The Strange Differences Between Luminar 4 and Luminar AI

The Strange Differences Between Luminar 4 and Luminar AI

Many presumed Luminar AI to be the big update for Luminar 4. But Skylum surprised everyone when Luminar AI turned out to be a completely different program. Or perhaps it isn’t that different at all?

There has been a lot of advertisement for Luminar AI. It is said to be the next step in post-processing. It uses a very clever algorithm that is called Artificial Intelligence, although it won’t pass the Turing test at all. But as the name suggests, it will take a lot of work out of hands when it comes down to processing your precious digital raw files.

Luminar 4, and Its First Steps With AI

Artificial Intelligence was already introduced with Luminar 4. It makes it possible to enhance a landscape or portrait photo by adjusting only a few sliders. The program recognizes elements in photos and will adjust the photo based on that. The A.I. can also recognize the sky, and thus it became possible to replace a sky with only a few mouse clicks.

Luminar 4 in use with sky replacement

At the beginning of 2020 I recorded a series of 36 Dutch tutorial videos about Luminar 4. During the recording, I learned about the masking options, and about the rudimentary layer functionality. Besides that, I found Luminar 4 to be mainly about a quick edit without diving deep into precise or complicated post-processing steps.

This was strengthened by the lack of an extensive library function. You can’t add keywords or other metadata at all. It uses the folder structure as a library, and it lacks a flexible album function or the use of collections. Although it is possible to add a star rating, and color rating, Luminar 4 is not made for managing a large photo library.

Luminar 4 offers the use of star ratings and color ratings.

Fortunately, Luminar 4 comes with a Lightroom and Photoshop plugin. This way I could replace the skies of my real-estate photos in an easy way. It does lack the possibility to perform this batch-wise, but in those days it was quicker compared to manually masking the sky in Photoshop.

Luminar AI Is Not an Upgrade, It Is Something Completely Different

With the announcement of Luminar AI, I hoped it to be a huge step forward. The program could use a more adult photo library, and options that would allow for a professional workflow. Although I’m happy about using Lightroom Classic, I knew Luminar AI could be a possible replacement for those who don’t like the subscription model by Adobe.

Luminar AI turns out to be a completely different program compared to Luminar 4, in a very strange way. It is not possible to migrate your old catalog. If you have been using Luminar 4 to manage, and edit your photos, you have to import, and process every single image all over again.

Luminar AI has removed all rating possibilities. You can only assign a flag status.

You could keep both programs of course, and use Luminar AI only for the newer images. But the support for Luminar 4 seems to end in about one year as of this writing. Although the program will keep on working, it is difficult to say how it will evolve after that moment in time. Even so, using two different programs to manage your photos is often far from ideal.

But how different is Luminar AI exactly? Is it adding enough extra functionality compared to Luminar 4? About one week before its official release I started recording a new Dutch video tutorial about working with Luminar AI. I learned about all the functionalities, and discovered to my surprise how some great functions are completely removed from the program.

The Differences Between Luminar 4 and Luminar AI

With Luminar AI the post-processing is directed towards the recognition of the photo, and then you use one of the presets that Luminar will advise. These presets are now called Templates instead of Looks, and you can buy as many as you like on the website. Fortunately, Luminar AI comes with a whole bunch of built-in Templates, many of them with inspiring names. The Looks you might have bought for Luminar 4 won’t work in Luminar AI.

With Luminar AI the Templates is the most important way of post-processing.

With Luminar AI is still possible to make your own adjustments to a photo. The way it works is similar to Luminar 4, although there are a few new additions for portrait photographers. Changing the color of the iris is added, just like changing the shape of a body, including the abdomen. The Sky Replacement that takes reflections into account will be added in a later stage, just like a few other new things. These are not yet available. Luminar AI has the option to advise on cropping an image, relying mostly on the Rule of Thirds for composition. It also suggests an aspect ratio, based on what is recognized in the image. 

Composition AI can be used, but it is mainly based on the Rule of Thirds, and makes some change decissions. It also suggests aspect ratios.

If you shoot a lot of photos you need to have a good, and reliable library with many functions to rate images, the use of albums or categories, and an extensive search function based on this information. If you're expecting a more extensive library function with keywords and metadata, you will be disappointed.

Unfortunately, Luminar AI didn’t change the library at all. On the contrary, it even removed the possibility for star ratings and color ratings. You can flag a photo, but that’s it. On top of that, the possibility for the use of layers is also removed. Although it was rudimentary in Luminar 4, it was usable, and on some occasions necessary to obtain more precise post-processing. Masking is still possible, but not as extensive compared to Luminar 4. Blending options and luminosity masks are removed from the program.

Applying local adjustments can be done withe the Local Masking tab. The use of layers is not possible anymore. Also blending options are not present in Luminar AI

My Thoughts About Luminar AI After Extensive Use

Luminar AI is a completely different program, built from the ground up. Skylum made this very clear from the beginning. It is relying very heavily on the Artificial Intelligence functions, mostly by suggesting Templates based on the image itself. Landscape photographers and portrait photographers are provided with many tools to adjust or manipulate an image, with the help of Artificial Intelligence.

