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Is the New Luminar 2018 the Best Lightroom Alternative?

There's a storm brewing on the horizon – a photo editing software battle or possibly an all-out war. Adobe's recent announcement and Lightroom “upgrades” have a lot of people upset and looking for a Lightroom alternative.

The LR bandwagon is a busy place as many photographers are rapidly jumping off!

Many people are tired of the subscription model and paying monthly fees just to have their software of choice.

Others yet have resisted that route. But they will now be forced to make a decision as Lightroom 6 is the last version that will be available for outright purchase.

So, if you're in that boat you will have two options to choose from:

One: You can either bite the bullet and sign up for Adobe's photographer's plan for $9.99 USD a month.

Two: You can stick with LR6 for infinity, but it won't be updated or supported by Adobe moving forward.

So that new camera you buy next year – its raw files won't be recognized by LR6.

Enter Luminar – the Lightroom Alternative

There are a LOT of players stepping up to the plate, looking to take a bigger piece of the photo editing software market from Adobe. Some companies we haven't heard a peep from in years, and others brand new to the market are appearing with RAW processors.

See what Luminar has to offer as a Lightroom alternative.

A few Lightroom alternatives available include the following:

  • ACDsee Photo Editor 10 – $59.99 USD (Note: it is for Windows only) I'll admit I don't know much about this one, but there is a free trial if you want to test it out.
  • On1 Raw 2018 – $119-149 USD – now available for purchase.
  • Corel AfterShot Pro – $59 USD – They made Paint Shop Pro which I used pre-Photoshop way back in about 1993! They still make that and now have come out with a raw processor as well. A trial version is available.
  • DxO OpticsPro (note: now called DxO Photo Lab) – $129-199 USD – two versions available, as well as a trial option.
  • Affinity Photo – approx $54 USD – They do have a free trial available. Perhaps I'll try it out and write about it soon as well.
  • Phase One Capture One Pro – $299 USD – this one is high-end aimed at professionals. If Lightroom is too complicated, this one will be way over your head.
  • Luminar 2018 – $79 USD – See a comparison

I wanted to offer a special incentive to my readers who may be interested in getting Luminar. They were nice enough to provide a $10 off discount coupon.

Luminar 2018 DISCOUNT CODE: Get a discount if you decide that Luminar is the best photo editing software for you. Use the code: DIGITALPHOTOMENTOR when you check out to save $10 USD.

Lightroom vs Luminar Feature Comparison List

You can see a full list of features in a side-by-side comparison between Luminar and Lightroom here.

I think Macphun is getting ready to take on Adobe head-to-head by presenting an alternative to Lightroom.

Example Luminar workflow

Because Luminar has the ability to apply edits on a layer, you can group together the type of edits you're applying. Meaning, if you want to punch up the sky as I did – make a “Sky” layer and apply all the filters that will do a nice job on the sky.

Then you can adjust each filter to your taste, then apply a layer mask, filter masks, or lower the layer opacity to control the overall look.

Then select your next area to work on, make a new adjustment layer and apply filters that are applicable there.

It's super easy to paint in an effect on a small area, or multiple areas of the image – without affecting the entire photo.

Here is an example of one image, with each step in my workflow in Luminar outlined.

Lightroom Alternative example photo - Original Raw, unedited
Original raw file, unedited.
Lightroom Alternative example photo - Raw develop filter applied with the photo editing software
Step one – Raw Develop Filter added. This is also where you find the lens corrections and Transform for perspective correction. Notice the building isn't tilting anymore.
Lightroom alternative example photo 2 - Accent AI filter, clarity and brightness filters applied
Step 2 – all done on a new layer: Accent AI Filter, Clarity, and Brightness. Notice how realistic looking it still is even with the shadow areas pulled up to retain detail. There's a slight halo in the sky which is something I could easily fix with a filter or layer mask.
Lightroom alternative example photo 3 - tone control applied to the image
Step 3 – tone control applied. Again, this is all on a new layer and I've used the Dodge and Burn Filter, Vignette, Polarizing Filter (darkens the sky), and Exposure (I painted in minus exposure to the bottom corners of the image to draw the eye in more).
Lightroom alternative example photo 4 - sky enhancements on a new layer
Step 4 – sky enhancements. Here I applied (on a new layer – see the trend?) Image Radiance, Color Contrast, Saturation and the HSL filter to brighten the sky and give it punch. I used filter masks to have some of them only apply to the sky area.
Lightroom alternative example photo 5 - final version of image, processed with Luminar and the Sun Rays filter
Lastly, I couldn't help trying the Sun Rays Filter on this image. I think it works great here to add a nice mood to the image.

Is Luminar the best Lightroom alternative?

If you watched my review of Luminar back a few months, you'll know that it impressed me.

I liked it a LOT more than I thought I was going to.

In fact, I like it so much I've recently been using it to “finish” my images after processing them in Lightroom.

But is it going to be a good alternative for Lightroom? That's the question I've been asked multiple times.

I'll list a few of the pros and cons of Luminar to help you decide. It does some things really well but still falls just slightly short in other areas, in my opinion.

Here's a short video walk-through of Luminar 2018 to give you an idea how it works.

