Skylum Luminar 2018 Review

July 10, 2018

By Greg Scoblete

Anyone with more than a passing interest in photography knows that it’s a multifarious discipline and yet, so many of its tools are general purpose. That’s particularly true of RAW processing software.

With Luminar, Skylum (formerly Macphun), hasn’t created an image editor and RAW processor purpose-built for a single photographic discipline, but they’ve done the next best thing. They’ve built a program that can be tailored to several photographic styles or, if you prefer, none at all.

What’s New

Luminar is available for both Mac and Windows PCs and its most recent update promises speed improvements across both platforms. Windows users can see up to a 5x jump while Mac owners get a 12x boost, according to Skylum.

The software now supports automatic lens distortion corrections and an improved RAW image conversion engine, the ability to purge chromatic aberration and cleaner gradients. There are new camera profiles, including portrait, standard, landscape, Adobe standard, vivid and more.

Beyond the new tools, Luminar supports layered editing and is packed with plenty of presets for one-click fixes and photo effects. It can be used as a standalone editor or as a plugin for Lightroom or Photoshop.

Skylum Luminar 2018

A before/after slider window lets you preview your edits against the original file.

User Interface

While many software programs have customizable tool sets, Luminar has a slightly different take with its “workspaces.” You can select from one of eight workspaces customized for a given type of photography, such as black-and-white, aerial, portrait and landscape, and each contains a curated selection of editing tools that appear on the right rail. Choose the “professional” workspace and just about all the tools will appear. You can also customize and save your own workspaces, too. It’s a nice touch.

The Luminar interface is very clean and intuitive. We love the before/after slider which divides your image in half so you can easily compare your edits against the original file. There’s also a history button which displays all of your edits so you can easily restore your photo to an earlier state if you go astray in your edits.

There are, though, a few quirks in the UI. The image magnification proceeds in increments of 25 percent when you use the drop down menu or the +/- buttons but you can’t key in a specific magnification value. You can use your mouse’s scroll wheel to get different zoom values but those don’t proceed smoothly in 1 percent increments—they jump around at seemingly random intervals. There’s no export button in the interface either, you have to go to the drop-down menu or use a keyboard shortcut.

Edits & Performance

Luminar calls its editing tools filters, which are not to be confused with the presets that are available at the bottom of programs for quick fixes and effects. Like the presets, some filters can be applied with a single click and adjusted using an opacity slider. Many of the presets deliver some very impressive results and you can apply them to batches of photos at once (unfortunately you can’t preview the effect when doing batch processing, only when working with single images).

One of the notable filters is Accent AI, which analyzes your photo with machine vision and makes targeted corrections to create a more dramatic/pleasing image. The filter has a Boost slider to increase or decrease the effect. We compared the exported JPEG from Luminar to another AI-based quick fix program, Photo Lemur. Luminar’s output was a tad lighter but otherwise nearly identical—and both were very pleasing.

Skylum Luminar Review

Luminar’s AI Boost one-click fix.

Fixed in one click by PhotoLemur.

Luminar doesn’t have the vast catalog of film simulations that you can find in Alien Skin, but between the presets and the LUTs, it’s very easy to give your files a wide variety of looks with not much work at all. You can layer presets and apply LUTs to them as well as save everything as a customizable preset to speed up your workflow.

As far as noise reduction, we compared a file taken with a Nikon D500 at ISO 81,274 in both Luminar and DxO Optics Pro 11. The later delivered a cleaner, more accurate file while Luminar tended to smudge away details and darken the overall image. The differences were less pronounced at lower ISO values. At ISO 6400, for example, both Luminar and OpticsPro effectively removed the offending noise without smoothing away details, even if OpticsPro delivered a final JPEG with colors with a bit more pop.

ISO 6400 Noise Reduction via DxO

ISO 6400 Noise reduction via Luminar

On balance, Luminar proved responsive when working with camera RAW files from just about all the major vendors on our Mac (2.6GHz Core i7, 16GB of RAM with an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU) but it definitely didn’t like RAW files from the Hasselblad X1D, which repeatedly ground the program to a halt on export. One thing that does slow the program down is the lack of an integrated file browser—you have to find and open images individually to work on them. Skylum says a digital asset manager will be added to the program soon, however.

Bottom Line

Until the promised digital asset manager arrives, Luminar feels a bit half-baked as a standalone product next to competitors like AlienSkin and OnOne. But as an editor, it’s surprisingly powerful for the price. As a plugin to Lightroom or for those simply looking for an effective quick fix, you’ll find much to like.

UPDATE: After we posted this review, Skylum released an update to the program. You can learn about the new features here.
Great one-click editing tools; Customizable interface; Intuitive UI; Responsive editing tools.
CONS: Lacks file browser; Image magnifier is clumsy; Noise reduction trails competitors.
PRICE: $69

Want more PDN? Click here to sign up for our email newsletter and get the week’s top stories delivered straight to your inbox.

15 Great Software Programs for Managing Your Photo Business

Skylum Acquires Photolemur, Opens Up AI Lab

Software Review: Photolemur 2.2