Luminar vs Lightroom – First Impressions

Introduction

I‘ve been a Macphun product user for quite some time and have absolutely loved their products.  So when they announced they were releasing Luminar, I was ecstatic.  Thanks to them, I got my hands on a pre-release version.  This software is extremely powerful and will replace Lightroom and Photoshop for most of my photo editing needs, so I wanted to share my first impressions of the software, while at the same time giving you my Luminar vs Lightroom point-of-view.

Please note.
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Keep In Mind

Before we jump in to this comparison, I want to mention a few things.  First of all, I’ve written this post more as a helpful guide for people that already have experience with Lightroom.  I’ve used Lightroom for quite some time, so the points I make below were written based off things that I would want to know before buying any software that has a chance of replacing or complementing Lightroom.  At some point, I may do a blog post that compares the two softwares for completely new users, but I wanted to get this one out first.

Secondly, keep in mind that this is the very first release of Luminar.  Lightroom’s first release was in 2007, so they’ve had years to update and add features.  This puts Luminar at a disadvantage, but as you’ll read, Macphun has done an incredible job of putting out a product that outshines Lightroom in several areas.  The fact that this is only the beginning for them really excites me.

Finally, I’ve only had a short time with this software, so it’s highly likely that I might mention something wrong as an oversight.  If you catch a mistake, send me an email or comment below so that I can update this post.

Platforms

Luminar is currently only available for Mac.

The first obvious difference of Luminar vs Lightroom is that Luminar is only available for Mac at this time.  There isn’t a confirmed launch date for the Windows version, but Macphun has mentioned that they are planning for sometime in 2017.  As soon as it’s announced, I’ll definitely let you know, so stay tuned.

Batch Editing

It’s missing from Luminar, but it’s coming real soon!

If you’re an event or wedding photographer, you surely understand the power of being able to edit a batch of photos at the same time.  Lightroom does a great job with this.  You can apply presets to numerous photos at the same time or sync a group of photos to match the edits on a single photo.

However, this important feature is missing from Luminar’s initial release.  At this time you can only open one photo at a time in an instance of Luminar.  Macphun has mentioned that this feature will be made available in there update coming in December of 2016.

Until then, Luminar users can save edits as a preset and then individually open and apply that preset to the other images.

Presets

They both have them, but Lightroom’s develop presets are so limited compared to Luminar’s.

Luminar vs Lightroom - Luminar Presets

Lightroom and Luminar both have the options to use/create presets on your images, but Luminar definitely comes out on top when it comes to image presets.  First of all, there are so many more options to adjust in Luminar, meaning that you can get achieve more with its presets.  Don’t get me wrong, Lightroom presets are great.  However, Lightroom has always been missing a few tools that I’ve had to use Photoshop or other plug-ins to achieve.  The fact that I can now open a photo in Luminar and do everything I want in one place is amazing.

The second reason I love Luminar’s presets is because they make it easy to view preview images of what the presets will look like before you apply them.  You can easily scroll through your presets and see what your image will look like without having to hover over each one like you do in Lightroom.  Lightroom’s hover feature to showcase the preset previews has never worked 100% of the time for me, but maybe I’m the only one experiencing that bug.

It is worth mentioning that Luminar doesn’t seem to have options to create presets for things like curves, exports, or filters like Lightroom does.  Hopefully they at least include export preset options when they add batch processing to Luminar.  As for curves presets, there is a way to somewhat replicate this by creating a preset with an adjusted curves filter in it and setting the rest of your the tools to their default settings.  It’s not ideal, but it does save you some time from having to adjust curves on each photo.

Be sure to check out my first Luminar preset release, Straight Moody Advanced. It’s a FREE advanced version of my most popular Lightroom develop preset — Straight Moody.

 

Layout

I have no issues with either layout, but I’m in love with Luminar’s workspaces.

Luminar vs Lightroom - Luminar Layout

For this Luminar vs Lightroom post, I’ll focus on the Develop module in Lightroom since there aren’t equivalent options for rest of its modules (Library, Map, Slideshow, etc.) in Luminar.

I don’t have any major issues with the layout of Lightroom’s Develop module.  It’s clean and well-laid out.  Everything you need to access is easily available.  The options to show/hide each tool accordion-style is something I appreciate that’s actually missing from Luminar.

Luminar features what they call workspaces, which allow users to open up sets of the most useful tools for specific styles of photography.  If the software were to list all of its tools in a giant list, you’d be doing a lot of scrolling and searching to find the ones you want to edit.  Luminar even lets you save workspaces so that next time you edit a photo with a similar style, you can quickly bring up the necessary editing tools.

Photo Management/Organization

While Luminar lacks any photo management/organization, it’s not a deal-breaker for me.

Lightroom is both an editor and an asset management tool.  Luminar is only an editor at this time (they do plan on adding it in at some point in the future).  This means that there isn’t a way to organize your photos into collections and browse them within Luminar itself.

Some may consider this a deal-breaker for Luminar, but Macphun has made it incredibly easy to open photos from Lightroom (plug-in) as well as Aperture (plug-in), Photoshop (plug-in), and Apple Photos (extension).  While it is slightly inconvenient to have to switch back-and-forth between software from Lightroom, I’ve been doing this before Luminar with Photoshop, Google Nik Collection, and other Macphun tools, so I’m not complaining.

