About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Macphun Luminar: First Look

Macphun Luminar: First Look

Over the past few days I’ve been trying out a pre-production version of Macphun’s recently announced Luminar photo editor, and I have to say I’m intrigued. The new software, which is due out later this month, is a pretty advanced RAW converter and photo editing App. It’s like of like a combination of Camera Raw and Google’s Nik Photo Plug-ins all rolled into one. It’s surprisingly powerful, and I have to say, I’ve had fun working with it.

Note: this is not a full review by any means, just a first look

First, let’s talk about what it’s not. It’s not a fully featured photo workflow application, so it won’t completely replace something like Lightroom. There’s no database or browser. Instead it works on a single image at a time. It does however work as a plug-in for Lightroom, and round-tripping seems to work quite seamlessly. It also works as an extension for Photos, which is great, because it gives you full access to descent raw tools right within Photos. I’m not going to go into too much detail right now, as I’m still exploring the software, and I will have some more posts over the coming days and weeks about it.

The design and the user interface is nice and clean and modern, and the way of working with images is pretty interesting. Basically you have a stack of adjustments, or “filters” to use Luminar’s language, that you can add to and re-order. You can have multiple copies of an adjustment, and you can re-order them any way you want. It’s kind of like the way you could have multiple adjustments in Aperture, although you couldn’t re-order them. Each filter can also have a mask applied so that you can apply an individual filter selectively. On top of that you can create layers, and each layer can have its own stack of filters, and you can also apply a gradient or painted mask to a whole layer.

There are lots of filters too, beyond those of what you would normally find in a typical raw conversion application. In addition to curves, contrast and so on, there’s detail enhancers, advanced contrast tools, an orton effect tool, a tool that lets you adjust the exposure for the top and bottom of an image separately, as well as cross processing, radiance, polarising and lots more. Thats just a small selection. By combining a number of these you can create a stack of adjustments, which all remain non-destructive, and you can save these out as a metadata file which saves the edits non destructively.

You can also save these stacks as presets. This has its own cool little trick, that I know people have wanted from Lightroom for years. When you apply a preset, you get a slider that lets you fade it up or down. It does this by controlling the opacity of the layer, so you can blend presets by using multiple layers. As I said it’s pretty powerful. When you first open it it’s pretty unassuming, but once you start playing around with the interface and the tools you realise that there’s a significant depth to it.

There are a couple of limitations that I’ve noticed however. For a start, there’s no chromatic aberration reduction tool that I can see, nor lens correction options. (I think it does support built in raw-level lens correction on cameras like the newer Fuji or some Panasonic models, but not 100% sure on that). Secondly, as mentioned earlier, you can only open one image at a time, and if you try to open a second image from something like Lightroom, it will open a second copy of the application. Performance is pretty good, but as you stack layers and lots of adjustments, it can take time to process the preview of the image. This isn’t a huge deal though, and is understandable given what its doing. It’s important to remember too that this isn’t even version one yet, and yet, at last in my opinion, it’s a pretty impressive first version.

There’s one other thing that I’d be remiss in not discussing, given the amount of times I’ve talked about it on this blog, and that’s how it handles X-Trans files. For a start, it opens X-Pro 2 files fine. I think it’s using Apple’s core image for raw conversion and support, but I'm not sure.(1) The conversion quality is good. Detail rendering is visibly better than Lightroom (which shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point) at the expense of some slight image noise. I’ll discuss this in more detail in a future post, but in the mean time, it looks like you may have another viable option soon, if you’re an X-Trans shooter.

The software is available for pre-order now from Macphun. I’ll have more posts about it over the next few weeks, and I’ll try and do a video showing the workflow. I’ll also cover the X-Trans conversion in more detail too.

(1) UPDATE: Aparantly it uses a combination of Core Image Raw and its own engine.

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