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A while ago, tommui987 asked me about MacPhun's Luminar software as a Photoshop competitor and at the time it was only available for Mac. I looked at it's feature set and was interested but the fact that it could only be used on 4%-5% of PC made me wary of their path forward. They were developing a Windows beta but I was happy enough with Lightroom and PS to walk away with a wait-and-see note in the back of my mind.

Well, here we are a few months later and the beta is officially over in a week or so. MacPhun is on borrowed time as they are officially changing their name to Skylum and a full version for Windows is dropping into the mainstream. I took a second look and decided that they are serious about the product and have used the resistance to subscription programs to fuel enthusiasm for what appears to be a increasingly sophisticated product. Add the fact that the new Luminar can be used as a Lightroom plug-in and their intention to launch a Lightroom-like organizational tool in 2018 and I decided to plunk down my $60 and give it a try.


So, here I am, taking one for Team Cruise Critic and will be posting my impressions and opinions of the package as I dive into it.


Happy Editing!



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In doing some more research, I decided to add Aurora HDR (Express) to this evaluation. I never really used the HDR built into Lightroom or PS since my Sony cameras are capable of very effective multi-shot HDR in-camera, but the Aurora program gets good press so I figured since it was on sale for $29 (from $95), what the heck. The examples from some famous HDR photographer were a little over-the-top for my taste but I assume there adjustments aplenty.


Now I have to go somewhere nice and try that unused exposure bracketing setting to get some samples to test.



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Anxious to see your appraisal of Luminar and Aurora.


What fascinates me is its various filters. Unlike most of you, taking pictures in the early dawn or late in the day, isn't my cup of tea, the filters to "imitate" the early/late light sounds intriguing.

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Since the Express version of Aurora was immediately available, I thought I'd get a head start.


Aurora HDR Express initial impression is very positive. After struggling with early HDR tone-mapping and dodgy alignment, the user interface and options available are something you would expect to see in 2017. As simply or as touchy-feely as you want to approach it.


It starts with an open file dialog as you would expect and I loaded the sample images to play with.




After clicking the "Create HDR" button, the main interface loads with a default choice and a seemingly endless list of presets on a scroll at the bottom and a full set of adjustment sliders on the right.




The first thing I noticed when I selected a preset was that the selected preset switched to a master slider (circled above) that allowed me to adjust the overall intensity of the applied adjustments. It literally took me two minutes to find something I liked and tweak it to my satisfaction. For those with OED (Obsessive Editing Disorder), the fine-tuning sliders on the right are an all-you-can-tweak buffet.


I will assume that the supplied sample was a really good mix of exposures that would respond well to the automated blending so I'll be taking some of my own bracked sets and doing some further testing. As I said above, my initial impression is quite positive. The interface is intuitive with a choice of click and smile, spending an evening tweaking the sliders, or something in-between. Response time was good with the caveat that the samples were 5MP images. We'll see how it crunches native 24MP files from the A6300.


More to come...questions welcome.



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I don't know their full product line. How does Aurora relate to Luminar?


Aurora is their dedicated tool for processing HDR. Separate from Luminar but should be integrated into the suite when their orginization module drops in 2018.






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I spent a while this morning getting to know a bit more about my new toy and came away with some positives and negatives. The positives surrounded the program's ability to provide a quick and easy way to enhance or correct an image and the negatives were primarily user interface issues mostly caused by my long exposure to Adobe products. Following are some initial explorations.


Hello, Luminar!



The installation and initial launch went without issue. I noticed that it took a while to load but it is no slower than Adobe products on my computer. The apparent delay was perceptual since it loads completely before appearing rather than launching a splash screen that counts out all the stuff being loaded while you stare at a pretty picture.


