Exposure X7 verdict
Exposure X7 is one of the lesser-known all-in-one editors on the market, but it deserves to be considered up amongst the best. It has simple but powerful image cataloguing tools, a completely non-destructive workflow, including virtual copies, and some of the best and most evocative analog film simulations around. It also does regular photo editing and enhancement with deceptive simplicity. Its only weakness is its raw processing and lens corrections, which can be patchy – but it will work as a plug-in and an external editor for other software like Lightroom or Capture One.
+ Highly effective browsing and cataloguing tools
+ Beautiful analog film effects
+ Virtual copies for multiple ‘looks’
+ Lens and perspective corrections
+ Flexible layer and masking system for building image effects
– Adjustment layers, but no support for image layers/montages
– RAW processing and lens corrections can be patchy
Exposure X7 is an all-in-one photo editor for organizing your images, carryout out everyday image corrections and enhancements, and for applying a huge range of beautiful analog film effects which can include borders, grain, light leaks, bokeh effects, film simulations and third-party LUTs.
Exposure X7 is available in both Mac and PC versions, and works both as a standalone tool and as a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop. It will also work as an external editor for Capture One, so there are many different ways you can use it.
This program feels like it has one foot in the past and one foot in the future. It has a large library of effects presets which evoke analog films, darkroom effects and styles, but at the same time it has a broad range of modern editing tools to match pretty well anything in Lightroom, Capture One and other rivals.
Its RAW processing is not perhaps of quite the same standard as Adobe’s, Capture One’s or DxO PhotoLab’s, but its analog effects, presets and styles go further to include image borders, textures and light leaks that would normally need a bitmap-based photo-editor to create – yet in Exposure X6 they are all part of the same non-destructive workflow.
Exposure X7 key features
Exposure X7 has a very simple system for cataloguing your photos. You choose the folders you want to include by ‘bookmarking’ them, and after that Exposure X7 will browse, catalog and search them ‘live’. There’s no import process and no need to sync your catalog with our folders to catch up with any external changes that may have been made in the way that you have to with regular cataloguing tools like Lightroom or Capture One.
And yet you can still add keywords (even to RAW files), create Albums and Smart Albums too. Exposure X7’s hybrid approach to cataloguing does mean that searches can sometimes taken longer, but the simplicity of the system and its ‘always live’ folder display help make up for that.
Exposure X7 is a fully non-destructive editor, despite the elaborate analog-style effects it can create. You can revise, remove or modify your adjustments at any time and export a processed JPEG or TIFF when you need it. You can also create Virtual Copies to try out as many different looks as you like – the ‘Audition Preset’ screen lets you compare up to six at a time.
The editing tools are of two types. There are the regular editing tools like Exposure, Shadows and Highlights, Curves, White Balance and Color adjustments and more, and there are ‘Overlays’ including textures, light leaks and frames. You can also add analog-style film ‘grain’ and both in-built and third-party LUTs.
As with other effects software, the effects in Exposure X7 are created using its various manual editing tools and effects in carefully crafted combinations. In principle, they don’t do anything you couldn’t do yourself. In practice, they seem to have been blended with considerable skill, subtlety and creativity to produce some really attractive and powerful effects, very often combining tools and adjustments in ways you might not have thought of.
What’s new in Exposure X7
The biggest new feature in Exposure X7 is a new polygon selection tool designed to simplify the creation of complex selections. You create a rough outline around your subject and Exposure X7 then intelligently calculates the object outline and fills the selection. It actually works very well.
Also new is the combined crop and transform tool, where you can crop, rotate and correct keystoning at the same time. This is mildly disappointing. It’s useful to have these tools in the same place, but it does feel as if the old Transform controls have been moved somewhere new. There’s no auto correction, Lightroom or DxO ViewPoint style, and no easy-to-grasp drag handles for adjusting perspective visually – the keystone correction is still done with sliders.
