Alien Skin Exposure X Review

January 25, 2016 | Matt Grayson | Software Reviews | |


Alien Skin have returned with an Exposure program that has had a complete overhaul. Now capable of working as a standalone program as well as a Phototshop and Lightroom plug in, Exposure X features image organisation, raw processing and new multi-tasking features as well as simple improvements such as shortcut keys, stackable effects and faster start up time. Exposure X promises a lot and in this review we’ll see if it can deliver. Alien Skin Exposure X costs $149 (approx £101) or $99 (approx $67) if you’re upgrading from a previous version including Bokeh 1 and 2.

Ease of Use

Traditionally Alien Skin have named their Exposure program sequentially, so it's interesting to note that they've done away with tradition and replaced it with an X. One would assume that means that this is the tenth version, but it has come directly after version 7. We surmise that the rebranding of the version is down to the overhaul that Exposure has had for this installment.

Alien Skin Exposure X

The biggest new feature is that Alien Skin Exposure X now has standalone capability, whereas previous versions were only Photoshop and Lightroom plug ins. Fear not, though, should you still prefer to use Exposure as a plug in then you can and it's still located in the same place under the Filters tab on Photoshop CC and with Lightroom you need to go to Photo>Edit In and select Exposure X.

Alien Skin Exposure X

Creating a standalone work space for Alien Skin Exposure X opens up a whole new world of opportunity for photographers who love a taste of the past. The primary function of Exposure is to emulate previous film types and vintage photographic processes. For the photographer who uses the function a lot, a dedicated platform to work in is a blessing and should make working on pictures much easier. There are various aspects that Alien Skin have introduced to make it as painless as possible. One main feature that Exposure differs from similar programs is that there's no need to import pictures before working on them. Importing can be stressful and confusing for amateur photographers who have little time to catalogue every single picture, lack the technical know how or simply just want to store the pictures they like.

Alien Skin Exposure X

Exposure X has been given the ability to stack effects – kind of like how layers works – which is great news. In previous versions if you wanted to create an image with multiple effects you had to add an effect, save it as a new image and then open it up again, repeating that for each effect you wanted to add. The actual process isn't completely straightforward though and while we will try to explain it here, there's a great tutorial video on the Alien Skin website that demonstrates how to do it.

Alien Skin Exposure X

After the picture has been opened and you've selected a preset, or added an effect, click on the brush icon in the top right under the thumbnail preview. A small box will drop open and here you can delete areas you wish to erase to show the next effect you're going to add. It's similar to a selective colour method. Before erasing, make sure you click on the little white dot in the bottom left corner or no changes will take effect. Once you've erased what you want to erase, make sure you click on New in the drop down box to create a new layer to add the next effect. Repeat the process but erase the layer where you want the previous layer to show. For example, if the image is a landscape and the sky is different to the land, you would apply an effect for the sky, erase the effect on the land, apply a new filter for the land then erase the sky to show the previous layer through. While a welcome addition, the process seems unnecessarily long winded and a lot of the time you're working blind. There's nothing wrong with simply showing the layers in a window so we can see where we are and not forget some of the work flow, such as forgetting to press New, like we did a number of times.

Alien Skin Exposure X

There are three new lens presets to explore as well as the old film simulations. As well as Pinhole, there's also Petzval and Freelensing. If you're unfamiliar with the latter, it's a way of creating tilt/shift effects by detaching the lens from the camera and holding the lens up to the body mount. You then tilt the lens around like it's on a hinge to get a fine line of focus. You also get blur, light leaks and other adorable vintage effects. It's not an easy technique to master so to have a replication of it is much more sedate way of getting the same results. Petzval is a Victorian era lens that has recently been re-released by Lomography after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Alien Skin Exposure X

Using any of the Bokeh filters can be fine tuned on the right side of the window by clicking on the Bokeh drop down and adjusting the focus region. Indeed, all of the presets can be altered in some way and it's the easy to use UI that makes Exposure pleasurable to use. With the Explorer and presets on the left, you can quickly get started on a picture while the right side is reserved for more indepth editing. There are 24 different preset options which can be shown all together or split into colour, b&w, favourite and User defined. They range in variation from subtle changes on some Polaroid films to complete transformations with Daguerrotype films. Once you've edited your picture to your satisfaction, you can Export it via the File button at the top of the window. Before exporting you can select the save folder, a suffix to determine a new image if saving to the same folder, change the file type, include or remove metadata and even adjust the size.