Plugin or stand-alone



If you want to use it as a Lightroom or Photoshop plugin, the "Install Plugins" menu option couldn't be simpler. The only PC hitch was that Windows 10's security requires Luminar to be launched with Admin privileges to install them. Luminar handled this nicely by telling me that I had to relaunch as Admin and offering a one-click option to do it for me. I warned that I may be asked for an Admin password when it relaunched but since I (and, by default, nearly every PC owner) am a member of the Admin user group on my PC, Luminar closed and reopened without issue. Click, click...plugins installed. Installing plugin links does not disable stand-alone mode.


Filter choices




The program opens an image with a bare screen populated with the image and standard presets. You can switch the preset list or show all via the "Catagories" button.




IIf you intend to do more than presets, you can populate the filter bar to the right with any or all of the included options. You can filter the choices based on some pre-chosen categories. Choosing a category just filters the list, you still have to click on each one to add it.




The list is pretty extensive




Here's one of the negatives that sort of surprised me. THere is no way to save a filter set preference. You have to choose your filter set every time you open the program. The Mac version allows you to load and save "workspaces" with your selections saved but this is not yet available in the Windows version. I have sent a note via their feedback channel on this one since I see it as a huge gap in usability if one plans to do more than casual processing.


Continued on next post ( 6 image limit on posts...)

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Here's one of the shiny spots; a before/after split-screen.




Handy for determining if your adjustments did what you wanted. There is also a button for before/after that removes all adjustments momentarily. I like the split.


There is an Undo button and a History drop-down that oddly includes an entry if you added a filter to the workspace.




Back to the Undo button. No Ctrl+Z keyboard shortcut. Again, the Mac instructions list shortcuts but they are missing in the Windows version. Since a lot of features are listed as "Coming soon" for Windows, I assume these gaps will be filled. Leaving keyboard shortcuts out of the initial release seems a bit odd, though.


The editing is non-destructive, even for JPEG. You cannot save adjustments to the original image. There is no "Save" option on the menu. Rather, it has to be "Exported". What happens if you do a lot of adjusting and close the program without Exporting. Not a damn thing. No adjustment history is saved. Back to square one. I assume that the integration with the upcoming organization component will address this in a way similar to Lightroom's internal database, so I'm not as surprised by this as I am by the lack of workspace retention and keyboard shortcuts.


The Eraser tool is a bit different than the one in Lightroom. It more closely resembles the Healing Brush in Photoshop and does a decent job of removing unwanted features.







The AI that fills the gap is actually a bit smarter than the Lightrooom's pick-a-spot-that-is-similar method and is actually pretty close to the Healing Brush. PS gives you more options to touch up if it isn't quite what you expected, but it is pretty darned good.


Ok...back to the kitchen cabinet project. I'll test the integration as a Lightroom plugin, play around more and pass along any hit or miss that I find.



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I spent a while this morning getting to know a bit more about my new toy


Thanks for your (partial) review of Luminar. I have done some fooling around with it on my Mac and it is impressive.


The MacPhun people also have a "Creative Kit" for Mac but some of the programs in it seem to have been incorporated in the Luminar program - have not checked which ones but the eraser is one of them.

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Luminar 2018 has a bug, it does not open using windows pc. It has been 4 days and no response from customer support. Not impressed with the company.


I am running Luminar and Aurora on a Windows 10 PC and it has had no issues with loading and functioning (other that "coming soon" feature gaps ;)).


Some questions to isolate possible issues:


What is your Windows version?

How much RAM?

GPU type (graphics card)?

Are your graphics drivers current?

Plenty of free space on TEMP directory location?


I have a couple of questions in to MacPhun and received an email saying they were swamped by response to the release last week as would reply ASAP. I think their customer service was unprepared for something as large as a Windows release. They were a Mac-only company and the step up to a market that is potentially 25x larger may have caught them by surprise.



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Looks like they are listening and working to even up the platforms.


