Alien Skin Exposure X review: Film emulation app offers new organizing tools

Historical photo presets join a swift, lightweight organizer to create unique film looks and special effects.

With digital photography now nearly an obsession, it’s surprising the extent to which so many shooters—including those who came of age in the digital era—miss the look of film. No, not the suspense of anticipating the quality of a 36-picture roll, or the risk of blowing an entire shoot with a tiny mistake, or the time and chemistry required for developing and printing. What’s missing to contemporary shutterbugs is film’s atmospheric aura.

To fulfill the artistic impulse to connect with and replicate that old-time flair, Alien Skin’s Exposure X (US$149) is available as a standalone photo filter or plug-in to Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, offering myriad presets and variations. Exposure X stylizes a scene for a distinctive look by simulating both old and modern films with 15 categories of color and 12 categories of black and white in familiar brands like Agfa, Kodak, Fuji, and others.

exposurex5

The Autochrome filter harks back to a color process developed in 1907, which combined layers of dyed potato starch grains on glass plates. No kidding.

It also includes numerous film and slide types, styles, and special effects like daguerreotype, autochrome, lo-fi, bokeh, infrared, cross processing, split toning, color fading, and more. With your image in the main window, quickly mouse and hover through the categories to instantly preview changes to both images and settings. After choosing a preset, you can then experiment further with film grain, vignettes, borders, textures, and light leaks.

Presets and styles augment the app’s familiar photo editing tools such as exposure, vibrance, noise reduction, and sharpening. Exposure’s Overlay panel includes sun flare, vintage borders, and textures that you can use to customize and save new presets.

exposurex4

Light leak effect.

Exposure, as a mature app, is a known quantity, and it is hardly a glorified Instagram. Alien Skin applies scientific analysis to older and discontinued films, microscopically analyzing film grain to deliver characteristic looks. New effects in this version include a pinhole camera, Petzval lenses, and freelensing presets.

As of this version, Exposure X doubles as an organizer, letting you import images directly from your camera card and view images in their existing folders and locations without importing them into the app. That’s convenient because no matter when your photos are—directly on your hard drive, stashed on cloud storage, or parked on an external drive—you can access and apply edits non-destructively. You can also use the software to sort and filter images via flags, star ratings, and labels. A batch feature lets you rename multiple files simultaneously.

exposurex2
exposurex3

The Overlays panel offers options for borders, light effects and textures.

The app interface is configurable, so you can change the position of controls to concentrate on your most-used tools. You can display the app over two screens and show as much information as you want to see about each shot.

No matter how many edits you apply to an image nothing will permanently change unless you export and save it as a new file. Edits are stored as sidecar metadata in the same folder as the original, so you can tweak at any time. Cloud storage, recommended for Dropbox and OneDrive, lets you work with your photos on-the-go.

exposurex6
exposurex7

New Pinhole camera

The new version also lets you pick and choose how to selectively apply adjustments with new brush and layer tools. Combined brush and erase tools let you pinpoint and fine tune your effects. You can also touch up portraits with skin smoothing, teeth whitening, and eye enhancements alongside traditional dodge and burn tools.

Read more: Microsoft's PowerPoint Designer gets multiple image support and more

The tools themselves worked as advertised, however the app may not read certain cameras’ raw files. Alien Skin had to add my camera, for example, and it took awhile for its database to register the update. In addition, I found it somewhat of a challenge to install the app as a plug-in to Lightroom, though the Photoshop integration went smoothly.

exposurex8

Kodak Tri-X 400.

Exposure X—both standalone and plug-in is available from the Alien Skin website for US$149; upgrades are US$99. It works with Photoshop CS6 or CC 2015 or newer and Lightroom 6 or CC 2015 or newer. Users of Exposure 7, the previous version, get the X upgrade free.

Bottom line

Exposure X delivers a vast variety of old-time film looks and keeps the interface simple in the process and using the app as a plug in to Photoshop or Lightroom simply allows you to launch it independently from—rather than integrating it into—the host app. Performance was generally excellent, though at times there was a short wait for rendering: A fraction of a second, for the most part, but just enough to be noticeable. It was also somewhat of a challenge to properly install the app in Lightroom. While Exposure X does read many Raw camera formats, if you have an older camera, it’s a good idea to check the list to see if your camera is on it and to to test the free tryout version first to make sure.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags photoshopphotos

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jackie Dove

Macworld.com
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?