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The Hasselblad XPan - a very long term review

better late than never

in Hasselblad XPan , Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I acquired my first Hasselblad XPan in the spring of 2000. So maybe it’s about time to write a few words about it.

Drm 20180818 EM580047

My interest in so-called panoramic photography began in the mid-1990s, when I was professionally involved in the emerging multimedia world. In particular I adopted very early versions of Apple’s QuickTime VR technology to generate immersive walkthroughs of various scenes. As time was generally limited, initially I used an Apple QuickTake 200 camera to generate content (640Kpx images, approximately 30 per set of 4 very expensive lithium AA batteries), then experimented with Polaroid instant slide film. At some point I realised that it could be interesting to unwrap the 360 QTVR files to create widescreen stills. I used these in creating a couple of CD sleeves, which was a sideline of mine at the time, and in personal work. So when the Hasselblad XPan appeared on the scene in late 1998, I was fully primed.

Xpan ir2001 02

2000: Lago di Lugano, infrared.

It was another year or so before I could actually afford it, but by then end of 2000 I had the camera and all three lenses, and took them with me on a 5 week trek around New Zealand - which later turned out to be the spiritual home of the XPan :-).

The same kit travelled with me to Canada and the USA, to Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Italy, before finally setting off on a tour of Svalbard by yacht in 2010. A couple of days into the trip, when distracted from photography by a storm, I inadvertently left the camera in the inflatable dinghy lashed to the deck. Several hours later it was discovered submerged in a puddle of salt water. And that was game over for XPan number one.

Xpan nz rs10 006

2001: New Zealand

There was no way I was going to be without an XPan though, and I was lucky to find an unused XPan II for a reasonable price, in fact under $1’000 once I traded in my little used Fuji GS670. Fortunately this was before XPan prices passed ‘stupid’ level and reached ‘absurd’. The XPan II carried on where it’s predecessor left off, and has visited Iceland, Norway, Patagonia, Antarctica and various places around Europe. It had a bit of a rest in 2016, where it got a bit eclipsed by my Linhof 612 obsession, but this year it has regained favour.

So, that was a long intro, but it shows that I should be in a position to write a long term user review of both versions of the XPan.

Snhg ref 55

2002: Andalucia

Xpan ch2003 10 01

2003: Switzerland

First though let’s clear up a few things. The camera was fully designed and built by Fujifilm in Japan. For some reason Fuji felt that it was not commercially viable under their name alone, so they sought an international marketing partner. Reportedly it was first offered to Leica, who turned it down: just as well, otherwise the red dot tax would have made it unaffordable. Hasselblad said yes, and turned it into a marketing success. Far fewer people know what a “Fuji TX-1” is than recognise “Hasselblad XPan”. It is said that the lens designs were specified and quality controlled by Hasselblad, but this seems hard to believe. Fuji was, and remains, a top tier lens designer and manufacturer. Hasselblad has never built a lens in-house. In any case, Hasselblad XPans were delivered with quality control certificates from both Fuji and Hasselblad, and all of the system components were stamped “Made in Japan”. Possibly the TX cameras did not come with the esoteric and little used Hasselblad tripod plate. In any case, it was a successful partnership, which was later extended with the H-1 camera and lenses.

Xpan iceland25 04

2004: Iceland

Basic specifications are very well known, but let’s summarise them anyway. The XPan is a coupled rangefinder camera with a large, clear finder with framelines for 45mm and 90mm lenses. The body is made of aluminium with a magnesium skin, which is a bit prone to scuffing and paint flaking (it doesn’t matter). It has a fully electronic metal shutter with controlled speeds from (remarkably) 8 seconds to 1/1000th. Using the bulb setting exposures up to 30 seconds (early XPan I), 270 seconds (later and updated XPan I) or 540 seconds (XPan II) can be made. Note though that since the shutter is electronic, holding it open for long exposures is bad news for the batteries. It has an LCD panel on the back which displays exposure info, and provides access to several settings. On the top plate there is a small LCD panel which shows remaing frames and the mode (panoramic or normal). So far this applies to both version I and version II, but from now on there is some divergence.

