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Add Some Style With Exposure X5

This subscription-free alternative to Lightroom offers RAW processing plus many film simulation looks to spur creativity

The imaging software landscape is still dominated by Adobe’s Lightroom and as much as we appreciate that ubiquitous editor and organizer, there are a few things we don’t like: namely, Adobe’s hefty subscription pricing. The good news is there are several cheaper but still solid alternatives to Lightroom that you can own outright for a one-time fee. One of our favorites is Exposure X5 from Exposure Software (formerly Alien Skin Software).

Exposure X5 is an excellent image editor you can purchase as a perpetual license for just $119 (or $89 as an upgrade from the previous version of Exposure). Primarily used for processing RAW images (but also compatible with JPEGs, TIFFs and other formats), Exposure X5 offers a buffet of creative editing tools including some excellent new features such as 3D color masking, which lets you select specific areas of an image to adjust hue, saturation and luminance. This complex but powerful tool lets you, for instance, tweak skin tones in a portrait while leaving the rest of the shot untouched; or adjust the color of a distant sunset while not affecting the foreground of the image. Other handy new features in Exposure X5 include lens correction tools for reducing chromatic aberrations and vignettes. You’re also now able to assign custom camera profiles in X5, which is great if you have multiple camera bodies that each produce slightly different RAW image looks.

Original capture before adjustments in Exposure X5.

But what we like most about Exposure are its over 500 customizable presets including a trove of film simulations from vibrantly colorful Fujfilm Velvia to classic black-and-white Agfa Scala. Newly added film presets in X5 include Ilford FP4 Plus, Ilford Pan F Plus, Kodak Recording 2475, and Polaroid Chocolate and there are now several new general editing presets such as “light and airy” and season inspired presets. There are also new image flip options and support for grayscale TIFF and JPEG images.

Exposure X5 allows several preview options including vertical and horizontal split-screen views, so you can quickly try out different effects.
Example of Exposure X5 software's Wet Plate filter
Final image after applying the “Wet Plate” filter and a few other small adjustments to give the image a vintage look.

Since Exposure X5 is surprisingly speedy to use, you can try out multiple effects on your images in seconds, select whichever one you like, and then tweak it further to create something truly unique. And because all of this is non-destructive, layer-based editing, your original images remain intact.

For organizing and keeping track of all your images, Exposure X5 also offers extensive keywording options; smart collections that automatically group shots based on your criteria (such as image ratings, exposure times, or camera makes); and virtual copies, which lets you edit and export multiples versions of a single photo without taking up additional disk space.

You can use Exposure X5 either as a standalone application, or as a plug-in to Photoshop or Lightroom. If you’re still unsure about whether Exposure fits your imaging needs, try out a fully-featured, 30-day trial version of the software for free here:

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