Skylum Luminar Neo

      Photo Review 8.8

      In summary

      Luminar Neo is likely to be popular with users who like easy-to-apply creative effects.

      It won’t appeal to anyone who is already proficient with Photoshop – or a similar powerful application. There aren’t enough adjustments in the tools available any key tools like Layers and Curves adjustments are either very limited or absent.

      On the whole, Luminar Neo is competitively priced for what it does and you get the benefit of purchasing the software directly, rather than a monthly or annual subscription.

      Full review

      Luminar Neo is the fourth in a line of software applications from Skylum, a company that originated in the Ukrainian city of Kiev but has since the Russian invasion in February 2022 been dispersed across Ukraine and to other countries but continues to develop and support its produce. The support base when we contacted the company in mid-March was in the USA and we were favourably impressed by their responses to our queries even though they usually took a day to arrive due to the differences in respective time zones.


      The Luminar Neo website.

      Luminar applications are known for their AI-guided tools that can simplify previously complex editing functions. They also include numerous ‘one-click’ pre-sets for ‘fixing’ bland and unexciting photos to make them attract attention when shared via social media.

      The first version of Luminar was pretty basic and replaced by Luminar 4 in November 2019, followed by Luminat AI in December 2020. Each new version has added more tools and the software is continuously evolving.

      The latest application, Luminar Neo, includes 36 editing tools plus 13 AI-based enhancements, extending those provided in the original Luminar and Luminar 4, which include, Skin Enhancer, Face and Structure tools that automatically apply relevant improvements. New, AI-based tools specific to Luminar Neo include for compositing images, Portrait Background Removal, Sensor Dust Removal, Power Lines Removal, Relight based on image depth and Portrait Bokeh. Luminar Neo also introduces flexible user-centric order of application of tools while editing an image.

      Other new features include a built-in library of Textures and Overlays and the ability to save all the layers with images and masks to a Preset / Look / Template for double re-use, apply Presets / Looks / Templates to any layer, independently without discarding previous changes and apply some Presets / Looks / Templates to one image with a unique mask. The speed at which edits are processed is independent of the number of tools applied to the image.

      Like its predecessors, Luminar Neo can work as a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom and comes with a catalog function for managing photos. Automatic, round-trip synchronisation of photos and edits is also provided, which means each time you open an image in the application the previous edits are retained.


      Luminar Neo plans.

      Luminar Neo is offered as a stand-alone purchase or an annual subscription that provides all future program upgrades free of charge. In each case there are two levels, the higher level costing more but including Luminar X membership, which includes tutorials and additional pre-sets and is valued at AU$84.
      Luminar AI, Luminar 4 and the HDR-based application Auroroa HDR are still available as downloads from the Skylum website.  Unlike the previous applications, Luminar Neo is not offered as a 30-day trial users can request a refund if they are not satisfied within the first 30 days of usage.

      Who’s it For?
      Let’s start by stating plainly: Luminar Neo cannot be seen as a replacement for Photoshop. It lacks many of Photoshop’s key tools – and those it lists as included are limited in functionality. It is also highly dependent on pre-determined processing functions and, although most tools are adjustable, the range and complexity of adjustments is well short of those available to Photoshop users.

      At a pinch it might be considered as a replacement for Lightroom since it has a several common features. But the user interface is radically different and it’s pitched at a different market.

      The developers’ stated objective is to create tools for ‘visual storytellers’ who ‘are often challenged by boring routine tasks and the complexity of sharing their final results online’. These tools ‘make it easier for creatives to get things done’ through the use of ‘automated and intelligent image processing’.

      Naturally, if those statements resonate with you, you’re likely to be attracted to this application. Beginners and ‘influencers’ will likely appreciate the abundance of one-click edits and pre-sets.

      However, those who are already quite proficient with another application will probably find the dependence on pre-sets in Luminar Neo restrictive and frustrating. For example, there are only two workspaces: Catalog and Edit and once you’ve opened the image in the Edit workspace there are plenty of pre-sets to apply, with a selection of sliders to adjust each, but outside of them, some key functions (outlined in the section below) are very limited.

      The Edit workspace contains three settings: Tools, Edits and Presets. Again, each function offers some adjustments and you can combine the effects produced by different functions when editing an image. But users of more sophisticated software programs will probably be disappointed.

      On the other hand, some of the automated tools in Luminar Neo could be just what bloggers, influencers and other social media users have been looking for. The software makes it easy to accomplish tasks that are otherwise difficult to accomplish without prior knowledge of a wide range of editing tools.


      The Edit interface in Luminar Nero lacks a Help button, a useful feature found in most software applications.

      One thing missing from Luminar Neo is a Help button that lets new users quickly find what a selected tool can do and how to use it. Most other applications include this feature so it’s absence is really surprising in software targeted at less sophisticated users.

