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Is Luminar THE Lightroom Alternative?

Manuel Becker Manuel Becker in Tips & Tricks
30.12.2018 · 9 min read
Photo by Manuel Becker

After using Lightroom for so many years now and having edited thousands of photos with this great piece of software by Adobe, it was finally time to have a look on other alternatives. I started searching for them around 1 year ago and my main reason wasn’t the subscription model itself - which I think is good in general to support the further development of a software - but the features and improvements Adobe made or didn’t make to the software in general. Since Lightroom is a software that doesn’t require any servers or content the company needs to maintain, it’s even more important to me that I benefit somehow from the yearly money I pay.

Because I am a professional web designer, I started using alternatives to Adobe products like Illustrator or Photoshop years ago, mostly because I felt that they were just too expensive. I thought very carefully about using alternatives, because using software professionally means that you also need to be as productive as possible and that’s probably why the whole industry is using Adobe software. They are just good.
To my surprise I found alternatives (Affinity Photo + Designer, Sketch, …) that were not only much cheaper, but that also made a lot of things so much better than the software I was familiar with and used for over 15 years. Since the switch, a software called "Sketch" is my most favorite one and I love their pricing model. You pay it once and get all updates for one year for free. Within this time you can also use their cloud solution. After the period ends you can use the software for free forever without the cloud servers - which totally makes sense since this is also the part that they have to pay for and maintain - and buy the software again whenever there is an update that adds features / improvements that make sense to you. I love this concept, because it motivates the company to create valuable features based on what the user wants and needs.

Going back to the original topic, I was so happy when I heard about Luminar* from Skylum and that they are using a similar pricing model. Like many others I couldn’t do the switch though, because it was missing one key feature that is basically the core of Lightroom: The library.

Short note: I am comparing Adobe Lightroom Classic CC to Luminar 3 (Version 2018, released in the mid of December 2018), because the cloud based version of Lightroom is still lacking in so many features, although it is a newer version of Lightroom that is not meant to replace the older classic version.

The Library

I am mainly using Lightroom to manage my huge library of photos, rating them and having additional smart collections to summarize my best photos in one single spot. After some basic RAW corrections I am mainly using Photoshop and the Nik filters for retouching my photos. That’s why the library is such an essential and great feature. Luminar finally did add the library feature in the latest version that was released in the mid of December 2018, so lets compare both solutions with each other.

Lightroom

The folders are shown on the left side in Lightroom after you imported them into the software. Beyond the folders you will automatically have some smart collections you can use or define yourself. In the center of the screen is either a grid view of the photos, a single photo or multiple ones to compare them. The slider on the bottom part of the screen is helping you to navigate through the images while not using the grid view.

Is Luminar THE Lightroom Alternative?

The Lightroom library view.

Luminar

In Luminar the folders are located on the right side and as soon as you select a photo a navigation strip (similar to the bottom one in Lightroom) is shown on the left side. The biggest difference to Lightroom is, that you don’t need to import your photos. They are automatically within your library as soon as Luminar is watching one or multiple specific folders you can define. Besides that, the photos are automatically grouped by date, but you can also use your original folder names by using the folders at the bottom instead of the shortcuts, that are comparable to the smart collections within Lightroom.

Is Luminar THE Lightroom Alternative?

The Luminar library view.

Winner - Luminar

For me personally nominating a winner is easy. Luminar looks so much more clean and focuses on showing your photos instead of buttons and the UI. The grid view is similar to the one we use here on Locationscout and we are using it for a good reason, because it’s showing the previews as big as possible within a limited space. I also really like that I don’t have to import the photos and that Luminar is just mirroring my hard disk.

Editing Photos

After managing the photos it’s obviously important to be able to edit them, especially if you don’t want to use more complex photo editing tools like Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo.

Lightroom

When switching to "Develop-Mode" in Lightroom, you will have your presets and the history of changes you made to a photo on the left side. On the right side you have all the different sliders and settings you can apply to the image. You can hide sections you don’t need or disable them to see the difference they make. Learning Lightroom is really easy and nearly every tutorial on the web uses the same interface although you could customize the Develop Panel and reorder or remove sections completely.
In general I would always recommend you to move every slider 100% to the left and then to the right to see and understand what the setting is doing to your photo. In the end photography is art and if you like the change it’s often of second rank to fully understand what the software is doing. Just make sure to keep it subtle after you tried both extremes, because the best photos are often the ones that don’t look like they were heavily retouched.

Is Luminar THE Lightroom Alternative?

This edit is Lightroom only, which does a really great job with the automatic perspective correction to straighten the horizon and cropping the image automatically based on the missing parts. It's probably hard to see, but sharpening is also something that works quite well in LR, although a lot of photographers prefer doing this in Photoshop.

