Talking software and plugins.
Software problems. Photoshop CS5 camera raw didn’t support the new generation of Nikon DSLR’s. There is some workarounds for that, but it’s and hassle. To top that, working on the new Photoshop CS6 and huge 25- and 36 megapixels images were a disaster in 32-bit OS and 4GB memory. Mostly stabiity problems and memory leaks, I couldn’t batch process more than 30 images at one sitting. (Sidenote: Also Battlefield 4 runs only lowest quality visual settings in 32-bit) So to support more memory I had to update my hardware to work in 64-bit and bought windows 8.1. I also got the Adobe Creative Cloud for photographers for 12,29€ / month that includes Photoshop CC (CS6), Bridge CC and Lightroom CC. The workflow on CS6 much faster than CS5. The problems don’t sound like much, but if I would have spent my own money to get a D800 or D600 and after that still had to invest on all these upgrades it might have been annoying. You have been warned.
Then the plugins. I’ve used older versions of Alien skin exposure. It has been one of the main things in my non-journalistic workflow. It rules. And the black and white conversion is the best out there. Hands down.
Now I’m wondering should I get the newest version of it or the Nik Collection software bundle. The whole bundle is dropped down to a nice flat 150€ for the whole thing, instead of 100€ a piece. I’ve used some of the plug-ins in the pre-Google era. After a quick test it looks like Google just bought it, slapped a sticker on it and brought the price down. Pretty nice.
Tonality & Vintage: I’m looking for a plug-in that would speed up my workflow. Help me get good tonality easy and fast. I mostly use layers and masks in Photoshop so I might have multiple layers per image. For that my favorite seems to the Exposure 5. It’s much faster and more versatile. The main problems with Nik Collection was that the images easily came out looking cheap. I don’t really want that same look from my professional gear, that I would end up using Instagram. Both of the plug-ins have few quite awful vintage presets in my opinion. The Nik Analog Efex pluging was fun and gave out really interesting looks - but not the ones I need. And the Color Exef Pro came close to being as good as the Exposure, but far more harder and complicated to use. The main problem is how it handles different filters. Annoying interface and the most important dials for me are behind a drop down boxes. It’s quite time consuming to merge a decent look when needing to add filter tools on the image one at a time. So the winner is Exposure, hands down.
B&W conversion: Exposure 5 vs. Silver Efex Pro. They are both good. Presets in Silver Efex are mostly rubbish and looks like they are aimed for the Instagram folk. It lacked the possibility for color sensitivity corrections, (doable in photoshop though.) Also it had a pretty narrow choice of presets for toning the image. Still with tweaking the result wasn’t bad at all. And here is where it gets interesting. Exposure 5 dropped my jaw when i tried it. The film grain and amount of available settings are astonishing. On grain it’s possible to set the amount for shadows, midtone and highlights independently. More versatile and subtle light leak possibilities. Split toning like it should be… It’s all there. Most of the presets are really good too. Most of the shortcomings of Silver Efex and the all that’s is good in Exposure, are possible to be done in Photoshop and camera raw, but it’s much much slower. Since you can’t really see right away how each setting impacts each other and might end up going between plugin, camera raw and Photoshop to get exactly what you need.
Nik collection has a lot, for a little money. For hobbyist it is good. Fun to experiment with, variety of fun presets and stuff like that. And even a HDR tool. I found it useless for me, like the Viveza 2. (I don’t really like the idea of tweaking local exposure on jpeg. I rather use multiple exposures from raw and edit them on layers and masks) Quantity over quality, that’s why I’m still tempted to get it. The problem is that the workflow is slow and the images come easily come out losing tonality, especially in the darker ends and losing stuff in the highlights. It might be that I’m to unfamiliar with it or just that it really is has hard interface and bad presets.
But Exposure is great. I mean awesome. It doesn’t look like much and 150€ for something that doesn’t look like much always stings a bit. And it has it downfalls too. The light leaks and dust & scratches could be more versatile. This is a really great plug-in especially for portraits and weddings.