Is LuminarAI Worth It? Our 2-Year Experience (2021 Review)

In a hurry? Here’s the quick summary

Notwithstanding, if you ask me if I will prefer Luminar to Photoshop my answer will be skewed towards Luminar because I want a smaller learning curve to making my edits and even then my edits are simpler.

Much of it is possible in Lightroom, which happens to be my go-to tool for all photo edits.

But Luminar throws some interesting options for me and of course it makes things considerably faster now for my kind of edits.

So, I will be interested in using Luminar as my second tool. Lightroom will remain my primary editing tool.

Either way, that is just my opinion and you need to try out these awesome platform yourself to see if it suits your needs better than the alternatives.

Rating: 4.50

Intro

The world is going ga-ga over artificial intelligence.

So much so that everything from building consumer products to healthcare, from manufacturing to teaching artificial intelligence is making its presence felt in every sector and every segment of our lives.

So it is simply not possible that photography can remain aloof.

Introducing Skylum Luminar AI, the world’s first image editor that is powered by artificial intelligence.

In this discussion, we shall try and find out if Skylum Luminar AI is the next best thing and if (and how) it can transform your photography to the next level.

So, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s get started.

Luminar AI review

What is Luminar AI?

Have you ever wondered if someone could magically transform the boring sky in your photos or and batch process all the images where the sky is boring to speed things up?

For those of you in the know, Luminar already did that.

But what’s special about Luminar AI is that now artificial intelligence can detect the kind of scene that you are trying to transform and therefore suggest you a bunch of options to choose from.

So, yes, Luminar did replace the sky before but it is a lot more convincing now.

Also, it is a lot faster with a whole lot of new features and therefore your entire batch of photos can be processed quicker.

Luminar AI Features

1. Sky replacement

Sky Replacement in Luminar AI is the main feature (it has been for a while). So, there are no surprises when we look at that first up.

Sky Replacement is one of the coolest tools in Luminar. It gives you a bunch of sky images that you can use to replace the plain dull sky in your photos.

The results are stunning. In just a few seconds you can completely change the look of your image.

If you are a purist, someone like me, you would say well that’s cheating. But if you are a professional and need the effect to add that much-needed wow effect to your professional photos it is no longer cheating but a professional need.

Now, as I mentioned above, Luminar already did have this sky replacement feature before.

It is one of the reasons Luminar became so popular among photographers (and photo editors).

But in the AI version, offers some choices based on the scene that you shot.

Previously the sky options were only named and there was no way to know exactly which is which until you have applied the effect (replaced the sky).

But now the editing panel as thumbnails so you can see exactly what the sky texture and color is before you apply the effect.

In Luminar AI the Sky Replacement tool has been improved quite a lot.

The amount of refinement that how gone into the software can be seen in the amount of intricate detail that you can now see in your edited photos.

A skyline with a replaced sky can take ages to perfect in Photoshop.

But now thanks to Luminar AI all it takes is a couple of seconds and the results are way better than what you can achieve if you attempt at doing this manually.

Luminar AI review

2. Templates

In Luminar AI you have this feature called Templates. This is where you can change the sky and do other cool stuff.

If you are familiar with a few other photo editing software, you will probably identify this feature as Presets.

What it does is it takes the sky colors and applies this series of changes that magically pops the color, saturation, and brightness of the sky (and along with that makes several changes to the whole of the image).

Note this is not the same effect as the Sky Replacement tool we discussed previously. It does not replace the sky in your photos but merely adjusts it for better.

Also, what I have found when editing a few pictures is that this is unlike presets (in Lightroom) where regardless of the composition and the elements in the picture a preset would still dial in the same effects as it would do with any other photo that you feed in.

On the contrary with Templates and the AI technology that is built-in to it, it appears that each image that I feed in is analyzed based on a database of similar images that is already in the application.

And this is where I think the AI part is so strong because it applies the effect of the template based on the elements in the picture.

Each time I feed in a different image and use the same template I find the effects are subtly modified based on the composition and the elements in the image. Surreal!

Speaking of subtle applications of the effects there is an option down there at the bottom of the working panel that allows you to change how much of the effect you want to use.

So, if you like the effect but it is too contrasty for you can dial it down using the slider down there.

And also, if you like an effect (I keep referring to it as an effect but it is called a Template in Luminar) you can press the Heart button and it becomes a preferred Template on your edit panel.

Coming back to the Template and how it is applied I have noticed that at times these effects will also do adjustments to the shadow and Midtones of my photos.

So, if a typical image has been exposed for the highlights, which means the shadow areas are too dark, the Template will also try to push the shadows and the mid-tones.

I feel that’s a cool feature to have. Many times, I do end up doing those subtle adjustments myself.

But having the option for the software to throw me a suggestion makes it easier for me to decide and then go ahead and do the final edits myself.

Template

3. Sky Replacement with Reflection

I know I am going back and forth between Sky Replacement and the Template feature, but I am like a kid in a candy store, unable to make up my mind.

