Review: Alien Skin Exposure 7

Agfa APX 25

Agfa APX 25. Perhaps one of my favorite black and white films.

Film emulsion rendering software is not a new concept, but each offering has their own strengths and weaknesses. Alien Skin has been in this industry for years, and recently updated their flagship software, Exposure, to the 7th edition. Exposure 7 can be used as a standalone software or in conjunction with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Alien Skin, like VSCO, focuses more on an artistic way of doing things and also focuses on just delivering the best images that it can in a simplified way–which is on the other side of the spectrum of DxO. DxO uses loads and loads of science and lab tests.

For the enthusiast, Exposure 7 may be a great option to get the best from your images quickly.

Pros and Cons

Portra 400 NC

Portra 400 NC

Pros

– Absolutely delicious black and white film renderings

– Not too shabby negative film renderings

– Simple layout with a much better use of space than Adobe Lightroom 5

– More film renderings than you could possibly think of

– Really, really fun bokeh effects

– Lightroom’s Edit in option is very convenient

Cons

– Color editing isn’t as good as Adobe’s engine

– Only works with TIFFS, PNGs and JPEGs; no RAW support makes us sad pandas Correction: they do support RAW files, we just didn’t use cameras that they support. We’d like more though!

– Lightroom is still better overall for much of the editing

Features

Alien Skin Exposure 7 is the company’s flagship software that is designed to emulate the look of famous film emulsions. Now, you can totally be the person that says “If I want the film look, I’m going to shoot film.”

But then you’d have to find a lab that will develop the images well, scan well, and you’d also have to wait. With software like this, you can get the proper development done but still simulate the looks. In addition to emulating the looks of these famous films, you also get a couple of basic and advanced controls over the image that software that Lightroom doesn’t give you. Granted, Alien Skin Exposure 7 has a clear emphasis on the enthusiast where as Adobe’s product is much more professional minded. This is evident in the fact that Exposure 7 doesn’t support RAW file editing. Instead, the company put an emphasis on working with TIFF files and JPEGs.

Correction: they do support RAW files, we just didn’t use cameras that they support. We’d like more though!

If you’re a JPEG shooter, then this is totally fine–but again this makes us believe further in our stance that this software is targeted at the photo enthusiast. Alternatively, you can also work with Lightroom and Photoshop.

Ease of Use

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.32.48 PM

For this review, we worked with our images in Adobe Lightroom 5 first and then brought them into Exposure 7 then back into Lightroom. When you first open up an image (or a batch) in Exposure 7, you get the options presented above. If you have a JPEG, PNG or TIFF image, you can choose to edit the original. But if you’re working with certain RAW images, then you’re out of luck.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.33.14 PM

The interface opens up to give you a selection of tons of presets on the left and tons of editing features on the right with a high emphasis on making the best use of the overall space on the screen. The presets are broken down into sections and so are the editing options–so you can collapse or expand them at will.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.50.09 PM

The editing process is fairly straight forward and if you so choose, you don’t have to apply a preset at all. Alternatively, you can apply a preset and move on with your merry life. The program offers loads of cool bokeh presets, instant film presets, negative film presets, black and white film presets, slide film presets, and much more. For what it’s worth though, the negative film and black and white film emulsions are the closest in comparison to actual film emulsions. The slide film emulsions made me want to cry. I still dearly miss Kodak Ektachrome, and seeing Exposure 7’s renderings on screen made me literally hold back a scream and walk away from my laptop for a while.

However, the company’s renderings of the other films are pretty spot on for the 35mm emulsions but can’t begin to touch the 120 emulsions. I indeed can be biased about this though: all of my personal work these days is done on 120 films and medium format instant film–which brings me to my next point.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 9.07.30 PM

Exposure 7’s instant film emulsions are very, very nice–but in my opinion VSCO blows them out of the water. Exposure 7 makes up for it by embracing the inherent quirkiness of Instant film by letting you control aspects like bokeh and can even do things like adding special lighting and flare effects.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.53.32 PM

 

Speaking of bokeh though, the software lets you take bokeh rendering effects from some of the best Nikkor, Canon and Zeiss lenses and apply it to an image.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.40.02 PM

 

The effects are better the closer in smaller that you make the bokeh, but it can still do a great job overall no matter how you expand it. What’s even cooler is that this helps to also eliminate distortion in some areas.

Image Quality

Here are some of the sample image quality renderings

Time Zero Instant Film with Scratches and Light leak

Time Zero Instant Film with Scratches and Light leak

Kodak Ektachrome 100VS

Kodak Ektachrome 100VS

Fujifilm Astia 100F with Canon 85mm f1.2 rendering

Fujifilm Astia 100F with Canon 85mm f1.2 rendering

 

 

Conclusions

Likes

– Simple interface

– Most film renderings

– Bokeh effect renderings are really cool

Dislikes

– Not large enough RAW support

Alien Skin Exposure 7 is a very good piece of software with lots of great film emulsion renderings. It is also pretty simplistic for the enthusiast. We would also just be happy if Alien Skin just ported their presets to Lightroom and made us pay for them. That way, there would be no back and forth work between programs.

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

We award Alien Skin Exposure 7 four out of five stars. It’s available on their site for $149.