After giving Picktorial 3 a go, I downloaded Luminar Neptune a raw processor for Mac (a windows version is coming, the beta is out). Lightroom is an excellent tool to maintain my photo library and to export files to a disk and to various online services. The raw conversion is good and it boasts many tools in the develop module. It is not and has never tried to be a fully fledged image processing program : photoshop is the real deal.
I have been using Lightroom for a long while now, I also use photoshop and the Nik software (now google) plugins like colour Efex pro 4 and silver Efex pro 2. In truth though, I am not very good at retouching. I use photoshop to have all my transformations in a single tiff file. For example, I’ll do some basic edits in Lightroom, send the file to photoshop in which I’ll use Color Efex or Silver Efex on one layer, some dodging & burning on another layer and maybe a bit of saturation or a color lookup table. In recent times, I have been doing my black and white conversions with the fuji film simulations in Lightroom so I only use Color Efex and some dodging and burning. If I could do everything in one piece of software I would save time. Google has buried the Nik Collection so I’m looking at Luminar to give me a workflow that does not involve photoshop. The ultimate goal is to have a complete non destructive workflow.
Luminar is free to try for 15 days. It installed easily and installed the plugins for Lightroom and photoshop with the click of a button. You can send a tiff file with Lightroom edits or ask Luminar to process the raw file by right clicking on the file.
Luminar also works as a standalone program, so a photo can be loaded (raw or otherwise) into the program.
The first negative comes here : the loading time for a raw file (from a fuji x-pro 2) is extremely long. It is variable from one case to another but takes between 30s to 50s. This is an eternity! Loading a tiff file from Lightroom is very fast though.
The workspace in Luminar is clean, Underneath the photo are the presets and to the right you can find the sliders and layer options organised in what they call workspaces (which are presets for the presence or absence of all the adjustments and filters).
I opened up the “Essentials” workspace and tweaked the highlights/shadows and the structure (which I’m glad is there, so much more useful to me than clarity!). Pleased with what I had, I changed the workspace to “Street” and whoosh, all my edits disappeared! The behaviour of workspaces needs getting used to. I should have added a layer so save my edits before changing. Live and learn!
Luminar relies heavily on presets and the ability to restrict the effect to a part of the image through layer masks. It has many filters, easily matching Nik Collections Color Efex Pro 4. Although Silver Efex is more refined in the way it uses film simulations, I could get by without it. The u-point technology is way better in my opinion to mask an effect than painting with a brush. Especially as the brush in Luminar does not have edge detection. Lightroom and Picktorial do. Layers have a global opacity slider and a blending mode just as in photoshop.
So all in all, Luminar is very impressive as a plugin. Here are two processed versions of the same photo.
The first in Lightroom : general adjustments for exposure and some local adjustments for colour on the mossy stones. Note that it is the same photo as the one I edited on my short article about Picktorial 3.
This one in Luminar. I used several filters locally : colour contrast on the moss, some subtle Orton effect on the background fir trees and some polarising on the water. Notice how the blown out highlights on the water have come back delicately. This is one of the points where Picktorial 3 fell apart for me.
This article is not aimed to be a complete review of everything Luminar Neptune can do. There are some tutorial videos on the Luminar website, and many also on you tube. As a plugin program for quick image editing for the amateur that I am, it is very satisfactory.
Here is another comparison, a raw file transformed to black and white.
Lightroom version :
Luminar version :
The thing to watch out for in Luminar is not to overcook the photos by using too many filters. It is easily done as there are many to choose from and the manipulation of layers is fast and easy. The brush is so much faster than in Lightroom!
The reasons I could use Luminar Neptune and be very pleased :
- It works quite fast. A filter can take a couple of seconds to calculate the effect. Sliders are pretty much instantaneous.
- There are a lot of presets available in the program and some more to download on the Luminar website. Installing is automatic. A double click on the downloaded file is all that is needed.
- Layers work just as well for me as in photoshop, with opacity, masks and blending mode.
- Each layer can contain any amount of adjustments and filters. Just click on “add filter” to mix and match the effects.
- The adjustments are noise free unlike many of the Nik software filters that have a tendency to add a lot of noise or grain to the image.
The reasons I’m holding back:
- When the image is ready, the file is sent back to Lightroom through the “apply” button. Luminar then closes automatically. All layers are all lost and if you want to tweak an image again, well you can’t. If you send the same tiff file from Lightroom back to Luminar, all edits are lost. At least in photoshop, you get to keep the layers and through the use of smart filters, everything is editable.
- To be fair, Luminar does have proprietary file format in which you can save your file for re-editing but it is not compatible with Lightroom.
- There are no options for camera profiles and film simulations and I would miss not having Acros and Classic Chrome
Some small niggles :
- In lightroom, if you hold down the option key white moving the white or black point a mask appears to help. I didn’t find this very useful option in Luminar.
- Same thing for the sharpening mask.
- The sharpening looks pretty bad, fine sharpening is ok but very different to Lightroom. I actually prefer the details viewed at 100% in Lightroom which has been critisized for its treatment of Raf files over the years.
- Loading a raw file is painfully slow.
- I didn’t find and easy way to dodge and burn (I use a neutral gray layer in photoshop and paint in black or white). I’m sure there is one somewhere!
Luminar Neptune does not work as non destructive raw file workflow with Lightroom but as a photoshop/filter plug-in it works very well. If (or when) the re-editing of a file is possible then I think I would be very interested. I contacted the team at Luminar to ask them about this issue, I received an answer within 24h stating that this was “normal” behaviour. That new DAM software needs to come quickly!