Macphun Tonality Review

The best tool for black and white conversion!

Tonality by Macphun is an incredible app.  If you view my work, it’s pretty obvious that I am a big color sort of guy.  I will be the first to admit that.  I’m just normally drawn to bold and expressive colors.  It’s where I am most comfortable.  It’s “my thing”, I guess.

But here I am talking about an awesome black and white conversion product, and for good reason - it's excellent!

Despite my love of color, I will admit that I love seeing really interesting black and white photos.  They can be as equally expressive as a color photo, and full of mystery and moodiness too.  When an image is devoid of color, I think your eye is less overwhelmed and therefore you can focus more on the composition, the lines, and the general feeling of the photo.  It’s stripped to its barest elements.  It's raw, so to speak.

Now that I am using Macphun products for all of my work, I have been spending copious amounts of time in all of the various apps, and I love each of them, for different reasons.  It’s a solid family of products that work together seamlessly and give you excellent creative control over your finished product.

As you may know, I am a big fan of HDR photography.  While many associate HDR with color, it can be just as effective in black and white.  Since HDR is about helping to more evenly distribute the light in a photograph, color has nothing to do with it, technically.  Big color happens to be a by-product of HDR, but it’s not what it’s really about.  

In other words, using Tonality to create black and white photos is effective with both single exposures and HDRs, and can help you create dynamic and interesting monochrome masterpieces. 

If you decide you are interested in this product, click here to download a free trial copy, and if you buy it, use the discount code JIMNIX to save 10% off your order!

We will start with this image, which is a full-color HDR that I created in Aurora HDR Pro.  This is Leadenhall Market in London, and it’s awesome.  I love it in color of course, but I have found that it’s equally stunning in black and white.

Let’s take a closer look!

A look at the main menu

The first thing you will notice when bringing your photo into Tonality is the similarity of the interface with the other Macphun products.  They all look and feel about the same, which is a big help when you are starting something new.  There’s not a steep learning curve.  Even if you have never used a Macphun product, the clean and easy to use interface is great, but don’t let it fool you.  There is a lot of power underneath it all.

(You will also notice that your photo has already been converted to monochrome when you first open Tonality - though it is “unedited” otherwise.)

There are the familiar tools across the top of the image, such as Save, Crop, Zoom and Preview (plus more), and way to the top right you have the Histogram, Brushes, etc.  Again, it’s the same layout as the rest of the Macphun family.

Down the right side you have the familiar menu options, such as Color Temperature, Tone, Clarity & Structure, etc.  This is where you make your slider adjustments to fine-tune your image to perfection.  Note a couple of interesting options there: Texture Overlay, Grain and Photo Frames.  Yep, you can do all that right here in Tonality (plus a lot more, of course)!  We will examine a couple of those in more detail down below.

Finally, along the bottom you have the Preset section.  This should all be very familiar if you have used other Macphun products, but if it’s new to you, we will dive into this in more detail and explain how it all works.  It’s very straight-forward.

The first thing I normally do with Tonality is choose a Preset to start working with.  This gets my creative juices flowing and often launches me off in a creative direction, and it might be a direction I never expected to go in.  That’s part of the awesomeness of the presets.  They are like little coaches on the sidelines saying "try it!".

If you are aren’t familiar, a preset is a bunch of adjustments all wrapped together in a single-click solution.  You choose a preset, and it applies all these various adjustments to your photo.  It’s a shortcut, so to speak.

And to be clear, I generally make further adjustments to the photo after applying a preset, although you don’t have to.  I tend to have very specific things about a photo that I want to express, and thus use the preset as a starting point and refine further from there.

Sometimes I even stack multiple presets, layer upon layer, until I achieve my creative vision for a photo (and yes, Tonality has layers built into it, which I will detail later in this review).

A quick look at Presets

If you notice when you click on the word Preset at the bottom, you are presented with several different categories of Presets: Basic, Architecture, Portrait, Dramatic, etc.  Each of these have several options in them, so I recommend delving into a few categories and trying out some different looks.  In addition to getting you more familiar with Tonality, it will also give you some idea how you want your photo to look.  In other words, it may help you choose a direction.

To choose a preset category, just single click on it, and a film strip along the bottom of the frame will display all the various options in that category.  

To choose a Preset, you just single click on it and it is applied to your photo.  If you want to reduce the amount of the preset that is applied to your photo, just hover your mouse over the preset preview window, and a slider will appear.  Move it until the photo is to your liking.  Then you can click on the word Preset again, and that film strip will drop out of sight to give you more viewing space for your image.

Here are some sample presets to view:

I suspect you noticed that all of these are not entirely black and white.  Yes, it's true, you can add a little bit of color back into your images if you would like to (and more on that later).

After the preset is applied to your image, you will notice that some of the menu categories on the right hand panel are displayed in yellow.  This indicates that the preset includes some adjustment to that item.  If it is in white, no adjustments from that item are included in that preset.  This is a handy visual guide to let you know what has been altered thus far.

After the preset has been applied, my usual next step is to click on the various menu items on the right and just experiment by moving sliders around.  That may not sound very scientific - and it’s not, actually - but it is my preferred way to adjust my image.  While the Preset is a great starting point, I often find that I want to further enhance or alter the image, and thus I experiment with the different settings to come to my final product.

Textures and Frames, too!

A couple of these menu items in the right hand panel deserve closer inspection: Texture Overlay and Photo Frames.

Once you click on Texture Overlay, the menu will open up and you can then click on Select Texture.  

You will see that there are already some textures loaded here in Tonality, and they are organized by type: Paper, Metal, and Film.  You just click on a category, click on a texture, and then close that pop-up window.  It will apply the texture to your photo, easy as pie.  You can then adjust the amount and intensity by changing the Blend Mode and dragging the Amount slider.