Xpan eolie 210509 7

2005: Vulcano

A criticism of the XPan I was that did not show exposure information in the viewfinder. The only display was a set of LEDs showing under- or over-exposure. A particular complaint I had is that it did not show any indication that exposure compensation was set. This was fully addressed in the XPan II, but a high price was paid. Both versions support DX-encoding for setting ISO, but on the XPan I, a lockable dial on the front panel allows this to be over-ridden manually. A dial on the top plate, integrated with the on-off-mode switch, allows up to 2 stops of exposure compensation to be set. The XPan II loses all of this. The front dial disappears altogether, and the top plate loses the exposure compensation dial. It all looks rather bare - all that remains, apart from the exposure dial, is the switch with off, single shot, continuous shot (1 frame per second) and timer positions. The exposure compensation and ISO have to be set using the LCD panel and its very fiddly buttons, and this is really no fun even in good conditions. In the cold it is a nightmare. In exchange, you get a very clear film speed display in the viewfinder. And an extra $1000 or so on used prices. The only other difference is that the XPan II supports a custom electronic cable release, if you can find one. But you can also use a standard threaded mechanical cable, so, whatever.

Toscana06 12

2006: Tuscany

The exposure dial includes the setting for aperture priority. I have always found the upper-biased, center-weighted metering to be very accurate, and therefore aperture priority works well. Note that the metering seems to be biased towards landscape photography with slide film. With negative film it may be a good idea to dial in an extra stop, or to compensate using the ISO setting. The meter reads down to the 4EV, which I’ve always found to be a little restricting - a little more sensitivity would have been nice, especially given the up to 8 sec timed shutter release.

Xpan ticino01 08

2007: Switzerland

Returning to the back panel, there is a recessed button to rewind the film before it reaches the end, and a backlight to illuminate both LCDs. Settings include a rewind mode which leaves the film leader out, which is very useful for those doing their own development, or for changing film mid-roll (if you remember the frame count you can reload it and advance over exposed frames in manual mode with the lens cap on). Note, the very first batch of XPan Is, with long shutter speed restricted to 30 seconds, had an issue with fogging infrared film. The Xpan II was advertised as fixing this issue, but in fact the later batches of XPan Is did not show it either. Personally I only used IR film in the XPan in 2000-2001. I don’t remember getting any good shots, but I never had any issues with fogging.

Ice0803 sunlit mountain2

2008: Iceland

The XPan is very pleasant to handle. It is well balanced with all three lenses, and the shutter button has just the right half/full pressure resistance. The viewfinder is gorgeous and the rangefinder patch easy to see, although as often as not I preset focussing at hyperlocal distances. I’ve always had the impression that the 30mm viewfinder is polarised, but I guess at that angle of view it can’t be. Nevertheless, the world actually looks better through the 30mm viewfinder than in real life! The body viewfinder framelines change with lens, with mode /standard, panoramic), and adjust for parallax. The 30mm viewfinder is fixed, but it has frameline notches to indicate the standard frame size. The XPan II handling is slightly improved by the viewfinder display, but with the already discussed tradeoffs. The lens focus rings are silky smooth and nicely weighted, and the aperture rings are firm and precise. However only full stop steps are possible. Generally the XPan is a real “feel good” camera to use. It can get a bit heavy if you carry it around all day with a full set of lenses, it is solid metal after all, but nothing too dramatic.

Krossfjorden

2010: Svalbard

Many XPan owners have a preference for a particular lens, usually the 45mm or 30mm. I’m more equal opportunities - I find all 3 lenses to be excellent, and of the three I actually prefer the 90mm for landscape use, although I’ll admit that for street it is less adapted. I’ve owned two copies of the 30mm lens, and both have come down with so-called “Schneideritis” even though it is not a Schneider lens. Possibly there is a related Fujinonitis strain. My first one was replaced (somewhat reluctantly) by Hasselblad for this very reason. The replacement soon came down with the same symptoms. However, there is absolutely no impact on the optical behaviour of the lens, and it doesn’t seem too be contagious, so I just ignore it. Another blight to strike the 30mm lens, or rather its viewfinder, is the bubble level drying up. This is annoying, but it seems quite common. I have contacted the French Hasselblad specialists “Les Victor” about a repair, apparently they can fix it at a reasonable price.