I am too excited about this feature in Skylum Luminar AI.

Often when your image has a reflective surface like water, and you replace the sky you have to redo the entire edits to cover the reflective surface as well.

That invariably means you have to spend up to twice the amount of time editing a photo.

With Luminar AI and the updated Sky Replacement tool, you don’t have to do that. It is all taken care of by the software when you replace the sky in the first place.

The AI of the software analyzes the scene and replaces the reflection of the old sky onto the reflective surface with the new one.

Not only that it carefully works around any other elements there might be in the image to ensure that the reflection is only on the water and nowhere else.

Additionally, it also does other subtle changes like matching the color tone of the image with that of the replaced sky so that the entire image appears natural.

I have seen some pretty amazing edits over the years by superbly gifted photo editors using tools such as Photoshop, but something like this is beyond the capabilities of even the most gifted photo editors.

I am not saying that this is impossible but the amount of time something like this will take will make this a herculean task.

Kky Replacement with Reflection

4. Enhance AI

One of the regular questions that I receive is that is Luminar suitable for regular photos Photos like weddings, group shots, portraits stuff.

These are images that you would normally edit in Lightroom. Is it easy to do edits like that in Luminar AI?

Now, Luminar AI has a bunch of tools that do take care of your everyday edits, I think where Luminar AI is better than Lightroom is that it takes care of edits using its smarter algorithm which speeds things up considerably.

I’ll give an example.

Under Tools, you have this feature called Enhance AI. What it does is it takes an image and applies a bunch of edits to it in a second to enhance it.

These changes are too many and they are mostly to do with color correction, saturation adjustment, brightness adjustment, and exposure adjustment.

I am sure some additional adjustments are involved because there is no telling exactly what it does in detail. But the effect is simply mind-blowing.

At every step of working with Luminar AI, I have noticed that it takes away the monotony of the editing chore. It brings back the fun quotient, something that draws people to photography in the first place.

Somewhere down the line, the constant pressure of editing and delivering projects on time take away that fun part. For someone who likes to edit his photos himself, I always dread the hours I sit in front of my computer and work away at my RAW files.

And as I do so I pray for something that takes away the monotony of the routine retouching work so that I can spend more time shooting and more time with my family.

Purists will say that Lightroom leaves a lot in the hands of the photographer. So, you control every stage of the editing process, and you can fine-tune the images according to your preferences.

With Luminar, they say much of it is AI-based. So, it is not you who is making the final decision but the software. I disagree with that last bit.

Even in Luminar AI you can control and dial down the effects of an image according to what your preferences are.

E.g., in the Template tool, you can use the slider at the bottom right corner of the panel to dial things down.

Enhance AI

The Portrait Mode

Under the Edits panel and Tools, you will find a very useful bunch of tools that are labeled Portraits.

This is a fine example of how the AI part in Luminar makes it so easy and so quick to do retouching.

Normally, this would take an awful amount of time in Lightroom or Photoshop to retouch, but in Luminar AI this is so easy and takes away so much of the stress of having to adjust brightness, saturation, and other aspects.

For example, let’s say that you are trying to adjust the exposure of a group shot.

After the basic adjustments, you realize that the faces appear darker, which is something that normally happens when you are shooting with the sun directly overhead and deep shadows form under the eyes, nose, and chin areas.

Anyways, with Lightroom, you would have to use a local adjustment tool like an adjustment brush and subtly change the exposure of the faces of the subjects.

That means as many local adjustments as there are faces in the photo.

That’s probably still ok if you only have to adjust one or two photos. But what if you have a bunch of these photos all shot in the same lighting condition and you have to retouch the faces?

Sounds like one complete day wasted? Not with Luminar AI.

In Luminar AI you have this Face Light tool under Portrait>Face in the Edits panel. This is such a cool tool to make those routine edits.

Somehow the Face tool has a way to detect all the faces in the image and then when you apply the adjustments it magically adjusts only the faces.

Again, for purists, this adjustment is not completely AI-dominated. Meaning you have a slider and you adjust how much of the adjustment is to be applied.

This is like Lightroom on steroids. It is so much easier to do these tricky adjustments which normally take ages and get them done in a matter of few seconds.

But I haven’t yet revealed the best bit. Yes, there is more to this tool than just identifying the faces.

Now, in Lightroom or any other photo editing tool, if you have to copy and paste the effects from one image to the other there would have to be a lot of refinements to be done.

Let’s in the above case where we applied the adjustments to the faces, if we are to copy the adjustments made onto the rest of the images in the batch they would get applied to all sorts of wrong places.

Because people may have moved between frames and the light may have changed and so many things may have happened.

So, even though you do have the option to copy and paste the effects, you still need to do some refinements. With Luminar AI this is much simpler.

With Luminar AI once you have dialed in the effects onto the first image, you can simply press Control / Command + C to copy the effects and then go to the next photo and press Control / Command + V to paste all the effects onto the photo.

