Luminar 3 is a universal photo editor that is often compared with Lightroom. Photographers may use it as a standalone app or as a plug-in in with Apple Photos, Lightroom or Photoshop. Read this Luminar review that covers the key functions of this photo editor and shows if it can compete with Adobe Lightroom in terms of image editing.
Luminar software is designed to edit photographs, convert RAW files, and manage image folders. You can use it either as a separate program or as a plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop.
This photo editor has a simple interface and tools placed in various modules, which makes it easy even for beginners. It offers a fully customizable toolbar. People download Luminar because of its simplicity and being similar to Lightroom and even Photoshop.
If you ever used or heard about Lightroom, you probably know how user-friendly it is. Skylum Luminar 3 also has a simple UI and includes similar tools arranged in the same places. However, unlike Lightroom, Luminar allows you to fully customize the menu layout. In other words, you can freely choose where each tool will be located. Similar to Photoshop, this software has layers, masking (including brightness masks), blending modes, various filters, and advanced features such as LUT display. Luminar supports all currently existing RAW formats. That’s why a lot of professionals consider it to be a mix between Lightroom and Photoshop.
Adjustable panels. If you’ve ever used or heard about Capture One Pro, you’re already familiar with its fully customizable workspace. Luminar borrowed this feature and slightly cut it down. Instead of giving you full control, Skylum Luminar allows you to change the content of the panels and move tools between tabs. While you don’t have unlimited control, you’re still enjoying more freedom compared to Lightroom.
Great control level. Either you need to perform color correction, edit skin tones, remove pimples or do some basic image retouching, Luminar contains many professional tools designed both for color correcting and image editing.
Powerful RAW converter. If you thought this advanced software lacked RAW format support, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Like Lightroom and Capture One Pro, Skylum Luminar allows you to work with all available RAW formats, import and edit them quickly.
Can’t choose specific lens profiles. Unlike Lightroom and Capture One Pro, the camera choosing tab in Luminar doesn’t allow you to pick one of the available lenses.
Isn’t as fast as Lightroom. This is a controversial statement since many users may say that Lightroom can easily become cluttered and impossible to use. However, if you’ll overload Luminar with files, you’ll notice that it starts to freeze up just as much or even more.
While the earlier versions of this program were only available for Mac OS users, the latest Luminar 3 update contained an upgrade that made it compatible with Windows. Afterward, the developers announced that it was a conscious decision aimed at popularizing their image editing software and making it more easily accessible.
The price is another very important factor that allows Luminar to stand out from Lightroom and Photoshop and even surpass them. Unlike Adobe products, this image editing software doesn’t have a monthly subscription fee. To buy Skylum Luminar, you have to make a one-time payment, and you can use it as long as you need while receiving various add-ons and new features for free. It offers you a 60 days’ money back guarantee if you didn’t like working with their app.
Microsoft Windows minimum requirements
Apple Mac OS minimum requirements
If you’re one of those, who don’t like to pay for a product without trying it out, you can use the Luminar FREE trial version for 14 days. To take advantage of the Luminar trial offer, follow these steps:
STEP 1. Go to the official Skylum Luminar website.
STEP 2. Open the Luminar tab and choose "Download Trial.
STEP 3. If the Luminar download didn’t start automatically, follow the available link.
STEP 4. Open the launcher, choose your preferred settings and install the program.
STEP 5. After installing, run Luminar and select “FREE Trial 14 Days.” Done!
Let me start my Luminar review by mentioning that after you’ve downloaded and installed the image editor, it will ask you to choose your preferred image importing method. You can upload photographs either by using the image browser or moving them directly from your PC. Additionally, Luminar allows you to go through a short tutorial after opening your first photo. This is a pretty handy feature for users who didn’t use this image editor before.
Luminar allows you to edit images either one by one or in batches. When using batch editing, you can apply various presets and filters to multiple photographs simultaneously, adjust their settings, etc. The offered collection of tools should satisfy a regular user who’s looking for universal control options, although they are quite limited in some cases. For instance, noise settings are limited only to brightness and color sliders, while chromatic aberration can only be removed by using a single flag instead of combining various color sliders to achieve different shades.
