Luminar vs Lightroom – Feature Comparison

This article is a Luminar vs Lightroom feature comparison to see whether Luminar is now beating Adobe Lightroom at its own game.

For many photographers, Adobe Lightroom has been a mainstay for several years. The reason being that there simply wasn’t any viable competition. It’s fair to say that there are plenty of photo editors out there! There are also applications to import and manage your library of photographs. But Lightroom does all of this, and in a seamless user interface with features that have progressively pushed the bar.

I am a long term Lightroom user myself, but I do like to keep an open mind. Periodically I check some of the alternatives out there. One that has impressed me the most is the latest version of Luminar. Luminar is developed by a company called Skylum. In this article, I will cover some of the great features in Luminar, which make it a viable software to consider vs Lightroom. This is particularly key for those who don’t like the idea of paying a subscription. A subscription is now the only way to get access to the Adobe Creative Suite.

In this article, I will step logically through some of the key functionality within Luminar that I feel makes it shine. I will also cover some of its limitations compared to Lightroom desktop version.

Luminar vs Lightroom – Library Management

One of the strengths in Lightroom is the ability to organise and manage your library of photographs and includes:

  • Direct camera import.
  • Creating folders and collections of images.
  • Seamless integration with social networks like Facebook, Flickr, as well as personal websites.

Lightroom also includes publishing tools to export to slide shows, as well as create books. Library management in Lightroom even features facial recognition technology and geolocation file management capability.

Luminar does not give any features to enable photo import or export. Luminar does, however, include basic folder management capability. For me, this is a downside with Luminar that would prevent me from moving away from Lightroom.

Luminar vs Lightroom – Photo Editing

Ok, let’s look at Luminar 4 photo editing capability:

Luminar Looks

Luminar’s post-processing capability is predominantly built around ‘Luminar Looks’. These are basically a set of presets, which help take the science out of photo editing. Luminar Looks are stored in a catalogue, some come as standard, but you can also order other third party looks through the Skylum website. You basically pull up an image, and can then browse through the looks in your collection until you find one that is visually appealing for the image that you are editing. The User Interface presents you with a simple slider, so you can dial in the percentage of the effect.

Luminar Looks
Figure 1: Luminar Looks

What Skylum has done is not unique, as Lightroom users will know, you get pretty much the same thing in the Presets panel of Lightroom Desktop, including the ability to purchase 3rd party presets, as well as create your own standard presets. The things that do make this feature stand out for me in the Luminar Looks are:

  • The intuitive nature of the user interface. The interface really is a breeze to use, so should not be difficult at all for new users to master really quickly. Lightroom, on the other hand, can be a little daunting to the uninitiated.
  • The basic presets really do get you some great results with minimal effort. It has to be said though, that some of the presets can be a little harsh and unrealistic, but as I alluded above, you can dial the effect down.

Essentials Tab

Whilst the user interface in Luminar centres around its presets, there is actually much more just under the hood. The “Edit Panel” (Shown in Figure 2) is split into sub-sections. The “Essentials Tab” provides a set of functions which allow you control specific aspects of your image such as Light (includes white balance, contrast, temperature, tint, highlights and shadows), Color (includes saturation, vibrance, hue, luminance). You can also sharpen, denoise, add vignettes. With all of these effects, you can apply to the whole image, and also apply to sections of an image using masks.

There are also a couple of automatic functions in this first sub-section. Skylum has called their automatic functions ‘Artificial Intelligence’. I will explain why in a minute. The first is called “AI Enhance” and contains a couple of sliders. The ‘AI-Accent’ slider automatically adjusts the shadows, highlights, contrast, tone, saturation, exposure, & details. The ‘AI-Sky Enhancer’ is very similar, but as its name suggests, focusses on the sky portions of the image.

For me, all of these two Artificial Intelligence functions are head to head with Lightroom, if anything Skylum is edging ahead slightly, particularly with the AI Sky Enhancer, as the algorithms they have developed to detect the sky elements in your images are absolutely outstanding.

Figure 2: Luminar Essentials Tab
Figure 2: Luminar Essentials Tab

Having experimented with a few images in Lightroom and Skylum, you can achieve comparable results with the basic edits available in both software packages. Luminar though goes on to raise the bar, and in my view at least is currently leading the way in terms of its creative potential. Let me explain:

Creative Tab

The “Creative Tab” (Figure 3), provides, as its name suggests, options to apply creative effects to your image. Two which that really stand out are:

Sky Replacement: As alluded above, the sky detection algorithms in this software are outstanding. Historically you needed a few techniques in your toolkit, as well as spending quite a bit of time and effort; if you wanted to change the sky in your images, and get credible results. Luminar has made the process unbelievably easy, and the results are fantastic. Within the sky replacement function, you get a set of standard replacement options, or you can even load in your own sky.

