REVIEW: Make your expensive digital camera look like an expensive regular camera with Exposure from Alien Skin - Macenstein

REVIEW: Make your expensive digital camera look like an expensive regular camera with Exposure from Alien Skin

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

As good as today’s digital cameras are, even the high-priced prosumer SLRs can’t quite deliver images with the look and feel of real film. I own a Canon 20D SLR, and I love the clarity, size, and quality of the images it produces. However, 90% of the time I am ashamed to admit I leave the camera’s settings on “auto”, and rely on Photoshop to aid with such trivial things as lighting, focus and composition. However, as good as Photoshop is, it takes quite a bit of time and fiddling of settings to achieve a real film-like quality in your shots. Add to that the fact I now have an iPhoto library of over 20,000 shots and 2 small kids to run after, and you can see why I began looking for an easier solution.

Enter Exposure, a Photoshop plug-in from Alien Skin Software. Exposure aims to take all the frustration and time-consuming guess work out of mimicking the look of real film in your digital shots, and it works wonders.

Exposure achieves its results via a very simple and intuitive interface. Coming from the video world, I found Exposure to be similar to DigiEffects Film Look plug-in for After Effects. First you choose whether you want your image to look like either color or black and white film. You are then presented with around 50 different presets designed to mimic various traditional film stocks and effects. For instance, in the color category choices include such presets as: Agfa RSX II 100 (grain off), Kodak Ektachrome 100GX, Cross Processed Provia 100F, Lomo Cross Processed Konica Film, etc.

Above: click to enlarge: Exposure’s interface is very intuitive, and offers a bunch of different preview options, such as 8 different split screen views, and a toggle switch to pop between your current setting and the original photo.

Once you select a preset, you can either apply it “As Is” (which for the most part is what you’ll do) or, for the more experienced photo buff, you can tweak individual settings to create the look you’re after. Everything in Exposure is adjustable, from tone, focus, color, and grain (you can even specify how much grain goes in the midtones versus in the shadows!). The best part is once you are happy with your tweaking, you can save your settings as a new preset you can then apply to other images. Additional presets are available on Alien Skin’s site, and they encourage you to share your presets with other users.

They say a picture’s worth 1000 words, so I will throw up a couple sample pics here, but these only touch the surface of what Exposure can do.

Above: This original shot was a very nice shot of my daughter and I at my brother’s wedding in Cape Cod.

Above: Simply using Photoshop or iPhoto’s “desaturate” filter yields an OK but flat looking digital look.

Above: Check out the difference Exposure’s “Special- Only Blue Sensative” preset makes. Notice the difference in the water?

Above: Exposure’s “Negative Blue for Infrared” preset. Notice how defined the shows the rocks cast are now compared to the shot above.

Above: Original candid shot.

Above: Exposure’s “Modify – Leave strong reds” setting. Notice the trees and grass have faded back to help the subject pop more.

Above: Original

Above: Notice how subtle differences in light between this and the picture above create completely different moods.

The key to getting great results with Exposure is starting with a decent image with decent lighting for Exposure to work with. Don’t expect a dark, grainy shot of grandma blowing out her 90th birthday candles to magically look great.


There is something about the look of film, both still and moving, that is just more compelling than the clean look digital photos and video can deliver. Exposure really does deliver great results in a fraction of the time it takes to achieve similar results on your own. The included presets are, for the most part, all very well done, and provide a quick way to preview many different film looks, or act as a great starting point in creating your own looks.

This ease of use and time-savings comes at a price, however, as Exposure costs $199 (almost as much as an entry-level digital camera) but Alien Skin offers a discount for owners of other Alien Skin products. I would say Exposure is definitely targeted at the prosumer/professional digital photographer looking to recapture some of the richness of film that gets lost in the move to digital. For those discerning digital photo pros, Exposure is a must have tool in your photo arsenal.

Exposure by Alien Skin Software

Price: $199 (discount available for owners of other Alien Skin products)

Pros: Great film-like results, intuitive interface, large number of presets, fully customizable, can save your own presets.

Cons: A bit expensive for the causal digital photographer

One Response to “REVIEW: Make your expensive digital camera look like an expensive regular camera with Exposure from Alien Skin”
  1. $199? Thats not bad at all. Definitely worth it. And I love how those shots came out, especially the black and white one. It came out much sharper with Exposure. I work with photos every week, and I edit them mostly using Photoshop and sometimes iPhoto, but not always happy with the outcome. A lot of times the lighting is all wrong and the picture just looks like it’s poor quality. Photoshop’s good for little touch-ups and some filters. I think I will invest in Exposure quite soon.

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