We Review Luminar Neo: Is It Worth Your Investment?

We Review Luminar Neo: Is It Worth Your Investment?

I was intrigued to try Luminar Neo from Skylum. I’ve installed and used most of the image-editing software on the market except this app. Is it an app worth investing in?

People shout online about Skylum’s Luminar Neo. Although I have used a wide variety of different software, and several programs are in my workflow, it is one I’ve not tried.  

Download and Installation of Luminar Neo

Download and installation were simple, taking about three minutes on my relatively speedy machine. The program works as a standalone and as a plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop and as a plugin or extension for other apps. I could also manually set it up to open as a DNG copy, including with denoising applied in DxO PhotoLab6, or as the original raw file, TIFF, PSD, and JPEG from ON1 Photo Raw.

On opening the program, the user interface is pleasingly simple to look at. A panel on the left has different options for browsing the catalog of images:

  • All Photos
  • Recently Added
  • Recently Edited
  • Favorites
  • Trash
  • On This Day
    The basic Catalog grid view

That final one is a fun feature, especially for those with family photos. There is also a Single Image Edits feature, which has the photos you processed from other apps and sent to Luminar Neo.

On the right is the basic camera metadata. In between is the grid of images or the selected photo that you can open or close with a double-click.

The traditional menu (File, Edit, etc.) is hidden behind the Luminar Neo logo in the top left corner. To the right of that are three buttons that take you to three modules: Catalog, Presets, and Edit.

Working With The Three Main Modules

Catalog: Navigating Your Images

The Catalog button brings up a grid view of the photos. Double-clicking on a photo zooms into the picture, and a second double-click returns it to the grid view. Like other cataloging software, you can create albums and add photos to Favorites.

A right-click brings up a menu with different options.

Right click on the image brings up a menu. Most of these options are alos available using the UI's buttons.

Presets: Single-Click Adjustments

The presets tab has eight collections of presets with around seven presets in each set. Working a little like actions in Photoshop, each preset creates a series of what are in effect adjustment layers.

Most of the presets were too overworked for my taste, but they could be reduced in their strength. This one resulted in an obvious halo.

Edit: More Control Over Adjusting Your Images

Edit creates individual adjustment layers. On the right-hand side of the Edit module are two tabs: Tools and Edits.

The Tools panel is split into groups:

  • Favorites
  • Extensions (downloadable functionality)
  • Essentials (the regular raw development tools you find in most programs)
  • Creative (various special effects)
  • Portrait
  • Professional, which includes white balance adjustments called Color Harmony, Clone Tool, Dodge and Burn, and tonally separated contrasts

Using the Tools Panel

The Edits panel is a history of the adjustments that have been carried out, displayed as a stack of layers. Clicking on an earlier tool adjustment deactivates the adjustments above. You can then readjust the selected layer, and then clicking higher up the stack reapplies the later adjustments.  

The Edits panel showing some of the adjustment layers.

Edits can be saved as Presets by selecting an actions drop-down menu at the bottom of the screen.

On the top far right is an Extras button for installing extensions such as panorama stitching, an AI-based noise reduction called Noiseless, Supersharp that addresses poor focus, and others. There’s also a marketplace where you can buy user-made presets, plus you can download presets, skies, and other overlays. You have access to both those and educational material if you subscribe to X Membership Premium.

Some of the free extensions available for addition to Luminar Neo

Putting Luminar Neo Through Its Paces

I want to say everything was great with Luminar Neo, but it wasn’t a smooth ride. It crashed when I first used it and tried to access the catalog, and it would not restart as a standalone program. To get it working again, I needed to uninstall, clean the registry using CCleaner, and reinstall it. I suspect the fault was partially my fault for trying to open the catalog before it had been built, although there was no indication that it was happening. After reinstallation, it fired up and has worked smoothly since.

Recently Added is a useful catalog feature

Luminar Neo is a simple program to use, far easier than some of its competitors’ offerings. I found it a bit strange at first as its nomenclature is different from other programs. For example, layers is called Edits, and "Actions" isn't quite what it means in Photoshop. It opens Revert to Original (reset in other programs) and Save as Preset. Some of the layout decisions seemed alien to me too, such as hiding the standard menu items being the Luminar Neo Logo, although that does keep the UI looking tidy.

The Catalog was as fast to navigate as other apps I use, and the program opened images from each of those without any hitches. However, I did find it lacking in some areas. Firstly, there was no facility to add star ratings of color tags to the images, and thus sort them in that way. Secondly, it also lacked keywords. Consequently, sorting images is limited to liking them, rejecting them, and adding them to albums. For a novice, whom I suspect the stand-alone app is aimed at, it may be enough. Most advanced photographers are likely to be using the catalogs of other programs to sort their images and use Luminar Neo solely as a plugin or extension, so that function would be redundant for many people anyway.

