Photo editor offering impressive effects in a slick interface 3.5 GoodBy Michael Muchmore Updated July 30, 2020
THE BOTTOM LINE
This photo editing software offers effective automatic enhancement and unique filters and adjustment tools. However, it still lacks some of the features found in the competition, such as import options and focus effects (think bokeh). MSRP $69.00 $89.00 Amazon See products independently selected and reviewed by ItPCMag editors. If you purchase through affiliate links, we may receive commissions that help support our testing. Learn more.
- beautiful interface
- Good automatic photo corrections.
- many filters
- Local adjustments with brushes and gradients
- Frequent feature updates
- Some operations are slow
- stability issues
- No facial recognition or keyword tagging
- No depth of field, blur or bokeh effects
SKYLUM LUMINAR SPECS
Luminar advertises itself as a complete, professional photography workflow solution, but its best features are its sleek interface, automatic correction tools, and impressive effect filters. This fourth version of the Windows app reflects Apple's clean and simple design aesthetic, which isn't surprising given that it was originally intended as a Mac-only software. But Luminar isn't the fastest when it comes to editing and organizing. The app also lacks now popular library tools like facial recognition and geotagging. However, Luminar has come a long way since our initial review, adding catalog search, AI Sky Replacement, AI Structure, AI Skin Enhancer, and Portrait Enhancer. The unique adjustment tools and filters, and the fact that you can install it as a Photoshop or Lightroom plugin, make it a valuable addition to any photographer's software toolbox.
Pricing and Getting Started With Skylum Luminar
Luminar is available directly from the Skylum website for $69 (often discounted), with no required, although major upgrades are not included. It is not available in the Windows app store, but it is in the Mac app store. I prefer desktop apps available in app stores because they make it easy to update and install on multiple computers. A 30-day trial download is available from the website's main menu. For price comparison, CyberLink PhotoDirector is $99 (often heavily discounted); DxO PhotoLab costs $199; Corel AfterShot Pro costs $79.99 and Phase One Capture One costs $299.
Optionally, you can install Luminar as a plugin for Photoshop or Lightroom Classic (the non-classic version does not support plugins). It matches several tools found in Adobe photography software, but Lightroom Classic is the gold standard for workflow software, so it makes sense to install Luminar as an add-on. If Skylum can finally match Lightroom's organizing features, you can bypass Adobe's $9.99 per month subscription model and just use the Luminar interface. Skylum Luminar
When you launch Luminar for the first time after installation, it takes you through a very short wizard telling you which folder it stores your photos in; you can also optionally add multiple folders. It then scans those folders to present them in your Library view.
The Luminar Interface
Luminar features a clean, sleek, dark gray interface with modern, flat icons. I like how adjustable it is. you can choose which settings appear in the control panel on the right. But you can't completely remove the panels and place them where you want. Like Phase One Capture One, Luminar lacks mode buttons to change the interface for tasks like Arrange and Develop. Instead, the right pane toggles between Library, Editing, and Info. I suspect that Luminar's user-friendly interface is a model for an upgraded Lightroom, although that program also does a good job of syncing your photos to the cloud, a feature not found in Luminar.
An eye icon changes the image display to the original raw, and another icon allows you to view them in split view. However, you can't see the two full versions side by side. Zooming is easy with the mouse wheel or the buttons at the top of the program window. Now always shows a “Reset Settings” button, which I appreciate when it seems to be the only way to remove the frame.
Import and Organize
There is no import button; instead, a macOS-like plus button lets you start adding pictures to the app. The File menu now includes an import option that allows you to import images from a card without any options; other applications allow you to apply presets, names, and keyword tags during import. Your photos appear in a tiled view in the center of the app, with bookmarking, color-coding, and select or reject buttons at the bottom. You can apply them to thumbnails as well.
The program has non-destructive editing (meaning you can always go back to the original) and allows for multiple catalogs, just like Lightroom Classic. You can add a photo to another folder at any time using the Library menu options.
Library mode groups photos in the right sidebar by date, favorites, and a few options I particularly like: recently edited and recently added photos. The program allows you to create your own albums and drag images from other views into them.
I'm glad to see that Skylum has added a search feature to the app. This only appears in Library mode (responsive) and only in Gallery view (less responsive). I wish it also responded to the standard keyboard shortcut Ctrl-F. It also lacks DxO PhotoLab and Lightroom Classic's ability to search by image attributes such as focal length and lens, as well as any filename text.
