Photography, Reviews

Exposure X4, a Lightroom alternative?

alien skin expsoure 4

It’s been a while since I reviewed Alien Skin’s Exposure app, so I took it upon me to give Exposure X4 a good look and what I found was an app that combines strong MAM features with an attractive feature set for adjusting and creatively editing images.

Exposure X4 has an interface that has a nice dark background for the images and thumbnails and is flexible enough to offer a lot of customisation. For example, you can arrange panels as you like, select which windows you want to show on a secondary monitor, etc. The typical Alien Skin presets are also available and can offer a “look” that reminds of the days of film or serve as an editing starting point. The Virtual Copy concept is also maintained since I last reviewed the app. This feature, which is quite unique, lets you create multiple variants of an image without having to create actual copies of the original. It’s efficient, fast and storage-friendly.

The MAM department

The app has an asset management part and an image customisation part. Unlike DxO PhotoLab, a more or less comparable app on my machine, Exposure X4’s MAM doesn’t completely stand on its own. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. DxO’s interface forces you to always switch between a group of images and the editing focus. By default, Exposure X4’s shows a band of small thumbnails at the bottom (you can get rid of that easily) and gives you the option of showing groups of up to four images in the working frame when editing. It also supports batch-editing where appropriate. When you’re applying light or structure effects – which you can’t do in DxO PhotoLab – this makes it possible to get a unified look across images. The app also has Smart Collections, which work great; there’s a good number of metadata criteria that you can apply to create them.

Exposure X4 has true MAM features. You can rate, flag and manage images, show their metadata, etc. Better yet, there’s robust support for metadata creation that is missing from many other image editors. The feature set in this area is more reminiscent of Camera Bits’ Photo Mechanic 5 (although that one is still – and much – more powerful) than it is of DxO PhotoLab (which doesn’t support metadata editing at all).

Image editing functionality

The last version of Exposure that I reviewed didn’t have RAW file support yet. The X4 version does, so I tried it with Sony Alpha 7 files and older Hasselblad H3D files. Unfortunately, Exposure X4 only offers support for Hasselblad X1D files, so that was a bit of a disappointment.

On the bright side, X4’s demosaicing algorithm is as good as that of Affinity Photo. It offers beautiful shadow and highlight recovery – but you can’t adjust the RAW files before they’re “developed” as Photo allows you to. My test RAW files were a bit brighter than Affinity Photo’s and DxO Photolab’s and very slightly less saturated. After demosaicing, you can adjust images in every respect, with a full set of parameters, including lens correction, elaborate colour adjustment, focus and bokeh, grain, infrared conversion and transform tools.

Transform tools let you change every aspect of the image – ranging from scale and crop to rotation of the entire image in 3D, but everything is controlled only via the control panel, not in the active frame. A HUD display would have been more efficient in my opinion, but the sheer fact that you can manipulate an image in that many ways is by itself unique.

The Overlays panel is also a one-of-a-kind in that it offers Border, Light and Texture effects. Some light effects can be manipulated in the working frame, just as Bokeh and, up to a point, Vignette. In the case of light effects, the ones that can be moved around in the frame are designated with a hand icon in the control panel.

All of the adjustments and effects you might want to add to an image can be applied on layers – with or without masking – which effectively enables Photoshop-level editing.

Finally, Exposure X4 comes with new plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, but I couldn’t test those as I don’t have Photoshop on my system and they don’t work with Affinity Photo.

Conclusion

Alien Skin does not disappoint with Exposure X4. The app is a capable combination of a MAM and an editing application and it has many features that make it unique, such as the batch editing capability and the layers/masks functionality.

What I found out during my tests convinces me that Exposure X4 is one of the top image editors, but the icing on the cake is that it incorporates a strong MAM offering as well. Exposure X4 costs $149, an upgrade from a previous version is $99. You can have it bundled with Snap Art, and Blow Up for $199.