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. 

Luminar 3.1 vs Luminar Flex

Luminar 3.1 vs Luminar Flex

With the recent launch of Luminar Flex and the update of Luminar to 3.1, I’ve been seeing a lot of comments and I've been getting feedback from readers who are confused about the different versions. I have to admit, I was a bit confused myself at first, but I’ve since managed to get a better handle as to the main differences between the two. With that In mind, I will attempt to clear up some of the (yours and mine!) confusion.

Luminar Flex was launched to be used as a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom. While many were welcoming the arrival of the asset management side of the software, a large portion of users don't need or want that aspect of the application and still intend to use it in conjunction with their existing software. This is who Flex is aimed at. However, because the full Luminar also works as a plug-in so this has led to a bit of confusion. The recent launch of Luminar 3.1 has also compounded this, with that application getting Accent AI 2.0 while Flex continues to have the original version.

Luminar 3.1 Standalone

While the main version of Luminar can still work as a plugin, I think that the intention going forward is that this functionality is primarily going to be the domain of Flex. This means that for those wanting to primarily use Luminar as a plugin, Flex will be the best option. The initial version has a number of advantages over the full version of Luminar and I suspect the two applications will diverge in this respect as the development continues. It's also important to remember that Flex is in its first version right now and that it will evolve over time and the same goes for the full version. Regarding Accent AI 2.0, I've been told that it's coming to Flex.

I don't think there's any intention to have one application take precedence over the other and I think that the reason for the disparity is just that they are on different development tracks and timetables. That's my reading of the situation anyway - but I don't have any special insider information on this. I understand some people were a bit pissed off by this and I perfectly understand why. I was a bit confused by this too, and it took me a while to figure it out, but I don't think there's anything nefarious going on here.

So then, what are the advantages of Flex over the regular Luminar?

Luminar FLEX Workspaces

Luminar FLEX Workspaces

As I said earlier, Flex has been optimised to work as a plugin. As such there are a number of differences. At the moment, if you're just using Lightroom, it performs broadly similar to how the full version does. There are some differences inside the application though. They've changed the default workspaces so that they are better optimised for those working with another application, rather than those working standalone. These were based on the idea that people would be using the application differently if using it as a plugin, so things like “film lab” are there as that might be a workflow that you are likely to want for example.

The big differences, however, come when you use Luminar Flex with Photoshop. The two main differences are that Flex fully supports Photoshop smart objects, and you can use it as part of an action. While you could use Luminar as a smart filter on a smart object before, it wouldn't remember the settings. So, for example, if you applied the filter to a smart object in Photoshop, then made some changes, and applied them, going back into the plugin by double-clicking on the smart filter layer in Photoshop would cause it to revert to the default settings, therefore losing your edits. With Flex, the settings are saved in the smart layer and you can go back into the smart filter and continue with how you left it.

Luminar Flex as a Smart Filter on a Smart Object in Photoshop

Luminar Flex as a Smart Filter on a Smart Object in Photoshop

The other big advantage is that Flex also works with actions properly. Again, you could use Luminar 3 as part of an action but it wouldn't remember the settings used inside of Luminar, just that you called it. Now, you and call Luminar, apply presets, or make whatever tweaks you want, and save those as part of an action. When you run that action, all of the settings that you made when creating the action will be applied as expected. This doesn't happen when running the full version of Luminar as a plug-in, which will just apply default settings. This goes even further and you can use the action as part of a batch process or even a Photoshop droplet.

The advantages of this workflow are that you can work non-destructively when using Luminar Flex as a plug-in. In fact, if you're using Flex with Lightroom, my preferred option is to round trip to Photoshop as a smart object, therefore keeping the whole edits non-destructive. This may add a few steps to your workflow, but it is worth it. I would love to see them add some way to have this non-destructive workflow work from within Lightroom on its own, but I'm not sure that the Lightroom plugin API allows this.

BTW. I had hoped to record a video/screencast to explain the functionality of Flex a bit better than this but due to unforeseen circumstances, I haven’t been able to record this week. I will try and do a video version soon though, as it will be a much better way to be able to see how this works.

So, I'm not sure if that clears up any of the confusion or not. I do think the company could have done better with the way they launched Flex and explained it to people. I also think that they could do with a better name for the full version of Luminar, as it’s getting a bit confusing when writing about the two. Going forward Luminar 3 will be primarily the desktop standalone software and plug-in functionality will be the domain of Flex, so if you're wondering which version is for you it depends on how you intend to use it. If you want to use it both ways, I honestly don't know what to recommend at the moment, to be honest.

If you have any questions, please go ahead and ask, and I'll do my best to answer. As I said, I don't have any behind the scenes or company information, however, so I don't know any future plans, but I'll do my best to answer based on my own experience using it if I can.


Ethics note: I am a member of the Skylum affiliate programme. This means that I get a (very) small commission when someone buys the software using my discount code or from one of the links on my site. This in no way colours my judgement or affects my impartiality when writing about the software. You can look back at my previous reviews which have often called out many issues in the software, if you don't believe me. I only use the software, because I genuinely like it and am interested in its development. I also have no connection to the company other than that and don't have any inside secrets or plans as to what they are doing in the future.


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