Also note in the texture window that you can load your own texture, so if you have those available, that is an option for you as well!

Photo Frames works in much the same way.  Open the menu, click on Select Frame, and then close the pop-up window.  You can then drag the Width slider to adjust the size of the frame.  Easy.

There are so many things you can do with just the right hand menu, without even using a preset (though of course I love the presets).  While I just noted the texture and frame features (which I consider rather useful), consider Split Toning, Lens Blur and more.   Customization is often a result of experimentation, and there is a LOT to experiment with in Tonality.

Did I mention that Tonality has layers?

Yep, like other Macphun products, the ability to add multiple layers to your image for further refinement is built right into the app.  It’s incredible, and this is a huge distinguishing feature of Macphun products.  You historically had to do this sort of thing elsewhere, but now you can do all sorts of custom edits to your shots by using layers.

For example, you can stack multiple presets on the same photo (which I mentioned above).  We talked above about adding a Preset to your base image, but you can also create a new layer and add another preset there.  Or maybe you like the idea of a texture as mentioned above, but only want it on part of the photo?  No problem!  

Just create a new layer, add the texture, and mask it into the place you want it to appear.  The same goes for any adjustment: lens blur, clarity, structure, grain and more.  Layers are so versatile that I could never give you all the examples, but there are millions of them.  Suffice it to say that is one of the key benefits of this product.  It really does give you more flexibility than some other product that converts images to black and white (or just converting it yourself in Lightroom).

To create a new layer, just click on the big + button in the upper right corner by the word LAYERS.  Then, do whatever you want or need to do on that layer - add another preset, make some specific adjustments and mask them in with a brush and more.

Here’s an idea for you - how about selective color?

If you enjoy creating selective color photos, you can do that easily with Tonality.  In this example photo, let’s say you want just the red color in the photo, and the rest to be black and white.  All you do is go into the Color Filter menu on the right, and just drag the saturation slider for that color all the way to the right.  

Here’s the red:

And here’s just the yellow:

Here’s another photo with that same treatment, just because I thought it was kind of cool:

While it’s not something you would likely do on every shot, it’s a fun creative idea for mixing things up!  You can certainly get some interesting results, and it’s pretty fun too.

But wait, there’s more!

You can also crop and straighten in Tonality.  Just click on the little scissors icon in the upper left, and it will change your view to the below.  Make your adjustments, hit the Crop button with the green check, and you’re all done. 

You can also choose to crop based on various ratios, as shown below.  Also, just drag the Angle slider if you want to straighten the image.

Note that this feature is only available when you use the product as a standalone version.  When used as plug-in to a host program (PS, LR, etc), then these features aren’t available, because they are available in the host.

Don’t forget the Gradient Tool!

In case all the above wasn’t enough, there is also a gradient tool built into Tonality.  You access it by clicking on the tiny, partially-shaded rectangle in the far upper right corner above the histogram.  When you click on it, the gradient tool will appear on your screen.

You will notice three lines and a circle in the very middle.  You can grab the circle to move the gradient tool up or down your image, and the top or bottom line can be moved in order to shrink or expand the zone in which any effects you apply will occur.  

Additionally, when you hover your mouse over the center line, you will see a semi-circular arrow sign.  This means you can grab the line and rotate it, in case your adjustments need to be made at an angle.  All very simple, right?

Once you set up your gradient tool in the right place, just make whatever adjustments you want to make and they will appear onscreen, in relation to how you have placed the gradient tool.

Here’s an example of using the gradient tool with a lens blur:

Note that the gradient tool works like this: above the top line has the full effect of whatever adjustments you make, from the top line to the middle line has a graduated amount of the effect, the middle line to the bottom line has even less, and below the bottom line has none of the adjustment.  As the name implies, your adjustments are gradual when you use this tool.

Here’s a really weird one that I just did to show how you can really create a different look with the use of the gradient tool.  Now, I can’t think of a good reason to actually do what I did below, but hey this is just a demo, right?

As you can tell, I separated the top and bottom with the gradient filter, and then did some selective color and a frame, but only on the top.  Yes, I agree that makes no sense, but it was something that is very visible, so I did it to illustrate how you can use the gradient tool to apply effects to specific areas of a photo.  And no, I did not save that one.  ;-)

Once the adjustments are to your liking, just click the Apply button with the green check mark, and you are all done.  Easy as pie!

Some sample photos

I have taken that London photo from up above and created a few different versions shown below.  These are all done with a single preset - just one! - and then some minor adjustments to each of them.  Everything was done on a single layer with just a preset and a few slider adjustments.  While I often stack multiple layers, I wanted to create these all on a single layer just to show how powerful Tonality really is.  Clearly you could do so much more, but this demonstrates great variety without having to invest too much time or effort.  It's easy!  So take a look and enjoy - variety is your friend!  ;-)

Full feature list

In case you would like to see the entire feature list, I have taken this screenshot from the Macphun site.  It's pretty extensive, which gives you an indication of just how powerful and advanced this product really is!  Plus, I am way too lazy to try and write down all of this by myself.  ;-)


Well my friends, that about covers this review of Tonality by Macphun.  It's a very capable app and one that is easy to use, yet incredibly powerful.  It's also quite fun and you may find yourself addicted to black and white photography quickly!  You can use it to create dramatic and stunning black and white masterpieces in no time!

Special discount for my readers: if you buy Tonality (or any Macphun product) use the discount code JIMNIX to get 10% off your order!  Thanks and enjoy!

If you would like more information on Tonality, you can read about it on the Macphun website.

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to let me know if you have any questions!