Skylum Luminar Review: Is This Photo Editor Really Worth It?
Last update: Jul. 4, 2018
Review of: Luminar by Skylum (Macphun)
Use: Professional Photo Editing
Offers many different tools to edit photos
Cheap for pros, high-end for hobbyists
Ease of Use
Clean interface, cross-program continuity
Available via email and social media
What I like:
- Clean and simple interface
- Logical hierarchy of tools, very intuitive
- Use standalone or as a plugin (Macphun, Adobe)
- Open multiple individual photos or batch edit
What I dislike:
- Long scrolling lists bury some features
- Some changes have brief but annoying loading periods
Summary: Whether you're a professional making a living with your photo work or a hobbyist who simply wants to enjoy your passion, Luminar is a great photo editing program for both Windows and macOS. It's definitely in the same weight category as programs like Lightroom and has a wide variety of tools and features to help you make your images shine.
From plugins to black and white editing, there's an option for everything. You won't find many professional programs this affordable, but Luminar cuts no corners with this top-notch photo editor. Read more from our detailed Luminar review below, or get $10 off (by applying the coupon) if you decide to buy the program.
Why Trust Me
My name is Nicole, and I'm an avid user of technology and new software. I love discovering programs that are new to me and experimenting with them. Of course, free software is great, but sometimes it just doesn't match the power of a paid program. It's often difficult to find out exactly what I'm paying for based on pretty web pages or single-paragraph testimonials. That's why I'm writing here at SoftwareHow. My goal is to provide useful information as to whether or not paid programs are worth your investment.
While I'm still new to photography, and my editing knowledge is just enough to cover the basics, I've done my fair share of legwork and feel qualified to help you understand Luminar, the new flagship photo editing software made by Skylum (previously called Macphun). Before I wrote this Luminar review, I spent several days testing the program and tried my best to explore its long list of features. To evaluate the responsiveness of their support team, I also reached out to them via email, as you can see below.
Disclaimer: We were offered an NFR code to try out all of Luminar's features, but this does not in any way influence the content in my review. Everything here is the result of my experience, and I am not sponsored by the company in any way.
What Is Luminar?
Skylum Luminar, also referred to as Luminar (or Luminar 2018 now), is a powerful photo editing tool for correcting your photos. It has a wide range of features, from editing filters to black & white conversion to photo enhancement to photo restoration. It integrates with Adobe Creative Cloud products and other Skylum programs as well.
Is It Safe?
It is completely safe to use on your computer. Skylum, its developer (formerly known as Macphun, changed its name not long ago, learn more from this blog post), has a long-standing reputation complete with design awards and an Apple App Store presence, lending credibility to their brand.
Additionally, the Norton Safe Web tool reports that their website has an official certificate and that all your monetary transactions will be safe going through their servers. You can also trust that you're dealing with a real agency and not a scam or mockup.
Is Luminar Available for Windows?
Macphun (now Skylum) has a longstanding reputation as a Mac company. However, they have started porting their programs to Windows as well.
While there is no official release of Luminar for PC, a beta version is available. You can head straight for the download here or read their official stance on the release here. Not all features from the Mac version are available for the Windows version. The official Windows version is planned to be released sometime during fall 2017.
Update: Luminar for Windows is finally available in 2018. As long as you use a PC that runs Windows 7, 8.1, or Windows 10, you can now download and use the Luminar program. Note: features between the PC and Mac version of Luminar are slightly different, learn more from this comparison page.
Is It Free?
No, it is not a free program. While you can try it at no cost (get Luminar Trial here), eventually you'll need to purchase it to make full use of the software. It retails for $69 USD on the official website (but you can get it for 10$ OFF by applying the coupon code below), which is a one-time purchase and results in full access. Skylum does not have a subscription model for payment.
Luminar 2018 Coupon
If $69 sounds a little too pricey for you, don't worry! You can use the coupon code below to instantly deduct $10 at checkout. Follow these steps to make use of the discount code:
Step 1: Visit Luminar's official website here and click the blue "Buy Now" button.
Step 2: On the checkout page, scroll to the bottom until you see the coupon entry box. Type in "softwarehow".
Step 3: Click the "Apply" button and you'll see your discount automatically applied!
Big thanks to the Skylum team for offering SoftwareHow readers this exclusive offer 🙂
An In-depth Look at Luminar
Note (update July 2018): this Luminar review was initially written in 2017 thus the screenshots below were based on Luminar 2017. But the Skylum team has made substantial improvements to the software since then, and the latest version is Luminar 2018. The interfaces of the newer version will look differently.