      Otherwise it could be a good choice for snapshooters who aren’t keen on ‘digital darkroom’ work – particularly those who like posting their photos on social media. Luminar Share provides a one-click way to share work directly from the desktop and. Android and iOS Luminar Share apps are available for sending images from your computer to your phone.


      Sharing images directly from the workspace is made easy through use of a scannable QR  code.

      The Cataslog workspace
      Luminar Neo’s Catalog workspace is a basic, but quite effective and useful digital asset management program.  It lets you import individual image files or folders and organise them into Albums, which are aligned down the left side of the pane.

      You can also add individual photos or folders containing image files and  list them according to whether they have been tagged as ‘Favourites’ or recently added or redited. You can also find ‘Lost Edits’ and those that have been consigned to ‘Trash’ and see the list of folders already installed in the database.


      The Catalog workspace showing thumbnails at Medium size with the options and folders listed down the left side of the pane. The viewing options are listed in the top right corner, outlined in red, while the data related to the selected file is in the box with the green outline in the lower left corner.

      Clicking on an image opens it in a new pane with a film strip below it. A dialog box (outlined in the screen grab below) lets you magnify the image for a closer inspection or mark it as a Favourite or as Rejected. The left side panel does not change.


      Opening an individual image in the Catalog workspace. The magnifying options are opened above the outlined dialog box. The Actions dialog box is superimposed on the screen grab to show the options available.

      You can scroll about a magnified image or right-click to display an Actions dialog box that lets you flag the image, find images from the same date or export the image to an album, send it to the Trash bin or display it in Explorer. Double-clicking takes you back to the thumbnail display.

      The Edit workspace
      When you move to the Edit workspace, the view changes, with the selected image in the centre of the pane and a Layers tab plus a small thumbnail is the image on the left and a panel on the right containing the Tools, Edits and Presets settings. The first to open is the Tools module, which is divided into four sections: Essentials, Creative, Portrait and Professional.

      At the base of the pane are three icons: an eye icon which allows you to preview an effect, the magnification pop-up menu, which carries across from the Catalog module and an Actions tab that allows you to revert to the original if edits have been unsuccessful.


      The Edit workspace.

      We found the Layers function quite disappointing as it was quite different from the Layers functions in other editors. Clicking on the Layers button opens a selection of effects that can be applied as ‘layers’. There were four selections titled Flares, Light Leaks, Stardust Bokeh. and Sparklers. You can also add a layer containing one of your own images.


      Layers options are limited to special effects filters.


      Clicking on the ‘Get More Assets’ tab in the lower left corner takes you to the website where additional effects can be purchased.

      You can apply multiple layers and use the controls in the Tools menu to set the layer properties. The Layer Properties dialog box provides manual ‘Paint Mask’ adjustments that let you brush in or out selected areas or fill the frame, invert or clear the mask. Mask visibility can also be switched on and off as shown in the screen grabs in the Layers section.

      Clicking on the green icon on the Layer Properties bar provides four adjustments for the mask: Fill, Invert, Clear and Show Mask. These can be used to selectively erase, enhance or adjust the size of the mask.


      Layer masking options are shown in the above screen grabs.

      You can also erase parts of the mask to enable the base image to show through. But that’s about the limit of your options.

      Portrait Bokeh AI is another new feature of Luminar Neo that takes it beyond the previous applications. It provides some of the tools offered in dedicated applications like Anthropics Portrait Pro although it’s less powerful and a bit easier to use. The adjustment tools provided in the Portrait section of the Tools menu include Portrait Bokeh, Face, Skin, Body and High Key. Examples are shown in the screen grabs below.


      The Portrait Bokeh dropdown menus enable you to selectively adjust focus with adjustable brushes and background strength using sliders.

      MaskAI will create an automatic mask based on the software’s analysis of the image, provided you’ve already added at least one Layer to the original image as shown in the screen grab below.


      The brush sliders in use for focus adjustments. The software automatically applies a temporary ‘mask’ to the area covered by the subject in a contrasting colour to the background.


      The Face adjustments are shown in the screen grab above.


      The High Key menus lets you convert the portrait into a ‘high key’ image in which lighter tones predominate.

      Remove Powerlines makes it easy to eliminate distracting power lines from scenic photos. This tool is located by clicking on the Erase tab in the Essentials tools menu. You can select the size of the objects to erase or specify whether you want the software to erase power lines or dust spots.


      Before and after screen grabs showing the removal of power lines.


      Before and after views of power line removal on a complex scene. The arrows in the lower view indicate lines that were not removed.