Besides the new Templates function, it is surprising how Luminar AI resembles Luminar 4. There are no additions for importing or exporting images, and the print function is unchanged. At the same time, it is stripped from many features like ratings in the photo library and the more sophisticated post-processing options like layers, and blending options. It feels like a step backwards instead of forwards. Fortunately, it still comes with a Lightroom and Photoshop plugin.

If you like to perform more sophisticated post-processing, like layers and blending options, you will have to stick to Luminar 4

Luminar AI is relying mostly on the quick edit, without bothering about a good library system. If you don’t care about that library, and just want to transform your image into something special in a very quick, and easy way, Luminar AI is perfect for you. If you prefer a more personal way of post-processing, I think Luminar 4 is the better choice. But if you are looking for a good library function to manage your precious photos, you might want to skip Luminar all together.

If you like to play with changing the appearance of a landscape or portrait, your will have many automated options in Luminar AI

What do you think about the new Luminar AI? Is it perfect for you, or were you hoping for something else with the release of Luminar AI? Do you prefer Luminar 4? Please share your opinion in the comment below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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Good review.
I have both andd it does feel like Luminar AI is a step backwards.
It doesn't have the functionality of L4, The interface and the program is minimalist and I find myself hunting for obvious tools.
Except for sky replacement, I'll stick with L4, far better, more features, more serious and useful for my particular workflow.

A photographer friend of mine that's been using Luminar since the 2018 version agrees with you. He said that the AI version isn't an upgrade, it's a walk back.

It will be intereting to see how these AI photo editing programs pan out. Let us all hope that the replacement skies don't become signature pieces enabling any one to exclaim, that's a xxxx brand sky..

I see a lot of images appear with the typical Luminar skies. But also Photoshop skies start to emerge. It will be a new thing for the next couple of years. After that people will get bored with these things

A 1984 sky :)

I am a fan of Luminar 4 as plug-in from PS but see it as useless standalone. Luminar presets/templates all seem overwrought to me. Sadly Luminar AI was so buggy it proved unusable on my not unusual Ryzen system but what I saw of it functionally was identical to Luminar 4. I like the Sky Replacement better than PS. Sadly the fine grained controls that employ some iteration of masking are kind of primitive compared to PS, hence more reason for using Luminar as a specialty plug-in filter.

I believe it is workable as a plugin, but it isn't working very smooth and bug free, unfortunately.

I had Luminar A.I. for two days and then asked for refund. It’s a minor upgrade from Luminar 4 at best. Sure they changed the interface but the sliders are identical to 4, the only difference being some name changes and that histogram can only be thrown on top an image as a transparent overlay, making it useless.

The new “improved” fog slider somewhat had a more layered effect but you’re better off using overlays in photoshop.

The new change iris colour slider is just awful. I really hope I don’t see any images using it because it looks cartoonishly fake.

The new body slimming slider is meh at best. Granted it’s something I’d never use on a portrait anyway.
The “templates”, presets, are way over done. I realize they’re supposed to be starting points but they’re not inspiring. Also there aren’t as many as this article leads you on to believe.

Skylum is heavily pushing a subscription model for this software. The benefit to the subscription? More templates and skies! Hence why it comes with hand full of templates for a few types of images. Speaking of skies, it comes with the EXACT same skies and sky objects as Luminar 4 with no new additions.

Like I said it is barely an upgrade from Luminar 4. The launch was a disaster. Their Facebook group was filled with complaints and people demanding a refund. The moderators on the page went so far as the turn off commenting on threads that criticized the software. When they couldn’t keep up with complaints they just started flat out deleting every negative post about the software.

It blows my mind that I haven’t seen a single reviewer cover this software and it’s launch honestly.

I believe there is a reason why there haven't been a lot of reviews. Skylum is offering affiliate programs for almost every reviewer and photographer. It keeps the reviews a bit more positive, I think ;)

I’m familiar with their affiliate program. I was offered it early on with Luminar 4 and passed on it because I’m not active enough on social media and I’m not interested in spending more time on it.

Are you part of said affiliate program?

No. I passed also when they contacted me with Luminar 4

Thank you for the informative article. You saved me hours of screwing around just to learn Luminar AI isn for me. I really like Luminar 4 for adding a little bit of “spice” to images. Unfortunately the things I don’t like about 4 aren’t addressed in AI.

Thanks for the review. You saved me from spending. I am not reading good user reviews so far.

It will be intereting to see how these AI photo editing programs pan out

I think people will get tired of it soon enough. Give it a couple of years.

I'd agree with you. I "upgraded" and wanted to like it, but after 15 min closed the program and forgot about it until your review. With Photoshop having AI with the ability to adjust non-destructively, it's hard to wrap my head around how to use Luminar AI on a more consistent basis.

I didn't think anything could be worse than Lunimar 4. This must really awful.

after reading this, i took a look at the comments on their facebook page. looks like it'll be a hard pass.

I didn't check the Facebook page. Is it really that bad?

seems to be, lots of comments about bugs, people unable to access the program they downloaded, etc. most are requesting refunds or complaining about the company and customer service

Let's hope they learn from this

I trialed Luminar AI is and quickly concluded that it is not for a seasoned editor - even at enthusiast level.