Stromboli

2011: Stromboli

One of the first issues to hit XPan users is of course, how to actually deal with the output. In the early days, Hasselblad (I suppose) promoted the format to a network of labs which could print the panoramic format, and supplied sheets of special stickers in the camera box which could be fixed to the film canisters to indicate to the lab that they contained XPan frames. I know I had my first XPan roll lab printed, probably by Jessops pro shop in Oxford Street, London, where I bought it, and probably on the day I bought it. But from then on, pretty much it has been the hybrid route for me: lab developing, home scanning, home printing. I don’t think I’ve ever shot a roll of traditional black and white film in the XPan, only colour negative, colour positive and Scala. Maybe a few rolls of Polaroid instant film too.

Xpan breggia051212 006

2012: Switzerland

To start with, scanning XPan film at home was tricky. Unless you were basically a millionaire, there were no film scanners that could take anything other than standard 35mm frames, and flatbed scanners outside of the unattainable Linotype-Hell or Scitex were hopeless. So initially, using a Microtek 4000 scanner, I painstakingly scanned each frame in two halves, and merged them in Photoshop. Even with a high end Mac, this was tedious. So the barriers to entry were actually pretty high, and the XPan was very much considered a professional’s camera. Gradually things got easier. Just about affordable Medium Format desktop scanners emergec from companies such as Polaroid, Microtek, Nikon and Minolta, several of which specifically handled 35mm panoramic format, and I eventually settled on a Minolta MultiScan Pro which lasted me over 10 years. When after these years of service it started getting troublesome, I finally replaced it with a Plustek Opticfilm 120, which has been efficiently devouring both XPan and medium format film ever since. I thoroughly recommend this scanner, by the way.

Xpan antarctica06 06

2013: Antarctica

It’s been a long journey with this camera, and although the current valuation (based on eBay) sometimes makes be think of selling it and using the proceeds to buy a small island, I’m not done with it yet. After all, I’m still waiting for my rolls of Film Ferrania slide film, not to mention new Ektachrome, to put through it. As an aside, Ektachrome 100G was the film that really made the XPan sing for me. At present I have to use Provia 100F, not a great hardship, but back in the days when there was choice, it wasn’t always the film I reached for.

Xpan sardegna1409 02 09

2014: Sardinia

Xpan norway1506 2 07

2015: Norway

So, should you buy an XPan today? Frankly, at eBay prices, no. It’s not worth it. The camera has crossed the border from “working tool” to “sought-after collectible”. Get a Fuji GSW690 and crop. Or use a digital camera with suitable framing, such as the Sigma dp0 (my candidate for the “digital XPan”). So far, fingers crossed, unlike several other electronic film cameras, the XPan is not displaying any chronic failures that I know of, but they will come, and it will not be repairable. So paying crazy money like $6000 - $7000 for a so-called pristine model on eBay is very unadvisable in my opinion, not to mention well over $1000 for a non-working body. In particular the markup on XPan II bodies is absolutely not justified from any photographic point of view.

If you do find one which is more realistically priced because it isn’t collector-pristine, bear in mind that any XPan body actually used for photography will inevitably acquire scuff marks and paint chips, and this is not an indication of over-heavy use. Although note, the extreme beaters you sometimes see on eBay do surprise me. My camera is not mollycoddled at all, so to get it in the beaten up condition of some I’ve seen must take real dedication. Having said that, I do remember in 2004 seen an XPan belonging to US landscape photographer Steve Kossack practically stripped of paint, so I guess it is feasible.

Xpan variochrome2 06

2017: Switzerland

Up to a few years ago you could still buy good used models with a warranty through reputable second hand dealers, but that supply seems to have dried up. Who is going to trade in their camera to a dealer for maybe $1000 when $3000 on eBay is now considered “cheap”?

