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///Black and White Film Is Not Dead!

Black and White Film Is Not Dead!

To be honest, I don’t download a lot of presets from the internet.   I personally have limited mental bandwidth for add-ons, and there are so many out there that they can be hard to sift through.  However, I agree that done right, they can add great value.  It can be very efficient to use a good creative preset or set of presets, since I can get 90% of the way towards making a photo look great with just one or a handful of clicks in one panel rather than having to sift through all of Lightroom’s Develop sliders, plus I can get cool looks that I never would have thought of creating myself.

X-Equals Black and White PresetsOccasionally I hear about some presets that I just have to check out, including X-Equals XeL Black and White Toolkit of over 300 presets. They are designed to emulate the look of 54 classic black and white films, as well as 4 antiquated processes, and the workflow ingeniously follows the traditional black and white darkroom workflow (as I understand it — truth be told, I only had a couple months of film/darkroom experience):

1. Simulate black and white capture:

  • Choose your film type from 54 choices (with a set of presets for each, covering black and white mix, tone and grain)
  • Choose your color filter or color mix

2. Simulate darkroom work:

  • Choose your paper contrast grade
  • Adjust your contrast (with “curve kicks”)
  • Dodge and burn (with graduated filters)
  • Solarize / special effects
  • Toning  (Sepia, Selenium, and 5 more)

The toolkit  also has a cool set of presets to reproduce four antiquated processes ( Tintypes, Daguerrotypes, Cyanotypes and Ambrotypes).

For people with extensive film experience, these presets allow you to replicate films and processes that you know and love.  For people like me with little or no film experience, it allows us to achieve looks that we wouldn’t have known to create otherwise.  And for everyone, it can help you to get much closer to a great black and white with just a handful of clicks using just the Presets panel. Here are some samples, where I just applied Xel presets, without further fine-tuning:

X-Equals Black and White Lightroom Presets


When I first downloaded this set of over 300 presets and started playing without reading the directions, they overwhelmed me quickly.  However, once I read the directions and realized that the idea is to use groups of presets, and that they are ordered into a carefully thought-out workflow, I was able to work much more effectively, and really enjoy the creative process. Nevertheless, there are a lot of choices, and particularly for those of us without film experience, it can take time to experiment and learn what film types and other choices we like.  To me this process of learning what I like is great for late-night creative exploration, and I enjoy it.

As with any presets, I think you should apply and then fine-tune your develop settings to taste.  They are a great starting point, and may be true to the film type used, but some photos will simply look better with some fine-tuning (this is not a flaw of the presets). For example, in the Ilford Pan 50 example above, my  next steps would be to use the B&W panel to further darken the sky, and back off a bit on Clarity. This is where presets can get you started, but are not a substitute for understanding the rest of the Develop module!

In the end, I really like this set of presets and am happy to recommend it, because

  • It exposes me to many more creative possibilities for my black and whites. I particularly like the antiquated processes and more grainy films, as they really push the envelope for me.
  • The workflow is very well thought out.
  • The presets clearly have been tested on a wide variety of images, and were built on measured film responses.
  • They have been carefully designed to only affect what they need to affect — so they don’t wipe out adjustments you have already made unless they really need to in order to achieve the look.
  • It is a great value, at only $19.99 (current website price – may change)
There was only one small thing that I wish could be different: it takes clicking on three presets to get the look of a particular film.  I like that this allows me to choose black and white mix, tone and grain separately.  However, since it isn’t a single preset, you can’t preview the entire look in the Navigator panel by hovering over the preset.  You have to click on each of the three, and then undo with Ctl/Cmd-Z three times to undo or go back in History to try something else.  I have to say though that I agree with their decision to separate out the components to provide more flexibility, and to sacrifice the Navigator preview convenience.  Truth be told, you can’t preview something as subtle as grain in the small Navigator window anyway.
According to Brandon Oeling at X-equals, they are currently testing the presets with the Lightroom 4 Beta — chances are, with the new Basic panel adjustments and Process Version, the presets will need to be updated.  X-equals doesn’t guarantee them with the Beta, but true to their general policy, they will provide a free update upon the official release of Lightroom 4.  So if you want to explore the possibilities of emulating black and white films, and do it within a powerful system of presets, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase these now for use with Lightroom 3.
After experimenting with this set of black and white presets, I am really looking forward to trying their color film presets (Cold Storage Volume 1 and 2) as well!
Visit X-Equals.
2017-08-29T15:39:36+00:00 January 17th, 2012|4 Comments


  1. Brandon Oelling January 18, 2012 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the GREAT writeup!

  2. Mofeed Qasem January 30, 2012 at 9:43 am - Reply

    I purchased the big box, the whole works of x-equals and it is a breeze. I have to thank the person who has taken time to do the writeup and I did the same as he did, I did not use the presets as per the book. I have to read before play. These presets are a lot of cream for so little money. Thanks to the developers at x-equals for their great products. I am one satisfied customer!

    • Laura Shoe February 1, 2012 at 8:56 am - Reply

      Great to hear, Mofeed!

    • Michael W. Gray February 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm - Reply

      Thanks Mofeed! Most of the presets in the big box are my creation, especially the film emulation presets and the XeL products. I spent quite a lot of time trying to get the effects right and as easy to use as possible. And thank you Laura for the kind words as well.

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