Luminar seems to be a good Lightroom alternative now that Adobe has changed their subscription model and you'll want to be ready.Click To Tweet

Pros of Luminar 2018

  • Handles raw files well.
  • Works as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, Apple Photos OR as a stand-alone product.
  • Simple to use and a user-friendly interface.
  • NO monthly subscription needed. One purchase is good for licensing up to five of your devices – for $79
  • Works with layers so you can do non-destructive editing.
  • Works with Presets and Filters which make it easy to do one or two-click editing and call it a day.
  • It is flexible and adjustable with layer opacity, masks, and local adjustment tools that allow you to apply effects to your entire image, or just a portion of it.
  • You can save a native Luminar file that preserves your layers and history – so you can come back to editing any time, with all your options and edits available for adjustment.
  • Luminar comes with a lot of really great filters including the Accent AI Filter that is sometimes all you need. You can see my favorite filters shown below.
  • You can easily export and post your images to social media, email and other sites with an easy “Share to” system all set up for you!

some favorite filters for Luminar 2018 photo editing software

Cons of Luminar

I mentioned there are a few things that Lightroom still does better than Luminar.

In all fairness, I think that in time they may just catch up, but for now, there are a couple little things you will miss in Luminar if you're currently a Lightroom user.

  • The RAW processor (filter) isn't a full-featured as Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) which operates inside both PS and LR. It's missing targeted adjustment tools (so you can darken a certain tone by selecting it on the image), auto perspective correction, auto level, and crop, etc. Basically some of the automated handy stuff LR can do.
  • Currently, there isn't a way to see all your images and sort, cull, and manage them. That is coming with their announced Digital Asset Management module being added in 2018. So, I'll wait to reserve judgment on that until I've tried it out.
  • The Cloning and Healing tool is a bit clunky. But it's a new feature, so I expect it to only get better. LR's cloning tool was not great in its first iteration either.
  • It's easy to go too far. I find the presets and sliders in Luminar will take your image over the top into “over-processed land” really fast if you aren't careful. But use restraint and apply them subtly, lower the opacity of filters and layers, and you'll be fine.

What's new in Luminar 2018

Perhaps you already have Luminar and are wondering if it's worth upgrading to Luminar 2018.

I say yes!

It's only $39 to do so and there's already been a lot of new stuff added, and more coming.

If you upgrade you get a few bonuses and will get all the DAM (digital asset management) update to Luminar 2018 for free (but don't quote me on that).

Photo of grape vines growing with lake okanagan in the distance, as a before example
Before – original raw file, unedited. It's a little boring and doesn't capture the feeling of the valley I wanted.

Here are just some of the new features and filters. Many of the existing ones have been updated and improved as well.

  • Better filter masking
  • New user interface
  • Lens corrections (distortion and chromatic aberration control)
  • Transform tool for perspective control and corrections
  • New filters (Sun Rays, Brilliance/Warmth, Hue Shift, Dodge/Burn, Lookup tables)
  • Real-time denoise
  • Save filter masks as a preset
  • Supports other third-party Plugins for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop
Same photo of grape vines processed with Luminar as the after photo
After processing in Luminar – the new Sun Rays Filter applied among others. THIS is more what I envisioned for this shot!

Updated Windows version

If you are using a Windows machine, there is now an almost equally functional Windows version. The beta version has had many upgrades and you can now purchase the full program for Windows. More features are being rolled out over the next few months.

What's coming next?

A couple of interesting things are coming up for Luminar and Macphun.

Name change – introducing Skylum

First, Macphun made an announcement recently that they will be rebranding in 2018 and their name will change to Skylum. So that will give you an idea of how invested the company is in continuing development of PC software.

They've gone so far as to remove the “Mac” from their name. So they will no longer be just Mac software specialists – but photo editing software specialists across both platforms.

They are setting up to give Adobe a run for their money – especially in light of Adobe's recent announcements and Lightroom updates. More on the below.

Digital Asset Management coming soon

The second exciting thing is that Macphun has also announced that they will be adding a Digital Asset Management element to Luminar in 2018. Here's what it says on the Luminar 2018 FAQ page.

screen shot of Luminar software digital asset managagement coming soon

Here is a short preview from the Macphun YouTube channel.

Luminar photo editing software for portraits?

Why not. Let's have a look.

portrait of a woman and man unprocessed
Raw unedited version. This is my sister-in-law and her husband. They wanted fall colors in their portrait.
portrait of a woman and man processed with Luminar 2018
Processed in Luminar with just a one preset and a few adjustments.
same portrait processed with the sun rays filter makes for a great shot
You know I had to do it! Sun Rays added – but once again it works here. I love how it feels like the sun is coming through the branches. A filter mask was applied to keep the rays from hitting their faces. I think they will like it!

The bottom line

I'm personally not going to be switching from Lightroom any time soon (I'll be using the LR Classic version).

But I will continue to use Luminar in addition to Lightroom.

If you're feeling like you're going to stick with LR, I'm there with you. But I suggest give Luminar a try anyway.

You might be as surprised by it as I was, and add it to your toolbox.

Raw file, unedited. I loved the light hitting the odd-shaped hill in the background and wanted to emphasize it.
Processed version with several filters applied. See – I told you I got carried away with the Sun Rays! But it works here, right?

Luminar might just be the answer for you – if you fit either of these categories

First, if you're currently using LR6 and refuse to pay the monthly subscription fee.

Secondly, if you aren't using any image editing software yet and find it all a bit intimidating.

You'll likely be pleasantly surprised at how easy Luminar is with its Quick and Easy workspace and use of Presets.

Either way – you can't go wrong taking Luminar for a spin.

At $79 the price point is certainly pocket-book friendly, and with a free trial available, what have you got to lose?

Is Luminar 2018 the Lightroom alternative you think would work for you? Let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: I wanted to offer a special incentive to my readers who may be interested in getting Luminar. They were nice enough to provide a $10 off discount coupon.

Luminar 2018 DISCOUNT CODE: Get a discount if you decide that Luminar is the best photo editing software for you. Use the code: DIGITALPHOTOMENTOR when you check out to save $10 US.


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