Passion

2018: Calabria

The XPan has acquired mythological status. Personally, to a great extent, it defines me as a photographer, but that’s because of circumstances. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, with adequate cash, to get in at the ground floor. But it is only a camera. Today, there are other paths to follow, and plenty of other ways to pursue “widescreen” photography. If you happen to come across an XPan in fair condition with no bits missing for under $2000, then go for it. Otherwise, be sure you know what you’re getting into!

Drm 20180818 EM580048

More of my XPan photography:

More XPan reading:

 

SRDx Photoshop plugin

A short review of Silverfast’s spinoff

in Product reviews , Friday, July 20, 2018

SRDx is a Photoshop plug-in promising to be “new standard for
Dust and Scratch Removal”. It is fact derived from the SRDx feature included in the Silverfast scanning application produced by Lasersoft AG. As a plug-in SRDx is being marketed separately through its dedicated website.

Srdx

Silverfast also offers iSRD for scanners which include infrared channel output. This provides an effective way to remove the majority of dust and scratches from scans (although the patching itself is not perfect). But for some film types, in particular black & white negatives and Kodachrome, this doesn’t work. SRDx uses some form of contrast detection coupled with a proprietary algorithm to detect dark or light defects. Back in The Old Days (i.e last century) there were a number of such Dust and Scratch removal plug-ins, in particular one from Polaroid. They didn’t work very well, and neither did (or does) Photoshops’s own filter, which is a very blunt tool. However, Photoshops current manual healing tools are very good, so what can SRDx offer ?

Well, in a word, automation. SRDx is actually fast, flexible and effective. I have a large hoard of Kodachrome slides, and every few years or so I try once again to revive some of them.  Many years ago I stored them very carelessly (I had no idea at the time) and they have been infected by fungus and are often very dusty. Sadly SRDx can’t do a lot about the fungus - although in some cases it has helped - but it can make short work of other imperfections.

Here’s an example. The first image is of a complete Kodachrome scan opened in the SRDx plug-in in Photoshop. It presents a simple, clear User Interface.

Srd full

SRDx automatically detects imperfections, and marks them (by default) in red. It has several tools for manual adjustment, including a brush for marking undetected defects, and iteratively strengthening the effect, an eraser for zapping false detection, a mask tool for adjusting area for consideration. The automatic detection can be fine-tuned using the detection intensity and tile size sliders. Settings can also be saved as presets.  So, it is simple, but quite comprehensive. The view can be switched between Original / Mark / Optimised. An example at 100% is shown below:

Screen Shot 2018 07 20 at 11 56 22
Srd mark

Srd correct

As mentioned, SRDx is also available within Silverfast & Silverfast HDR, but there I find it a lot less useful. Since Silverfast works with by default previews, for SRDx to work you first need to make an “HQ Preview”, which is Silverfast Marketingspeak for a full scan. You then have to wait while it applies all its processing, which for a medium format high resolution scan can take forever. In such a scenario SRDx is an exercise in frustration and essentially useless. It isn’t that much better in Silverfast HDR. On the other hand, in Photoshop, it is very fast. Finally the patching is also better in the plug-in version.

The masking took is useful but it would appear that despite the fact that you can name the mask (in Silverfast you have to), in fact you can only have one mask. Also, for some reason, in the Windows version masking is not included. This would be a major issuer are if I was a Windows user.

In conclusion then: 15 or 20 years ago this would have been a no-brainer. Lasersoft AG have taking SRDx out of its constraining environment in Silverfast and given it a new role. This enables a much faster workflow. If, like me, you have a lot of non-Infrared compatible film to scan and clean, SRDx is a considerable timesaver and recommended. At least the Mac version. At €49 it is reasonably priced, much more so than the initial €99 which was ambitious even by Lasersoft’s standards. For Windows, due to the mask issue, personally I would not recommend it. From time to time Lasersoft offer special pricing - I had an offer last year at €20 which I missed out on. At that price I’d say go for it, on both platforms.

SRDx doesn’t work miracles but it is pretty good - better than I expected in fact - and if you have a need for it, it is worth the price. Unfortunately for Lasersoft, I suspect the market is small, and getting smaller. But I wish them good luck with this initiative.