On This Day, an image from 2020. Hovering over the catalog panel brings up the number of photos in each folder.

The Presets supplied with the program are okay, although some were not to my taste. There are also nowhere near as many as you find supplied in other programs. Nevertheless, keeping it simple is what will appeal to beginners, Moreover, experienced photographers will probably make their own presets as a starting point for edits. Like other programs, presets can be purchased.

Some presets were okay, while others were overcooked.

One odd choice was the decision not to have the monochrome presets all available in one place.

There are limitations on how the layers work. For example, in most programs, if you had a stack of, say, five adjustments, and altered the settings of layer number 3, all the layers remain active. However, in Luminar Neo, those higher in the stack are deactivated. That is problematic as you then have to click on the top layer to see the overall effect. Furthermore, the program tells you that your raw photo develops the moment you apply a non-raw tool.

Layer Masking can be AI-driven and works reasonably well. It automatically detects what it thinks is in the picture and creates masks accordingly. It wasn’t always perfect at identifying subjects, or at finding edges. In the following image, the AI included the decaying pier as water and failed to identify all the water. Then, the pier made of granite blocks beyond it identified as flora, and did not mask that perfectly.

Architcture selected.
Sky selected
Selecting water made some strange choices too

There is also an AI crop tool that sets the crop to what it thinks is the best composition and a button for automatic horizon leveling.  I could not get these to work well at all.

Its AI Composition cropping decisions were dubious and its Horizon Alignment not good

Even with an obvious horizon that was nearly straight, the Horizon Alignment tool ignored it

Nevertheless, with practice, I could get some pretty good results from most of the editing tools.

There was one bigger disappointment. That was the application of the A.I. noise reduction. I’ve taken some very high-ISO images and long exposures for testing noise reduction. The noiseless extension, which needed to be downloaded separately, left colored blotches over the photo. Other apps that have had AI-driven noise reduction for a few years cleaned up noise fabulously from the start. Strangely, before the AI noise reduction, there was only luminance noise visible.

This is a cropped image shot in fog at ISO 12,800 after the Noiseless AI had been applied. Note the blotchy colors and over-sharpening artifacts. I can get far cleaner versions using other apps.

I spoke to someone at Skylum about this issue and they told me that they are actively working on enhancing this technology.

The Denoise model was trained on a diverse dataset comprising both raw and non-raw images in various formats. We are committed to making it more user-friendly and effective.

What I Liked and What Could Be Improved

What I Liked

  • Relatively simple to use compared to other apps, it’s especially great for beginners.
  • Works well as a plugin and extension.
  • It has some unique and interesting effects.
  • Some of the new AI tools will be useful for some photographers, most of which I have not mentioned: including Portrait Background removal, Relight AI with its 3D detection, Mask AI, Remove Dust Spots tool, and Powerlines removal tool.
  • Some of the AI tools are good, such as the Relight tool that can differentiate between near and far objects in the frame.
  • Great results are possible.
  • The subscription price is reasonable.
  • A perpetual license is available.

For daylight photos some pleasing results were possible, but relying on the automated tools wasn't so successful, especially if the images were out of the ordinary.

What Could Be Improved

  • Automated results are too processed for my taste, although they can be turned down.
  • There are limits to the layer functionality.
  • I get the impression that the UI layout would be better if it were less simple. All photo editing software is complex and oversimplifying it becomes a barrier to usability.
  • The Tools, panel would benefit from a solo mode to minimise groups not in use.
  • A single click to delete layers instead of two.
  • Some of the AI functions need improving: the AI Crop Composition tool and Horizon Alignment make some strange choices, the AI Noise Reduction is poor, and the AI Masking is hit-and-miss.
  • The cost of a perpetual license is far higher than more advanced apps, especially if you add the X Membership Premium.

My Conclusion: Is It worth the Investment?

It may sound from what I have written above that I didn’t like this software. That would be an unfair conclusion because it is okay, especially considering you can get a two-year license for two computers for $149.  At the time of writing, the perpetual license was discounted to $299, albeit from an eye-watering $599.

It is possible to get some great results with the program and relatively easily, too. There are some great video tutorials online, including the following one which runs through the AI features.

However, written tutorials, which I prefer because of my poor hearing, are sparse. You can pay Skylum for their X Membership, which gives you access to their Educational video library and 120 LUTs or Presets per year, 120 replacement skies and overlays per year, and a 15% discount from the Luminar Marketplace. That costs $49 for the first year and $99 thereafter.