      We found this tool did a good job on the whole, even with quite complex tasks. In situations where the wrong items were removed it is easy to restore the original image and have another try. The manual Erase brush is available for erasing areas that weren’t removed with the first attempt.

      Sky Replacement functions are similar to those found in Luminar AI but you don’t get the same chance to view before and after comparisons side-by-side. There are plenty of adjustments available as shown in the screen grabs above, including the ability to adjust the strength and sharpness of reflections in bodies of water in the scene. However, the limitations of the software are much the same as those in Luminar AI.

      Other functions
      Functions that some potential users might consider essential are either not present or difficult to find, due in part to the lack of a Help button. For example, the only way you can straighten titled horizons (or buildings) is to use the Crop tools, as shown in the screen grab below.


      Straightening is only available through the Crop tools menu.

      The Structure tool appears to work like a Clarity slider, adjusting the edge contrast without changing other parameters. A Boost slider is provided to increase the effect, if the user wishes.


      The Structure tools in use.

      The Black & White conversion tool also contains a useful range of adjustments with Luminance (brightness) and Saturation sliders for the Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue and Magenta colour bands.


      Black & White conversion adjustments.

      Noise reduction is covered with the Denoise tool, which has sliders for adjusting the luminosity and colour noise plus a ‘Boost’ slider that mainly appeared to increase the softening of the image details. This slider requires very careful use and we recommend working on an enlarged view of the photo.


      The Denoise controls
      .

      Among the Creative tools, the Relight tool is designed to lighten backlit subjects and while it is quite effective and provides a good range of adjustments for adjusting the brightness of near and far parts of the scene and the ‘warmth’ of near and far areas. However, we found its range was not quite wide enough to handle extreme tonal differences, as shown in the screen grab below.


      Before (top) and after (Below) screen grabs showing the Relight tool in use.

      The Atmosphere tool adds fog, mist or haze, all of which can be adjusted with Amount, Depth and Lightness sliders. They’re fairly subtle but fun to experiment with, although they only suit a limited range of scenes.


      The Atmosphere tool adds fog, mist of haze.

      The Sunrays tool is quite complex and centred on a reference circle that represents the sun and can be moved around the frame. Sliders provide adjustments for the amount (strength) of the effect, the overall look, length of the rays and their penetration. Users can also adjust the radius of the sun, number of rays and their warmth.


      The Sunrays tool provides a range of quite useful settings.

      Presets
      People who post images to social media will probably go straight to the Presets – and there are plenty of them to choose from. When you upload a photo in the edit section of Luminar Neo and select the Presets tab in the top right corner of the workspace, the software will evaluate the image and suggest appropriate presets.


      In the Presets workspace, the software will analyse the image and suggest suitable presets.

      Different preset suggestions will be provided for scenery and portraits. The screen grabs below show two examples of presets in use.


      The Influencer Collection of presets for portraiture
      . Note the Layers that have already been added to the image before this preset was tried.


      The Blockbuster Collection of presets for general use with a variety of images.

      The main issue users need to contend with is that once a preset is applied, further editing is not possible. Consequently, presets should be chosen with care and users should take advantage of the opportunities available for previewing presets before applying them.


      The software warning that further editing is not possible after a preset has been applied.

      If you can’t find a preset that suits you, the Luminar website has a Marketplace from which you can purchase additional resources.

      As edits are completed, the image in the Catalog appears to be updated so if you close it and move on to another photo, it’s easy to resume editing. However, unlike Affinity Photo (which can save work-in-progress in a proprietary format), previous edits get ‘baked in’ and you can’t undo them.

      Conclusion

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      SPECS

      Hardware: CPU Intel Core i5 or better, OpenGL 3.3 or later compatible Graphics Cards
      Systems compatibility: Windows 10 version 1909 or higher  or macOS 10.14.6 or higher operating systems
      Display support: Minimum 1280 x 768 size or better
      Disk space requirement: 10 GB free disk space; SSD for best performance
      Minimum RAM:  8GB (16GB+ recommended

      Supported image formats: PNG, JPEG, TIFF (8-bit and 16-bit), Apple HEIF files, PSD (Mac only)
      Raw formats supported
      : .CR2. .NEF, .ORF, .RAF, .ERF, .ARW, .RW2, .DNG, .PEF, .PPM
      Computer interface: Internet access to download software
      Batch processing: Supported
      Export to social media: Supported via Share Image button
      Mobile device support: Android and iOS apps available; Can accept images from smartphone via QR code link; Mac users can use it on the iPad Pro 2021 or later
      Trial downloads available: No – but refunds available within 30 days of purchase if not satisfied
      Distributor: Skylum

       

      Rating

      RRP: US$79 (AU$108) or AU$84 for annual subscription

      • Features: 8.8
      • Ease of Use: 8.8