The smart thing that the AI does is that it applies all the changes based on the lighting and composition of each photo.

When you talk of time saving and batch editing this is the closest that I have ever come to complete editing nirvana.

The Portrait Mode

Pros of Luminar AI

1. Speed

The biggest pro of Luminar AI is the speed aspect. Many of the edits that Luminar AI does is possible with other software as well.

But where Luminar AI puts its mark is that it makes things move faster, and that is the real-time saver.

Edits like sky replacement or facial exposure adjustment or overall image exposure, white balance, and then batch processing hundreds of images all happening at lightning speed.

When there are hundreds of photos in question especially when you are editing wedding photos every second counts and they all add up at the end of the day.

Also, doing basic things in other software like Lightroom, such as moving from the Development module back to the Library module and then going back to the Development module, can often take many seconds.

Depending on the size of your library or the catalog that you are working on this can often take a painstakingly long time to maneuver.

Even importing the files for the very first time into Lightroom as a new catalog can take a long time. On Luminar AI this is a good deal faster.

I have been using Luminar AI on a Core i7 Laptop with 16 Gigs of memory and yet the system loads and operates fast enough.

Speed

2. Advanced edits made easy

The biggest benefit for someone like me, who is not very proficient in using advanced editing tools like Photoshop (90% of my work is done in Lightroom and for the balance 10% I use very simple Photoshop tools), advanced editing is now within my grasp.

I am sure hundreds and thousands of photographers out there will agree to this when I say that advanced editing is a time-consuming chore that no one likes.

But if it becomes this easy to do, then of course everyone will try it. And that is what Luminar AI does.

It makes people who are not proficient with advanced editing techniques able to produce images that are simply stunning.

Advance edit, image editing

3. Beginner-friendly

This is also a big advantage of Luminar AI over anything like Photoshop and Lightroom. Luminar AI is a good deal user-friendly compared to any other software that you may come across.

For someone who may not have any idea about photo editing, Luminar AI is a much easier tool to work with.

Many users don’t need advanced manual editing tools. Many don’t need file management features, something that Lightroom offers.

For them, a capable RAW processor that offers advanced editing at a mouse-click is a much easier option to work with than something that offers a good deal of editing flexibility but requires years of practice to master.

Beginner-friendly

Cons of Luminar AI

The biggest drawback of Luminar AI is the absence of layers.

As you know Photoshop and the layering technique that it uses is simply too powerful and opens up editing options that are beyond the purview of even Luminar.

This is probably the single most important reason why experienced photographers and those who are routinely doing advanced edits would never use Luminar AI as a standalone tool.

Perhaps they will use it as a plugin, but only as a tool within Photoshop or Lightroom.

The absence of a file management system in Luminar will naturally fail to attract users who are used to using Lightroom as their basic file management tool.

Over the years Lightroom has been used by photographers the world over to manage years of data often adding up to hundreds and thousands of photos.

Migrating to a system that does not offer a robust and comparable file management system means not knowing what to do with their catalogs and photos.

It also means having to migrate to a basic file management system which they may not want to.

Advance edit, image editing

Is Luminar AI Worth It?

In one word? Yes! Luminar AI is worth it because it does something that even professionals with years of experience will find useful.

It saves an incredible amount of time.

Batch processing is faster, enhancing photos is faster and the AI does an incredibly good job of handling some requirements which even experienced editors find difficult to accomplish.

Is Luminar AI Worth It?

Is Luminar AI Better Than Lightroom?

This is difficult to answer because it is like comparing apples with oranges. Both Lightroom and Luminar have their strengths and weaknesses.

Someone who is already using Lightroom but wants to migrate to a simpler and easier tool will find Luminar AI to be an amazing software to work with. I know I find it exciting myself.

But if I am used to Lightroom’s workflow and more importantly the file management system I will think twice before making the switch.

Plus, Lightroom has a lot more to offer than just Presets and a file management tool.

Is Luminar AI Worth It?

Is Luminar AI Better Than Photoshop?

Yes and no. So far as industry benchmark is concerned Photoshop is still the industry standard.

Luminar does a bunch of things really good and for those, it gives even Photoshop a run for its money.

But when it comes to complete editing freedom and the power to do ‘anything’, Photoshop is still the king of the hill.

Luminar AI review

What Does Luminar AI Cost?

Luminar costs a one-time fee of $79 for a 1-computer license.

If you are interested in HDR photography we recommend the Aurora HDR package too and the bundle will cost a one-time fee of $148 for a 1-computer license.

Luminar AI review

Final Remarks

Notwithstanding, if you ask me if I will prefer Luminar to Photoshop my answer will be skewed towards Luminar because I want a smaller learning curve to making my edits and even then my edits are simpler.

Much of it is possible in Lightroom, which happens to be my go-to tool for all photo edits.

But Luminar throws some interesting options for me and of course it makes things considerably faster now for my kind of edits.

So, I will be interested in using Luminar as my second tool. Lightroom will remain my primary editing tool.

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