Alien Skin Exposure X

Entry Tags

raw, software, photoshop, lightroom, editing, editor, mac, app, windows, raw processor, transfer, photo editor, image organiser, organiser, Alien Skin Exposure X, Exposure X, Alien Skin

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Your Comments

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#1 Vestuviu fotografas

This is nice. Nice review. I am using exposure 5, but after this article I think I will purchase this version.

9:30 pm - Monday, January 25, 2016

#2 Zach Wagner

While I enjoyed reading this review, it was not particularly comprehensive.  It discusses the effects, but does not go into detail on the different tabs available and all the normal adjustments that can be made to files (most are similar to what Lightroom and others offer, and some are a little more unique, such as ‘Bokeh’).  I realize that the program’s main purpose does seem to be to reproduce aged looks and various effects, and that is fine.  But it is also making a real attempt at being a stand alone photo editor and raw processor, i.e. in competition with Lightroom and Capture One, among others.
It would have been nice to read more discussion of these basic aspects as far as functionality and worth.

In my limited time with the trial version, I’ve found the program relatively fast.  I like the way it handles files quickly, and I find it quicker than LR in many respects.  The tools are relatively easy to use as well.  Sliders are much the same as in LR, though it is missing a couple of things (like radial filters) that could make it better. 
The issue I see with it is that while some of the sliders work pretty well, others do not.
Clarity works well and is a little different from LR in that it seems to add some more structure to the photo than the corresponding slider in LR. 
Contrast is fine and pretty basic; close to the level of LR but not to the level of C1.
Highlights worked better than I thought it would; while I wouldn’t say it’s on the level of LR, it’s certainly a worthy offering, and in my opinion is much better than C1’s slider.
However the Shadows slider falls down a bit.  It’s not as powerful as LR’s, and not even close to as powerful as C1’s, and it has a nasty effect of introducing unnatural-looking artifacts that aren’t the normal noise that can appear in lifted shadows.  These artifacts also become far more pronounced on export to jpeg, which is distressing, as you’ll obviously have to play around to see what you can get away with by doing many exports to make sure you’re not getting such obvious artifacting. 
While sharpening and detail are generally pretty decent, I noticed as well that they tended to introduce ‘dot’ artifacts if great care was not taken; and again these are made much worse on export.

I’m always looking for viable alternatives to LR, mostly because I’ve been unhappy with the performance of it for quite some time now.  It also has a tendency to give photos a ‘dingy’, dirty look when sharpened past a certain point, presumably to do with the algorithm that is used, as I don’t get this with C1.  But LR has so many great (and very easy to use) tools that it’s hard to compete.

If the ultimate image quality coming from Exposure X could be said to be better than LR (or even competitive, really), then I might say I’d move over to using it full time.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case.

So while I would say that of course it still excels at vintage looks/presets and to some extent effects, as a stand-alone photo editor, it still has some way to go.

7:32 pm - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#3 Zach Wagner

I should add to the above comment by expanding on my shadow slider commentary: initially lifting the shadows to 100 is a very weak process most of the time.  If the shot is fairly well exposed, it works better and seems to lift shadows more, however on very underexposed shots, it doesn’t really do much, which then forces the lifting of the whole frame by raising exposure, which then brings in artifacts to varying degrees.

7:38 pm - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#4 fotogidas

I am using this lightroom plugin and i am so satisfied him.

11:37 am - Saturday, February 20, 2016