Alternatives To The Creative Cloud 2

Blencathera, The Lake District. Captured as a RAW file using the Olympus EM5 and processed in Exposure.

A little while back I published a post concerning alternatives to the Adobe Creative Cloud. Whilst many people love using Lightroom and Photoshop (myself included) some don’t like the Adobe Subscription model. Today I will share the first alternative that might appeal to some of you; Exposure from Alien Skin.

I suspect many people reading this won’t have come across Exposure, or perhaps I should say Exposure X2 which is the latest release. Of those that have, you might be forgiven for thinking of it as a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop. Indeed, it can be used as an enhancement filter but it’s also a standalone solution.

The Browser is reasonably quick and allows for basic flagging and tagging of images. You are then able to filter the images in a folder based on flag, colour or star rating. This is all basic stuff but if you organise your images based on date shot and don’t need to add keywords, it might be all you need.

Exposure will read a range of image file formats including RAW. It would though seem to be limited to RAW files it recognises as my older version, Exposure X doesn’t recognise my Fuji X-T2 RAW images (the new X2 version of the software will though).

When editing images in Exposure you can take two approaches. The easy way is to use one of the many film pre-sets that ship with the software. In all honesty, I think these are brilliant and will produce a digital rendering very much like the films they simulate. It’s very quick to achieve good results with the pre-sets and you can also create and save your own.

The other alternative is to use the editing tools of which there are many. These are well thought out and surprisingly flexible. For example, you have a film grain tool that allows you to simulate different film sizes, roughness, colour variations, processing and then apply this in varying levels to the shadows, midtones or highlights. The tools are developed well beyond Lightroom in some respects.

In addition to the usual editing tools there are several special effects that can be applied to simulate all manner of old film effects such as light leaks, scratches, fading etc. My personal favourite is the Infrared processing that simulates the halation effect found in infrared films such as Kodak HIE. I use this tool frequently when processing my digital IR images.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Exposure is very much a film simulation tool but despite this you can create some very impressive adjustments. The limitation of the older versions (such as mine) is that the adjustments are global. With the new X2 version you also gain access to a layers feature which includes layer masking. I suspect this alone will persuade me to upgrade in the near future. There are also other feature which move the software towards being a one stop image editor.

I have been using Exposure since version 5 (that’s about 5 versions back) and I really like the results that can be achieved. The images you can produce have a feeling of maturity and sophistication that is difficult to explain. Where Exposure scores highly in my opinion though is in Black and White conversion and vintage film effects.

Newlands Valley, The Lake District. Captured with the Olympus EM5 and converted for a vintage photo look with Exposure X.

If you are looking for an alternative to the standard Creative Cloud tools, this is one worth evaluating.

10 thoughts on “Alternatives To The Creative Cloud 2

  1. Are you using Exposure as a RAW processor, or as a tool in a workflow where you process RAW files with ACR/Lightroom, Irident, etc. first, then bring an image into Exposure for fine tuning?

      1. Thanks. I took a ok and there is a 30 day free trial, so I think I’ll give it a go. The new layers in X2 look promising.

  2. I also use Lightroom and Photoshop, and, it is interesting to know what other alternatives are out there, as one day I may decide to stop using the Adobe subscription model. Anyone who does decide to switch from Lightroom would want to transfer their catalogue to the new application; there’s an idea for a future article.

    I have configured Lightroom so that the edits are written to a sidecar file. (Lightroom always stores edits in the catalogue database, along with the history.) In fact, as I always convert the camera RAW files to DNG, Lightroom dispenses with the sidecar file and writes the edits to the DNG file. So I can in principle easily move these to another application and preserve the edits, albeit without the edit history.


    1. Thanks for the idea about the Lightroom catalogue transfer as it can be tricky to do. It also depends what your target solution is and how extensively you have used Lightroom features. You are spot on about the DNG approach (I used to use this myself which I will come to in a later review) but even then I think its a good idea to include the original RAW file.

  3. I’ve just begun playing with the new version, and it is impressive indeed. the film simulations are terrific, and the interface is highly intuitive.

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