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The simple interface lets you emulate hundreds of film types, and the before-and-after preview is incredibly handy.
While no one would dispute that we live in the era of digital photography, the fact is that there’s an entire history of film that simply refuses to ride off into the sunset. If you grew up in a darkroom—like this reviewer—you’ll remember the smell of the chemicals, the intricacies of the different brands of film, the subtleties of Tri-X film, the tricky process of “pushing” film beyond its ASA rating, and all the art that surrounded those smelly strips of celluloid. Alien Skin, in its quest to cook up unique Photoshop plug-ins, has essentially condensed the history of film into Exposure 2, a wonderfully capable and sublime tool for emulating a vast range of film stocks and looks.
Installation is effortless, and the plug-in works within recent versions of Photoshop or Elements (but at this price, we also want Exposure 2 to work inside After Effects and Final Cut Pro), on even the most modest of systems. If you have Photoshop CS3, you’ll be pleased to know that the plug-in works just fine as a nondestructive Smart Filter, expanding its overall usefulness.
Exposure 2 has two main modes—Color and Black-and-White—which involve loading two different versions of the plug-in. We’d prefer to see these as two modes inside of a single plug-in interface, but this is a relatively minor complaint. The control panel defaults to the Settings menu, which contains over 200 options, covering the gamut of black-and-white or color film stocks, grouped by type of overall effects (such as print film, slide film, color processing, and so on) and subgrouped by manufacturer. We found it a tad difficult to find a specific film type quickly. We went right for the Kodak Tri-X, for example, and found multiple variations of it under the general black-and-white category in seconds. But given that there are a couple hundred settings to sort through, a Find command would have saved time.
The range of emulation offerings is extensive, and while many of the custom controls for tweaking color and tonal effects are easily replicated in Photoshop with the right know-how, the Grain panel is a special case, offering noise and grain types that go significantly beyond what you can create directly inside Photoshop. Any of the presets can be edited and turned into a new user preset, and the interface displays a real-time preview of your selected effect. In typical Alien Skin style, the app has a number of ways to split the screen for before-and-after comparisons, but we’d love to see a custom rectangular selection option for speeding up previews. You can also instantly switch between the original and processed version of your image by clicking anywhere in the preview area, which is a nice touch.Even though Exposure 2 is on the pricey side for a Photoshop plug-in, it offers a treasure trove of contemporary and vintage film looks, and professional photographers will happily make use of its magic in their digital not-so-darkrooms.