Once you download the app on your Mac, you'll need to move the file to your applications folder and boot it up. First-time users will see the following screen:
If you've bought a copy of the program, choose "Activate" and enter your account email and activation key. Otherwise, choose "Continue Trial" on the bottom-left. That will allow you to open the program. Interestingly, it asks you what you plan to use Luminar for and gives three options:
I chose the leftmost option to get started but quickly became curious how I could choose something else. I asked the support team and received the following response within 24 hours:
Although it was bit disappointing I couldn't go back, I was impressed with the quality of their response. I'm still curious what the program would look like if I had picked something else.
My choice immediately opened a sample image of an ocean.
At first glance, the interface is fairly similar to that of Aurora HDR, another Macphun product I have reviewed. I appreciate the consistency across programs, as it makes it easy to learn new features. I'll highlight a few of the important interface tools here, and save the more specific functions for the "Editing Tools" section.
After I imported my own image to practice with (FILE > OPEN), I saw this layout:
It's a little different from the sample image, but you can change this easily. First, the bar along the very top contains some of your basic program manipulation tools like "Undo". The middle section is a canvas containing your image, while the bottom of the window contains a row of presets. The right edge of the window contains about ten tools and an editing sidebar.
While the editing panels from the sample image weren't immediately obvious, I discovered that you can bring them back by going to the FILTERS section, and then selecting from the WORKSPACES drop down. This brought up a scrolling table of editing options.
In addition, the important tools along the top are as follows from left to right:
Open Image/Open Batch/Export: Open an image or group of images, export the image you have been editing
Zoom: Change how you view the image you are editing within the canvas.
Eye Button/Compare: If you press and hold the eye button, you will be shown what your image originally looked like. Rather compare side by side? Choose the icon that looks like two rectangles. You can see your images next to each other or use a cool slider feature to compare one half of the image to the original version.
Undo/History: Rewind your edits one by one with the undo button, or go back to a specific point in time with the history list.
Hide and Show Panels: When highlighted with orange, these buttons indicate a specific panel of the editor is visible. There are four in total: Histogram, layers, presets, and side panel. If you need more workspace or aren't using a specific function, these are useful for clearing clutter.
Let me preface this section by noting that the Luminar web page advertises over 300 features and tools. Not only is that far beyond the scope of what I can write, but it would be impossible to tell you exactly what each one does without creating an article dozens of pages long. Here's a small selection from a giant list:
If you would prefer your introduction in video format, then this video from Macphun is a great starting point for getting to know Luminar.
Therefore, I'm going to focus on briefly highlighting a few key tools and guiding you to other resources to learn about the rest. Keep in mind that you can always try the program before you buy if you need to know more about a specific function.
There are ten icons in the toolbar:
Press this icon to touch your picture and adjust the position without causing any edits or drastic changes.
Masking Brush (B)
Use to create layers with masks. These allow you to create effects that only alter part of the picture. The brush has customizable style, opacity, and size.
Gradient Mask Mode (G)
Similar to the masking brush, this creates a mask that changes in intensity from one edge to the other. Your effects will be strong on one side of the image and gradually taper off as the mask reaches the other.
Radial Mask Mode (R)
Create masks as with other tools, but in the radial style instead.
Transform Tool (CMD + T)
This allows you to alter the shape and distortion of your image. It's like a cropping tool where all of the edges can move independently of each other and cause the image to "squish" or expand. This is not the same as transforming in Photoshop, which also edits perspective by adjusting angles.
Clone and Stamp Tool (CMD + J)
Select a part of your image and then paste that section elsewhere on the canvas. This allows you to recreate entire items, such as people or trees, in new locations or edit an existing item. It is also useful for patterns and other repetitive functions.
Erase Tool (CMD + E)
Is there someone disrupting your pristine beach scene? The erase tool allows you to select and isolate an unwanted part of the image and remove it. The simpler the background, the more easily this works.
Denoise Tool (CMD + D)
This tool reduces noise in an image. If you have ever taken a picture at night, you may have noticed a pixel effect in the darkest parts instead of pure black. Denoise helps eliminate those unwanted variations in color.
Crop Tool (C)
If your picture is the wrong size or contains unwanted elements, you can use the crop tool to remove content.
Although Luminar can work as a standalone program, Macphun has added the unique feature that allows it to function as a plugin for several programs such as Aperture and Lightroom. You'll need to go the Luminar menu and have the program you want to use it with already installed. Luminar also appears to allow you to use Macphun Creative Suite applications as plugins inside the program, but I couldn't find much documentation on this feature.
As you can see, I was unable to see how this worked due to the fact that I did not have access to the supported applications. It may be a new feature, as all the images from different tutorials do not include the puzzle piece icon shown above. Regardless, you can watch this video from Macphun on using Luminar as a plugin for Adobe Lightroom if that's the direction you're leaning, or browse the user manual.
