Skylum Luminar 4 – First Looks

The folks at Skylum kindly granted me access to a beta version of Luminar 4. The release date is November 18th, so this is near to being the pre-release version. It certainly felt stable and fully featured. Even better, it supports Canon’s CR3 files!

Luminar 4 – What’s New?

Readers of this blog will know that I am disappointed that recent ‘updates’ to software have been low of new features. In fact, I have wondered if some software companies are out of ideas and are resorting to issuing paid for updates with just a handful of minor improvements.

Not so with Luminar 4! The list of new features is impressive… (I’ve taken the descriptions from Skylum’s marketing information.)

 

AI Structure

Boosts details where needed without damaging the rest of the photo-without selections, layers, or masks

 

AI Sky Replacement

Using Skylum’s machine learning technology, Luminar 4 is the first photo editor to offer fully automated sky replacement technology

 

AI Skin Enhancer

Automatically remove skin imperfections like acne, freckles, and moles besides smoothing skin

 

 

Portrait Enhancer

A collection of tools that improve any portrait in a natural yet pleasing way

 

Smart Contrast

Easily improve the contrast where needed without destroying key details

 

Colour Styles Library

Quickly change the color and mood of your photos with cinematic color styles

 

 

Luminar Looks

Unlock creative options and quickly solve problems with adaptive presets

 

Redesigned Edit Interface

A completely redesigned experience that improves the discoverability of tools and simplifies the editing process

 

Various Improvements

    • Stability and performance
    • Golden Hour filter
    • Denoise filter
    • Adjustable Gradient filter
    • Coming in 2020: Improvements to Digital Asset Management

This is a very impressive list of improvements. Some of these could be products in their own right and compete directly with dedicated software that does just one thing.

Luminar 4 price

At this point it’s worth mentioning that Skylum want just £72 GBP to pre-order Luminar 4 now, and that includes a free SmugMug subscription worth $180 USD. They offer a 30 day money-back guarantee. Existing users can upgrade for £62. These prices are cheaper than some vendor’s upgrade prices and the 30 day money-back guarantee means this is risk free.

Skylum say these prices will change after the release on the 18th November.

But do Luminar’s new features work?

This is the question that really matters. I’ve covered Luminar’s RAW editing capabilities in previous posts so I will now focus on the new and enhanced features. As I am testing a pre-release version, I won’t compare results with other tools. I’ll do a new RAW converter group test once the full release is out.

Luminar 4 Landscape Test

This test uses this image:

Original Image
Original Image – Click for full sized version

I chose this picture because it has good detail and would be a lovely scene but for the light, which was flat, and the sky, which was boring. Additionally, the clouds are lower than the horizon and my experience with semi-automatic sky replacement tools like Landscape Pro is that they struggle to handle these scenes. The challenge is to, somehow, blend the clouds into the replacement sky.

AI Structure

In previous reviews I had struggled to get the same level of detail from Luminar as I could in Photo Ninja. But now Luminar has added the new AI Structure tool, which should improve things. What effect did AI Structure have on the image? Look below:

Luminar 4 AI Structure
Luminar 4 AI Structure

Here’s a comparison to show its effect:

Luminar 4 AI Structure

The improvement is obvious. But look at the edge of the mountain – no haloing, no aberrations. You can see the steep and tricky path that ascends up this mountain (Yewbarrow). I once saw someone almost fall off this path as they took a step backwards, trying to discern the way ahead. I was watching the walkers through some binoculars. My heart was in my mouth and her head was in her hands as we both realised how close she’d come to a serious fall.

AI Structure has brought this all back to me – the path is so clear in this picture… The tool is easy to apply-just two sliders.