You can use color codes, select and reject buttons (heart and x) and rate stars to rate photos. However, you can't assign keyword tags to photos, which can make it easier to find shots in a large collection.
Luminar also doesn't allow you to filter by color codes, so they aren't very useful. And forget about advanced options like facial recognition filtering, geotagging or AI object recognition.
Develop and Adjust
For converting camera raw files, Luminar only has one of its own processing profiles, Luminar Default, but you can also choose Adobe Standard (less vivid than the new Adobe Color), as well as any profile from your camera. for my Canon EOS 6D the options are Faithful, Landscape, Neutral, Portrait and Standard. My favorite pre-raw conversion tool is still Capture One, but Lightroom has come a long way, offering many conversion options for more or less vivid colors as well as black and white treatments.
Switching the right panel into edit mode brings up a highly customizable set of parameters. By default, you'll see a set of Essentials controls; The buttons on the far right allow you to switch between Essentials (light, color and AI enhancements), Creatives (Sky Replacement, Sunburst, Dramatic HDR, Mystic Glow, LUT filters, Film Grain and Texture Overlay). For any of these adjustments (but not for basic tonal adjustments), you can use a brush or a mask, the latter of which can be gradient, radial, or lighting. There's also a local Dodge & Burn adjustment brush to lighten or fade specific areas.
Accent AI Filter impresses me. it's one of the best auto improvers i've seen. Its slider can show dark shadows and faint highlights at the same time. AI Sky Enhancer finds sky in your photo and adds drama. Sometimes he included distant mountains in his settings in my tests; Fortunately, you can adjust the sky mask using a brush or gradient. You should try setting them to maximum and then turn them down as they don't distort the image too much, but they definitely improve it, although you do get a fake HDR look on some images.
The program has just one workspace, giving you all the familiar tools you'd expect in a professional photography app: Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, and Clarity. You also get Denoise, Remove Color Cast and Curve Editing features. A special addition is Advanced Contrast, which allows you to adjust the contrast in highlights, midtones or shadows only. This can be a very effective tool, especially if your photo has high overall contrast, but not enough in bright or dark areas. Other great tools not found in most editors are the foliage enhancer and the polarizing filter.
Luminar has standard noise reduction tools that do a decent job of smoothing out those jagged images in low light. But it can't match DxO PhotoLab's unique Prime noise reduction. Luminar also has lens-based profiles that attempt to correct issues such as geometric distortion and chromatic aberration (CA). Distortion correction worked as expected in testing, reducing barrel distortion during wide-angle shooting, but AC correction only moved the distortion from one side of objects to the other. So, in the shot of the twig with magenta on the left and green on the right, the colors changed when applying the “correction”. The Defringe version is a bit better, but it still doesn't quite match what you can do in Lightroom CC ($9.99 per month at Adobe) or DxO Photolab. My test results varied depending on the individual shot and the camera used, and your results will no doubt vary as well. Vignette correction is not part of the profile corrections, but you can adjust it manually.
One category of effects that I'm surprised Luminar lacks is focus effects; there are no bokeh, tilt-shift, or depth-of-field options. Focus and blur effects let you do things like make a subject stand out by blurring the background.
The Transform group of editing tools lets you adjust the perspective of your image with sliders for vertical, horizontal, rotate, aspect, and scale. There's also a free transform option from the Tools button at the top of the interface, and you'll have to dig into that just to rotate your photo. Crop is also hidden under this button (works well, but doesn't offer auto-flattening). I wish those tools were more readily available.
The Dehaze tool (in the Landscape Enhancer group of tools) performed better than Lightroom in testing; the latter added a blue tint to my snow globe test image, while the Luminar (and DxO PhotoLab) did not. For true hobbyists, there are full HSL and Split Toning capabilities. They can also use the Layers feature of the program to apply adjustments, multiple exposure effects, or stamps. That tool is also handy for adding watermark images, and you get all the standard Photoshop options for transparency.
The first two options in this section, accessible by the artist's palette icon, include a sky show theme. Replacement of AI Sky and AI Augmented Sky (new for version 4.3). Here you will also find effects: Sunrays, Dramatic, Matte Look, Mystical, LUT Color Styles, Texture Overlay, Glow, Film Grain and Fog.