There simply isn't enough space to talk about the rest of the tools, but I did want to mention a few details about workspaces. Workspaces are sets of editing channels that you can use to change photo tone and color. You can add a workspace by going to the sidebar filter section and choosing one from the drop down menu.
If you finish working with one set of tools and need to switch to another set, you'll need to navigate to the layers section and add a new adjustment layer. This will let you use multiple workspaces on top of each other, whereas choosing a new one from the drop down menu seems to erase the previous settings. Alternatively, you can choose "add filter" at the bottom of the workspace list and add another module to your workspace.
Most workspaces are similar to some degree, but the most deviant are B & W and Quick & Awesome. To decide which is best for your needs, I highly recommend picking an old shot and experimenting until you find what you like.
Export, Share, or Integrate
Once you've wrapped everything up, there are several ways to create and move files. Each of these is represented by their own item from the FILE menu.
- Save the image to the original file
- Save as a reusable Luminar file (*.lmnr) and edit it again later
- Export to an image format such as JPEG, PNG, or HDR
- Open in another photo program
- Share to another platform
This is your classic save operation. You can choose to replace the image you were working on or create a duplicate with your edits. You'll have the same file type you started with.
2. Move to (SHIFT + CMD + S)
"Move To" is better known as "Save As", and has its own special notification the first time you use it.
The .lmnr file will allow you to reopen the image and edit it again at any time. You can preserve your editing history and come back to make changes at any time.
"Export" creates an image in a traditional format. Luminar supports the following: JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, PDF, and Photoshop (PSD). These are useful for transferring in a reusable manner, or for publishing.
In Most useful for those who want to use the photo in another Macphun product, "Open In" allows you to send your photo directly to another program rather than saving and reimporting.
To "Share To" is the most limited option, and only allows the image to be sent via Messages, SmugMug, or 500px. You aren't creating a reusable file, so you'll probably want to use this option in conjunction with of the others.
Photos aren't the only part of Luminar that can be transferred and used elsewhere. The entire program can be installed as a plugin for another Macphun or Adobe product. Alternatively, you can add plugins to Luminar to use your other Macphun products there instead. This is a fairly unique feature and one that should be very useful.
Reasons Behind My Review and Ratings
You can tell this is a professional program from the moment you start working with it. Tools are made with a professional in mind and offer dozens of customization paths, which is great for users with a style they need to replicate on multiple projects. You should have no problems editing your photos with all the features available, from black and white editing to photo restoration.
$69 — or should we say $59, since you can make use of our exclusive code (see above) is extremely cheap for a powerful photo editor. You definitely won't get this level of control from a free web program or your computer's default editor. You'll get a huge value for your money, even if you're on a budget. If you do have a few extra dollars to spend, you can buy extra filters or presets as well.
Ease of Use: 4/5
Let's face it: The learning curve for any technical or creative skill is steep. Photo editing is no different, and you'll need to make some time for tutorials, manuals, and lessons on editing if you want to make full use of the program. However, once you know what's going on, the program is a breeze to use. Things are laid out neatly, and generally easy to access with the exception of a few long scrolling lists. Tools are where you would expect them, and hotkeys are available if that's something you want to use.
For one of Macphun's largest programs, I would expect more dedicated support. However, the official web page only contains a brief FAQ link. The more complex support options are, though present, hard to find.
While I received a response from the general Macphun support channel within 24 hours, I had to go search for this resource on my own. Finally, the Luminar startup screen does offer links to video tutorials and a user manual, but finding these links on the site was also a digging process (you can check them out here).
Adobe Lightroom CC (MacOS, Windows, Web)
For about $10 a month, or free with some existing Adobe subscriptions, Lightroom is an industry standard program that will definitely get the job done. Or, you can buy both and use the Luminar plugin features. See our Lightroom review here.
Is Luminar better than Lightroom? It's hard to say, but you can take a a closer look the differences between the two programs from this comparison table. We also listed Luminar as an alternative to Lightroom for RAW photographers.
Nik Collection by Google (MacOS & Windows)
If you need something free, the Nik Collection was acquired by Google and offers a range of different tools that integrate with Adobe or stand alone. The only downside is that Google has no plans to update these tools anytime soon.
Creative Kit by Skylum (MacOS)
If you like Skylum but aren't so sure about Luminar, consider their package of small programs (similar to Nik). It includes six photography programs.
You may be also interested in reading our best photo editor for Windows review.
If you're looking to upgrade the image editing program you already use, add a plugin to your Adobe product, or are just entering the photo editing realm, Luminar is a fabulous program. It offers a wealth of tools and an abundance of features that will get you to the finish line with ease. The price is already very low, and you can make it even cheaper with our exclusive Luminar coupon code (to save $10, see above for how to apply it). While I'm not a professional in any way, I thoroughly enjoyed working with this program and would highly recommend it to other photographers.