Luminar vs Lightroom

When reading up on the best photography editing programs available today, it won’t be long before you come across a couple of main players: Skylum’s Luminar products and Adobe’s ever-popular suite of Photoshop and Lightroom products.

For those just starting out with editing their photographs, or those that are now willing to finally take the plunge and splash out on a paid piece of photo editing software, blog posts on the matter can be a bit of a minefield. You will likely end up with more questions than you started with, and there is a very simple reason for this: your choice of photo editing software, just like your choice of camera or lens, depends on personal preference and the way in which you work.

With this article, we will try to shed some light on the different programs that are available, their pros and cons in relation to one another, as well as which is best for you and your particular needs.

Affiliate disclosure: While we do receive a small kick-back from any sales or leads obtained through our article, this has never and will never affect any of the content posted on our site. At Roamer Photography, we only recommend products that we have used extensively and would pay for ourselves, so while our affiliate links do help us out, these products are never included in our content for the sole purpose of generating income.

Breaking down Skylum’s Luminar ecosystem

 

Since its inception in 2008, Skylum (originally known as Macphun) has released and marketed numerous powerful pieces of photo editing software, each with its pros and cons. They first released Luminar Neptune in 2016, which was followed by Luminar 2018, Luminar 4, Luminar AI and, finally, today’s flagship and the only remaining Skylum product on the market: Luminar Neo.

Luminar Neptune
Luminar 2018<br />
Luminar 4
Luminar AI

Let’s begin with a short summary of Skylum’s more recent products before delving into their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll then compare Luminar Neo to the most notable alternative, the Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop bundle, before finally discussing which program is best for you and your needs as a photographer.

Luminar AI – the predecessor

 

Luminar AI was released as an AI-enhanced, one-time-fee alternative to the big players in the photography editing field, Adobe Lightroom. The AI features it provided to its users made it significantly easier for photographers, particularly those that were new to editing their photos, to produce high quality results as quickly as possible.

While Adobe did eventually bridge the gap by enhancing what was possible using Lightroom and Photoshop’s AI capabilities, Luminar AI arguably remained the more beginner-friendly piece of software with its selection of presets which could be applied instantly and on top of any basic manual edits the photographer applied.

Luminar AI interface

Luminar Neo – the new flagship

 

Luminar AI’s crown as the head of the Skylum family was snatched in February 2022 when Skylum released their new and current flagship product: Luminar Neo.

Luminar Neo was Skylum’s attempt to close the gap on their main rivals, Adobe Lightroom, by further developing a field in which Lightroom was, arguably, already trailing behind: the artificially intelligent, auto-edit side of their software.

With Luminar Neo, Skylum took all that was great about Luminar AI and added a selection of improvements and new features.

Luminar Neo interface<br />

AI removal of powerlines

 

Luminar Neo, unlike Luminar AI, has the ability to automatically detect and seamlessly remove powerlines from images. This feature has undoubtedly saved its users a significant amount of time trying to select and remove powerlines from their images whilst keeping that image from looking doctored in some way.

 

Enhance AI

 

Enhance AI is another feature of Luminar Neo that many users will find immensely useful. Luminar Neo can automatically analyse an image, detect what alterations should be made to it before applying these changes. While the system applies these edits automatically, the user retains ultimate control on the edits made and the extent to which these are applied.

AI removal of dust spots

 

Luminar Neo can also use its strong AI to detect and remove dust and other spots on the sensor or the lens. Another huge bonus for anyone (like me) that’s risked taking a lens without dust-sealing along for a hike in the desert.

 

Sky AI

 

Luminar Neo’s AI engine also be used to completely alter your image into a much more surreal and fantastical version of itself. Some may not be a fan of this as this does, of course, require a certain level of misrepresentation of the actual scene that was shot, but it’s undeniable that there are some pretty interesting results that can be had using this feature.

Relight AI

 

Finally, Luminar Neo’s AI engine is able to autonomously detect the subject of each scene, before adjusting the exposure and temperature of the image to show that subject in its best and most accurate light.

 

Structure AI

 

Luminar Neo also adds an additional feature not present in Luminar AI, which allows it to automatically detect where an image is lacking in detail, before autonomously adjusting the structure to achieve the best possible result.