NOVEMBER 24, 2017

This free update will bring the following new and improved features:


  • Added Workspaces
  • Added Luminosity Mask
  • Added RAW support for Nikon D850
  • Added Image Resize and Sharpen on Export
  • Added Hotkeys
  • Fixed RAW Denoise on opening files (OpenCL issue)
  • Fixed issues with .DNG converted files
  • Fixed pixelization issue with low res image previews
  • Fixed issue with low res image on layers with masks
  • Fixed issue with non-system disk as installation destination
  • Fixed progress bar for opening images
  • Fixed bug when launching Photoshop with a blank image
  • Fixed crash on exit
  • Improved Performance
  • Updated large number of RAW camera file formats


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Got the update installed with no issues and my two major issues with the UI were all gone!


Hotkeys! (That's a generous exclamation point since they should have been there at release ;) )



Custom Workspaces!





After palying with it for a week, I am both pleased and disappointed.


I am very pleased with the program as a quick fixer for zipping through photos and adding some pop. The Accent - AI filter is particularly effective for quick enhancement. It is also pretty good at converting to monochrome with the basic options being very adjustable and the ability to save the final adjustment as a personal preset.


The Install Plug-ins function worked for Photoshop but not For Lightroom (Classic). When invoked as a filter in PS, you do your adjustment and click the "Apply" button which pops an "Exporting image" notification after which Luminar closes. After a moment, your changes appear in the PS image. If you just close Luminar without clicking "Apply", any work done isn't saved. That actually makes sense in this context as opposed to using Luminar as a stand-alone. A warning question asking if you want to save changes would be nice in both cases.


Adding Luminar as an external editor in Lightroom (since the plug-in install failed) allows you to chose it from the "Edit in" list. The normal edit choices pop up (original, copy or copy with LR adjustments) and the image opens in Luminar. Since it isn't opened as a plug-in, there is no "Apply" button and you have to export the image before closing to save any changes. A tiny bonus is given in that the export dialog defaults to overwriting the xxx-edit image that was created when you choose Edit a copy or Edit with LR adjustments.


There is still no retention of adjustments and any changes need to be exported before exiting or they are lost. Without the promised organizational component this really couldn't be done without adding a sidecar .xml file or some such clutter, so I'll reserve judgement on this for now.


Without the org component, it definitely will not replace Lightroom as yet. As a quick, non-destructive editor, it is quite capable but lacks some tools that one takes for granted if you come from the Adobe universe. The eyedropper selection tool used to click on a white or grey area to autocorrect temperature is missing and the little things like pressing "Esc" to exit a filter or crop without applying are frustrating if you have a fair amount of photo editing in your past.


Replace Photoshop? No. Probably never. PS is a massively capable program with options and tools that allow you to do almost anything you can imagine. To be fair, most PS users never see or even imagine 90% of what it is capable of and would do quite well with Elements in its place. Maybe with a lot of pure editing tools like clone stamp, more masking options, fill and paint appearing in the future, Luminar could replace Elements as a daily editor. Until then, you will need a "real" editor to make significant alterations. On the other hand, if you are not a die-hard photo editor and seldom if ever do more than balance color, enhance clarity or denoise your images, Luminar does these things easily and well.


The rapid deployment of the hotkey and workspace fixes gives me some hope that the org component is not too far away and some of the other niggles will be patched away in a timely manner.


More to come as I explore a little deeper.



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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Dave for the report on Luminar! I recently acquired a Panasonic Lumix G 85 mirrorless camera, and I'm looking for a reasonably priced program to edit the raw photos. I had bought PS Elements DVD, when I bought the camera, but took it back unopened [last Feb.] when I discovered that the Dhaze Filter wasn't included on the DVD. Currently, if you buy their DVD, one gets very little or no updating included! Adobe's subscription model, which Adobe is trying to force us into isn't suitable for most casual photographers who just edit photos during the winter. Adobe wants their hands in my pocket all year round, that's why I purchased the DVD. This got me looking into PS alternatives. One I stumbled onto is called Affinity Photo. Has you or anyone on these boards tried that program and what do you think of it, and will it run on an older, albeit upgraded PC? It's a 2. 4GHZ Core2 Duo, 8 GB Ram, new Video card, with an Intel SSD as the boot drive. Any suggestions for any other PS alternatives would be welcome, Thanks. 😎

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