Luminar 3 Review
It’s been over a year since the developers of Luminar teased that the upcoming asset management side of the software would come as a free upgrade to Luminar. Since then, people have eagerly waited for it, but for the longest time, it seemed like the rollout was getting further and further away. Finally, the first iteration of Luminar with this new “library” add-on is here. Unfortunately, it’s not quite what I think people were expecting. It’s a step in the right direction, but the software still has a long way to go.
Ethics Note: I’m a member of the Skylum Affiliate Programme. That means that I get a small commission if someone buys Luminar or any other Skylum software through a link form this website. This in no way affects my review process, or my opinions, as I hope will be evident by this review.
The majority of improvements to Luminar 3 come from the addition of the new “Libraries” function. This ads a basic image database of sorts, and a catalogue. It also shifts Luminar from being a single image editor to more of a photo workflow application. This feat should not be overestimated. I can only imagine that it took a significant amount of engineering to achieve this, and for the most part it works well. The actual image editing side is largely unchanged from the previous version.
You no longer have to open an image, make your edits, then save again. It now works more like Lightroom or other similar software. You simply click on an image, and it loads automatically, and saves your progress as you edit, meaning you don’t have to save each time. You will still need to export to get your photos out of the application, but this change makes it much easier to work with multiple images than the previous version.
The current Library implementation is a combination of a file browser and database. You can “add” folders to it, and it will scan them for images and generate thumbnails for browsing. In the side-panel, you will see a list of all the folders that you have added. There are also pre-built searches based on dates you added images, dates of edits, and so on. You can also add albums. Folders are “synced” to the hard drive, meaning if you make changes in the Finder or Windows Explorer, those updates will be reflected in Luminar. So, for example, if you deleted an image in the Finder (on the mac) it would be also deleted in Luminar.
While the gallery view is pretty fast, there are a few issues with it in my opinion. First of all, the thumbnails are only available in a set of predetermined sizes. There’s no slider to adjust the size. You choose from a set of options from small to largest. This may seem like a little thing, but it’s actually quite clumsy to work with.
When it generates thumbnails, it basically uses the embedded Jpeg previews. It does not regenerate them from the RAW files, like Lightroom does. So, for example, if you had shot black and white in camera, the thumbnails will be black and white. Once you load the RAW file by switching to the edit tab, it will switch to colour, but that’s the only way. By comparison, in Lightroom, if you have it set to generate previews on import, once the previews generate, the thumbnails will switch to colour, and accurately reflect what the RAW file will look like, but this doesn’t happen in Luminar. It only generates new thumbnails if you edit an image, meaning what you see in the catalogue view often doesn’t accurately reflect what the image looks like, unless you’ve edited it. You can copy and paste edits between images, and you can sync edits across lost of images, but even this doesn’t seem to properly regenerate the thumbnails.
When you switch to the edit interface, the software loads the image and you can start editing. If you’re working on a Jpeg file, this is pretty fast, but if you’re working with a RAW file, it can be a little slow. It seems to load in stages too. At first, the embedded preview is displayed while the RAW file loads. Then a second, cached or lower resolution preview loads, and at this point you can start editing. Then finally the full resolution image loads. The length of time this takes depends on the size of the raw file, and how fast your computer, hard drive is etc. On my somewhat old Mac Pro (2012) with a hard drive, it can take 10 - 15 seconds for the entire process, but images are generally editable after three to four seconds. It can be a bit jarring too, depending on the file. For example, if you have distortion correction applied, those corrections are only applied after the image fully loads, so the image will change after you start editing. The preview can also change colours, again, because it’s not a proper generated preview. It’s a bit annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s just messy, and needs more work on the part of the engineers. They need to implement a proper preview system like other applications.
So getting back to the library, as I said earlier, there’s a lot of features that it doesn’t have. For a start, the view is fairly basic. There is no text overlay, only badges for the various rating options. So you can’t even see the file type without switching to the info panel. This is particularly annoying if you’ve shot RAW + JPEGs because there’s no management for Raw + JPEG pairs yet, and so they both show up beside each other in the catalogue view, and you have no way to tell them apart because it’s only using embedded previews, and the gallery doesn’t show any information. Incidentally, RAW + JPEG is listed as one of the upcoming features on the roadmap.
There’s also no real metadata support as of yet, other than some basic embedded exif info. If you’re loading images that you rated in another application, it won’t see the ratings. There’s no syncing of metadata in either direction as of yet. There’s no way to add or view keywords. There is no description or captions, and forget about IPTC or anything else like that. This also means that you can’t search other than by date or basic flagging and ratings, which is the only real metadata that is supported. You have a star rating, a colour label and a flag (in the form of a heart). But these don’t seem to sync with other applications, so they’re only useful within Luminar. For some this won’t be an issue, but for others it will seriously limit the usefulness of the software.
But wait, there’s more…that’s not included.
There’s no way to set defaults for an image other than the camera profile. There’s no way to assign presets on import. There’s no watermarking on export. Chromatic aberration correction is still limited to the automatic function, which in some cases doesn’t work very well. There’s no way to manually correct additional fringing. Oh, and exporting images is painfully slow at this point (see the embedded video)
If this seems like I’m being overly negative on it, that’s not my intention. It is a step in the right direction. It’s just that expectations were very high for this based on the comments I’ve been receiving from readers over the past few months. I think it’s important to point out what’s not included so people have their expectations set accordingly. There has unfortunately been a lot of sensational headlines and articles on this, claiming it is a Lightroom killer, when it clearly isn’t at this point. It may well be at some point, but for now, it isn’t there yet.
At the end of the day, this update is only a first step along the road in making Luminar a fully fledged photo workflow application. The company has posted a roadmap, and a lot of the features I’ve talked about that aren’t currently included, are on that. Working with the new version of the software, is a markedly different experience than working with the previous version. You can now happily use it to work on a whole project with multiple images, and the results are pretty great, if you can work around the issues. If you want to use it to organise multiple projects or a large library of images, it’s not there yet.
It all comes down to whether you like Luminar’s way of working. I find the software, library aside, a great way to edit images. The ability to add multiple filters, all with masks, layers and overlay modes, and to be able to rearrange them in any way, a powerful, and creative way of working. However, it’s been a burden to use on a project with lots of images, until now. This update changes all that, and while for me, it won’t replace Lightroom any time soon, it’s a tool that I will certainly keep in my arsenal and use more and more.
If you are already a Luminar 2018 owner, Luminar 3 is a free upgrade. If you want to buy it, its available now from the Skylum website. Use the code: TFP10 to get $10 off.