My Luminar review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention one of its most interesting tools. It’s located in the middle of the top bar and creates a real-time slider that allows you to see your changes in “before/after” mode. Moreover, it isn’t limited only for filters, you can also use the tool to adjust white balance, which is a feature missing in Lightroom.
I also liked that the toolset in Luminar Mac and Windows is separated into tabs. You can select tools for portraiture, color settings, street, landscape, or aerial photography, and many others. I think that’s very convenient since you’ll only see the tools you need, which streamlines the picture editing process and makes it easier.
The program also includes a professional tab. After opening this mode, you’ll have access to all tools available in this image editing software:
1. Develop. This tool comprises all the basic color correcting settings: white balance, temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, shadows, blacks, etc. To apply any changes you need to pick a brush, select the work area you want to adjust, and then edit the image by moving various sliders.
2. Denoise. This tool allows you to set the luminosity and color, and choose a brush or specific masks. It also has a boost slider that allows intensifying this correction. Removing color hues may be as easy as setting white balance and tone, but sometimes it can be quite complicated (unless you’re a professional). This filter does a great job of neutralizing any color that you have trouble getting rid of.
3. Saturation/Vibrance. This tool allows adjusting two sliders as well as using masks/layers. I wasn’t particularly impressed by it because you need to move the slider all the way to the edge if you want a noticeable result.
4. Accent AI Filter. This tool relies on artificial intelligence technology and allows you to improve your photo impressively by using a single slider. I’ve done some experimenting with it, and once I set the boost slider to the max, I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement of my image. It added clarity and smoothness to the hair as well as some shadows to the eyes.
5. Advanced Contrast. A rather useful tool if you need a broader range of contrast settings.
You can adjust the Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows, with each section having “amount” and “balance” sliders. You don’t have to make drastic adjustments here. Changing the value by 20 will already provide a noticeable result.
6. Curves. This feature enables you to color correct your photographs with more accuracy. It has 4 main colors: white, red, green, and blue.
I worked on the red color for a bit and made the image more vibrant and bright. The only thing I didn’t like about this tool is that it works with a delay and freezes up from time to time.
7. HSL is a tool similar to Curves since it also deals with color correction, but it offers more detail. Besides, the sliders here are more accurate and work without any delays.
I liked the fact that the Dodge & Burn tool is available in Luminar for PC, even though it’s often neglected by photo editors who mainly do color correction. It has a single “Amount” slider that allows making the photo clearer. Sadly, this slider isn’t well designed compared to Photoshop, forcing you to set maximum values to see any kind of effect.
The last thing I’d like to bring up in my Luminar review is the possibility to save your settings that allows you to edit images faster in the future. At the bottom of the module, you can find a Save Filters Presets button. This is a very handy feature if you’re a wedding photographer who constantly has to edit hundreds of images.
If you’re a fan of Lightroom and its batch editing function, you can make use of a very handy and similar feature presented in Luminar. To start editing photographs in batches, repeat the following steps:
STEP 1. In the main menu, press the “Open” button and go to the “Batch Processing” tab.
STEP 2. Once in the browser, choose the path to your photos and pick the ones you need by using the “left ctrl + mouse click” combination.
STEP 3. Wait until all photographs are loaded (which takes much longer than in Lightroom) and you can start editing images in batches.
The image editing interface has several control elements at the top of the workspace. In addition to the tools used for standard navigation, the “eye” button allows comparing the “before and after” images easily, while the nearby slider allows viewing this effect at different parts of the photo.
Luminar is supplied with presets. Each workspace is built from various filters that you can use to perform an array of image corrections, from shadows to curves adjustments.