AI Sky Replacement

Here is my first attempt at a sky replacement:

Luminar 4 AISky Replacement
Luminar 4 AI Sky Replacement

Yowser! It’s done an amazing job – nothing I have ever used before has come close. I tried several of the replacement sky backgrounds that come with Luminar 4 and all of them looked good. You can also get it to ‘repaint’ the scene. Luminar then subtly colours the photo to better match the sky. Here are all the controls:

AI Sky Replacement – Controls

There’s plenty of manual control available. Every Luminar 4 tool has the option to Edit the Mask. You have total control over the outcome.

Further Landscape Enhancements

Luminar 4 contains a huge set of adjustments. I then applied the following to the image:

  • Lens corrections: Distortion, Chromatic Aberration and Defringe
  • AI Accent (the overall image enhancer)
  • AI Sky Enhancer
  • Details Enhancer
  • Golden Hour
  • Dehaze
  • Foliage Enhancer

Notice how all the filters have understandable names. And they are all easy to use.

Here is a gallery of results – I did two other sky replacements, just for fun:

« 1 of 3 »

Luminar 4 Portrait Enhancements

Wedding photographers, or anyone with a large set of photos of people, will be particularly interested in what Luminar 4 offers. It has a full set of portrait enhancements that work with minimal manual intervention. Luminar 4 supports batch processing. You create a ‘Look’ (a preset) that covers a set of similar images and then it processes them all whilst you drink coffee. Cool!

Here’s my starting image:

The Starting Image
The Starting Image

I have deliberately chosen a picture with two people. Why make it easy for the software?

AI Skin Enhancer

This tool could not be simpler. You select the strength from 0 (off) to 100 (full) and can elect to remove skin blemishes.

Luminar 4 AI Skin Enhancer

The result looks natural, as it should.

Portrait Enhancer

This is slightly more complicated because it offers more options:

Portrait Enhancer

The result is still natural:

Luminar 4 – Portrait Enhancer

Colour Styles

Luminar 4 offers a quick way to tone an image. You just select a colour style from of the many supplied ones. They base colour styles on Look Up Tables (LUT) and you can add your own (or buy some) and use these. Here I added the ‘Athena’ Portrait Tone:

Luminar 4 Portrait Toning

Summary

Luminar 4’s Portrait enhancement tools are class leading. They do just about everything that dedicated tools, such as Portrait Pro, can do but without the fuss of making and adjusting selections. At first I thought it could only apply the same alterations to everybody in each picture. But Luminar 4 features layers and masks thus enabling you to edit each face separately. Batch processing would be a global edit, though. But I don’t think this is a limiting factor unless you really need to make substantially different changes to different faces in a group of pictures. But then you would probably have to process each picture manually, whichever tool you used.

Luminar 4 Interface

I have always liked Luminar’s interface, but they have improved it. Here are some changes:

  • Filters grouped under several icons-Canvas, Essentials, Creative, Portrait, Professional
  • They highlight used filters thus making it easy to see what you have applied
  • You can select an image to edit from a filmstrip on the left-hand side

Luminar 4 Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Luminar’s DAM has not changed in this release. Skylum have scheduled an upgrade for this in 2020, which will be free for both Luminar 3 and 4 owners. It’s the one area of the software that is trailing Exposure X5 and Lightroom. The basics are there but it is not complete.

Luminar 4 Conclusion

Luminar 4 is a quantum leap forward. It offers tools that everyone needs and nobody else provides. Its ability to enhance a photograph with its suite of AI tools is beyond impressive. What impressed me the most is how Luminar dealt with challenging photos. Most tools do well when the image only needs a tweak or two but few come close to what Luminar 4 can do with a suboptimal image. My examples above only scratch the surface of what it can do.

Luminar 4 comes as a standalone program but also as a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom.

Get Luminar 4 at the discounted price

Order before 18th November to get both a discounted price and a free one-year SmugMug subscription. Skylum offer a 30 day money-back guarantee, so this is risk free. I wont be returning my copy, that’s for sure.

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Recommended software

Image Resizing

The best image resize program is Topaz A.I.Gigapixel

Image sharpening & noise reduction

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.

Affinity Photo is the complete Photoshop replacement.

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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