 

“Full Frame” from Inland Sea

A quick review…

in Product reviews , Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One of the least interesting parts of the digital image workflow is nevertheless one of the most critical: getting files off of a memory card and storing them safely on disk. The absolute basic step here is safely copying data, which generally is a solved problem. However there is a bit more to it than that: things like renaming files to something meaningful, rather than the cryptic names so beloved of digital camera designers, storing them in a defined structure based on simple attributes such as capture date and also more advanced ones such as camera serial number, adding basic metadata, making safety copies in another location, and automating all of the above are valuable features.

Most imaging applications such as Lightroom or Capture One have some degree of ingest / import functionality, but I’ve always found it to be incomplete in one detail or the other. Also, I prefer to keep this part of the workflow independent from editing and developing.

For many years I’ve used the dedicated applications produced by Marc Rochkind, ImageIngester Pro and later Ingestamatic. These are very powerful and allow an almost endless amount of customisation, supporting all I’ve described above and more. Much more. However they have two drawbacks: the user interfaces are indescribably awful, to the point that it seems intentional. It would be hard to implement such dreadful usability purely out of chance. That can be overcome with time, and the fact that both applications are essentially “set and forget”. And once they are set up, the underlying code proves to be fast and ultra-reliable. The second drawback, however, is a show-stopped: last year, Rochkind, apparently defeated by changes to the MacOS API, announced that he was discontinuing development, and ending support at the end of 2017. Ingestamatic still works, at least under OS X Sierra (I see zero reason to “upgrade” to High Sierra), albeit with a prominent kludge, but it’s a dead parrot.

So, I had to find an alternative, which is easier said than done. Actually I do have a license to one product which does fit the bill, PhotoSupreme, but that is so clunky that firing it up just to import files to disk is too dire to contemplate. Another alternative is Photo Mechanic, but I don’t really need 95% of its functionality, so paying nearly $200 was not attractive. I was getting close to doing do, nevertheless, when I came across a reference somewhere to a product I’d never heard of, Full Frame by Inland Sea.

Superficially, Full Frame follows a similar philosophy to Ingestamatic. It is designed to offer comprehensive photo browsing and importing support, no more, no less. To be honest, it doesn’t quite have the depth of Ingestamatic, but what it does have is presented with far more panache and grace.

Full Frame has a deceptively simple UI. When no source is selected (card, camera or folder) it is basically blank. But as soon as you identify a source, using the left dropdown, it populates the main window with thumbnails. Clicking on Copy will then swiftly copy all files (or just a selected subset) to the destination volume, identified in the right dropdown. That in itself is obviously no big deal, but the usefulness of Full Frame is revealed when you peep behind the scenes.

Fullframe1

Full Frame window showing contents of the SD Card from the Olympus TG-5 Tough which I just received as a gift and was trying out today.

Within Preferences, the Filenames dialog allows pretty much any folder name / file name pattern on the destination volume to be specified. Well, it works for my weird, necessarily convoluted scheme, anyway.

Fullframe2

Metadata Preferences allow a wide range of Exif, IPTC, GPS, XMP and other metadata fields to be applied to imported items. These can also be arranged as custom presets. This appears to be very extensive and powerful, approaching functionality in the far more costly Photo Mechanic. I can’t really evaluate it as frankly it is more the sort of thing that, I imagine, would appeal to event photographers and suchlike. But it looks pretty useful.

A floating “Inspector” window shows an extensive list of properties of the selected image. I guess this might be useful, but so far I haven’t really found a practical use for it.

I’ve been using Full Frame for a month or so now, and it has happily swallowed everything I’ve thrown at it, including indigestion-inducing Sigma DNG files. I have had some occasions where it appears to sit there thinking about life, the universe and everything, before suddenly springing into life and, apparently, copying several GBs in a few seconds. This is quite weird, as it is totally impossible to copy data so fast over USB3. I have a hunch that there is some issue synchronising between the actual ingestion process and the UI updating.

