Luminar 2018 First Impressions from a Non-Power User

I enjoy taking photos, and write about photos and cameras a bit (see some of my photos and my articles about cameras, photo tools, etc., here). I don’t do too much post-production of my photos, beyond minimal adjustments and edits, so I do most of my work in Apple Photos, which is also very practical to manage my photo library. But occasionally there are things that I want to do that Apple Photos cannot do. For a while, I’ve been using Affinity Photo, but this program is like a very big library with no lights. It’s hard to find how to do anything if you’re not an expert in Photoshop, and anytime I do want to use it for any advanced features, I have to seek out the company’s (very good) video tutorials in order to have an idea what is possible. Just today, I had to go to the Affinity Photo forum to find out how to rotate a photo slightly, something that should be extremely obvious, but was not.

But it is a frustrating tool to use. It makes ample use of layers, which is both confusing, and size-hungry. A 50 MB raw file processed a bit in Affinity Photo becomes a 200 MB file, if I want to save it with all its edits. (A similar Luminar file is 52 MB.)

About six months ago, I bought Skylum’s (then MacPhun) Luminar, and the other day the company released a new version, Luminar 2018. (Also available from the Mac App Store.) As much as I dislike being forced to pay for annual upgrades – Luminar costs $70 (compared to $50 for Affinity Photo), and the company is parsimonious about discounts for current users; you have to email them to ask – playing around with this software a bit this weekend has shown me that it is much more user friendly than Affinity Photo, and seems, to my eyes, to offer more or less the same features.

Yes, I’m sure power users will find all sorts of things that Affinity Photo can do that Luminar cannot, but the advantage to Luminar is that all its features are accessible.

Luminar calls its feature sets filters – a term that is used differently by different apps – and they are all available from the Add Filters menu. When you hover over the name of a filter, there is a concise explanation of what that filter does, something you’d be hard pressed to find in Affinity Photo.


Each filter opens a set of sliders and checkboxes in the right-hand section of the window, which is a workspace. Luminar comes with a number of workspaces, offering different sets of filters, such as Professional, Quick & Awesome, Essentials, and Black & White, and allows you to save your own. By contrast – and this is one very frustrating element of Affinity Photo – you cannot save workspaces, meaning that when you want to work on photos, you need to manually change the display from the default that displays when you launch the app.

I’m also confused by Affinity Photo’s use of “Personas,” an odd term for different modules in the app, such as Develop, Edit, and Photo. In Luminar, each feature is just a filter (though, again, that’s not the best term, since it is generally used these days for a collection of presets) making them easier to use.

Raw developOne new feature in Luminar is the Raw Develop tool (see why using the term “filter” isn’t a good idea?). This offers the standard options you use with raw files, allowing you to change exposure, highlights and shadows, contrast, and more. It also has an option to correct lens distortion (I’m not sure how many lenses it knows about), chromatic aberration, and fringing, and provides sliders for devignetting.

What I like about this is that the Raw Develop tool is available all the time; with Affinity Photo, you need to perform the “development” process, then you move on to other editing. With Luminar – as with Apple Photos – these options are always available, so if you want to tweak shadows, highlights, or exposure later, these changes apply to the original raw file, not the JPEG that you convert.

Luminar includes a number of presets, which allow you to alter photos with one click (and perhaps some adjustment of a slider). This is the norm for photo editing software, and some of these presets can be good for quick edits, but you can also save your own.

Luminar also offers layers, but I’m not sure when I would need to use these. If I plan to use an overlay, for example, then I would need these, but most of my editing I don’t. This said, Luminar doesn’t seem to be designed for advanced printing; there is no soft proof feature, which uses a layer in Affinity Photo, and since I recently got a good A3 printer, this is something I need.

But with that exception, Luminar is a lot more user-friendly than Affinity Photo (and many of the other tools I’ve tried out). I find the high price of annual updates a bit annoying, especially since one of the company’s selling points is that “Luminar comes with NO subscription payments.” This obviously refers to Adobe’s photo editing software, which is for the most part sold on a subscription basis.

If you’re an advanced photo editor, you’ll probably sniff at my review, but I don’t need, and don’t really want, to do too much to my photos. I make minor adjustments, convert to black and white, and sometimes want to try out some more advanced features (such as lens blur, which Luminar does not offer). It’s worth pointing out that it’s a bit slow – I’m using a brand new 21.5″ iMac – and it has crashed several times.

For most of my editing, Apple Photos is sufficient, but Luminar gives me access to a lot more features, and it can be used as an extension within Photos. Many photographers who don’t want to edit much will like Luminar’s ability to make one-click improvements, and others will find the more advanced features to be useful. It can’t do everything, but it can do most of what most people need.

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