It has a lot of potential and I look forward to seeing the improvements to the software as it develops. Is it worth your investment? I think the answer to that is where you are with your editing skills and what other software you have already bought. Moreover, there is a lot more to it than I can cover in this article, so it may be worth trying the free trial to see if it delivers what you need. You can download it by clicking here.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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Sorry, Photoshop/Lightroom cc for $20.00 a Month! It will blow away Any Luminar, And you don't have to upgrade to tutorial videos. Within just a few minutes, I can get an answer and a tutorial video for FREE on YouTube.

My Adobe subscription is $10 a month

The main issue i have with Luminar Neo is that the newer extra features are using the cloud - and only available to those renting. I'm not renting now - and i'll never 'll be bound by such contracts to a manufacturer - not Luminar, not Adobe, not C1 (i kicked them out for this). And in case they continue like this - i'll switch back to linux (and i'll have to do a little bit more work myself).

Unfortunately, I had invested in LuminarNeo when it was announced and launched. Unfortunately, I didn't know at the time that it was just a simple image editing platform that was available for free elsewhere. Unfortunately, I did not know that expensive add-on modules are necessary to use the software in a meaningful way. Conclusion for me: Never again Skylum products.

I´ve supported Skylum and Luminar since version 3, because I'm tired of Adobe's shenenigans, and their ideas looked promising.
Every release of Luminar was the same: release a version, loaded with bugs and performance issues. Their foruns are filled with complaints, sometimes (not always) they address a few issues, left most of them uncorrected, and...release a new version. That you have to pay full again.
I have Luminar 3, Luminar 4, Luminar 2018, all versions paid and NONE OF THEM works ok, because they were abandoned by Skylum filled with bugs that thay never corrected.

Never will be scammed by these thiefs again. And some of their influencers are some camera reviewers that lost my following too, because it is evident that they were paid by Skylum to review the software favorably, because the bugs are easily visible.

I'll be the one against the crowd and say, "I like it." The reason I like it is because it is simple to use and I can edit a photo in a very short period of time. I'm an enthusiast who enjoys taking photos (for free) and many of my photos require a bit of help to make them more presentable. Period...no NatGeo or Time Magazine quality is needed here. So, the $70 that I paid for it when in the pre-launch offering was well worth it for me. I agree that it can be improved in some areas (once in every 100 photos, the FACE features won't appear to work)...but fingers crossed that this "bug fix" will happen at some point. I'm with most who said they wouldn't pay for another version...because this one does what I need it to. The one-time buy is what interested me in the first place. No monthly subscriptions to extensions or clubs, thank you.

I've used both LR and Neo for a while, LR will not "Blow Away" any Luminar, that's a mistruth. In some ways, Neo is capable of producing images LR could not. The Supersharp is nice. LR forces users to keep their machines up to date, far too much. Luminar is close behind. Luminar is resource heavy using AI apps, a low setting for Supersharp will at times overdrive an 11th Gen i5 w/16g Ram and a 2 Gig card, Win 11 and take it right to edge of a melt down fyi. Luminar support is, awful actually. It's defensive minded and they stand behind nothing, if after 30 days you are not satisfied? TOO BAD
Adobe on the other hand does, Blow Away Luminar in support and customer service. Overall Luminar is a nice gimmick ware for doing tricks, any serious minded pro or enthusiast should look at Neo for what it truly is, a Toy that doesn't come close to measuring up with Adobe LR. The AI results are suspect with me, Luminar was big into HDR and I can't help but "feel" that things like Supersharp and other Clarity rich AI apps on Neo aren't just re-packaged into Neo, creating a look that is so reminiscent of HDR imaging that people commented or asked about what HDR program was I using?

If you want steady, even, consistent results and are a Pro or Extreme enthusiast, without question LR

If you want to buy the Super Deluxe magic magician set at Disneyland, Neo

The one thing which bothers me most is a lack of industry wide standards and regulations, I could offer a software program and say it's AI and who's going to challenge me bedsides a consumer? How long before all these editing ware companies all end up in court suing and counter-suing each other over AI why we all sit and stagnate, drying up on our own vines while they all play who bats first?

We, consumers/users are at the mercy of companies and their lies or truths aka "screwed"

At some point, I need to be the independent thinker I taught myself to be. Don't buy into hype or the embellished claims advertising leads you to believe. It's not easy, I have to weigh the negative reports against to pro reports, measure each one and look for a consistent pattern. But all the independent thinking ability in the world won't uncover a lie, a fabricated misleading claim that something is AI when it' clearly not, how would I ever know other than accepting the word of some corporation making the claim....Corporations who calculate risk, meaning they weigh an out right lie against telling the truth to begin with

How do you know it's AI at work, or do you just take the word of some Corporation and they wouldn't lie, of course not would they?

I purchased their Aurora HDR software a year and a half ago. They never provided any updates since I purchased it The software wouldn't recognize my Canon compact raw files. Now they consider it legacy software and no longer have it available for download, even though I've purchased it. I will never buy software from this company again.