There are some things I’d like to see Full Frame do better. For example, it would be very useful to be able to use certain EXIF fields in the folder / file name template. It would also be very useful to be able to save variants of folder / file name template to be selected at Copy time, or even better, associated with a given camera. It seems from Metadata preferences that code to do something very similar, in both cases, already exists in the app. Oh yes, and one other thing: these import-specific configuration dialogs (Filename, Metadata) should not be in Preferences, but rather have their own menu item / window. In my humble opinion, anyway.

But finally, I’m afraid that apart from extremists like me, there isn’t much of a market for Full Frame. Also, the name doesn’t really describe the functionality, and given that I’d been looking around for something like this, but it took me years to find it, perhaps it needs more targeted marketing. Despite this, and my light criticisms, I thoroughly recommend Full Frame. It costs CHF 29 for full functionality, with alternative restricted or pay-you-go schemes. Compared with Photo Mechanic at $150, it’s a steal.

 

Summer of ‘76 ?

not quite what I had in mind

in Film , Thursday, July 27, 2017

A little while back, there was a minor bit of excitement triggered on the photowebs with the announcement of a new reversal (”slide”) film under the Rollei brand, called Variochrome. It was supposed to be usable between ISO 200 and 400, although it is DX-coded at 200. Well, being a little tired of waiting around for Ferrania’s slide film (and indeed their P30 monochrome negative), out of curiosity I decided to order a few rolls. After all, there’s not a lot of competition for ISO 400 slide film these days.

rollei

I’ve just got the first roll back, shot on my XPan, and my general impression can be fully summed up in one word: disappointing.

I’m not sure what this film really is - “Rollei”, or rather, Maco Photo Products, don’t make their own, so it is repackaged something. The “limited edition” branding is in itself suspicious - why should it be limited, if it is new production? By the look of it, it is some kind of reject Agfa stock. It might hold its own as a retro-70s expired beige tinted novelty stock from Lomography, but packaged in a way which implies it is for serious use is totally inappropriate. Apart from the ghastly colour rendition, the film base is the flimsiest I’ve seen this side of Polachrome. Actually the whole experience is not unlike Polachrome.

xpan_varichrome1_01.jpg

Not quite what I had in mind

 

I wasn’t expecting fine grain or high resolution, and on those two fronts Variochrome doesn’t disappoint.

xpan_varichrome1_01_zoom.jpg

1:1 zoom at 5300dpi

There also appears to be some light leakage effect on the leader and first two frames (well, last two given how the XPan works). I’ve never seen anything like that before, except if I accidentally opened the back, which I last did around 2001. Looks to me either to be a lab error, which is very unlikely - it would be the first ever from the lab I use these days - or light leaking into the canister.

variochrome1

Does anybody have any idea wth happened here ?

It is possible to kind of resurrect something using Silverfast’s excellent midtone correction tools, but it would be far better just to load up a roll of Provia 100F pushed 1 stop.

xpan_varichrome1_07b.jpg

Local river as Variochrom sees it…

xpan_varichrome1_07.jpg

Half-hearted attempt at rescue

Of course it could, just possibly, be a defective sample. Either that, or the marketing around this film is approaching the highly cynical. My advice - avoid at all costs, unless of course you like Abba.

(Actually, looking carefully, the few tiny samples on the Maco website do rather look like they were taken in 1976)

 

