Simply B&W iPhone app review

It’s all in the name. Simply B&W is a very user-friendly and educational photo filter app for making stunning black and white photos. Is it for you? Read on to find out.

simply black and white iPhone app

Figure 1: Main screen

Simply B&W is actually an iPhone-specific app, but it works just as well on the iPad. You could enlarge the app window to fill the screen, but I would not recommend it, as all the details in your photo will become pixelated. Hopefully the developer for Simply B&W comes out with an iPad-optimized version soon.

As you can see above, the UI is very minimal. At the top left there’s a settings button that takes you to two options — keep EXIF data from the original photo, and keep settings which means that between editing sessions, the filter settings would be kept as is so that if you wanted to process multiple photos with the same set up, you could. Otherwise, there is no mechanism to save custom settings from a session. This would be a nice feature for the developer to add in the future.

In the middle of the screen there’s an icon you tap to choose a photo to edit from your albums. On the iPhone, there would be an option to use the in-app camera to take a photo (as well as an option in the settings screen to save the original photo taken with the in-app camera). Once your photo is chosen, there are three icons at the bottom of the screen that lead to dialog boxes for choosing a virtual colored filter, vignette settings, and brightness/contrast/grain sliders.

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Figure 2: Example of the descriptions for the colored filters

At the beginning of this review, I called Simply B&W an educational photo editing app. Why? Because the section where you can choose among the virtual colored filters actually has explanations for what each colored filter’s effects would normally be. For instance, the app says that a green filter produces even skin tones and lightens greens. It also darkens blues, violets and reds. There are similar descriptions for the red, yellow, blue, and orange filters. You can also choose not to use a colored filter. I find this to be the coolest feature of the app because if you ever wanted to try your hand at taking black and white photos with a film camera and use colored filters, or even if you wanted to try to process black and white photos in another photo editing program like Photoshop which has similar virtual colored filters, you’ll have a better understanding of what each one does. Sure, you could just look at the results and choose which one looks best, but I’m all for learning something new once in a while, especially anything related to photography. :)

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Figure 3: Vignette settings

The vignette section has options for choosing black/white/no vignette, a slider to adjust the strength of the vignette (unfortunately no way to change the size), and an option to have a black/white or no border. I find adding a white border adds some “authenticity” to the black and white photo, as if it were a print, but the choice is yours.

simply b and w iPhone app

Figure 4: Brightness, contrast, and grain settings

Finally, the last section of settings has sliders to control brightness, contrast, and the amount of grain. Black and white photos look great with grain, and sometimes I like to add more grain for texture. Note that while the settings screens do obscure the photo being edited, you can tap outside of the settings area to hide it and view the results of your edits.

Once your edits are completed, the share icon at the top right corner of the screen allows you to save to your camera roll or e-mail the photo. I used photos taken with my Panasonic GF1 to test out this app, and while it does save at a high resolution — a maximum of 2592 px on the long side if there’s no border, and 2720 px on the long side with a border — it did down-res my photos from the original dimension of 3264 px on the long side. As I am used to most photo apps having a maximum of 2592×2592, this doesn’t bother me that much. It seems that when the border is added, the photo isn’t cropped, since the longest side is larger than the photo without a border, but that’s my guess. I didn’t do a close comparison to double check.

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Figure 5: Finished photo with white border (oops, doesn't work so well against a white background!)

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Figure 6: Finished photo without a border

I have tried other photo editing apps either specifically for black and white photos, or general editors that have a black and white option and have gotten mixed results with them. Apps like Camera+ and FX Photo Studio have black and white filters, but sometimes they don’t produce the results I want because there are too few settings to adjust. I’ve also tried Monophix, which seems to be quite a popular black and white editor app, and was overwhelmed by all the different settings, as I remember. I basically only tried it once and never really played with it again. It wasn’t for me, though I may come back to it again sometime to give it another chance. However, Simply B&W seems like a good compromise to me, with just enough options to give some really rich results. One tiny nitpick: I wish that the changing the sliders would result in immediate changes on-screen. At the moment you have to adjust a slider then wait for the results to show, but this is a very minor issue, certainly no dealbreaker.

So if you are looking for a quick way to produce some great black and white photos without being overwhelmed by too many settings, or needing more settings than are available, give Simply B&W a try. It’s available for only $0.99 USD in the iTunes App Store.

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Author: Cheryl

Cheryl didn't fully get into photography as a hobby until after graduating from college. The first camera she used on a regular basis was a Canon Powershot A70 point-and-shoot. A couple Sony and Casio point-and-shoots later, she bought a Sony DSC-F717, which would become a workhorse for her and a gateway camera to her first DSLR, the Nikon D70. From there, Cheryl continues to experiment with all sorts of photography equipment and techniques for both digital and film. Her latest main photographic interest has been "iPhoneography", a term usually used for photos taken, edited, and uploaded directly from iPhones.

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