One of my favorite things about the Luminar photo editor is that it allows adjusting different panels so that you can quickly alter the workspace by adding or removing sections, zooming in and out of images, and cropping or transforming them from the same panel. For instance, you can create a workspace to perform initial alterations and color corrections before creating a new layer and using the noise-reducing workspace. Next, you can move onto another layer and workspace related to increasing the sharpness of your photo.
Such an approach allows you to customize Luminar in a way that you feel in complete control over the editing process. You can adapt the program to fit your image retouching style perfectly and remove any unnecessary elements or functions.
After testing Luminar, I’ve come to a rather controversial conclusion. While all Adobe products are known for offering a narrow, but high level of control over image editing, RAW conversion, and color correction, I see Luminar as more of a middle ground option, presenting a broad array of useful tools. This image editing software has a convenient interface similar to Lightroom but shows poor performance.
Like Photoshop, Luminar has an AI that is great for improving the quality of your images but isn’t as efficient as Photoshop. The import and export are acceptable, but you have to understand that when you’re loading 1-2 photos, you won’t notice any difference compared to Lightroom, but when it comes to batch editing, Luminar will test your patience with its constant freezes and lags.
I’ve also noticed that some tools like Curve are somewhat poorly-developed. In general, Luminar is something between Photoshop and Lightroom. Some may also bring up Capture One Pro, but Luminar is still a couple of significant updates away, before it can reach its level. In my opinion, the best way to use Luminar is as a Lightroom plugin since the latter is a great foundation for your photo editing work due to its file managing capabilities. Do as much work as you can in Lightroom and then export the photos to Luminar for simple image retouching tasks that it excels at.
Since I don’t want to be too wordy, I’ve drawn a small comparison of Luminar with other, equally popular, photo editing apps.
Luminar is a great program for managing layers, workspaces, and filters. It’s likely you’ll have an easier time learning Luminar, plus, some of the offered filters are completely unique such as the latest AI-based filter as well as Dehaze, Golden hour, etc. You can use it to perform professional-level image editing quickly and easily.
I’d say that Luminar is more suitable for people who never use Photoshop and don’t need the expanded Affinity functionality. Affinity has tons of tools for graphic design that aren’t present in Luminar. It’s more similar to Lightroom or DxO without lens correction, but with layer support. Actions applied in Luminar are indestructible. Filters are applied on top of each other and can be changed sequentially. Also, you can return to an image and its multilayered parts only if the image was saved in Luminar with the program’s native extension.
Is Luminar a real Lightroom replacement? Not exactly, but I can see it becoming a viable alternative in the near future. Luminar libraries offer the basic functions needed to organize your photographs but don’t have the expanded features found in Lightroom. I personally miss the ability to sort images by metadata or hide JPG and RAW info. This is enough for me to stay loyal to Lightroom for now.
That being said, I have to give credit to Skylum for all the effort they’ve put in during the last two years. The offered image editing quality is much better, and the RAW processing tool is more accurate than before. However, some other areas can still be improved such as sharpening and noise reduction. Another aspect you have to take into account is that Luminar is perfect for beginners due to the inclusion of many presets that make the life of photographers, who are new to image retouching or don’t want to spend a lot of time editing, easier.
Think that Luminar isn’t suitable for professionals? As mentioned in this Luminar photo editor review, it offers layer support (which isn’t found in Lightroom without opening your file in Photoshop) and includes many expanded settings that may come in handy during in- depth image post processing. That being said, Lightroom remains the most complete product for both professionals and enthusiasts who want to have more control from the moment they import the photographs to their publication. While it doesn’t have built-in layers, you can use Photoshop for that, same as Aurora HDR for Skylum. Let’s not forget that adding Photoshop to your Adobe plan is a serious decision for anyone who’s into serious image editing. Overall, I recommend using Lightroom as your main program for professional photo color correction and basic photo editing.
If you’ve already decided to download Luminar and start working with it, watch the following tutorials and video comparisons by people who edited photos with this photo editor.
Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a photographer, photo retoucher and of course, journalist. Here on FixThePhoto blog you can find all of my reviews, photography and photo editing tips, pricing guides, and photography experiments.