Switching from Lightroom to Alien Skin Exposure X3 - 2 months on

It’s not easy to quit Adobe. Do I say that because of the quality of the software and how much we’ve come to depend on Lightroom and Photoshop? Sadly, for the most part, no.

Adobe is still the industry standard. Why then does it feel like it’s users are being pushed and squeezed to pay out whenever possible? I don’t just mean the subscription models for first the software, then the cloud storage. But paying an annual subscription, you effectively have to buy your way out of the contract if you want to quit before the end of the 12 months. So it’s hard to quit because it costs money. It’s also hard to quit because Adobe makes it incredibly difficult to remove all of their software from your computer. Hundreds of files, and background processes that restart themselves make for a tangled mess. (Check out this post from a good friend if you want to know the gory details and how to fix them).

I still think that Lightroom is excellent software (aside from the uninstall issues and slow recent development) and Photoshop is an incredibly powerful tool. It is difficult to switch to another product once you’re familiar with them and all your images and edits are in your Lightroom catalogue.

For me though, the only time I questioned my decision to switch to Alien Skin Exposure X3 was when Adobe finally issued a significant update to Lightroom. Then I realized that the new features were already covered in Exposure X3 anyway. And discovering the mess of files and processes that Adobe creates made me even more happy to leave it behind. Mild OCD I guess.

There have been a few minor issues with switching to Exposure X3. I transferred as much as I thought necessary from Lightroom in terms of collections, flags and ratings, but inevitably there have been a few occasions when I haven’t been able to find an image as quickly as I could in Lightroom. For me it’s not a big problem that I can’t dive into a previous RAW edit to make further amendments. I have the RAW files and the finished JPEGs, so if I need to change an edit then it’s back to the original. That may be more of an issue for you.

One other minor annoyance is that occasionally I find myself accidentally applying an edit to multiple images, not realizing that I still have multiple images selected from a previous operation. I'm not sure whether the multiple selection would have been automatically cancelled in Lightroom, or whether the selection just isn't as obviously visible in Exposure.

The lack of perspective correction is frustrating too but I'm confident that Alien Skin will add it soon, and I can always jump into Luminar if I need to.

Otherwise, Exposure X3 operates in a very similar way to Lightroom. It makes having separate Library and Develop modules in Lightroom seem an unnecessary complication. It is also said to do a better job at converting Fujifilm RAW files, although honestly I don't notice a lot of difference. And Exposure X3 includes Layers and Masks. Potentially a big feature, depending on how you edit. For a complex edit, it's a major advantage over Lightroom (although obviously you can do the same and more in Photoshop).

What I have also come to appreciate the way Exposure X3 doesn’t create a huge catalogue. No imports, just little sidecar files created when you edit an image. It feels cleaner. It can be slower because there’s more rendering going on in real-time. Initially that was frustrating, but I was working from an external drive. Now I use the laptop’s much quicker SSD initially, then transfer to the external drive when I’ve finished working on the images. Fast enough, and that’s on a 2015 MacBook Pro.

Adobe pretty much had the market to itself for a while when Apple dropped Aperture. Not anymore.