Luminar Neo’s Extensions

 

While Luminar Neo, as a bare product with no add-ons or enhancements, is far from a basic editing program, what really gives it its edge is its wide and ever-growing range of extensions. There’s only one catch – they come at an additional cost and this cost is hardly negligible if you’re looking to buy them outright.

The upside of this is that, like the Luminar Neo software itself, these extensions are available at a one-time fee. You only need to pay for what you need and once you do, you have a program that will do everything you need indefinitely with no recurring subscription fee.

 

HDR Merge

Shortly after Luminar Neo’s launch, Skylum also added a feature that was missing and long requested for Luminar AI: the HDR Merge add-on.

This allows Luminar Neo users to combine several bracketed shots at different exposures to create one extremely high dynamic range image to which further edits can then be applied.

Luminar AI users previously had to purchase Aurora HDR on the side to merge these images, before uploading the merged image into Luminar AI for further editing. Adding the HDR merge feature as an add-on to a stand-alone editing program improves even on Adobe’s workflow, where the photographer has to merge images in Photoshop before uploading the image into Lightroom to apply further edits. 

That being said, Luminar Neo’s HDR merge is not all-powerful and while it is a simple and straightforward way of merging bracketed shots, it lacks some of the more advanced features that should arguably have allowed Aurora HDR to co-exist with Luminar Neo, instead of being outright replaced by it.

Regardless, Skylum have now, sadly, stopped selling Aurora HDR meaning that it is only available to existing users that had already bought the program prior to it being absorbed into Luminar Neo.

 

Noiseless AI

Noiseless AI is tool that can help with removing noise and recovering lost details in images. As the name suggests, this is an AI powered tool that can apply these changes automatically using intelligent presets, meaning that there, again, is very little need for manual intervention by the user.

 

AI background removal

 

One of the things that Skylum’s Luminar products have become known for is their ability to easily and seamlessly alter an image so drastically that it becomes a completely different image altogether.

One feature it uses to do this is Luminar’s AI-powered background removal extension. This extension will detect the subject in any image, before removing and replacing the parts of the original composition that surround it. What results is the freedom to turn your image into as surreal or realistic a landscape as you want to create.

While this may not be the most useful for travel photography as heavily doctoring and intentionally misrepresenting a location we’ve visited isn’t something most travel photographers want to do, this would undoubtedly be a popular feature with other photographers who want to further maximise their creative post-processing freedom. After all, if we don’t want to use it, we only need to avoid buying it.

 

Supersharp AI

With the Supersharp AI extension, Luminar Neo can tackle motion blur when a fast-moving subject was shot at too slow a shutter speed, or when focus has just been missed ever so slightly.

For many photographers, this is going to be an extremely powerful and useful extension; we all know the feeling of coming home to look through our files to find a composition that we were excited about has been ruined by a slightly maladjusted setting.

 

Upscale AI

 

Yet another of Luminar Neo’s AI powered extensions is Upscale AI. It utilises Luminar’s powerful AI capabilities to increase an image’s resolution. This can increase your options in terms of further edits and the sizes at which you can reasonably print an image.

 

Focus stacking

 

Another feature that, admittedly, Adobe Photoshop users will feel hard done by having to pay for is Luminar’s Focus Stacking feature. This allows the photographer to upload and stack up to 100 images with varying focus in order to capture the greatest level of detail and depth of field on their images.

As with the HDR merge feature, this is something that comes as standard with any Adobe Photoshop / Lightroom subscription but, again, a significant benefit of Luminar is that once you have it, you need never pay for it again. And if you do opt for Luminar Neo’s subscription option, this feature will also come as standard along with every extension mentioned in this list.

 

Magic Light AI

Magic Light AI is another extension that allows Luminar to utilise its powerful AI engine to add and manipulate sources of artificial light in your images.

For photographers that practice a lot of long-exposure and nightscape photography, this adds an additional layer of artistic freedom, applying otherwise heavy and time-consuming editing tasks in just a matter of moments.

 

Benefits of Skylum’s Luminar Neo

 

Now that we’ve shed a bit of light on what Luminar Neo is capable of, let’s have a look at the things that are going to make or break your experience with this program, depending on your preferences as a photographer or the type of photography you practice. Let’s begin with what Luminar Neo does very well.