Illustration of the Sky Replacement capability in Luminar
Illustration of the Sky Replacement capability in Luminar

Sunrays: This is another superb effect, albeit (as with Sky Replacement) something you would only want to use sparingly. The effect allows you to position a solar source at any point in your image. The algorithms then analyse your image and create highly realistic rays of light through your image.

Illustration of the sun-ray capability in Luminar
Illustration of the sun-ray capability in Luminar

Within the Creative Tab, you also get the following intuitively named effects. Dramatic, Mystical, Matte, Colour Styles, Texture, Glow, Film Grain, & Fog.

Luminar Creative Tab
Figure 3: Luminar Creative Tab

Portrait Tab

The “Portrait Tab” (Figure 4), provides effects to enable you to apply most of the standard edits that you would use when doing portrait re-touching; such as skin lighting, blemish removal, red-eye removal. The process is once again remarkably easy, and whilst the results might not compete with the work of professional/high-end portrait retouchers, but they do yield credible results.

Luminar Portrait Tab
Figure 4: Luminar Portrait Tab
Illustration of the Portrait Enhancement capability in Luminar
Illustration of the Portrait Enhancement capability in Luminar

Professional Tab

The “Pro Tab” (Figure 5) is one, which for me, sits oddly, as the options provided are broadly just a further development of some of the features in the Essentials Tab. Anyhow, you get Contrast, Dodge and Burn, Colour Enhancer (temperature, hue etc), Photo Filters, & Split Toning.

Luminar Professional Tab
Figure 5: Luminar Professional Tab

Let there be Layers

Another feature of Luminar that raises the bar is the Layers Tab. This sits at the top of the Edit Panel (Figure 6). The ability to create separate layers during your workflow, allows you to apply effects selectively to each layer rather than the whole image, as well as the creative license to blend multiple images.

This feature is not currently available in Lightroom, but for those users familiar with Adobe Photoshop, the ability to layer images has long been a strength. Now what you don’t get with Luminar 4 is a Photoshopesque layers capability for advanced photo editing. What you do get though is basic layering capabilities aimed at the use of Luminar Looks. Plus, the fact that this feature is sat in a dedicated tab in the edit panel, somewhat suggests that there is more to come from Skylum in the future.

Canvas Tab

The final feature I am going to cover in the Edit Panel is the Canvas Tab (Figure 7). Intuitively this covers features like canvas rotate, crop, as well as lens geometry corrections including the ability to remove (or add) vignettes. These tools don’t go anywhere near what Lightroom provides, which has the ability to correct lens distortion against a library of named lenses, but, you can pretty much achieve the same manually.

There are also some features in the Canvas Tab. These are the Erase Tool, which allows you to brush paint away areas such as dust spots, or other objects. The other is a Clone Tool which allows you to copy areas from one area to another. For me, neither of these tools work consistently. The algorithms that sit behind them, just don’t give realistic results across a range of images. Or, since this is an article about whether Luminar stands up to Lightroom), anything like Lightroom achieves.

Luminar Canvas Tab
Figure 6: Luminar Canvas Tab

Conclusions on Luminar vs Lightroom

I have summarised the features discussed above in the table below. This gives an indication of how the two software packages compare. Of course, this list is limited to my own perspective, is not meant to be exhaustive, and covers things I personally think stand out in each respective software package.

Import from camera
Library managementADVANCEDBASIC
Export to web
Publishing tools
Facial recognition
Essential photo editing
Portrait editingBASICADVANCED
Artificial Intelligence – Sky replacement
Artificial Intelligence – Sunbeams
LayersADVANCED (via Photoshop)BASIC
Erase, Clone & MaskADVANCEDBASIC
Table 1: Key Feature Comparison between Lightroom Desktop & Luminar 4

The only other aspect I would reiterate in the conclusion is the User Interface. Luminar majors on a sleek interface around its Luminar Looks. When you scratch beneath the surface there are advanced features.

In summary, then, Luminar has a lot to offer for both casual and professional users, but it Lightroom which still excels in most areas of image management and processing.

If you enjoyed this article, please check out our other Learn Photography guides.


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