If you’re considering buying Luminar and still on the fence, don’t let its lack of photo management be the deciding factor.  It isn’t a full alternative to Lightroom at this time, but it sure is a better editor in my opinion.

Tools (Filters)

Luminar has a lot more options and flexibility when it comes to editing your photos.

Luminar vs Lightroom - Luminar Filters

Filters

Even after spending several hours with Luminar, I’m still finding new tools to play with.  In Luminar, tools are called filters and they have a long list of ones available.  Some of my favorite Luminar filters that are missing or harder to replicate in Lightroom are Structure, Advanced Contrast, Color Balance, Texture Overlay, Clone & Stamp, Erase, and Top & Bottom Lighting.

It’s easy to add as many filters to your image as you want and start tweaking the sliders.  The sliders work as you’d expect, but as far as I can tell, you’re unable to manually type in values like you can in Lightroom.  Also, the name of each slider is located inside the slider, so you can’t click the name and drag left or right to change the value like Lightroom.  Adjusting to Luminar’s sliders took me a while, but I think that it will soon become second nature and I won’t long for the ones in Lightroom.

Each filter has a orange dot next to the top.  Clicking this dot will enable/disable that filter, so you can easily see how much it affects your image.  In an ideal world, I’d like the dot to be a little bigger, but if your mouse/pen aim is good, you’ll survive!

For each filter you also have a drop-down menu (click the filter name or right-click).  This menu gives you some valuable options such as resetting the values, changing the blend mode of the filter, and using masks.  I’ll get to masks in the next section, but having the ability to use blending modes and masks for each individual filter or layer is one of the things that has really influenced me to use Lightroom much less.  Those two options alone open up a world of new possibilities for editing photos.

Cropping

I’m disappointed that Luminar doesn’t have the ability to save custom aspect ratios to its cropping tool like you can in Lightroom.  I like to crop my Instagram photos to a 4×5 aspect ratio, and that isn’t one of the choices given in the cropping tool.  Therefore, you have to unlock the settings, enter height and width values equal to 4×5 (i.e. 400×500), re-lock the ratio, and then enlarge it to the crop you want.   This is a little tedious, but I’m sure that this will be updated in the near future.

Histogram

One other important comparison is the histogram features in both softwares.  For Lightroom, I love the ability to actually grab the histogram itself to adjust things like exposure, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks.  When you click the histogram in Luminar, it simply cycles between combined or separated histograms.  While that is useful, I haven’t found a way to grab and adjust the histogram like you can in Lightroom.

The histogram in Lightroom is completely “live,” meaning that when you drag any of the adjustment sliders, the histogram changes to reflect the adjustments in realtime.  Luminar’s histogram only seems to change after you finish dragging.  While it’s not a huge deal, I definitely have appreciated realtime feedback on the histogram for making changes in Lightroom.

Macphun has a great comparison chart for Luminar vs Lightroom and Aperture features.  It even lists the features that are coming soon.  Click here to check it out.

Layers/Masks

They are incredibly useful, but there is definitely room for improvement.

Luminar vs Lightroom - Luminar Layers

One of the major differences between Luminar vs Lightroom is the fact that Luminar has layers and masks built-in, much like the ones found in Photoshop.  If you’ve never used layers before, essentially they allow you to stack images or adjustments on top of one another.  You can then blend the layers together or use masks to erase parts of a layer to show the layer(s) beneath it.

In the past, I would do as much editing as possible in Lightroom and then open the photo in Photoshop to access things like layers, masks, and blending.  Now, Luminar will allow me to handle just about everything.

You can use adjustment layers, image layers, or create stamped layers.  The adjustment layers are perfect for masking multiple filters instead of individually masking each filter.  Image layers are useful for adding additional elements or replacing skies.  All layers have options to change the blending modes.

Adding Image Layers

There is a key limitation with image layers.  As far as I have found, there isn’t way to open multiple images as layers directly from Lightroom.  When you add an image layer to your open image in Luminar, you have to select photos saved on your hard drive.  That means you have to edit one image and export it as a .jpg or .png, for example, to be able to bring it into Luminar as a layer on another image.  This is quite inconvenient, especially if you mainly edit RAW files.  For future updates, I sure hope that Macphun finds a way to integrate a way to open multiple images from Lightroom as layers in Luminar.

Mask Brushes

Also, when it comes to the brushes used for painting/erasing masks, I’m still getting used to them.  Even at the softest setting, there isn’t a whole lot of feathering going on and the feathering options seem pretty sensitive.  I’ve found it quite easy to paint over undesired areas even while being quite careful.  Perhaps I’m overlooking a setting or two for the brushes, so once you test out Luminar, let me know if you have any suggestions.

Luminar doesn’t have an auto-mask feature for the brushes either, so be prepared to spend a bit more time on brushing.  If you don’t own a pen tablet, now might be the time to grab one.

Conclusion

For an initial release, Luminar is an incredible piece of software.

I could go on and on about many other aspects of Luminar vs Lightroom, but I wanted to touch on some of the most important things.  If you’ve managed to read through this entire post, I think you’ll agree that Luminar is the better option when it comes to editing photos.  However, due to its lack of photo management and organization, I’ll still be using Lightroom as part of my workflow.  Stay tuned for a lot more content regarding Luminar, including how I am using it alongside Lightroom.  Here are some helpful links for Luminar: Official Website, FAQ, and Purchase Now.  Let me know what you think of the software in the comments below.