capsule review

Dramatic Black & White for iPhone and iPad

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Dramatic Black & White HD

  • Generic Company Place Holder Dramatic Black & White

When recently offered the challenge of photographing a cup of coffee, I immediately concluded that black and white would be the way to go. Such a project would normally call for my Canon 50D, the 50mm lens, and some post work in Aperture and Silver EFex Pro on my Mac. That sounded like a lot of work for a cup of coffee, so I decided instead to experiment with Dramatic Black & White from JixiPix Software on my iPhone and iPad. It's always a pleasure when something works out well, and the results I got with both the iPhone and iPad versions of Dramatic Black & White were seriously impressive.

iPad Interface: The HD version of Dramatic Black & White gives you a lush and detailed canvas to work with.

Like most iOS photo apps, Dramatic Black & White lets you shoot your image from within the app, but I choose to shoot from the iPhone's built-in camera and then import the shot into the app. I like to have my images available to all my apps if needed, plus the iPhone camera offers a grid overlay, which I noticed Dramatic Black & White does not. Besides, with iOS 5, I get my photos into Photo Stream, which allows me to move the images to my computer or iPad, if needed.

Tap and Choose: You can get started with the app's built-in presets.

A series of round buttons along the bottom of the app present your choices for editing, a fairly common mobile app setup. I noticed right away that these buttons, although small, were actually responsive and easy to use; a place where many other apps seem to miss the mark.

To get started, you choose a style from a variety of black and white presets, more dramatic sets, or the surprisingly good infrared sets. These get you going, and are pretty good all by themselves. An adjustable vignette is on by default, and you can move and shape it with your fingertips—a great feature.

It gets better as you move the sliders around the adjustments panel. You can soften, sharpen, adjust brightness and contrast, and even add a toning effect using the color of your choice. There are additional adjustments for filters and film grain, which are also very well done. All the sliders are silky smooth to move, and results appear on your image almost instantly with minimal rendering delays, even at full resolution. This app is clearly designed for the upgraded processing power of the iPhone 4S, which it shows off nicely, but there's no problem in using it with older models, such as the 3GS.

Tonal Variations: Dramatic Black & White excels in sepia and other tones too.

When you're finished tweaking your image, there is the obligatory Upload to Facebook setting, but I prefer to save the result to the camera roll and let other apps do the sharing. You can also save your settings in the app, in case you want to use a certain combination of filters again—another bonus point.

There is an iPad version of the app as well as a desktop version, although you'll have to shell out $3 and $8 respectively for them. I tested the iPad version, and it's definitely worth it if the extra work space is important to you. The iPad app layout is in landscape mode, which makes more sense for working on photos; but for me, it was a less intuitive user experience. The end results, happily, were the same: fine quality black and whites on your mobile device. Consider the extra space for seeing photo detail on the iPad as a bonus.

Tiny Buttons: Despite their size the app's buttons were responsive.

There are a few shortcomings, however. I could find no way to undo changes, or to step back to previous adjustments I made without saving and starting over. It would also be nice to work in landscape mode on the phone, since I shoot most my pictures that way, but alas this is not possible—at least not yet.

Shortcomings aside, this app produced some excellent black and white images. The color toning options and soft filters are especially good, and the full resolution output makes for a framable final product.

[Jeff Phillips is an educator, photographer and technology advocate. Find him on his blog or podcast.]

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Dramatic Black & White HD

  • Generic Company Place Holder Dramatic Black & White

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