Luminar

The settings you have within Luminar are similar, but how you apply them is completely different. Every section you have on the right side is basically a filter you can use - even multiple times if you want to. While having basic sections like "RAW develop", which are similar to Lightroom, you also have much more advanced tools like "Accent AI Filter" or "AI Sky Enhancer", which are both single sliders that use Artificial Intelligence to improve your photo. As a professional user you might not need them, but the results they apply to the images I tried amazed me and saved me so much time.

Is Luminar THE Lightroom Alternative?

What impressed me the most are definitely the AI filters. I really thought that this was just for beginners, because I can do it myself anyway, but the details these tools gained from a single exposure is just stunning and I really love the sky compared to my Lightroom edit.

Winner - Tie

I definitely like the concept of the filters within Luminar much more than using static sections as Lightroom offers. The Nik filters work very similar to this and I really like to apply filters multiple times for different parts of the image.
Lightroom wins in terms of available presets because there are thousands of them available for free or for a fair price on the web. Besides that, Luminar feels a little bit slower when comparing the changes a specific filter applied to the image. Seeing the before and after of the whole image is blazing fast though.

Currently it’s a tie for me, since both solutions are doing a great job. I would give an edge to Luminar because they are more innovative and the results just look amazing. Lightroom feels a little bit faster and more subtle on the changes it does to your photo.

User Interface

I already mentioned some parts above, but let's dive a little bit deeper into this since it’s so important to have a great usability when using a software on a daily basis.

Lightroom

I think Lightroom is a little bit messy nowadays. That’s the normal life of a software when you don’t refactor it after adding feature after feature. Adobe started to develop Lightroom CC as a cloud based version and called the old software "Classic". I don’t know any photographer who switched to the cloud version and after trying it I missed so many features that I stayed with the classic version.
When you are familiar with the software, it’s very easy to use, you have tons of options that support your own workflow and it has a great usability overall. In general there is nothing very good or bad about the interface and it works like you would expect it.

Luminar

I never felt like Lightroom looked messy until I started using Luminar, which looks much cleaner and easier to use when you never used any software like this. I really like that they payed attention to reducing the space for settings to a minimum and focusing on the images itself. I really enjoy watching my photos in a beautiful and minimalistic library without too much distraction.
What surprised me as well is the speed of the interface itself when switching from the Library to the Edit module or when zooming into a photo. The UI itself reacts extremely fast on every action, recalculating the image based on the zoom or specific settings definitely feels slower though.

Winner - Tie

This is a tie for me again until Luminar improved the speed for the photos itself. The UI is much better in my opinion and the reaction when I click on a button feels much faster than in Lightroom, which seems to have better buffering or algorithms for the photos itself.
Another small detail I really like is, that Luminar placed quite a lot of settings in the app bar itself to save even more space, while Lightroom only has a bright and empty bar at the top on the Mac. Besides that I really like that Luminar is using just a few different shades of gray, while Lightroom has so many different gray values and different option bars. On the other hand LR offers some more details and settings, I didn’t miss a single one in Luminar though.

Summary

There are so many other parts I could have compared like the compatibility with other software, the customer support or the availability of tutorials / books for each software. In my opinion it’s in the end important to have a good feeling about using a specific product instead of comparing features unless you really need a specific one for your workflow.
Like everything in life it very much depends on your preferences. Both software solutions are great and while some parts are similar, some are extremely different like the pricing model, the availability of presets and tutorials or the focus around the community.

Is Luminar THE Lightroom Alternative?

The final result after doing some last improvements within Photoshop and using the Nik filters. This one is based on the Luminar edit because I really liked the sky in this version. It was taken during sunset at the pier of Imperia, which has a beautiful old town at the Italian Riviera.

I hope my article gave you some ideas why both solutions are great and why you might have a look at both of them. Here are my top 5 pros why I would use one over the other, because I really dislike articles that end with a "both are good and there is no winner".

Lightroom

  • Extremely stable and the market standard
  • Merging panoramic photos and HDRs directly within the software
  • Huge availability of tutorials and presets
  • A wide and mature feature set
  • Great integration into Adobe Photoshop (open multiple images as layers in Photoshop, …)

Luminar

  • Extremely fast and modern UI
  • No subscription fee and therefore much cheaper
  • High-end AI filters
  • Great communication with the community and focus on features that are requested by the users of the software
  • Less UI and more focus on the photos / better photo viewing experience

You can buy Luminar here* and safe $10 (or 10€) when using the promo code LOCATIONSCOUT. So you will get Luminar for only $79 instead of $89*.

