Luminar 2018 Review: The Best Alternative to Lightroom?

As soon as Adobe brought out its subscription-based model, photographers were calling for a clear alternative to their post processing needs. For professional photographers, a monthly subscription is not necessarily a bad thing. It means constant updates and the latest software. However, for hobbyist photographers, or those just not wanting to make a long-standing commitment, paying Adobe each month is not an attractive prospect. That’s where Luminar 2018 comes in. Developed by Skylum (formerly Macphun), Luminar 2018 is a powerful piece of post-processing software that is available for a very reasonable one-off £64 fee.

I’ve been playing with Luminar 2018 for a while now, and I think that it is definitely something photographers should consider if they are looking to move out of the clutches of Adobe. In this review of Luminar, I’ll share my findings so far and how exactly it functions.

First Impressions

One of the biggest concerns when moving over to a new piece of software is being thrown into the unfamiliar. Luminar 2018 is not an Adobe product, obviously, and so it has a totally different user interface. Good post-processing skills come from years of toying with familiar software, developing and learning different techniques.

luminar 2018 review

Luckily, Luminar 2018 appears to have been designed to make the transition from Lightroom to Luminar as smooth as possible. The majority of keyboard shortcuts that I use on a day-to-day basis in Lightroom will work in Luminar. This immediately made Luminar feel much more familiar, rather than something that was totally alien to me.

Processing Interface

One of the most interesting things about the Luminar processing interface is that it can be totally adapted for different photographers. Lightroom’s Develop window sticks you with a certain number of different editing panels. However, Luminar allows you to select any of a large list of possible edit panels to customise your sidebar.

Luminar calls each panel a “filter,” and they also have preset sidebars you can apply. The “Professional” sidebar comes with everything you’d expect in the standard Lightroom Develop window, such as raw file adjustments, noise reduction, and split toning. But if you want a more simplistic sidebar, you could just apply a few of them.

luminar 2018 review processing sidebar
Luminar’s processing sidebar is completely customisable.

I think this is an exciting feature, I really do. It allows the software to become mouldable and fit the needs and requirements of individual photographers, rather than aiming for a “one size fits all” approach.

Processing in Action

When Luminar 2018 was first released, there were a couple of teething problems that I reported to their development team. These were that when making adjustments you would have to wait a few seconds to see the adjustment take action. The other was that the “Highlights” slider in the Raw Develop filter wasn’t working properly. However, I’m pleased to say these have now been fixed.

Having now tested out the latest version of Luminar 2018, the software is very fast. It opens raw files quickly, and applies your slider adjustments instantaneously. Brilliant! I no longer have any faults to report with the processing interface of the software, which will be music to the ears of many.

Presets

I’m not a massive fan of presets, to be honest. They’re a good way to get yourself to a starting point, but rarely are they the perfect fit to replace an entire editing workflow. However, Luminar comes packed with a number of presets built-in.

If presets are your thing, then you’ll be jumping for joy when I say that Luminar can read your Lightroom presets and import them into your library. That means you don’t lose any presets you’ve worked on, or bought, over the years of Lightroom use.

You can also create your own presets straight from the Luminar 2018 software, just make your adjustments and click “Save Filters Preset” in the bottom right corner. Then, with just one click, you can bring back all of your careful edits.

luminar 2018 review presets

I do, however, like the user interface of Luminar. It’s very easy to use once you get used to the layout, and it’s a very “attractive” piece of software. The presets are organised into nice folders, with their own thumbnails, for you to peruse – that’s something you don’t see in Lightroom. Whilst it’s not going to make a major difference to the final photo, it’s always a plus point to have a good user experience.

Cataloging

At the moment, Luminar is capable of single or batch photo editing. However, we are assured that in early 2018 Skylum will be releasing a free update to include a digital asset manager. This will mean you can develop Lightroom-style catalogs, holding your photos in one organised place. Luminar will even be able to read Lightroom catalog files themselves, meaning you can import your Lightroom workspace straight into Luminar.

Things to Be Aware Of

One of the things I’ve noticed, and it’s simply a trick you have to remember to get used to, is that you’re working in layers with Luminar. If you’re looking to access filters specifically for raw files (such as RAW develop), then you need to make sure you have the original raw layer highlighted. If you’re on an adjustment layer and try to add a RAW develop filter, you won’t be able to find it.

The same goes for any adjustments you are making. Ensure that you’re using the correct layer where you want to apply the adjustment. This is a great opportunity for everyone starting out with Luminar to ensure they are actually utilising the layers feature. It’s so helpful to be able to separate individual adjustments into their own layers, as it means you can remove and change any adjustment you make in any order. It’s a totally non-destructive process when done properly.

The Lightroom / Photoshop Crossover

Luminar sits in a fairly unique position, in my opinion. With the promised cataloging feature imminent, it is a clear Lightroom alternative. However, it also has many features you would expect from Photoshop that are absent in Lightroom. This is likely because Luminar is Skylum’s main piece of editing software, whereas Adobe don’t want Lightroom to tread on the toes of Photoshop too much.

Luckily, Luminar doesn’t have this loyalty to worry about. Therefore, handy things like adjustment layers are present within Luminar. This means you can take your adjustments into separate layers. For example, you might want to make exposure adjustments on one layer, and colour adjustments on another. You can then toggle them on and off separately, just like you would when using layers in Photoshop.

Layers are an extremely powerful tool, and it’s fantastic to see them within Luminar.

In Conclusion

Luminar 2018 has exploded onto the scene with a lot of anticipation from photographers around the world who are looking to escape the clutches of Adobe’s monthly subscription program. I think Luminar is an excellent solution for those who are looking for an alternative, and it will be even more so when they release the cataloging update.

If you’re reading this and you’re looking for some new software then I say take the plunge and go for it. For a one-off payment of £64, you really can’t go wrong. You’re getting a powerful editing software that encompasses elements from both Photoshop and Lightroom into one great post processing asset.

You can download Luminar 2018 for Windows or Mac computers on the Luminar website. Use code NATURETTL at checkout for £9 off your purchase.

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Luminar 2018
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Will Nicholls is the founder of Nature TTL and a professional wildlife photographer and film-maker from England. Having been photographing since the age of 12, Will's images have won a string of awards, including the title of "Young British Wildlife Photographer of the Year" in 2009 from the British Wildlife Photography Awards. Will is also the author of the book On the Trail of Red Squirrels.

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