 B&W
  • Ilford XP2 B&W
  • Warm/Sepia Toning Filter
  • Kodak set Tri-X, T400CN, TMAX+Sepia
  • Ilford set HP5, Delta100, Delta400+Sepia
  • Ilford set FP4, PanF, XP2+Sepia

Click here for SilverOxide's website where you see more examples,
download demos or purchase these plugins

Delta 100, Delta 400, HP5, FP4, PanF, and XP2 are registered trademarks of Ilford Imaging.
Plus-X, Tri-X and T-MAX are registered trademarks of the Eastman Kodak Company.
Agfapan is a registered trademark of Agfa-Gevaert.