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.
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.
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.
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.
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 making edits, it takes a few seconds for the image to render the adjustment that’s made properly with a full resolution image. When I move a slider, it says “Image Processing…” until it loads the high-resolution image with the adjustment applied. I’ve contacted Luminar about this, and their development team said that they are working on making the response speed much better. Once that update is applied, things will be a lot more fluid.
Having said that, it’s not a sluggish piece of software. You don’t click around and find yourself hanging there waiting for windows to swap or toolboxes to load.
I also noticed that when applying a highlight or shadow adjustment from the Raw Development panel, the change is applied as a blanket adjustment to the entire image. In Lightroom, a highlight adjustment will only adjust the highlights of the image. It seems that in Luminar this adjustment is more of a global thing. Here is a before and after slider showing the extremes of -100 highlights, and +100 highlights:
To get around it, you need to add an Adjustment Layer and use the “Develop” filter to make your highlight and shadows adjustments. This way things will work as you would expect in Lightroom with more localised adjustments. It’s a small gripe, but a gripe none the less.
A FIX IS COMING: Luminar have told me that this issue with the RAW Develop filter is a bug, and they’re looking to release a fix in the coming weeks.
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.
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.
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.
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.