I purchased Luminar back in 2017 when I was beginning to wonder about some Lightroom alternatives. At the time the folks at Skylum were saying that the libraries module for Luminar would come out sometime in 2018 so I thought it was worth paying $60 to check out.
Unfortunately, as 2018 grew long in the tooth, it became more and more obvious that Skylum wasn’t going to make their promised 2018 release for their libraries add-on in any sort of meaningful way. To their credit, the company promised a free upgrade to Luminar 3 when it came out in late 2018. It was their way to keep a promise made to those who purchased Luminar 2018 with the hope the libraries were on the horizon, and was a class move on the part of the company.
Luminar 3 dropped in December of 2018 and I downloaded it the first opportunity I could. To say I was disappointed was a bit of an understatement. The look of Luminar 3 is really nice. Lightroom is powerful, but it’s never going to win any beauty contests. Luminar 3 streamlines a lot of Lightroom’s different panes into a single, multi-function, side bar. This makes the interface feel cleaner, but because the library and info tabs are in the same side-bar users can’t navigate through their library’s folders and check out the meta data of their photos at the same time. It’s a minor inconvenience, which is a refrain which comes up frequently when I find myself using Luminar 3. Another minor convenience was the inability to filter the folders and albums which make up a user’s library. Adding details like keywords, image titles, and descriptions are also a curious omission from the application. And, as they can’t be added, they also can’t be searched for. This is bit more than a minor inconvenience, as these are basic features any photo library user will expect. These features are on the roadmap for2019, but the feel like they should have been in the initial release.
On the other hand, I didn’t expect Luminar 3 to match the maturity of Lightroom with their first library offering. I understand prioritizing some features over others, and what is present is displayed well. Skylum no doubt will be improving the feature set in future releases, and I look forward to see where they take the app. What I couldn’t overlook in the initial release, however was the speed.
Luminar 3’s first version was a dog when a user’s library was stored on anything other than an SSD. And, as many a photographer’s photo library will included terrabytes of photos, putting them all on an SSD is just not practical. When I was first exploring Luminar 3 in December it would take between 20 and 25 seconds to load a photo for editing, which was not good. Attempting to sync edits between photos in my library, however, made the speed of the app slow to the point of absurdity. When multiple photos were selected, a sync edits command would take five minutes. And that was just for the first image!
Again, to their credit, Skylum acknowledged the speed issues and promised an update in January which would increase speed. This promised update slipped until February, but the promised speed increase has been realized. It still takes me between 12 and 17 seconds to open a photo for editing 1, but the time to sync edits has been reduced from minutes to the 12-17 seconds it normally takes to open a photo. I’m sure the speed will continue to improve.
Where Luminar shines is in its layer-based editing features, which pre-dated the library feature. Luminar’s feature set is extensive, and the ability to set edits in different layers makes it easy to isolate different effects. The speed of applying the different adjustments is quick, once the photo is finally opened for editing, and I have enjoyed exploring the different looks I can come up with. Luminar, in particular, excels at developing black and white photos.
Is Luminar ready to replace Lightroom in my workflow? No, and of the three Lightroom alternatives I’ve explored 2 it’s got the least powerful library. At the same time, it’s editing features place it at the top of the class 3. Should Skylum continue to develop Luminar and mature the library feature, it could be a viable alternative to Lightroom at some point in the near future. At present, it works as a wonderful companion editor to Adobe’s offering.