Having been a Luminar user since the first Preview and gone through version 1 through to version 4, I can safely say Luminar AI is a step backwards for most editors - not because of the AI, but in terms of the program as a whole. Will wait for Luminar 5 instead.

Do you think Luminar 5 will be better?
To be honest, I think there will be no Luminar 5. They probably bring a second version of Luminar AI, and I wouldn't be surprised it will be a payed upgrade again. :)

Lets wait and see.
Something as simple as layers is missing from AI, and that's already a deal-breaker before I dive in further. Surely they will update v4.

I find that Luminar AI is a step back in the Luminar family. I've been using Luminar since its first version (as well as all other Skylum products). You could say I'm a fan boy, but that is not true. With each iteration that Luminar does, the company forgets the good things from the previous versions. Furthermore, no matter how much users ask for features, Skylum does not seem to listen. For me the worst thing about Luminar AI is the lack of layers (unlike Luminar 4). You can barely make local adjustments, and those are very limiting. If all the user wants is a quick fix and some photo manipulation (skies, fog, etc.), then I guess the user will like Luminar AI. For my personal use, I find myself adding more editing tweaks either in Lightroom or Luminar 4. So, basically, Luminar AI is functioning like a starting editing point for my workflow. I wish that Skylum had been more upfront about how different Luminar AI would be from Luminar 4. For example, the lack of layers was never addressed. If you look at Skylum forums, many users are upset about that.

I totally agree.

Really disappointing program.

What's most disturbing is not the lack of compelling new features in L AI but rather the truly irritating business model Skylum is employing here. As a L 4 user, i got spammed relentlessly to "upgrade" to AI for an introductory low price. The marketing kept trying to convince me that everything was new and clearly way better than L 4. But best I could tell, and confirmed by this review, most of the "new" features were actually already in L4, and the other stuff was not that interesting to me (I can crop and straighten in Lightroom like a mofo.) Skylum really screwed this one up. Rather than trying to get us all to invest in something "different", they should have comitted to adding user requested improvements to Luminar 4. I might have paid money for a Luminar 5, but after showing me they will just leave existing customers stranded, I won't be sending any more money their way.

Indeed, Skylum is spamming a lot. It is much too aggressive I received every other day new emails about the new program. Luckely it is possible to unsubscribe from a mailing list.

Luminar AI really appears (and I don't know if this is intentional or not) to be an editor for the social media crowd who wants to level up from snapchat or their smartphone's editing capability and still be able to process a large number of images quickly and easily. Beyond that, I can't really figure out how to work it into my workflow and the fact they only allow one install at the base price, the product has taken a big step back.

That is a good point. A step up from snapchat and such software. Post-processing for the social media crowd. Thank you

It is clear to me that Skylum has decided to pursue the consumer market and not the professional. I have years invested in Luminar 4 and since AI will not link to my edits or favorites in 4 I will lose all that work once 4 is no longer supported and stops working because of OS updates. So, it is back to Lightroom for me. Very disappointed.

I understand your frustrations. What do you think about the speed and stability of Lum4? Was that to your satisfaction?

I've had cataloging issues with 4 mainly losing the connection to existing catalogs after an update. Otherwise 4 seems to work ok and the sky replacement is an awesome tool.

You are not the only one that got the connection lost after updates. Quite frustrating

This article and others have led me to believe the new program is a waste of money. I love my Luminar 4 and hope they continue to improve it. I'd be happy to purchase at an upgrade price a new Luminar 5 if it is worth it. I was battered for so long with pre-purchase ads for the new AI program and now i'm glad I did not bite. Skylum...........listen to the current users of Luminar for for suggestions to improve and do that.

Yea, I can only recommend it to someone who has never edited (on desktop) before - but even then the price is steep considering that you could get ON1 Photo RAW 2021 for the same price.

Is ON1 about the same price? I thought it was much more expensive
btw - I wouldn't recomment Luminar to anyone that is serious about photography. That much I have learned

Luminar AI is priced at $114 (gets you 2 seats)
ON1 Photo RAW 2021 is priced at $115

Thanks for the info.
Do you use ON1? I have been told about the amount of extra files it generates on your hard drive. I recall something like that, when I tried it. But that was long time ago.

I preordered it and NEVER got it to work an image to anything recognizable as a useful image. I've wasted nearly 40 hours of my time on this software and got zip for it. I've put in for a refund, that they WILL issue or I'll invoice them for my time at a MUCH higher rate that the simple refund will cost them.

They should be ashamed of themselves for releasing this mess. Of course I didn't like Luminar 4 either, but I figured I'd give them another chance.

Hell, I could also just keep putting in a refund request every day until they capitulate and do it. That would take only a few minutes each day. I might even write a script to do it automatically for me.

Did you really thought the basics would be so much different from Lum4? When I read all the advertisements and watched the teaser videos it was clear from the start.

I'm glad I read up on the AI version first, I'm brand new to this whole thing and you're article spelled it out very nicely for me.