Words by Sean Hall
Written here are my observations made in my real world use of MacPhun/Skylum's Luminar 2018. I decided to take a chance with Luminar after looking into Affinity Phone, On1, and Phase One. The playing field has greatly changed now with so many options. Now that Luminar has made it's move from Mac to Windows and is planning on adding more capabilities including a digital asset manager it feels promising that this will soon become a major contender as a photo editor, if it hasn't already.
I've bought into the promise of a fully polished Luminar one day soon. Before that promise is fully realized there are some small changes that I look forward to seeing released. In its current iteration Luminar does not feel like it has been designed with the portrait photographer in mind. This seems particularly so because of how the tools provided behave when retouching skin. With Adobe Lightroom while you're working on skin and want to get rid of blemishes you are immediately shown the blotches disappearing in front of your eyes as you use the Heal tool. This way you can get a good look at how the edit choices you are making are allowing the overall appearance of the skin to take shape. With Luminar it was at first at bit jarring and too some getting used to working with the Erase tool. This tool, like Adobe's Heal tool allows you to remove pimples, blotches, and other unwanted marks with a simple click. The difference here is that the corrections are not set and seen until AFTER you've clicked "Done". As you click on these blemishes they are highlighted in red. Yes, this gives you clear visibility on what you have chosen to remove, but the red highlight hides the skin and becomes a distraction if much work is needed. Also you're not quickly shown if you like the way the software has chosen to deal with the blemish. For instance if Adobe's Heal Brush has made a correction that I feel looks unnatural I'll see it right away and can quickly hit undo and try again. With Luminar it feels like an all or nothing situation. I must first commit all of the planned changes and then revisit this layer if something appears off. This way of skin editing feels a little bit clunky and not as intuitive.
Interestingly it feels like Skylum themselves may even unconsciously agree with this point of view since many of the photographers they partnered with to give the public a preview of what this software can do mostly choose to edit landscapes.
"Luminar 2018 at time feels like an unfinished product."
Some other minor drawbacks that I encountered that tend to sour the experience are intermittent bugs. At times when moving a slider the image I'm working on will suddenly become blurry. This seems to happen randomly. I've experienced this with multiple sliders. It's as if the image fails to fully load the change that was just made. For me this same issue seems to exist for the Chromatic Aberration Fix slider on the Lens tab of the Raw Develop control panel. I just can't seem to move any of the sliders here beyond "0" without a complete degradation of my image. This bug right now seems to not be widely reported on so I might need to reach out to Luminar about this one.
My next observation is not an error, but simply the way that I think Luminar currently works and maybe this will be improved on in a future release. Not sure how best to describe this, but it feels like when I'm editing files in Luminar they are more susceptible to noise and pixels overall just don't feel as solid with certain sliders.
It's unfortunate that these issues are here because overall this software feels like a huge step in the right direction when it comes to offering a solid Lightroom competitor. But, for now, with these issues Luminar 2018 at times feels like an unfinished product. I suspect that this might just be the case for Windows, but am unable to confirm this as this is my only exposure to this editing software. Also, I do know that there are features that exist on Mac that have yet to make their way to the Windows platform, so I look forward to future updates to bring over Mac only features and apply fixes.
Okay, okay, I know this article reads like buyer's remorse, but that's not so, I promise. Stick with me for this last bit of what I'd like to see because right after this I'd love to tell you about the features that work so well. But first...
Some things are missing from Luminar:
Digital Asset Manager (DAM): This software is quite a bear to use without a DAM included in the package. In it's current state it is a great one-off picture editor. But, with no module to peruse a catalog of photos it's hard to near impossible to get any culling done; the software just currently isn't designed for it. Also, once edits have been made it's tough to see how a picture compares to the next. Without this ability it's hard to ensure that a photo series remains looking like a coherent single expression of art.
Camera and lens profiles: In Adobe Lightroom the software for the most part is able to automatically detect what camer and lens combination you were using and it's able to automatically correct lens distortions such as pin-cushion and barrel distortion along with chromatic aberrations. Of course it's not always perfect, but it mostly can get the job done with little to no manual help from the photo editor. Luminar has no such ability here. Every correction of this type is a full-on manual excursion. Now this is a learning curve that I was willing to tackle, but alas I'm unable to with the previously mentioned slider bug that I'm currently experiencing.
Batch processing of images: DAMs are made for the processing of multiple images at once. But even is a program does not have this module there should be a way to process multiple images at once. From my internet searches it seems that ability does exist, but it is currently only available in the Mac version and as of writing this article has yet to come to Windows. This is a big omission especially given the fact that there is no DAM.
"I love these tools"
Okay, I know by now you're wondering if I even like this software. The following tools give me a lot of hope that the team behind the product is very talented and will soon correct all of the above aforementioned issues:
The Accent - AI Filter: I'm not quite sure what Luminar was thinking when they designed this slider, but I like it. When moving this slider around it seems like the difference lighter and darker areas of a photo are either being made more pronounced or are brought more in-line with each other, evened out. I like using this because it's a quick and easy way to brighten an overly dark background or do the opposite for lighter scenes.
Color Cast Correction: I saw use of this tool demonstrated by Antony Morganti and since then I keep it in mind for every photo. Why this tool was built is pretty self explanatory in its naming convention, but after I explain what it does and after you've used it you'll easily see its usefulness. These set of sliders have been created to help remove the color that can be cast on a scene or a subject in a scene from colored lights or just like reflecting off of a colored surface.
Golden Hour: The name of this tool tells you what it proposes to do for you images. This tool warms up your photos in a way that it attempts to simulate a shot taken at the golden hour. I tend to use this tool lightly. I think it works well.
Now everything that I've mentioned can be done with other editors include Adobe Lightroom, but it's nice to have a quick adjustment tool to handle some of these tasks. For instance every tool I mentioned above can be emulated solely through use of most editor's curves panel. Manipulating the exposure curve into a pronounced "S" shape or flattening that curve give the user similar results to what is achieved with the Accent - AI Filter. The same is true for Color Cast Correction and Golden Hour. With the RGB curves you can add or removes subtle shifts in color to make a scene appear warm or cold and remove color cast independently in the highlights and shadows of an image.
"Skylum...[has]...plans for the addition of a DAM module and I believe that Adobe will have some serious competition at that time."
Skylum has mentioned that there are plans for the addition of a DAM module and I believe that Adobe will have some serious competition at that time. I look forward to seeing how the market reacts once this update has been released. For me and my current workflow once this has been added Luminar at that time will feel like a fully fleshed out product and I feel that I'll think even less of my Adobe past at that time. Not a slight against Adobe as both products are very capable. And, hey, when companies compete the customers win.