Luminar – a fresh look. Is it time to upgrade?

It’s been a while since I reviewed Luminar and there is an update due to be released on November 18th. Given that it is on pre-sale at a much reduced price, including a free SmugMug subscription, I thought I’d revisit it and see what the current version can do.

What is Skylum Luminar?

Luminar is best described as a creative RAW editor. Of all the RAW editors I have used, Luminar stands head and shoulders above them in terms of ease of use and features on offer.

In contrast, DXO Photo Lab 3 and Photo Ninja are ‘purist’ RAW converters, with DXO having a far larger feature set and Photo Ninja giving top drawer results with very little effort. Despite DXO’s sophistication and Photo Ninja’s simplicity, they only offer ‘regular’ RAW editing features. What they do they do supremely well.

Luminar, in contrast, offers tools and filters that no-one else has. And, from what they are saying online, they are about to go a quantum leap forward in their feature set.

What Luminar offers now

Luminar can process virtually every RAW file format and all the regular image formats, such as JPEG, TIF and PNG. If it doesn’t support your RAW format, then it can process it as a DNG. (LibRaw 201910 snapshot now supports Canon CR3, so hopefully most RAW converters will support it soon.)

Luminar offers all the usual RAW conversion operations. It supports:

  • Hue, Saturation and Luminance adjustments
  • Lens corrections (distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberrations)
  • White balance adjustments
  • Exposure compensation
  • Sharpening
  • Etc…

But every RAW tool provides these. What makes Luminar different?

Luminar – Unique Features

Luminar offers things that Lightroom does not (and let’s be honest, most of you use Lightroom and want to see if there’s a better alternative). Here are a few:

  • Full support for layers
  • AI filters
  • A vast array of other filters
  • A superb polarisar filter
  • A huge collection of presets with the option to add (buy) more

The AI filters are incredible. There is no other word for them.

Accent AI Filter

Until I worked with this filter, I didn’t believe that a ‘one filter to rule them all’ could exist. Yet the Accent AI filter is the most powerful single filter I have ever used.

Usually with such power comes a horribly complex interface that takes ages to never-quite-master. Not so with Accent AI. It is just one slider. There’s a range of values: 0 (off) to 100 (full on). You slide it and look at the image and stop sliding it when you are happy with it. It seems impossible that it can do so much. But it does it.

AI Sky Enhancer

Accent AI is a global filter that improves the look of the entire photo (unless you’re using layers and masks, but bear with me). AI Sky takes over where Accent AI leaves off and does dramatic things to the sky. Again it’s just one slider.

It is literally as easy as that – adjust two sliders and you’re almost done.

Polarisar

If there is one (physical) filter that should always be in your bag it is a Polarisar. It is very, very hard to implement polarisation effects in software. It cannot replicate some things, such as removing reflections. But it can deepen the blue in the sky. And Luminar’s Polarisar filter does this so well.

Integration

What I love about these three filters is that they combine so well. Everything fits together to produce a harmonious picture. The filters don’t compete with each other. No, they complement each other. They have put a lot of work and love into them to make them this good.

Image Details

In a previous review, I couln’t get Luminar to bring out as much detail as DXO and Photo Ninja. My mistake. Luminar offers a Details filter that, much like Topaz Detail (now a thing of the past) you can use to adjust Fine, Medium and Large details in the image.

Adjusting the fine detail is often enough.

Luminar – Other filters

There is a huge list and I’ll end this section with some screenshots to show you all the tools. Some standout filters are:

Golden hour

This is a specialised warming filter. It can transform drab light into a beautiful evening glow.

Sun rays

Want some sunshine in your picture? This filter adds the sun and its rays into any scene. This is one of the more complicated filters because there are lots of settings to adjust. But it’s easy and works so well. I’ve experimented on Instagram with a few pictures using this filter. Nobody has ever noticed that the sun and its rays were embellishments.

All the filters

Luminar's filters
Luminar’s filters

New features in Luminar V4

So, what’s coming on November 18th? They’re not telling us everything, but here’s what I know:

AI Sky replacement

AI Sky enhances the sky but you use this new filter to replace it entirely. I’m looking forward to testing this one. The Smart Photo Editor also does this, but I’ve never achieved perfect results with little manual intervention. Skylum say that Luminar 4 will do it seamlessly and automatically…

AI Portrait enhancer

Photolemur, which uses Luminar’s RAW engine, has been enhancing faces since they released V3. But, from Skylum’s videos, this seems to be more sophisticated. If they get it right, and I’m sure they will, then Luminar will become the go to program for wedding and portrait photographers.

Dedicated facial enhancement programs exist and they are expensive. If Skylum’s offering is good, then Luminar will become the bargain of the decade.

What I’d like to see

Luminar introduced a cut-down version of Digital Asset Management (DAM) about a year ago. I didn’t like it much as it lacked too many features. Throughout this year they have improved it but it is still underpowered. It also made Luminar top heavy – the DAM features impeded launching Luminar to edit just a photo or two.

They addressed this by issuing Luminar Flex-Luminar without DAM. According to their blog, Luminar 4 returns to being a single product.

I’m hoping that they either drop DAM altogether or implement it fully but allow Luminar to be launched in Rhett Butler mode (‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!’). We’ll see what happens.

Luminar in action

Theory is fine, but what about practice? Rather than bloat this post with long explanations, here’s a gallery of before and after pictures. The captions tell the story.

Original image
« 1 of 7 »
Original Image
« 1 of 6 »

Get Luminar Now

With the release of V4 just a few weeks away, now is the time to get it before any price increases. It already is one of the best RAW converters around. For shadow detail recovery it has no rivals. And it is the most creative RAW converter of them all, despite being so easy to use.

Even without the new features it is well worth having. The new features will make it the RAW converter and image editor to beat, I think.

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Topaz A.I.Sharpen can not only sharpen images but correct slightly out of focus and blurred images.

Topaz A.I.Clear both sharpens and removes noise. It is the best noise reduction program around.

Photoshop and Lightroom Alternatives

Exposure X4 is the best alternative to Lightroom as far as image browsing and management goes. It is also a decent RAW converter and image editor.

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RAW Development

Skylum Luminar is a full featured RAW converter with a basic image browser. Its shadow recovery is the best in the business.

Photolemur is an automatic RAW converter, based on Luminar. Its results are very decent with facial detection and enhancement.

Photo Ninja is a purists RAW converter. It is not as fully featured as the others but it produces some of the best results, especially if you are prepared to build camera profiles.

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