The Photo Manager Battle: Lightroom Vs Exposure X5

Since Adobe switched to a rental model for their software, I’m frequently asked to suggest alternatives. In this article, I want to look at one alternative to Lightroom which is from Exposure Software. I’ll be answering the question, is Exposure X5 a viable alternative to Lightroom for managing your photo library?

Lightroom Vs Exposure X5 Digital Asset Management

The Problem with Lightroom Alternatives

Today there are lot’s of Lightroom alternatives on the market, but many suffer from one two problems:

  • Their import/browsing of images is too slow.
  • They have limited, poorly developed management features.

But before I jump in to evaluating Exposure X5, there’s an important point I want to emphasise. Everyone has different requirements of their software. What I might consider an essential feature might not be important to you. Because of this, I’m going to start by listing the Lightroom features that are important to me. By understanding these, you’ll understand my conclusions.

It will also help you decide if Exposure X5 is worth testing the the latest Exposure trial.

Important Library Features

In Lightroom, the Library module is where all the photo management takes place and it’s packed with features. In fact, it has so many features it may have become too complex. Many users are now finding it difficult to use, ignoring most of its features. Despite my having used Lightroom since the first version and having written a book on the subject, I don’t use half of the features.

That said, those that I do use are very important and it’s those that I’m going to evaluate in this comparison review. My most important features are:

  • I need images to import quickly and to be able to scroll easily through hundreds or possibly thousands of thumbnails.
  • Batch renaming. All my images have a unique name assigned to them using a naming convention. I need to assign this name automatically to large numbers of images, usually during the import process.
  • Folder Management. I need tools to help me manage folders and image locations without images going missing.
  • Image sorting and filtering tools, including the ability to add flags, star ratings and coloured labels. It’s also helpful to be able to filter images based on their metadata.
  • Keyword management to add and search for images using keywords.
  • Image Stacking to group related images into sets for processing. I use this feature where I’ve shot a sequence of images for panoramic stitching or exposure blending. Grouping them together makes them easier to browse.
  • Categories allow me to group together images that I feel are related in some way, irrespective of their location on my hard drive.

Importing Images to Exposure X5

When using Lightroom with a new set of images, my first task is usually to import them to the Lightroom Catalog. With Exposure X5, there’s no requirement to do this because Exposure doesn’t use a Catalog. Instead it has a browser you can use to view the contents of any folders on your hard drive.

Instead of importing and rendering image thumbnails to the Catalog, Exposure generates thumbnails from images in the folders you browse. If it finds a compatible file in a folder, it generates and displays a thumbnail. This process is very fast and matches the speed of Lightroom’s Catalog import and may even be faster. After generating thumbnails, they are available for fast viewing in the browser whenever you select that folder. This make the browsing of folder very responsive.

Whilst this is nice, you still need to get your images from your memory card and onto your computer storage. Whilst you could copy them manually, Exposure X5 provides a useful feature in the File menu, “Copy Photos from card”. Selecting this opens the Copy Photos from Card dialog.

Exposure X5 Copy Photos from Card Dialog, comparable with the Lightroom Import feature

The design of the dialog reminds me of the Lightroom Import dialog and contains many of the same features. These include:

  • Only copying new files.
  • Moving images rather than copying.
  • Organising images into a new subfolder and creating a backup.
  • Applying metadata and keywords
  • Automatically renaming images.

Benefits of Not Having a Catalog

I’ve already mentioned that Exposure X5 doesn’t have a Catalog which creates several benefits. Possibly the most obvious for Lightroom users is that Exposure doesn’t lose track of your images.

You may already know that once you’ve imported an image to Lightroom, you must use Lightroom if you want to rename or move it. If instead you use your file browser or finder, Lightroom loses the file. Initially you may not realise it’s happened because you still see the thumbnail preview. It’s only when you come to edit the image you realise there’s a problem. The only indicator is a small exclamation mark in the browser grid.

Missing image files in Lightroom. Not a problem with Exposure X5.

Exposure X5 avoids this problem, which can happen with a surprising frequency in Lightroom (even when you know what you’re doing). Exposure X5’s approach is also beneficial when you’re editing images using other software packages. Exposure will pick up any new files you create.

With Lightroom you need to Synchronise the folder to find new files. This involves right clicking the folder in the Lightroom Library and selecting the Synchronise option. Lightroom then scans the folder, displaying the details of any changes (new files and deleted files). You can then select to apply the changes. Fortunately, Exposure X5 doesn’t require any of this additional work .

File Renaming

Renaming image files is something that I do all the time but it’s usually when importing the images to Lightroom. I prefix every file that I add to my library with my name followed by the camera used and the year and month of capture, for example “RWhalley_XT3_2020-02”. This ensures there are no duplicate names and it has a few other benefits. The Lightroom file renaming option is very flexible and supports this approach well.

Comparing Exposure X5, although Exposure doesn’t use a catalogue it still has the feature to copy images from a card, including renaming them. This is very similar to Lightroom.

If you find you need to rename multiple files without copying them, you can use the Bulk rename option at any time. Select the files you want to rename in the browser and right-click one of them with your mouse. When the popup menu displays, select the “Rename…” option. This displays the Bulk Rename dialog.