 

Lifetime access option

 

One of the main benefits of the Skylum’s Luminar products, and admittedly the reason I originally bought Luminar AI as my first ever editing software, is the fact that you can buy lifetime access at a relatively inexpensive price.

While Luminar Neo is more expensive than its aforementioned predecessor, it’s by no means extortionate. If you compare Luminar’s ‘Lifetime’ price to the basic Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom bundle, you’ll start saving money after a little over a year.

Furthermore, if you cancel your Adobe membership after, say, a year and a half, you will have spent more money than you would on Luminar Neo’s ‘Lifetime’ plan, and you’ll also then lose access to Photoshop and Lightroom.

 

Easy to use thanks to powerful AI

 

Another item for the pro-Luminar argument is its relative ease of use. While editing software can undoubtedly be extremely daunting for those that haven’t used them extensively, Luminar Neo’s learning curve is arguably far shorter than it is for competing products such as those in the Adobe Suite.

Luminar Neo’s powerful AI engine can make a lot of complex and labour-intensive edits for you. It also comes with a wide selection of presets to allow photographers to edit their entire catalogue of photographs, instantly.

While Adobe has undoubtedly worked to catch up with the AI features it has released in recent years, there’s no doubt that Luminar Neo still offers more AI powered options to help a photographer reach their desired result more quickly and efficiently, especially if that photographer is newer to the world of editing their photography.

 

The fastest way to edit photos

 

As mentioned in the previous point, Luminar Neo’s USP is its immensely powerful artificially intelligent core. It enables photographers to make complex edits in just a few seconds, while the same edit could take hours to effectively reproduce on Adobe Photoshop.

If saving time while editing your photos is something that’s important to you, Luminar Neo is a tool that’s hard not to recommend.

 

Luminar Neo retains manual, minor edit functionalities

 

While we’ve spoken at length about Luminar Neo’s ability to quickly and efficiently undertake heavy and laboursome tasks, often without any real need for intervention or work from the photographer, this doesn’t mean it requires the photographer to relinquish all creative control to the software’s AI.

Luminar Neo retains all of the standard manual edit options for when its presets just won’t cut it or when the photographer has a very specific view of the final product in mind.

Drawbacks of Skylum’s Luminar Neo

 

As with any piece of software every created, however, it’s not all positive.

There are aspects to Luminar Neo that may well invoke some confusion and possibly frustration in new users, whether these users have come from another platform or have never edited a photo in their life.

So, let’s take a deeper look at Luminar Neo’s downsides.

 

Performance can be laggy at times

 

Of course, this won’t be an issue for everyone. If you’re using a powerful desktop or top-spec MacBook, Luminar Neo is very unlikely to stutter with anything you throw at it.

That being said, for those of us without access to such machines may experience some performance lags, particularly when implementing heavy edits or exporting multiple image files at once.

Luminar Neo, given its expansive and ever-growing list of features and AI functionalities, is a very heavy application for your computer to run. While the same can be said for similar programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop, from my experience at least, Luminar Neo demands more of the CPU than Adobe’s products.

I’ve tested Luminar Neo on my base-model M1 MacBook Pro 13 (2020) and it usually doesn’t have any issues unless I’m really pushing its features or unless I have other heavy programs open. I have also tried using Luminar on my older MacBook Pro from 2015 and it did not fare anywhere near as well.

If you’re using an older laptop or one with less than 8GB of RAM, Luminar Neo is not for you. In fact, Skylum themselves recommend having at least 8GB, or preferably 16+ GB of RAM to get the most out of Luminar Neo.

 

Lacking in photo management tools

 

While some photographers may not be too fazed by this at all, the lack of inbuilt photo management tools that you will find in Adobe Lightroom will be an absolute deal-breaker for others.

Those who need to be able to tag, sort, rate or add keywords to their images will need to look elsewhere for these tools.

 

No functionality to edit metadata

 

As with the lack of photo management tools, this won’t matter to everyone looking to edit their photos. In fact, need to add and edit metadata is even more niche than needing photo management functionalities.

That being said, for those who need to be able to add GPS coordinates, captions, or copyright information to their photos, Luminar Neo will not be enough as a standalone application.

