This is an unbiased review of Luminar 4: an award winning photo editing app, capable of producing professional-looking results with very little effort.
Luminar 4 is the best option for beginner photographers with little photo-editing experience; however, using Luminar 4 as a plugin will attract several professional photographers as well.
(Luminar 4 has been superseded by Luminar AI)
- Easy To Use
- Powerful AI Tools
- Intuitive workspace
- One-Click Sky Replacement
- Stand-alone or a plug-in
- Has All the Tools You Love from Lightroom
- Slow on low spec devices
- The library needs polishing
- Can’t Edit Metadata (just yet)
Skylum Luminar 4 deals
Related reading: How to claim Luminar 4 $10 discount
What is Luminar 4?
Skylum, the developer of Luminar 4, was the underdog of photo editing world, which won our heart with this awesome photo editor.
Although Adobe has been photographers’ favourite for a number of years, their transition to a subscription-based plan, made a lot of photographers ask themselves if it was still worth the price.
This is where Skylum jumped in with their non-destructive photo-editing software, capable of both photo post-processing and management.
Luminar 4 tailored specifically to the needs of either a beginner, although professionals will also find a lot of value in it. It offers a complete tool-set to edit, enhance, and manipulate images.
Luminar 4 is available for Windows and macOS, and can be used as a standalone photo editing software, a plugin, or an external editor. Thanks to it easy-to-learn controls and rich features, anyone can benefit from it.
Update: Luminar 4.3
Luminar 4.3 is free for those who have Luminar 4 license, so make sure you download the patch.
With this free update for all current Luminar 4 users, the Skylum software received several new features, such as the option to search photos, improvement to Looks, 500px integration, a new crop interface, and performance improvements.
Those of you that enjoyed Luminar’s AI Augmented Sky – a new space shuttle object will be available.
How to update
Being a free update, it’s easily accessible directly from the Luminar interface.
Click in the Top Menu Bar and choose Luminar 4 > Check for updates.
If you purchased it via the Mac App Store, open the App Store and go to the Updates tab.
Luminar 4 library has received a much-needed update.
Now, you can search photos by folder, date, name, or extension.
500px is a global online photo-sharing platform for photographers to test their work, gain world-wide exposure, and earn money through licensing and brand partnership opportunities.
Now, you can share your photos on 500px directly from Luminar 4.3.
Stability and performance improvements
This is a big one for those who run Luminar 4 on weaker machines.
With the 4.3 updates, RAW files open faster, Luminar tools use less computer memory, resulting in a smoother, snappier, and an overall more enjoying photo-editing experience.
Faster Looks tools
Looks are an extremely powerful part of Luminar, but they can quickly add up as you bring in more packs and create your own.
This creates a lot of data, which slows down the tool.
Luminar 4.3 Update solves this issue by introducing instant previews to Looks, making it much easier for you to browse through them and choose the right one before applying it.
Improved Cropping tool
I’ve never liked Luminar’s crop tool. It was slow, often buggy, and sometimes it just didn’t work.
This has now been fixed in Luminar 4.3.
Crop & Rotate tool has been moved to the right panel underneath Lens & Geometry. You’ll notice a significant performance boost.
A new object for AI Augmented Sky
Luminar’s AI Augmented Sky has always been a black sheep for me; it just does not fit in.
However, a new object has been added to its repertoire – a space shuttle. Because what makes photos look more realistic than a project, which was aborted almost a decade ago? 🙂
Nonetheless, AI Augmented Sky has also received several; you can easily flip and position objects.
A marketplace section for objects has been added to Luminar website, so you can buy more featuring objects.
Custom skies and sky objects
An option to easily access a custom folder of locally stored skies and sky objects has been added to AI Sky Replacement and AI Augmented Sky tools.
Luminar 4.3 update has added support for a few recently released cameras.
These have been added:
- Canon EOS-1D X Mark III (uncompressed only),
- FUJIFILM X100V,
- FUJIFILM X-T200,
- FUJIFILM X-T4,
- Leica SL2,
- Nikon Coolpix P950,
- Nikon D780,
- Nikon Z50,
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III,
- Olympus E-PL10,
- Panasonic DC-S1H, and
- Sony A9 Mark II.
I hope Luminar has your model covered now.
Improved masking brush workflow
Now, a red transparent mask helps you see which parts of the images have been masked yet.