*affiliate links that support Locationscout

Let me know about your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

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Comments (35)

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Leo SERRAT
Leo SERRAT 02.12.2019
Thank you for the article. Even if Luminar seems to be a great software, no other sofware in the market let you sync your library with your mobile devices (tablets and phones). Your luminar library stays on your desktop computer. The great thing with lightroom is you can edit on the go just after a shoot, and finish later on your desktop. As soon as another software let you do that, I might consider a switch.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 02.12.2019
Thank you for your opinion dear Leo. That's definitely a good point and if that's an important use case for you, then I fully agree. I never thought about retouching my photos on a tiny display and when on the go I want to focus on taking photos anyway, but there might be situations, especially when having a shooting for a customer, when this totally makes sense. As far as I know there are no plans in the very near future to implement a mobile Luminar as well.
Graham Payne
Graham Payne 02.12.2019
Another interesting alternative to Lightroom/Photoshop is ON1 Photo Raw 2020. This software package is getting better all the time and also has the artificial intellegence feature that's the norm today.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 02.12.2019
Sounds interesting. I read a lot about it, but never tried it myself... yet. :-)
Christian BARRET
Christian BARRET 25.02.2019
Luminar Library is incredibly slow on Windows. I have updated my Luminar and it's the same problem. I think it's good if you have just 10 photographs, but with 30K to load, you have the time to drink tons of coffees before you can work.
Esteban Flores
Esteban Flores 18.01.2019
Interesting to see that no one has suggested CaptureOne. I switched from Lightroom to CO about a year ago. Very good software with good results on image quality and performance. Price is the only downside.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 18.01.2019
Hey Esteban, thanks for your feedback. The reason why nobody suggested CaptureOne is probably because the article is a specific comparison between the most used software right now and a relatively new software. CaptureOne is also a good choice I would say and I could do a wider comparison between more software alternatives in the future if that would help. Have a nice weekend! Manuel
Esteban Flores
Esteban Flores 18.01.2019
Makes sense! Cheers
Yves Goergen
Yves Goergen 03.01.2019
Interesting read. I'm also interested in alternatives to Adobe software, I just can't trust their business anymore. They take away capabilities from me in a way I really dislike. The trouble with Luminar on Windows mentioned below doesn't sound too good. But I'm also missing one very important aspect in this article: What about my existing Lightroom catalogue? I already have tons of photos organised and edited in there. And replacing a software ultimately means removing all need to use it in the future. Can Luminar import my Lightroom data? What happens to the different organisation features? What about the probably incompatible edits to the images? Will I have to export all edits in Lightroom that I want to keep? That will produce masses of additional data on disk. Does Luminar support geo-tagging with a map view? (This seems to be the latest feature removal and it does affect me.) I'd really appreciate to see the "upgrade path" described in further detail.
Thomas Mahnken
Thomas Mahnken 03.01.2019
Right now there is no Lightroom data import in Luminar. But that question already came up by the users, and I'm sure they will try to work on it, when the bugs are fixed. Don't Just expect this to happen very soon. To be fair, the DAM has just recently been added. But you're right, it's definitly a must have feature
Sen Sejus
Sen Sejus 31.12.2018
Hi. Do You know if luminar has something like the brush tool in LR where You can select the area for which You want to apply the desired changes? Another very powerful and great tool what I would love to and what I find amazing is the Color control points in the Nikon CNX. Would be super if the Luminar would have something like that.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 31.12.2018
Hey Sen, yes Luminar has a brush tool that you can apply to every filter, which is even better solved than in LR in my opinion because you can apply a filter endless times and therefore you can apply any changes with the brush to any area within your photo. How do the control points in Nikon CNX work? I really like how the Nik filters and their U-point technology works.
Sen Sejus
Sen Sejus 31.12.2018
You can check some very basic sample here: https://youtu.be/_tshO9oRUjw They are very powerful actually when the background of the landscape photo is complicated, like many trees, mountains of different height and so on. For such use cases the gradient of LR is much less usefull.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 02.01.2019
Okay, that's identical what the Nik filters are doing. I also really like this way of selections, since I am doing the pixelbased work in Photoshop or a similar tool anyway.
Ron Leckie
Ron Leckie 31.12.2018
Great article and assessment! I have been using Aurora HDR and Luminar for 2 years now and love them. Their features and stability have improved significantly. At least until Luminar 3 - that first release crashed at virtually every keystroke for me. The 3.0.1 release fixed most of the issues I had. Now I hope they integrate Aurora as an effective plug-in. The current version does not enable multiple images to be loaded into Aurora HDR for merging. I don't use Lightroom at all - just use Photoshop for a few specialty features. Hope to ultimately drop the Adobe products completely.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 31.12.2018