 

Uncertainty surrounding future of current products

 

Ok now this is a big one.

Arguably the largest source of frustration for users of Skylum’s Luminar systems is the rate at which they release new products. This may be a confusing statement as rapid innovation is rarely seen as a negative trait of a tech company, but it does complicate things for users that were first attracted by Luminar’s option of buying lifetime access to its products.

Skylum first released Luminar Neptune, which was soon followed by Luminar 2018. Fast forward a couple of years and you have the popular Luminar 4, which was then effectively replaced by Luminar AI, which was then replaced by Luminar Neo. And this is all since Luminar Neptune’s release in 2016

Even Aurora HDR, a mainstay in Skylum’s line-up since 2015, has now been discontinued and absorbed into Luminar Neo in the form of the HDR merge add-on.

This has understandably left Luminar’s users uncertain about the future of the products they are investing in. It therefore remains a big factor to keep in mind when weighing up one’s options, especially considering that Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop have been on the market and have not been discontinued since 2006 and 1990, respectively.

Of course, if Luminar Neo suits your particular needs best, you can bypass this issue by investing in the subscription model, though this does remove what in my opinion is one of its greatest selling points over Adobe’s products.

 

The bold newbie vs the industry standard

Luminar vs Lightroom

Now for the all-important question: should you choose to invest in Luminar Neo or in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are undoubtedly the most popular pro-level photo editing tools on the market today and with good reason. This combination allows an adept user to make virtually any alteration to their image imaginable. Users can make tiny micro-adjustments to their images, they can completely alter an image to the point where it is completely unrecognisable, and everything in between.

There is, however, a trade-off. While Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are immensely powerful in their own right, you’ll need plenty of skill and time to use it to its potential. This can be daunting for new users, which may attract them to the streamlined one-click edits made possible by Luminar Neo.

What it will inevitably come down to is your priorities and your goals. We’ve summed up the pros and cons of each program to take into consideration below.

Why choose Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop over Luminar Neo?

Lightroom and Photoshop bundle
  1. Extremely powerful if you’re willing to learn how to use it – maximum control over every edit you make
  2. Best photo management software on the market
  3. Countless free online guides and tutorials – Luminar Neo’s official guides are part of their Luminar X subscription package
  4. More stability as products will not be replaced by newer products
  5. Everything is included – no paid add-ons

Why choose Luminar Neo over Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop?

Luminar Neo
  1. Save a lot of time on very complex edits
  2. Not as steep of a learning curve so you can produce professional results with very little experience
  3. Option of a one-time fee so you have product permanently and you do not need to keep paying for it
  4. AI functionalities are more advanced in Luminar Neo than they are Lightroom and Photoshop

Available plans and price comparison

 

Skylum’s Luminar Neo can be purchased as one of three plans. While each of these plans vary slightly, they all come with the following:

 

  1. Access to Luminar Neo
  2. Lifetime software updates
  3. Insider’s community access
  4. 24/7 technical support
  5. 30-day money back guarantee

 

Lifetime – $179

 

Luminar Neo’s ‘Lifetime’ access includes all of the features listed above and nothing else. It provides access to the software itself with no frills or additional luxuries. The extension pack is available at an additional cost, which is discounted to a still fairly hefty price of $299 if it is bought as a bundle with Luminar Neo.

 

Explore – $9.95 per month, or $8.25 per month if billed annually

 

The ‘Explore’ package is Luminar Neo’s entry-level subscription package. It includes full access to the software on one computer, all upgrades to future versions of Luminar Neo, as well as a 5% discount on all addons and presets in the Luminar Neo Marketplace.

 

Pro – $14.95 per month, or $9.95 per month if billed annually

 

The ‘Pro’ package is the premium subscription package that Skylum offer for Luminar Neo. It includes everything included in the ‘Explore’ subscription, as well as access to Luminar Neo’s extension pack, along with all extensions released within your subscription period, access on an additional computer and 10% off in the Luminar Neo Marketplace.

Luminar X subscription (bonus)

 

While Luminar X is not a product in its own right, Skylum released it as a complement to those who are new to the Luminar system, or those who are heavy users of Skylum’s selection of Luminar’s add-ons, presets, textures, and replacement skies.

