The newest version of Alien Skin’s Exposure is a stand-alone app as well as a Photoshop plug-in. Exposure X has a photo manager and comes with metadata functionality. Its editing capabilities are as strong as they’ve always been. Sadly the plug-in isn’t available for Affinity Photo, nor for Apple’s Photos app. Exposure X has some nifty management and editing features, but it won’t yet replace your Lightroom or Capture One Pro software.
The stand-alone photo manager of Exposure X uses your file system to manage your images. This means you can copy, move, rename and delete images from within the app and the operation will be executed on a file system level. That’s OK if you have a good backup routine. If you don’t have that, your risk of inadvertently removing images from your system just got a bit bigger. Having said that, the photo management functionality of Exposure X is fast and efficient.
Metadata is available in the form of ratings, flags and colour codes, as well as the EXIF data and a few fields of IPTC data. Strangely enough, EXIF data was incomplete on some of my images. The metadata showed up fine in Capture One Pro 9 and DxO Optics Pro 10.
In the stand-alone version I expected to find the same tabs and effects as in earlier versions of Exposure, but there are some new effects like white balance and two types of noise reduction (chroma and colour). Lacking is the addition of a histogram, which I would have expected to have been a priority. Perhaps the stand-alone version is not meant to be a fully functional photo editor like DxO Optics Pro or Capture One Pro.
The brush tool is great, but its implementation is a bit strange. The brush tool allows you to create new layers, but why aren’t they listed in the same way as in other photo editors? Instead, Alien Skin has opted to show different layers as dots overlaid on the image. Each layer can have two brushes (e.g. you can create a small one and a large one) and an eraser.
It’s innovative alright, but it makes working with layers unnecessarily complicated. It’s made difficult because showing a mask while you paint is not supported. You can, however, show the mask by right-clicking on a layer dot and not selecting “Delete”. That’s a hidden feature — or at least: I haven’t found it mentioned in any of the tutorials.
Regardless, the brush tool is great because it allows you to stack effects. Here’s a great use of stacking effects in my opinion: suppose you have a beautiful shot of a flower, but don’t want to have all of the foliage around it taking away the attention of the flower’s bright colours. Because the background is on its own layer, represented by a dot in the bottom-left corner, you can create another layer and stack a colour effect brushed on the flower so it really stands out from the rest.
Exposure X in stand-alone mode allows you to offload your images directly into the app. An extra time-saver is that you can offload from multiple cards at once and keep working while the copying happens in the background. You can also send photos to an external editor and after editing, Exposure X will automatically pull in the results. In practice, you’ll be limited to setting up Photoshop as external editor, as the app doesn’t recognise other photo editors. I tried it with Affinity Photo, Pixelmator and Aurora HDR Pro and only the latter showed some activity. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right sort of activity as it made the app and plug-in freeze. Only a force-quit and restart of Exposure X fixed the problem.
I think Exposure X is certainly a huge step forward on the road towards becoming an all-round photo editor. However, the app lacks in areas where I didn’t expect it. The lack of a histogram is a good example. Having said that, the availability of a dazzling array of presets (with a few new to play with), the ability to change the results entirely to your own taste and the ability to apply edits locally keep Exposure X in the category of most wanted photography tools in my book. Exposure X costs approx. €139.00.