Of course, you don't have to splurge out on Photoshop, there are lower cost alternatives like Paint Shop Pro X1 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 5, but these are still the wrong side of £50. If you're praying at the alter of affordability then the Saint Paint Studio might be the answer. Thanks to the current exchange rate making the Yankee Dollar as valuable as rice paper it can be yours for just over £20 on electronic download.
The black and white conversion is automated and produces flat results.
The interface is pretty basic, with ill-favoured icons along the top and the tool icons in a dockable, floating palette on the right. Most of these contain familiar functions like the colour picker, shapes and lines, fill, spray, magnify, text, undo and redo. There are some options for animation which include locking items in place, and there is also a layers palette. This has to be clicked on it the tools palette to bring up as a floating palette itself. It then shows that there can be individual layers in the image, but these are more useful if you are creating animations rather than sophisticated picture compositions for two reasons. The first is that each layer has an opacity, but no blend mode or layer mask options. The second is that if using a high res image file like a photo, then creating a new layer makes the system slow down. To a crawl if it's a copy of the original picture as well. The layer opacity control is a little crude - you just enter the percentage number, there's no sliders.
The painting options and brushes are also fairly crude, though there is the option to mark areas of the screen and use that as the basis for a brush or spray can. If grabbing parts of a hi-res photo though be warned, the system basically becomes unusable. These features are more use for creating small animated gifs and banners for websites rather than editing photos. The fact that there is a basic animation editor re-enforces this.
Colour tinting with the colour adjustment sliders on the RGB scale.
There are other more photo-orientated options on the toolbar, including brush effects and red-eye removal. The brush effects consists of Smooth/blur and Transparency/tint, so basic editing is possible but there are other shareware and freeware packages that do more than this.
Batch processing is supported and this is one area where a fast and easy program can save time over the lumbering goliath of Photoshop and its commercial chums. This allows files to be selected, which are then loaded as small versions and you can select colour reduction or file size reduction from the Batch convert menu. The file size reduction works off fixed sizes or a more useful percentage. Once selected off it goes. Again though, a program like Thumbs Plus can do much more than this.
There are a basic range of filters available for general adjustments. There's an Auto Brightness correction and manual controls for colour balance and brightness, contrast adjustment and gamma correction. More general filters include black and white conversion - though again this is crude and is a straight, flat conversion - negative, sharpen, despeckle, simplify (looks like a poor oil painting), Dilate, Blur, Add Noise, Erode, Jitter, Emboss and Edge detect. Trouble is, these are all poor copies of what Paint Shop Pro had to offer as a shareware program six versions ago.
Saint Paint Studio Verdict
To succeed as a low cost alternative to even the cheaper photo editing programs, a package must be fast, easy to use and have a couple of often-used or great features. The trouble is, Saint Paint Studio has a crude interface, it rapidly slows down when dealing with large files and all the paint and photo features are implemented better elsewhere. Unless you want to use the animation features, I'm afraid SPS is more sinner than saint in the world of photo editing.
Saint Paint Studio available from http://www.saintpaint.com/ and costs £21.07 for an electronic download. You can also try out the program out for free on a 30 day trial period.