Luminar X premium subscribers receive access to:

 

          • An educational video library of tutorials
          • 120 Exclusive Presets or LUTs per year
          • 120 Unique Skies or Textures per year
          • 30% off bundles or assets from Team Skylum
          • 15% off additional Luminar Marketplace purchases
          • Ability to choose assets delivery order
          • Access to an exclusive community
          • Some additional surprise offers throughout the year
Luminar X

Skylum claim that it can save power users upwards of $500 per year. They stand behind the quality they are able to provide with Luminar X, so much so that they offer the option to cancel anytime as standard, as well as a 30-day money back guarantee.

 

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop pricing

 

Those who opt for Adobe Lightroom, either by itself or in conjunction with Adobe Photoshop will have to choose between the following pricing mdoels.

 

Adobe Lightroom with 1TB of Cloud Storage – $9.99 per month

 

If all you want to do is edit your images without changing too much of the makeup of the image itself, the Lightroom only package with 1 terrabyte of cloud storage is the best and cheapest option. Note, however, that this means missing out on the ability to merge files to create HDR images, as well as many other more intricate edits that Photoshop makes possible.

 

Adobe ‘Photography’ bundle – Lightroom, Photoshop and 1TB of Cloud Storage – $19.99 per month

 

Full access to Adobe’s suite of photo editing software will cost around twice as much, though with the additional options and functionalities that Adobe Photoshop provides, this is an upgrade that really does make sense in the long run. If you’re not sure if you’ll need both Lightroom and Photoshop, you can always choose the Lightroom only deal first and upgrade when the need for Photoshop arises.

 

Recommendations

 

Now on to the important bit. If you’ve read up to this part of our review and comparison, it’s likely that you’re looking to decide which piece of software and which pricing model to choose.

We’ll break down our recommendations based on the type of user.

 

For casual users: Luminar Neo

 

For those more interested in getting nice looking images as quickly as possible with less of a learning curve, Luminar Neo is a no-brainer.

Luminar Neo can make it very quick and simple to apply extremely complex edits that would take significant experience and time to replicate on another program. Additionally, having the option to pay a one-time fee without having to worry about a subscription or losing access when you cancel it is another great perk.

Therefore, for casual users looking to edit their images mainly for social media, online or personal use, Luminar Neo will do everything you ever need it to do.

 

For those wanting to learn: The Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop bundle

 

For photographers looking to learn the craft of editing their photography from start to finish, unsurprisingly, the best option is the program that requires more hands-on edits and alterations than the other. The best choice for such photographers is, of course, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

While Luminar Neo will save time, it won’t give much insight into each individual micro-edit that constitutes one of their larger edits; you just click a button, and the system does the rest to completely transform your photograph.

 

For power users, professionals and the rich: Adobe Lightroom with the Luminar Neo plug-in

 

For those making a living from their photography, or those that are striving to, both of these products can offer some extremely useful options that can transform your work. For such users, funds allowing, using Luminar Neo as a plugin for Adobe Lightroom is the best option. Of course, this comes with the caveat of a heftier price to pay, but what using these products in combination makes possible is, in our eyes at least, worth it.

This is truly the best of both worlds and with this combination, you can rest assured that you have the most powerful photo editing software available on the market today. That being said, this is not the best option for many of us for whom money is a greater consideration.

Affiliate disclosure: While we do receive a small kick-back from any sales or leads obtained through our article, this has never and will never affect any of the content posted on our site. At Roamer Photography, we only recommend products that we have used extensively and would pay for ourselves, so while our affiliate links do help us out, these products are never included in our content for the sole purpose of generating income.

Affiliate links

 

As we’ve mentioned on a few occasions, we are affiliate partners with the products we have fairly reviewed with as little bias as possible. Therefore, if you are looking at investing in one of these pieces of software, please consider using our affiliate links – it really does help us out.

Luminar Neo: https://skylum.evyy.net/QORZzY

Conclusion

 

And there we have it, our guide and recommendations regarding the best photography editing software on the market today. We hope that if you have read this far, this post has been of some help to you and that you are closer to making your decision on which software to invest in.

If this post has been useful to you, please consider taking a look at our other latest content or subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with our content as soon as it gets released.

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