Hey Ron, thanks for your feedback. I will also add that as feedback I will send them. Definitely makes sense so have a better integration here. I will also test Aurora HDR more in detail in the future. Seems that it got improved so much, that I would like to compare it to manual Luminosity Masks, which is in my opinion one of the best solutions right now to solve the HDR issue.
Rudolfo Dalamicio
Rudolfo Dalamicio 30.12.2018
Thanks for the offer Manuel, just supported you guys. Have a great new year and a lot of new places to discover!
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 31.12.2018
Thank you very much dear Rudolfo, I am very thankful for your support and wish you a great new year as well with always the best light. Thanks for being a part of Locationscout! :)
Thomas Mahnken
Thomas Mahnken 30.12.2018
Seems Like I am the only one here using Luminar for Windows, because there is no other reason why everyone would rave about it: on Windows it is a nightmare to use, the program is slow as hell, quite instabil with forced closes and a lot of Details that simply don't Work as intended. The amount of negative feedback in the community forum of skylum is proofing how unreliable it is right now. And I already had the same problems with the previous version I bought 2017. No serious photographer on Windows would consider Luminar right now as an alternative to LR...and seriously noone would consider it to be fast or even stable. Just my 2 cents, anyway
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 30.12.2018
Hey Thomas, that's definitely sad to hear. I am using it on my Mac and didn't experience any of these issues. Only had one problem when closing the app once, but that got solved with 3.0.1 yesterday. I will redirect this feedback as well, because in my opinion stability and speed are definitely one of the highest priorities for a software like this. In terms of speed I also wrote that previewing specific filters is a little slow, but anything else is definitely much faster in LR... at least on a Mac. Guess with so many different combinations of hardware and operating systems it's not the easiest part to optimize it for every configuration, but it definitely should be stable, so I will address that the next time I will talk to them. Thanks for your 2 cents :-)
Eduardo Angielczyk
Eduardo Angielczyk 30.12.2018
Apologizes if was already mentioned. Another Luminar's pro: it can be used as a Photoshop filter. The AI filters are incredible. Luminar is very friendly and you can choose from "Quick & Awesome" option to more advanced layer masking features.
Daryl L. Hunter
Daryl L. Hunter 30.12.2018
Glad to see Adobe's monopoly being breeched :)
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 30.12.2018
Competition is good for business. ;-)
Marcel Weigele
Marcel Weigele 30.12.2018
Hi! Do you know, if I could use Luminar on my desktop and my laptop with the same licence?
Eduardo Angielczyk
Eduardo Angielczyk 30.12.2018
I started with Luminar 2018 (just upgrade to Luminar 3) and have the possibility to install up to 5 different machines with the same license.
Marcel Weigele
Marcel Weigele 30.12.2018
Great, thank you!!
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 30.12.2018
Good to know, thank you Eduardo. Lightroom can be used on 2 machines at the same time as far as I know, not sure though if I could use it on both at the same time.
Eduardo Angielczyk
Eduardo Angielczyk 30.12.2018
Hello Manuel, just for the record, we are also using Luminar in Windows and OSX with the same license.
Luca Marchini
Luca Marchini 30.12.2018
Hi all, do you know if there is an android app for Luminar or if they are working on it?
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 30.12.2018
Hey Luca, I will ask them for you and see if there is anything planned yet.
Thomas Mahnken
Thomas Mahnken 31.12.2018
That question has been raised in the support community as well and AFAIR there are no plans yet for IOS or android at the time being.
Luca Marchini
Luca Marchini 03.02.2019
Hi Manuel, Did you get any feedback from Luminar team about this topic? Thank you
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 04.02.2019
Hey dear Luca, sure and here is the answer: "The thing is that we consider adding a mobile version for both Android and iPhone but I don't think this is something we will implement this/next year." So it matches with what Thomas got as a feedback from the support community. Hope that helps you! Manuel
Björn Hoffmann
Björn Hoffmann 30.12.2018
I just switched to Luminar beginning of December and I love it! The massive amount of filters and the possibility of layers makes it fun to use. I made lots of LR-LUM comparisons with old photos and the Luminar versions always looked better. Of course, the software still needs lots of improvements and bugfixes, but it is on a great way!
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 30.12.2018
That's exactly what I thought as well Björn. I met the team behind Luminar a few times now and I love how passionate they are about getting better. They don't care about standards, they just listen to the community and pay attention to their needs. I am 100% certain that even if both softwares are currently at the same level, Luminar will take the lead very soon when Adobe doesn't start to listen to their core users. Thank you for your opinion and for being a part of Locationscout. Wish you a great start into 2019!!

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