Luminar Neo. An Honest Opinion

Luminar Neo. An Honest Opinion
About Luminar Neo splash screen

I've had Luminar Neo for quite some time now. In fact, at some point in the past, I decided to use it to edit my Instagram images. I don't do it anymore because I don't exactly enjoy posting different edits on Instagram and my other social media. And so, Luminar Neo has been sitting unused for the last year or so, collecting figurative dust.

The direct stimulus to give Luminar another chance was a recent video by James Popsys where he showed his editing process. What impressed me was the speed at which he could transform a flat and bland raw image into something that perfectly matched his style.

So I updated the app to the latest version and loaded up an image from my recent photowalk.


I moved some sliders, applied a few masks, quickly brushed the Erase tool over the tripod leg on the left and in a matter of a few minutes, the end result was there. Pretty impressive.

And after

During these few minutes, I managed to determine three things:

  • what I love about Luminar Neo,
  • what I dislike about it,
  • how it can fit in my personal use case.

The Good

Let's start with the highlights of the show. The speed at which I can edit images is simply crazy. There's no denying that Luminar Neo is a time saver. It's especially apparent with some of the "magic" tools such as Mystical. I'm not sure what exactly each one of them does but they do exactly what it says on the box and when used with moderation, they give the edited images a certain feel without it being obvious.

The AI tools are often capable of performing complex tasks that would otherwise take much longer to pull off. Take the Relight tool as an example. With it, I can easily darken the foreground so that it doesn't distract from the main subject. Sure, I can also use the Develop tool and apply a mask but why do it manually when I don't need to?

The Colour tool is something that I sorely miss in my everyday editing software, darktable. Not that I can't perform the same colour adjustments; I of course can, and do with every photo I process. However, Luminar Neo achieves the same effect with just a few sliders whereas darktable's Colour Zones module is a pain to work with.

The Bad

There are a couple of things about Luminar Neo that I'm not a fan of. And then a few that I consider blockers, although I do admit that I am not familiar enough with the software to rule out the possibility of there being a way around the inconveniences. But let's talk details.

First off, there's a combo of two features that is a waste of my time. The fact that opening a tool creates a new instance of the edit is an iffy choice. Paired with how one edit can negate the effects of an earlier one, this leads to situations where I jump between edits, guessing the correct values for the sliders instead of seeing them.

Case in point: I adjusted the colours right at the beginning of my workflow. The last edit I applied was Supercontrast. However (and I will get a bit technical here; please bear with me), Supercontrast does not work with the colours' luminance, but rather their lightness. While the difference might seem irrelevant, it is in fact massive. You see, changes in luminance affect brightness, but not saturation. On the other hand, lightness affects both brightness and saturation at the same time: lower lightness translates to higher saturation. In my image, this meant that much of the green grass, which I had desaturated at the beginning of my workflow, regained its saturation when Supercontrast darkened it. I went back to my Colour edit to reduce the greens' saturation further, but the annoying thing is that going to a previous edit also disables all the following ones. So I couldn't tell how much desaturation I needed until I reapplied all the following edits and saw the result. This trial and error approach is suboptimal, to say the least.

That was a big one, but wait, there's more. Reapplying edits after going back to the Colour at the beginning of my workflow was also a waste of time and processing power. One thing you must know is that Luminar Neo applies edits in the order the user performs them, and some of them are not speed demons by any stretch. Every time I went back to my Supercontrast edit, I had to wait 5-10 seconds until Luminar recalculated all the edits.

Then there are the AI tools. "But wait, didn't you mention them as a feature you liked?", I hear you say. And you're right: I absolutely love the AI features... when they work. The thing is, they don't always do a great job. And when they don't, I realise I've just wasted my time waiting for the machine to analyse my image and need to do things manually anyway. It's frustrating to see Luminar do a lousy job. Sadly, it happens quite often.

Then there are also minor inconveniences such as the sensitivity of some tools. For example, the colour temperature slider. When it's at 0, it does nothing. Bumping it to something like +3 makes the image very yellow. In order to get it to an acceptable value, I need to dial in +1 or +2, and there's a clear difference between each value. There really should be more granularity there.

Applying watermarks is also a real pain. I'm used to how darktable does it: take an SVG input and slap it onto the image where I want, as big as I want. My presets all use a predefined percentage of the image's longer edge as the width of the watermark and place it at a specified X and Y distance from the bottom left corner. Moreover, I can add the watermark automatically on export. Luminar can't really do it. I need to create a PNG file with the watermark and apply it to the edited image as a new layer. All manually. And if the PNG overlay has a different aspect ratio than the edited photo, the alignment will be messed up.

File and metadata management are other features that I'm sorely missing in Luminar Neo. When I'm adding single images to the collection, it's fine. But maintaining a database of thousands of images is not viable. There's no metadata editing, not even rating except for "favourite" and "rejected" states that, as far as I can tell, are kept entirely in Luminar's database. I can't filter images by EXIF tags such as lens name, focal length or tags. Finding what I want is entirely up to me.

The last thing I'll mention is probably a matter of my personal use case and won't hold for other people. Still, it impedes me. I have two computers that I use for editing photos. I like to keep the changes synced between them. I don't know if this is possible with Luminar Neo but I have not found such an option so far. This makes it impossible to, say, start editing a photo on my laptop, leave it to marinate and then continue the work on my desktop.

Is Luminar Neo for Me?

Given the amount of complaints I have about Luminar Neo, it would seem it's not the right tool for me. Darktable is my workhorse and I doubt anything can currently change that. But having a workhorse editor doesn't imply not using others.

Is Luminar useless for me? No. The images I want to share on Flickr or Very are fairly polished in terms of postproduction. However, there are other use cases I can think of where Luminar can shine. Sometimes all I need is a bunch of quick edits on multiple photos. Sometimes I photograph people who would like to receive the pictures and don't care about all the artsy edits, relights and subtle HSL adjustments. Sometimes I want to quickly see what I can achieve before I start a much more labour-intensive manual edit in darktable.

Can I make do without Luminar Neo? Yes, I can; it's not an essential tool for me.

Do I regret paying for a licence? Not at all. Even if I don't use Luminar much, I know I'd keep it on my wishlist anyway due to all the positive reviews online. I'd pay for it at some point anyway.

Will I use it more? I think I will.