Also new is customisable workspaces. The Exposure X interface was is pretty clean already, but sometimes the right toolbar can get overstuffed with open panels, especially if you have the masking panel open, so this is a quick and efficient way to show only the tools you need.
Interface and usability
Other software designers could take a leaf out of Exposure Software’s book. The Exposure interface combines clarity and efficiency but also speedy access to the tools you need. It really is hard to fault. The addition of customisable workspaces in Exposure X7 just makes it better still – it sounds like a small. feature, but it’s definitely a useful one, especially as it’s been implemented so clearly and simply here.
Very often you can get lost in a sea of presets in a program like this, but if you end up with too many categories open at the same time, Exposure X has a button to shrink them all back down to the category you’re in. The preset Audition screen is a smart touch that no-one else seems to have though of, letting you compare different presets before making a final choice. It’s also really easy to modify a preset and save your own version for re-use.
Exposure X7’s layers management is similarly logical and simple, though it needs pointing out that layers are solely for combing and blending adjustments – Exposure X7 does not support image layers and composite images.
Sometimes images can take a few moments to render when you zoom in for detailed edits, especially with higher resolution 40-60MP images and RAW files. Camera resolution is constantly climbing, which doesn’t help, and a lot will depend on the age and speed of your computer too.
Quality of results
The regular editing tools are really rather good. Everything you could ask for in a full-blown photo editor is here – including lens and perspective corrections and RAW processing. The RAW processing is OK if this is the only program you have to do it with, but I think Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One and DxO PhotoLab give better results. I find Exposure’s RAW rendering mostly OK, but often a little hazy and soft in the fine detail. I also found the lens profile for my Sony 16-35 f/4 was way out with its corner shading correction and had to be switched off.
There are better and easier ways to get the best from your RAW files. In Exposure X7 I think I would rather start from pre-processed images saved as JPEGs or TIFFs generated by one of these other programs, or launch it directly from these tools as a plug-in or external editor. It does have one very useful feature, though – you can create a DNG version within Exposure X7 for RAW files it doesn’t support (or if it creates a rendering you don’t like). It does this by launching Adobe’s free DNG converter, but you don’t have to leave Exposure X7 to do it. Exposure X7 also works well with the part-processed and pre-corrected Linear DNG files from DxO PureRAW.
Exposure 7’s presets are this program’s backbone and its strength, with a combination of evocative old-style analog effects and contemporary film styles that include a number of black and white treatments that I come back to time and time again.
There is a particular visual quality about Exposure X7’s results that mirrors the subtly different qualities of different analog films and processes. It’s more than just a bunch of effective film simulations. The combination of its carefully crafted presets and highly effective tools is somehow much more than the sum of its parts.
Exposure X7 remains one of the best tools for recreating atmospheric analog looks and has a large catalog of very good preset effects. It’s also a very good all-round non-destructive image-editor, and offers integrated image cataloguing with an excellent hybrid approach between ‘live’ folder browsing and quite powerful search and album tools.
The RAW processing remains a step behind its rivals tools, though. It’s fine if it’s all you have, and still better than working with JPEGs, but not really up to the standard of Lightroom, Capture One or DxO PhotoLab.
The new features in Exposure X7 are fairly light and centered around the new masking tool and combined Crop/Transform controls. If you already have Exposure 6 you could skip this upgrade and not miss out on too much, but if you have Exposure X5 or earlier, Exposure X7 is a substantial and worthwhile step forward.
Exposure X seems to have settled into a steady evolution rather than major versions changes, but the software itself is already so good at what it does and interesting in the way it goes about it, that this hardly dents its appeal. For analog fans who prefer a calm, elegant and evocative approach to image-editing, Exposure X7 is still near the top of the tree, whether you use it as a standalone tool or as a plug-in.
And if you’re not sure about Exposure X7, don’t forget you can download a 30-day trial to help you decide.
Exposure X7: $129
Exposure X7 bundle: includes Blow Up 3 and Snap Art 4: $149
Exposure X7 is also available as a full 30-day trial