Have you noticed it's been almost impossible to miss all the discussions, arguments, praise, and ads about Skylum's new AI-based software editor, LuminarAI? It's available for purchase now, and people will get a chance to see how it measures up to their expectations.
I've been playing with various betas of the software for several weeks, and I'll share some of my impressions.
Who is LuminarAI For?
I think there are three groups of pro and semi-pro photographers out there in regards to this software. The first group is the "No AI ever" group.
The second is the "show me" group, who will want some evidence that LuminarAI is a step beyond the more non-AI based tools. They are open to using AI if it makes a difference and they don't lose their own ability to control the outcome of their image editing and cede control to an algorithm.
Finally, there are the somewhat adventuresome photographers who may be less experienced but want to have impressive images and don't mind some help or advice from a colleague or even their editing software.
What I Think
I think LuminarAI is a solid entry into the realm of high-quality editors. It's an evolution from Luminar 4, adding mainly the AI-based templates that have caused most of the discussion and controversy. If you're already a Luminar 4 owner and aren't interested in having the program set lighting, cropping, and some other parameters for you, then Luiminar 4 might be OK to stay with or avoid completely if you're not already a Luminar user.
On the other hand, LuminarAI adds some features beyond the templates menu that may appeal to many photographers, including:
- Atmospheric effects emulation with AtmosphereAI
- Add or enhance depth to a scene with mist or fog
- IrisAI, which allow you to easily enhance or change the eye color for portraits
- Add catchlights or highlights to enhance the eyes
- Naturally shape a subject with BodyAI
- People in your photos are automatically identified for quick refinement
- Easy controls to shape bodies naturally — adding or subtracting weight as desired and compensating for unflattering poses or camera angles
- There's an automated and non-destructive body enhancement so you can quickly refine the tool at any time
- There’s a new, nondestructive Local Adjustments tool that lets you brush in color, detail, and sharpness to make an intelligent portrait and skin adjustments and this tool is much faster and easier than traditional layers
- LuminarAI has significantly improved Eraser and Clone and Stamp tools
- There are also new and improved tools for color grading in which you can adjust color in a photo and quickly color grade with new Moods (powered by LUTs) or take control with the Color Harmony tool
In my own use of LuminarAI over the last many weeks, I found myself avoiding the templates. In some instances, they worked well, but I wanted to make my own decisions. I found the smart cropping tool interesting, and it often made a very good composition choice, but it was not the only choice that could be made.
Once I moved to the edit menu things, got much better for me. I found the editing tools, found under the "essentials" tab on par with Lightroom Classic, and generally, the tools are very similar.
Exceptions are the AI Enhance tool, which has no direct analog in Lightroom, and the AI Sky Enhance tool, which is a unique Skylum contribution. I find I can take a raw image and get to the same place with either Lightroom or LuminarAI, but it's often faster to get there with Luminar AI.
Moving Beyond the Basics
When we move beyond the Essentials tab, we have the Creative and the Portrait tabs. That's where things get more controversial. On the creative tab, you'll find the much-debated Sky Replacement feature (now ironically added to Photoshop by Adobe) and the ability to add objects to the sky, like rainbows, hot air balloons, and things like the Space Shuttle.
There are also sun rays and Orton type effects. Other than sky replacement, I really don't care about them. I'm a landscape photographer, and when I'm faced with a clear blue sky but otherwise excellent conditions, I'm not beyond adding a sky I've shot on my own on another day. Your mileage may vary.
In the Portrait section, there's more AI, and while I'm not a portrait photographer, I'm impressed with what they have done.
As mentioned above, you can slim faces and bodies, improve the lighting on a face, change the eyes, and clean up the skin. We're seeing similar options in the latest Photoshop, and whether you want to use them or not, the market is demanding these features.
To Buy or Not to Buy
I applaud Skylum for their pioneering work in bringing AI to the masses. Even without the AI, this latest Luminar is solid software that can let an editor be an editor and not an observer watching while the software makes all the decisions. You can do a straight, unaided edit with LuminarAI and be very happy with it.
Beginners can get some nice effects with little effort, but I worry they will never learn the why of photo editing while the software does the heavy lifting.
LuminarAI was generally stable, although with the release version, I endured a few crashes when I used it as a Photoshop plugin. As a standalone piece of software, it did better.
I know that LuminarAI is doing a lot of number crunching, but it is not as fast, in general, as Photoshop or Lightroom Classic. That will likely get better as Skylum adds further updates. Even during the extended beta, the software got faster.
I do think LuminarAI is a worthwhile purchase. It offers more than Luminar 4 did, but each photographer will have to look at the list of enhancements and decide if particular features are worth the money.
There have been a lot of price promotions, and it's been hard to track the price of LuminarAI. As of today, as I write this (December 14), it's $79.00 for one seat, $99.00 for two. There are also discounted upgrades for owners of earlier Luminar products.
LuninarAI will continue to be enhanced. Sky reflections in the water are coming next year along with other features, I am sure.
Judging by the reaction of Adobe and others, there's a lot of AI in our future as editors. Happily, no one is forced to use AI, and I think the LuminarAI package is a good balance with traditional editing, which most of our readers will use the most, and the AI enhancements, which range, in my mind, from silly (adding the Space Shuttle) to useful (Sky Replacement, portrait controls, smart masking). Take good luck at what LuminarAI does, and if it fits in with your style and needs, go for it.