AI Sky Replacement, as its name suggests, allows you to change the dull sky in your image to a soaring sky with puffy clouds in deep blue. The Advanced Sky option allows you to place celestial elements such as the Northern Lights, fireworks, the moon, mountains, and flying birds. These are fun effects and look more realistic than you might expect. However, in my tests I found that you cannot use adjustment layers to add more than one effect. The solution is to wear patterned capes.
The smiley face icon takes you to Portrait tools including AI Skin Enhancer, Portrait Enhancer, High Key and Orton Effect. The Skin Enhancer just seemed to blur facial skin to me, but its Shine Removal slider is effective in some test photos. The AI Skin Flaws tool removed some flaws, but for real retouching you'll need more powerful local adjustment tools like those in CyberLink PhotoDirector. The portrait enhancement suite includes dozens of tools, including Eye Enhancer and Slim Face 2.0 and Teeth Whitener. High Key and Orton produce classic and dreamy portrait effects.
Luminar offers a good selection of LUTs grouped into Cinematic, Creative, Cross Processing and Portrait Toning. You can load LUTs from other sources and adjust their contrast and saturation. LUTs are familiar in the video industry; they can be adjusted for specific camera models, film types, and even achieve effects like Day to Night.
These looks are not Instagram filters, but professional looking effects. There are over 70 filters in Luminar, from black and white options to Soft Portrait and Golden Hour. You don't get the look of a specific movie like you do in ACDSee and DxO PhotoLab, but the selection is substantial. You can buy more collections in Skylum's online marketplace with landscape, film and travel themes. They all have names that give you an idea of what they look like, unlike Lightroom's unmemorable numbered effect names.
Luminar: Speed and Stability
Luminar's stability has been improved since my first review of the previous version and is one of the highlights of the new version. However, the program still takes longer than Lightroom to open raw camera files and perform noise reduction. And after adding a lot of images, it took too long to display the thumbnails in the gallery view. I haven't had frequent crashes on version 4.3, although the program stopped responding at one point during editing, so the stability issues haven't been fully fixed yet.
The standard way to use the program is to simply add folders to view and work with photos, but since my last review, Skylum has added an import function from the File menu. It displays a progress bar that says “Create Gallery” during import, but doesn't let you preview and select images like other programs' import features do.
So what was Luminar's import speed? Slightly slower than the competition. Importing 190 raw images from a Canon EOS 80D to my Windows 10 PC with 16GB of DDR4 RAM, an Intel Core i7-6700 3.4GHz processor, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 745 discrete graphics card took Luminar 5:03 (min:s). It was a little inferior to the competition. Lightroom took 3:51, Capture One took 4:55, and Zoner Photo Studio took 4:54.
Sharing, Output, and Help
The options for sending your edited image out into the world with Luminar are pretty basic, but they go beyond what you get in Lightroom (not Classic) – yes, Luminar can print. The up arrow share icon has only three options: email. mail, SmugMug and (new for version 4.3) 500px. A lot more people are still using SmugMug owned Flickr so I'd like to see that added as well as other social media. You can also export your work as JPG, PNG, TIFF, PSD, or PDF, more than Lightroom's options.
Luminar's help and support options have been enhanced since my last review. The User Guide link in the Luminar Help menu takes you to an indexed web page that now includes a search function. The company also offers video tutorials, and there's even a Skylum Academy, which is basically a page that combines tutorials, online classes, and podcasts about the product.
Should You Buy Skylum Luminar?
If you want to try out multiple looks on your images, or just want an efficient one- or two-step auto-correctionhttps://isolutionx.net/skylum-luminar-review/ for them, Luminar is a great option and well worth the $69 one-time purchase price. It doesn't handle workflow and organization as well as Lightroom, but you can use its plug-in feature if you want to keep your Adobe workflow. Luminar's interface, effects, and some adjustment tools are impressive, but performance and stability are still issues (though less so than before). Luminar is definitely worth buying for its great instant effects, but if you only want one app, you're better off with our Editors' Choice, Lightroom Classic, which offers better workflow, performance, and output options.
3.5See It$89.00 at AmazonMSRP $69.00
- beautiful interface
- Good automatic photo corrections.
- many filters
- Some operations are slow
- stability issues
- No facial recognition or keyword tagging