A matter of Exposure

and, indeed, a matter of opinion

in Product reviews , Saturday, February 18, 2017

In a bit of a fit of retail therapy, the other day I decided to buy a license for Alienskin Exposure 2. This is an application with its roots very firmly in film emulation, but which in recent years has expanded into a full blown digital RAW file processor and - to some limited extent - organiser. In the past I've written a bit about trying out various film emulation methods, and being generally unconvinced. Since I used film extensively, and still do to some extent, I do have a reasonable idea of what I would expect such software to deliver, and I also the real thing to compare against. I'm not really interested any more in trying to emulate film, as such. If I want a Portra look, I'll use Portra. But what does interested me is being able to apply a preset, or whatever you want to call it, to a given batch of photos, thereby giving them a coherent feel, while at the same time being able to speed up the process of all this adjustment stuff and get to the actually interesting part (for me, anyway) of editing and publishing. I tend to get so overwhelmed with the adjustment part, in the limited time I have, that it seems I'll never get to the actual point of it all. I also horrify myself with the sheer quantity of photos I take, even when I'm under the impression that I'm a model of self-restraint. This "preset" approach I find is more adapted to my urban photography than landscape, or whatever you want to call it. Sometime last year I took advantage of a special offer and bought a VCSO film preset package for Lightroom, just to explore it a bit. Clearly it didn't grab me much, as by now I'd practically forgotten about it. However earlier this week, I started working on a smallish set of photos recently taken in Buenos Aires, and decided to try applying the VCSO Portra 400 presets. I quite liked what I was seeing, although the results did seem a little contrasty to me, and VCSO's idea of what the ultimate hipster cliché 2-stop overexposed Portra 400 looks like doesn't correspond at all to what I see on film. I had tried out Exposure a while ago, but at that point felt it didn't offer me anything. But anyway, needing an excuse to spend money to make me fell better, I tried it again. And I'm glad I did. The interesting thing is, when I first put two versions side by side in Lightroom, one processed through VCSO, the other in Exposure 2 and imported, I immediately thought I'd wasted my money. The VCSO version was much more like Portra to my eyes. Then... I realised I had mistaken which was which. So the "good" version was from Exposure 2. Of course this is 150% subjective, and there's no real logic to it. But I repeated the experiment several times, and confirmed my opinion. However, the VCSO versions most definitely have more of that "pop" that people apparently want. But if I wanted "pop" I'd used Ektar, not Portra.
Exposure2vcso

I'm actually not going to say which is which here. But you can probably guess.

So I'm pretty happy with Exposure 2, but working out how to use it is a bit tricky. It can work standalone, including a file/folder based browser (where it recognises Lightroom star ratings, which is handy), or it can work as a plugin. The problem with working as a plugin is that it receives a TIFF file generated by Lightroom with basic processing baked in (e.g. Adobe standard profiles). That isn't an ideal place to start from, which I imagine is one of the drivers behind expanding the reach of Exposure in the first place. The standalone Exposure 2 is actually quite impressive. It doesn't seem to have received much praise or attention, but from a toolset point of view it combines a lot of the better aspects of both Lightroom and Capture One, and adds a twist of its own. The layer methodology, for example is better than either of its two august competitors. Exposure 2 has a lot of tools more specific to customising film emulation, inherited from the older plug-in only versions, and Alien Skin's from Bokeh application seems to be integrated (although that's not something I'm all that interested in). Apparently it also has automatic lens correction. But it doesn't have any chromatic aberration removal that I can see, or any perspective correction. Or, indeed, anything approach a user manual.
Exposure2vcso2

Another example. Again, you decide.

I'm quite comfortable with Lightroom these days. I appreciate the integration with things like Lr Mobile, and Adobe Spark, both of which allow me to make better use of my commute time. Lightroom, unfortunately, is an awful organiser /editor, but it is less awful than anything else on the market. There's no point any more lamenting Aperture, PhaseOne seem totally clueless on what to do with MediaPro, so Lightroom will have to do. And since organising and editing is a core part of my creative process, Lightroom is as well. So, the compromise is to use Exposure 2 standalone to generate alternative versions, and import them into Lightroom for any final tweaking and management. It would be nice if Alien Skin could add the kind of "slingshot" feature in Iridient Developer, which when receiving a TIFF from Lightroom, instead looks for and loads the associated RAW, and then when saving overwrites the TIFF, leaving Lightroom none the wiser to the sleight of hand. I'm also a bit puzzled why Exposure 2 does not include modern Portra 400 emulation, but just 400NC and 400VC. 400NC is close enough, but still, I would expect currently available films to be emulated. Otherwise, I'll repeat what I said earlier - Alienskin Exposure 2 is actually a pretty good piece of software, and not only for film emulation. I'm surprised it doesn't get more coverage.
 

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