Saturday, February 5, 2011

Test Drive: Alien Skin Exposure 3 for Lightroom

I took a brief test drive of Alien Skin's Exposure 3 Lightroom plug-in, and thought I'd give a quick review for anyone interested in using it. Exposure is Alien Skin's software suite that simulates the look of various film stocks to give your banal digital photos a retro analog look and feel. I'd used a previous version of this in Photoshop, and it was okay, if a bit on the slow side. The plugin for Lightroom does seem to run a bit faster than in Photoshop, but that could also just be a fault of my poor underpowered iMac.

Having only played with a few sliders and presets quickly, I would say my initial impression of the software is good. There are easily over a hundred different settings you can choose as starting points, each one simulating a specific colour or b&w film look. All the major chrome and colour negative film stocks are there, in regular and cross processed form. Prefer b&w? Well you can simulate pretty much every major variety of those stocks as well, with or without grain. Purists will obviously frown on this - if you want a true film look, just shoot film. But there are settings for film types that no longer exist (kodachrome!!), which render that argument moot. Then you can tweak colour, tone, focus, grain, and what they term 'age' (this is where you add dust and scratches for a truly authentic vintage analog look). The tone curve in Exposure feels more versatile than the one in Lightroom, which limits the number of points you can plot and move on the curve. The Exposure tone curve is actually much more like the one in Photoshop, with individual channels, as well as your overall curve. The grain function is fairly useful as well, especially when using older versions of Lightroom, which don't have grain controls for you to add it if you so desire. The closest you could get in those was to use the 'add noise' function, which was rather useless.

Now having espoused some of the good, I do have a few beefs with the software. I don't like that the Exposure plug-in isn't directly integrated into Lightroom's develop module. Instead, you access it by selecting the photos you want to edit, then choosing 'photo>edit in>Exposure 3'. This then brings up it's own interface for you to do your edits, and you have to close it before the edited version shows up in your Lightroom library. I dislike this for a couple reasons. Mainly, it's that this prevents you from coupling Lightroom presets with the effects in Exposure in any easy way. You have to make all your adjustments in one, then the other. I feel like I'd want to make changes using Lightroom presets WHILE simultaneously working with the Exposure settings. Another big beef I have with Exposure itself is that you can only choose one analog film process per photo in its interface, so you can't compare the differences between the various processes as easily as you could if you were working directly in the Lightroom library and develop modules. It's a minor annoyance, but still... Similarly, you can't switch between b&w effects and colour effects on the fly. You must choose one or the other when you launch the Exposure plug-in, which again is a hassle.

Having said all that, these are more petty inconveniences than actual debilitating hurdles for the software, so take all that I've said with a grain of salt.

Overall, I would say that without going into a full blown point by point explanation of each of the features in Exposure 3, I would say that they are mostly useful, and if you aren't interested in hours and hours of retouching and editing in photoshop to get a certain vintage analog look, then Exposure certainly is a good alternative.

Disclaimer: I'm not a power user by any means, and I don't think I've ever done a software review before. So this crappy review will probably only be useful for similar folks who have about as limited knowledge of computers as I do. I hope you found something useful here. If not, go read a real review. ;P

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