When it comes to editing photos, Adobe has been ruling the industry for quite some time now. Lightroom  and Photoshop  have thus been the goto software of choice for photographers. Skylum is another player that specializes in developing photo editing software and one of their products – Luminar, has been gaining quite some popularity, especially since it won the EISA 2019/20 “Best Product of the Year” award in the “Photo Software” category .
Luminar’s success is a great thing for us photographers. For one, it has challenged Adobe which will undoubtedly force Adobe to innovate. And two, if you’re looking for an alternative to Lightroom that’s more affordable, does not have a steep learning curve, and helps you get the job done more conveniently, then you can check out if Luminar is the right choice for you.
Lightroom on the other hand still has some advanced tricks up its sleeve to boast about. Being the top player in the market for such a long time, its experience of working with professionals still gives it an edge over Luminar. Yes, it may be virtually impossible to be a master of the software, but one thing is for sure: it is a near-complete package for professional needs.
See our full review of Luminar 4 here.
Comparison: Luminar vs Lightroom
The first difference that you’ll immediately notice between the two software is their pricing model. You can purchase Luminar right away off the shelf by paying one time. Lightroom, on the other hand, is available to use under prepaid annual plans.
Priced at US$ 67, Luminar is quite a budget-friendly option. You just pay for it once and that’s it. There’s no subscription charge at all. However, do keep in mind that when the next version of Luminar rolls out, you will need to pay a discounted amount if you want to update.
If you are a casual photographer, you will realize that Lightroom is not so cheap. The most affordable plan for Lightroom starts at US$9.99 per month which includes Photoshop, 20GB cloud storage, and free updates.
Looking at the pricing for these two products, it’s clear that Lightroom means business. At the moment, for the amount you spend for a 7-months subscription of Lightroom, you could own Luminar for life. If you are a casual photographer who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time editing your photos, Luminar can be a good deal hands-down. Professionals, on the other hand, shouldn’t mind paying for Lightroom’s subscription. The inclusion of Photoshop and 20GB cloud space makes it totally worth it for them.
Interface and Features
In most ways, the interface in Luminar is quite similar to that of Lightroom. In Luminar’s Essential panel, you get to see most of the adjustment tools for exposure, details, and noise, along with some AI features like AI Enhance and AI Structure. In addition to this, Luminar also has the additional Creative panel and Portrait panel.
The latter two panels are where Skylum has shown off its AI features. And surprisingly Lightroom at the moment has no features to match these offerings. For instance, you can find the AI Sky Replacement feature of Luminar in the creative panel which allows you to replace the sky in your image with any of the built-in skies or your custom sky. The execution is seamless. Yes, we can do the same using Photoshop, but that would take quite some time. I was really impressed with this function in Luminar.
Another interesting feature is the Augmented Sky which lets you add creative elements like birds, air balloons, and even mountains on the horizon. It’s amazing how Luminar has managed to make the entire photo editing process so much fun and intuitive. I wish using Lightroom was this fun and easy.
The Portrait Panel in Luminar is yet another neat feature that I simply loved. While in Lightroom you’ll need to spend a good deal of your time in retouching your subject’s skin, eyes, lips, and teeth, you can achieve similar results in less than two minutes using Luminar. Here in the portrait panel, you can find adjustments like eye enhancer, lips saturation, lips redness, skiing enhancer to name a few that let you retouch your portraits with a single click. Editing a portrait was never so easy.
In the above example, I was able to make the following changes by just adjusting a few sliders:
- Brighten the face
- Whiten the eye
- Improve eyebrows
- Adjust lips saturation, redness, and darkness
Here, again, the ease of use saved me from spending too much time in retouching the portrait.
Presets and Looks
Well, one could argue that you can speed up the workflow in Lightroom by using Presets. There’s no doubt in this. But there’s a catch with presets. They are very selective with the type of photos they work with best. You cannot expect one individual preset to suit your every photo. You thus need to play around with a bunch of such presets depending on what photo you’re working with, and how it’s lit.
Luminar calls its presets Looks and they are pretty smart. Being AI-powered, the looks are applied in a way that best suits the image automatically. The algorithm works in a way that gives every photo a unique, brand new style with just a click. Using the looks, you get a head start in the photo-editing process. You can fine-tune the intensity of the effects to your taste just like you can with presets.
In the above example, Luminar was able to beautifully add vibrant colors, adjust the lighting on the boat, and add a punch to the sky with just a click.
If you’re familiar with using Photoshop, you know how convenient and powerful Layers can be. Surprisingly, you cannot find the same implementation in Lightroom. This is not a huge deal if you plan to work between Photoshop and Lightroom. However, if you want to work with multiple local adjustments using brushes and gradients, it can appear a bit cluttered and confusing.
Luminar on the other hand has the layers features. To make your life easier, you can make a different layer for individual adjustment. This makes the workflow hassle-free in case you plan to make a lot of adjustments in your image.
Lightroom is not just a photo editing software. It has a very powerful and well-designed catalog system that allows you to organize your photos: a must-have feature for professionals. Lightroom not only lets you rate and flag your photos, but also lets you sort, filter and manage your photos with parameters such as focal length, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and whatnot. Its catalog system is quite robust.
Luminar on the other hand just lets your sort your images by ratings and labels. That’s it. It seems that Luminar has quite catching-up to do in this regard.
When talking about this feature, it almost feels like Lightroom is just flexing its muscle. Tethered Capture is a function that allows you to connect your camera to your computer and take photos. That way, you can have control over the camera setting via your computer, and even get bigger and detailed previews. Many professional portrait and product photographers use this feature. While Lightroom offers this option, you cannot find it in Luminar.
Export and Print Settings
When it comes to settings related to exporting and printing your photos, Lightroom again provides quite an extensive array of useful options. This is also the result of the company’s association with professional photographers for such a long time in the industry. Compared to Lightroom, the export settings are mediocre at best.
However, if you are not too concerned about printing your images or the color profile settings, you won’t feel the difference.
Final Verdict on Luminar vs Lightroom
At this point, many of you must be wondering about whether Luminar can compete with Lightroom or not, and whether Luminar can replace Lightroom or not. And the answer is, it depends on you.
If you are quite happy taking granular control over each and every adjustment you make in your images, you can stick with Lightroom. It is a fantastic piece of software without a doubt. Lightroom offers a robust catalog system along with a plethora of powerful editing tools that are perfect for any level of photographer.
But, if you find yourself working with a lot of photos and don’t want to spend too much time editing photos, you’ll love what Luminar has to offer. The AI features do a great job of doing most of the heavy lifting. You get a head start when editing the photos and this makes your work so much quicker. Switching over to Luminar makes perfect sense for you.
In any case, it is a good idea to give Luminar a shot as it is available as a free trial for seven days. Even if you decide to buy the software, you get a 30-days money-back guarantee. There’s nothing for you to lose. Further, you’ll definitely realize that working with Luminar is so much fun.
New Zealand travel photographer based in London, UK. He was taking photos from a very young age in the backcountry of New Zealand before moving abroad. Since doing so he has taken workshops and tried to help get as many people into this art as possible. Featured in NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz and many photography publications it’s safe to say he loves his photography!