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.

Check out my photo website, follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to PhotoActive, a podcast about photograph and the Apple ecosystem.

20 thoughts on “Luminar 2018 First Impressions from a Non-Power User

  1. I’ve using the Adobe Lightroom/photoshop suite for a while and I’m annoyed with the subscription model, so I’ve been looking at other options including that one, but I always come back to Lightroom because of the cataloguing (and frankly I’m tired of changing my photography workflow, I just can’t bring myself to learning yet another software). In conclusion: I miss Aperture.

  2. I too miss Aperture. In my research into which photo editor suited me best, I opined that Affinity Photo stood above Aperture and close to the full Photoshop Suite – at a fraction of the cost. And cheaper than Luminar as well.

    I can’t disagree with your sentiments about Affinity Photo (AP), but perseverance did pay off and, yes, the video tutorials are superb. With their help and excellent email customer feedback/support, I’ve mastered AP as far as I need to take it.

    I think you might have mentioned that AP provides an Extension to Photos – which means that you have access to most of AP’s features within Photos and these are Non-Destructible; a single click to “Return to Original”.
    Is this also the case with Luminar?

    Whilst AP might task my mind at times, it does not task my iMac – no crashes or slowdowns.

  3. I’d like to put in a plug for the RawPower application and extension. I have tried both the Luminar and Affinity products and found both to be both hard to use and overkill for my needs.

    RawPower is very inexpensive and includes all the key RAW editing features you could reasonably need – it is written by the guy responsible for the Aperture RAW processing. I very rarely do RAW editing any more – I’m shooting with the Sony A7R III and Sony has improved their JPEG processing so much that I am almost always satisfied with the JPEGs straight out of the camera. Both macOS and iOS versions of Raw Power are available, and the iOS version identifies and lets you work with RAW images on that platform. I use my iPad as an image backup device and it lets you store both RAW and JPEG versions of the same image, but doesn’t identify them. RawPower does. The initial release has been updated several times now and no additional cost. Just a happy user.


  4. The Luminar feature/s I’m anxiously awaiting are the DAM/photo management coming ‘later this year’. They claim it will be compatible with Lightroom, which isn’t as good for me as Aperture compatibility, but if it’s good enough, it will give me a path beyond Aperture for a lot less money than Capture One, which charges more for updates than buying Luminar outright.

    Editors for single photos are pretty much a dime a dozen these days. It’s the DAM part that’s non-existent in all but a very few–Photos (horrible), Aperture (great and includes DAM for video, but vintage), Lightroom (ok, but…Adobe), Capture One, (good to great, but $300). There’s also Photo Mechanic, that can sort of act as a DAM on top of editors, especially Capture One, but it’s a little kludgy and not cheap either ($150).

  5. I teach photography (I’m a private and group tutor). I have standardized on using DxO PhotoLab with my clients because it offers enough ‘depth’ for advanced photographers while keeping things relatively simple (and easy to train) for beginners and “enthusiast” hobbyists.

    The recent addition of localized (zone-based) corrections to photographs has taken the app to a higher level, but can be baffling when you first use it (DxO incorporated the Nik effects engine into PhotoLab). That said, you can stay clear of it initially, and then add it in when you’re ready.

    I teach a very basic, Finder-based workflow — no “asset management” app needed — so, this might not fit your workflow as well — but I do encourage you to give PhotoLab a spin, if only for the immediate gratification of seeing your RAW images auto-corrected through its engine.

    The usual disclaimer: no affiliation with DxO; just a happy user (and teacher).

        • Yes, they bought the Nik collection from Google. I would like to be able to use Silver Efex, and the only way to do so is to convert Fuji raw files to DNG, which is a hassle, and loses some of the extra quality of X-trans files.

      • I bought the Nik Collection before it was sold to Google and became freely available; I have been using Silver Efex as an Aperture plugin with my Fuji X -Trans files ever since.

        I don’t know if the DXO Nik collection is different from the free Google collection, but I have never had to convert my Fuji Raw files to DNG before using them in Silver Efex.

        I just tried SE for the first time with Photos and it works with that too, though I noticed that the file it sent back was a jpeg rather than the Tiff if returns to Aperture.

  6. I gather from you statement and following comments that Luminar crashes on your Mac. That’s a non starter for me, they have been out for quite a while and should not be having that problem.

    As an aside, I still use Aperture, and on Mac OS High Sierra. I have to hold down the shift key when launching to avoid extreme delays in booting the app. Still, one can expect that eventually it will no longer launch on some future release of the Mac.

    • Again, if you really like the Aperture RAW adjustments, you can get them via RawPower. Not a full-blown photo management system but the RAW adjustments are very powerful and easy to use.


      • I do all the raw adjustments I need in Photos. I’m not sure why I would need a third-party raw tool. I’m using Luminar for the stuff that Photos can’t do.

  7. My comment was directed to Steven who was struggling to continue to use Aperture. Its difficult now and will probably be impossible soon. Photos plus the RAWPower extension provides a complete solution. (There are other extensions too if Photos Library works for you.)


    • thank you David. Haven’t warmed up completely to Photos as yet. I import all of my files as Raw to my iMac and then import to Aperture. Will take a look at RAWPower.

  8. Too many problems with Luminar! I downloaded it for my PC and could not get it to load; the thing was riddled with error messages. After a lot of email exchanges with Skylum and after applying all of their “fixes” (which by the way are substantial and alter the system considerably) It crashed, over and over. It crashed when saving, processing and .. more or less anything. Apart from that, the presets are a bit too florid and fake for my taste.

    Like Kirk, I don’t do a lot of post-processing, unless it there is a special shoot that lends itself. Being a bit older, I imagine I have paid money to buy a film and a lot more money, to get it developed and printed, like I did in the old days. I tend to rely on lenses, filters and coloured gels for special treatments.

    I currently use a combination of Nikon software and Google Nik, and since it is reserved for minimal tweaking, this works for me.

  9. I love(d) Lightroom but the subscription model with the 50% increase in annual fees plus the double whammy of paying an inflated Australia $$ fee from NZ cured me of Adobe. Even after a number of years of subs, it cost me quite a bit to get out of that contract. Capture One was tempting

    Luminar 2017 combined with Photos looked like a great replacement, but was too slow and there were quirks in some of the editing adjustments

    Luminar 2018 is a different story. It’s much snappier and has enough power to do most tasks.

    Now if they can just break free of Photos with their own digital asset management module—I know it’s promised, but it’s just a promise—then we actually have an alternative to Lightroom, as advertised. Go guys.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.