There has been much talk about the upcoming version of Luminar 4 from Skylum software. I've tested an early beta release and found the new features, particularly sky replacement, rather incredible. Others will be more interested in the new AI Portrait tools, to which I also gave some attention. The bottom line is that Luminar 4 goes beyond any manual method of sky replacement for speed and accuracy. The portrait tools also work more quickly and easily than any software I've seen, including apps dedicated to portrait retouching.
What You Get
Luminar 4 is a natural evolution from Luminar 3, which is the current version. We began to see some AI features in version 3, like an Accent AI filter and AI sky enhancement, but Luminar 4 goes much further. Skylum's goal with Luminar 4 was to completely change the way photographers approach photo editing, offering several tools utilizing extensive machine-learning and a new streamlined interface to make photo editing more accessible than ever before.
In Luminar 4, even the language has changed a bit. Filters are now called “tools,” making for a simpler understanding of the software. These have now been organized into six tabs for their intended purpose, making it easy for users to locate and understand what they do. In older versions, filters popped up over your image. Now they have their place to the right of the screen.
Major Parts of the GUI
Tools: Basic tools to work with, including crop, transform, and erase.
Essentials: Everything necessary for basic color and tone correction.
Creative: Photo-processing tools that allow photographers to take their photos beyond basic editing, including AI Sky Replacement.
Portrait: Tools oriented for processing portraits, including AI Skin Enhancer and Portrait Enhancer.
Pro: Sophisticated tools for professional photo processing. That includes gradient tools, split toning, dodge and burn, and advanced contrast and color controls.
Sky replacement is the headline feature of Luminar 4. It takes what is now a tedious process of replacing skies with masks and makes it at minimum one click, at maximum, an adjustment of a slider to more fully render the mask. Most of the time, in my experience, one click will do the trick. Using Photoshop, ON1, or even a dedicated sky replacement app like Landscape Pro can be a very time-consuming experience. I think this is the sky replacement technology people dream about, and some people will buy the app for this feature alone. It comes with a small collection of skies for you to use, but even better, it lets you select from your own collection. The sky replacement feature doesn't do everything. While it can cast an appropriate color cast of the sky on your landscape, it can't reflect your new sky in bodies of water. There are ways you can accomplish that effect, but it's not one click. Landscape Pro has water reflections as a feature, and it is incredibly useful, but you have to manually define where the water is. At any rate, here's a quick sky replacement I did in Luminar 4 with an image I had taken at Sedona, Arizona.
AI Portrait Tool
This is two tools really that unfold into a great deal more. First is a Skin Enhancer. Open your portrait, then adjust the slider to smooth skin and reduce blemishes. The Portrait Enhancer holds a lot of power, including whitening teeth, brightening eyes, adjusting lips, face slimming, red eye removal, and eye circle remover. Unlike many portrait applications, you didn't have to define the parts of the face to work on; the AI just figures it out.
Here's a before, followed by the after:
Most of what's left are the already good features that came from previous versions of Luminar. There is an AI Structure tool I have found useful and a new Landscape Enhance feature I found less useful. The main thing to note is the redesign of the GUI is a success and very logical, but previous users of Luminar will need a little bit to get adjusted to it. At first glance, it seems like a lot of things have been taken away, but in fact, the organization is different. You can still paint on effects in localized areas, and many of the tools have an enhanced tab that gives you even more control. For example, in the AI Sky Replacement tool, there is a handy checkbox to flip the sky, so you can more realistically line up shadows with your replaced sky.
There will always be a debate about photographers being automated or "AI'ed" out of existence. I don't think that is really the the case here. Luminar 4 can make some really dreary tasks immensely faster. That allows me time to be more productive or to spend more time on other aspects of tuning my image instead of worrying about getting my masks right. Other than AI Sky Replacement and the AI Portrait tools, there are not what I would deem breakthrough tools in this release. But the AI tools all work well. AI Sky Enhancement, for example, will improve your existing sky if you don't want to replace it. Most photographers will combine multiple tools in any image, and the end result is almost always going to be greater than the sum of the tools used individually.
One surprising thing I noticed with Luminar 4 was that I could do my entire workflow with landscape photos without ever having to go to Lightroom or Photoshop. I could start with a raw image, adjust the lighting and shadows, highlights, and curves just as I would in the Adobe universe, Lightroom in particular. Sky replacement isn't available from the Adobe Suite, nor are there are automated tools for portraits. At the end of my session, after sharpening and some dust spot removal, I could export to a 16 bit TIFF, and all was right with the world.
Personally, I would not abandon Adobe just yet. I do use their lens correction tools and a few other things that aren't available in Luminar, but Luminar 4 is very close to having a complete workflow for some photographers.
If you use Luminar 4 as a standalone application, you are stuck with the Luminar Library feature. There's no way to turn it off, and while Luminar is trying to offer a full featured Library/Archive product, they really are not competitive. They aren't the only software company that has tried to compete on this front and fallen short. I'm hoping there will be a Luminar 4 Flex, similar to the current Luminar Flex, which gives you all the Luminar tools, but skips the Library.
On the other hand, you can use Luminar 4 as a Photoshop or Lightroom Classic plug-in and not worry about the library, but then you're back to the Adobe universe again.
Almost every raw file I gave to Luminar 4 was greatly improved. Yes, some of the same improvement could be made with Lightroom or Photoshop, but not all.
Luminar 4 is a breakthrough tool because of its clever use of AI that brings real results that are still under the photographers control. The one-click sky replacement is absolutely stunning. We can debate sky replacement aesthetically, and people do intellectually and morally. I think it has a place in fine art photography, but it should be used sparingly and with your own skies, and Luminar 4 lets you use your personal sky library. This will be really popular with real estate photographers, who are often not on a location with the best weather.
Skylum provided me with the Golden Master version of Luminar 4. I found it slower than I'd like on my MacBook Pro and my Mac Pro, but I'm told that between now and the November 18 public release, it will speed up. I'm using the Mac version under Catalina. I've heard the Windows version is also slower than desired as well.
I found Luminar 4 to be a big step forward for Luminar, and I expect it's going to be a major hit with photographers at all levels of experience. It won't replace the Adobe suite yet, but Luminar 4 can do some things Photoshop and Lightroom can't do, nor can any third party plug ins. For many, that makes it a must-buy.
What I Like
- Amazing AI abilities for sky replacement and portrait editing. Breathtaking, really.
- Redesigned GUI is fast to use and well organized.
- Works as a plug-in for Adobe products, as well as Apple Photos and the late, lamented Aperture.
- Layers and brushes all work well, along with things I use in Lightroom like clarity and dehaze.
Things I Don't Like
- If you don't use the Library, and I don't, it just gets in the way.
- No water reflections in AI Sky Replacement.
- A lens correction library would be really useful.
- This pre-release version is pretty slow to respond to commands.
Mixed-computer households can share the same product key for Mac and PC, which can be activated on two devices.
Pre-orders include a bonus one-year plan to SmugMug (worth $180) and cost $79//€79/£72 for a new purchase and $69/€69/£64 for an upgrade. When released on November 18, the price will jump to $89/€89/£81 new and $69/€69/£64 for an upgrade.