Luminar 2018: Lightroom beware!

Luminar 2018 has new correction filters powered by artificial intelligence, it’s faster than the previous version, it has a dedicated RAW development module and in 2018 Macphun (soon to be renamed to Skylum Software) plans to release a full-blown digital asset management (DAM) platform. Of course, there are also new features, such as the intelligent Sun Rays filter, LUT support and real-time noise removal. About the only thing that remains unchanged — which is a good thing — is the concept of adaptive workspaces that match your style of shooting of the moment.

Macphun/Skylum states that Luminar 2018 has been re-built from the ground up for dramatic performance boosts. I don’t know about the adjective “dramatic”, but Luminar 2018 does load faster than its predecessor. The user interface has been updated too and makes it easier yet to find your way around.

A great new feature is LUT support. LUTs are relatively new to photographers — they’re used all the time by videographers. Lookup Table (LUT) adjustments can cater for camera/lens combination-based colour corrections, but they can also be used as a creative colour grading tool — giving photos an analogue film or cinematic look, for example. You can also think of LUTs as presets. As Luminar’s developers are keen on going heads-on with Adobe Lightroom, they’ve ensured you can use your presets inside their app. Luminar 2018 recognises Lightroom presets that have been converted into LUTs. You can’t just do this from within Lightroom (obviously not) or Luminar — it requires a pay-what-you-want third-party tool.

But that’s not all there is to Luminar 2018. You will get a free update in 2018 — no month has been given yet — when Macphun/Skylum Software will add an image browser that supports sorting, rating, organising and backing up photos from within the app. The new Luminar digital asset management platform will work without a subscription and will integrate with any storage platform you choose (cloud or local). Macphun/Skylum says it will also bring a number of unique features that the current Lightroom library can’t deliver.

After experimenting for a week with Luminar 2018, I was especially impressed by some of the new filters. Take, for example, the Sun Rays filter, which is touted to have some intelligence built-in. Well, it’s true. The Sun Rays filter has a Sun Center placement feature — an on-screen “dot” that you can drag around. I tried it on an image that was shot on a sunny day, but which is very contrast-rich, i.e. a medieval building has a turret on the right that’s brightly lit, while a tower at centre-left is largely in the shade. Usually, filters just apply an effect “on top” of everything, but not the Luminar Sun Rays filter, which let me drag the dot in-between bright and dark areas so that it really looks like the real thing.

Another filter that’s new is the Matte filter. That one adds a vintage look to your images but in contrast to some competing products’ similar effects, Luminar’s stays well within the limits of what is natural — it’s not overdone, not even when you crank up the numbers.

The new RAW development module is much faster than the previous one, but it is a filter as well. The filter lets you adjust Luminar’s default demosaicing settings. I found that, while this filter does offer the parameters you’ll also see in Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom RAW conversion filters, it makes little sense to apply any of them unless you can correct Luminar’s algorithm — which is pretty good — by just looking at the image on your monitor. This one would have been better if it contained some technical guidance like what Capture One Pro does, i.e. enabling you to choose between camera/lens models to correct for chromatic aberration, for example.

In contrast with filters like the Sun Rays filter, Luminar’s Denoise filter still is average, which is a bit hard to understand in view of the intelligence that lives in other filters. I mean, if Phase One can do it, then surely Macphun/Skylum can do it too?

Nevertheless, and apart from that one filter, Luminar 2018 is one serious RAW image editor, with unique features that make it instantly and intuitively usable by any photographer, regardless of them being a serious amateur or a professional. It’s really going heads-on with Adobe Lightroom — even Adobe’s plugins will work with Luminar 2018 — and it has a very good chance of succeeding.

The retail price for Luminar 2018 after November 16 will be $49 (upgrade for current Luminar users) or $69 for new users. That’s a bargain.