Bulk file renaming in Lightroom is matched by Exposure X5

As with Lightroom, the bulk renaming is very flexible. A nice feature is that if you use a naming convention as I do, you can save the configuration as a preset for future use.

If you want to rename a single image file in Exposure X5, right click the image thumbnail in the browser and select the Rename option. This time, rather than displaying the Bulk Rename dialog, you can edit the file name directly in the browser.

Keywording Image Files in Lightroom

The ability to add keywords to image files is one of Lightroom’s strengths. Lightroom has a lot of powerful features but this can also make it quite complex.

Lightroom Keywording in the Library Module

Here you can see two of the Lightroom panels you can use for Keywording. The Keyword List panel (collapsed in the above screenshot) has a list of keywords in the keyword library. Click any of these to add them to the selected image or images.

The Keywording panel splits into three sections.

  1. The first is where you can add keywords directly to images by typing them in.
  2. Below this is a selection of 9 suggested keywords generated by Lightroom. If any of these are relevant, click to add them to the image.
  3. Below this there is a “Keyword Set” with a dropdown list. Lightroom allows you to create sets of related keywords. Pick the set you want to use and then click to select individual keywords to apply.

I may have made this sound very easy, but the reality may be different. Some features take a lot of effort to master and it’s easy to make mistakes. Even though I’ve used Lightroom for years, I’m still often surprised by the keywords in images when I export them.

Keywording Images in Exposure X5

Keywording in Exposure X5 is very flexible but it also somehow feels less complicated than Lightroom.

You’ll find the keywording features of Exposure X5 in the Metadata panel on the right side of the interface.

Exposure X5 Metadata

This displays the usual metadata information you would expect and importantly allows you to add your Copyright information. There’s also an option to save your copyright information as a preset, allowing you to apply it quickly to other images.

Further down the Metadata panel you will find the keywording tools.

Adding Keywords in Exposure X5 is very similar to keywording in Lightroom

Enter new keywords directly into the “Keywords” field, after which they appear below it (number 1). You can remove a keyword by clicking the X next to it.

When you start to enter a keyword, Exposure X5 will display a list of possible matching keywords. You can pick from these using your mouse. If there isn’t an existing keyword in the library, when you add the keyword to your image, it’s also added to the library. This makes keywording quick and easy.

Just below the image keywords you’ll find the “Keyword Library” with three options. There’s “Recent”, “All” and “Sets”. The All option displays all the keywords in the library but isn’t as useful as the other two. The Recent option displays a list of keywords you’ve recently added to images. You can then apply these to an image by clicking. It’s also possible to create groups or sets of related keywords. You can then look through the sets and click any keywords you want to apply.

Filtering and Searching for Images

Whilst adding keywords to your images will help you find them in the future, you also need to sort and organise the images.

Image Stacking

Image stacking is one way to organise groups of related images. A good example of this is when you shoot a sequence of images for exposure blending or to create a panorama. To keep the sequence of shots together you can add them into an image stack.

image stacking in the lightroom library

You do this by selecting the images to stack in the Library grid. Right-click one of the selected images and choose “Stacking | Group into Stack” from the popup menu. After grouping the images in this way, you’ll see a number appear in the top left of the thumbnail. You can then expand or collapsed the stack to help with image browsing.

Unfortunately, Exposure X5 doesn’t currently have a comparable feature. Hopefully this is something they’ll add in a future release.

Tagging Images with Flags, Stars and Colours

Lightroom allows you to assign flags, star ratings and colour labels to your images to help with organisation. Exposure X5 also includes this capability. You can then filter the browser grid to display only those images matching your criteria.

Lightrrrom supports images filtering based on star ratings and Exposure X5 can do the same

Exposure X5 and Lightroom both making filtering and sorting in this way very easy as well as allowing you to sort based on Keywords and metadata.

Creating Image Collections

The final feature I need is Collections. Adobe Lightroom has two types of Collections. There are standard Collections and Smart Collections.

Collections allow you to create groups of images no matter where they are in your Lightroom Catalog. With Smart Collections, Lightroom automatically adds the images based on criteria you define. These are powerful organising features for your photos and fortunately Exposure X5 includes both.

Lightroom Collections are very similar in Exposure X5

You can add or delete Collections in Exposure X5 using the panel on the left of the interface. Once created you can add or remove images by right clicking and using the options in the popup menu.

If you select to create a new Smart Collection you will see the Smart Collections dialog displayed.

Smart Collection Dialog in Exposure X5

Here you can define the criteria to select images to include in the Collection. Then when Exposure X5 detects an image meeting the criteria, it’s added to the Smart Collection. When select a Smart Collection (or Collection) from the list, Exposure displays the thumbnails for the images in that Collection.

Lightroom Vs Exposure X5 Summary

Exposure X5 has most of the features of Lightroom has when it comes to managing the images in your photo library. The look and feel of the software is similar to that of Lightroom but it feels somehow cleaner and easier to use. Rather than reproduce Lightroom Exposure seems to take only the important features and then tweak them. Importantly, Exposure X5 is fast and responsive which is something not many Lightroom alternatives can claim.

If you’ve decided that you don’t want to pay the rental for Adobe Lightroom, Exposure X5 is a great alternative to consider. But as with all buying decisions be sure to download the free evaluation copy and try it out. This is the only way to know if the Exposure X5 software is suitable for you.

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