Luminar 4.3 includes improvements to translations for all supported languages, and better understands German, Japanese, Korean, Italian, French, and Spanish
Update: Luminar 4.2
By updating from Luminar 3 to Luminar 4 you get access to powerful new exciting, most notable of which are powerful AI tools and drastically improved portrait tools.
Luminar 4.2 update is free for Luminar 4 owners.
Redesigned Edit Module
A completely redesigned experience that improves the discoverability of tools and simplifies the editing process.
#1. AI Enhance
This tool automatically analyzes your image and instantly corrects it while still offering control over the final amount.
This tool is composed of two sliders: AI Accent and AI Sky Enhancer.
AI Accent automatically sets the exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows, while omitting noise, resulting in a naturally beautiful result. This tool makes photo editing very easy for beginners.
What is great about AI Accents, that it takes only one slider to achieve all this, whereas you’d have to manually juggle with up to 6 sliders in other photo editors.
AI Sky Enhancer makes skies beautiful without much effort from you. It works similarly to the polarizing filter.
Manually editing the sky is complicated, and often very time-consuming. To improve the sky manually you have to spend a lot of time masking, and the final result depends on your skill and precision.
This tool automatically detects sky and recognizes objects with the help of Skylum’s deep neural network, which has been trained using hundreds of thousands of images.
AI Sky Enhancer changes that. It takes away all unnecessary steps from your workflow and delivers an improved sky almost instantly, with only a slide of a slider.
#2. AI Structure
AI Structure boosts details where it’s needed without damaging the rest of the photo — and it does all that automatically.
This tool seems like a mix of Lightroom’s Texture and Clarity sliders, but it does a better job adding texture to your image due to its content-aware AI.
Additionally, it differentiates between every significant object in your image, by being human-aware, meaning it won’t affect the skin to leave you with over-processed faces and skin.
Adding some punch to your photos can seem like a great idea and it usually is, but you can easily overdo it.
Try experimenting with the AI Structure slider and zoom in on photos to check for any noise or halo, which are characteristic for “Clarity” and “Texture” sliders in Lightroom.
I have had no issues with AI Structure so far, however, I did use it selectively and sparingly.
It also compliments the use of AI Accent, making them a powerful duo.
#3. Smart Contrast
Setting contrast in most photo editing programs has to be used sparingly. You can easily crush whites and blacks and lose detail if you go to far with it.
Smart Contrast fixes this.
Smart Contrast selectively applies contrast by analyzing your image, so it won’t apply too much contrast and make you lose detail or crush whites and blacks.
I found that Smart Contrast gives more realistic results than other contrast sliders do, which is extremely important in landscape photography.
#4. AI Sky Replacement
Using Skylum’s machine learning technology, Luminar 4 is the first photo editor to offer fully automated sky replacement technology.
An interesting sky is one of the most important features of a good landscape photo. Way too often you find perfect scenery but the sky is boring.
Here comes Luminar 4’s AI Sky Replacement in play. If you don’t have any moral hang-ups with photo manipulation, it solves your problem almost instantly. All you need is a press of a button.
Before I started using Luminar 4 most of my edits had been done in Lightroom and Photoshop. If you’ve ever tried replacing anything in Photoshop you it is painfully time-consuming.
Everyone was hyping up the Luminar 4’s AI Sky Replacement tool, so I had to give it a try – and I was mind-blown.
This tool does an amazing job automatically masking out skies and blending in the substitute. It also comes with a few sliders with which you can manually refine masking.
#5. AI Augmented Sky
With Luminar 4.2 update came a new tool, which can be found in the Creative tab.
AI Augmented Sky lets you choose various objects to overlay on your photos, such as birds, planets, aurora, moon, clouds, mountains, fireworks, giraffe (?!), etc. You can also add custom objects.
For this example, I masked in an aurora. As you can see, Luminar did an excellent job masking it in.
It was also super easy to do. You just need to press one button and position it where you want it to be.
Although I have no need for this tool, I still think it is a nice addition for those who would like to add object into their images without any hassle.
#6. AI Skin & Portrait Enhancer
AI Skin & Portrait Enhancer automatically remove skin imperfections like acne, freckles, and moles, but also smoothen skin.
This set of tools was created to make enhancing portraits easy.
AI Skin Enhancer & Portrait Enhancer make improving skin a simple task to anyone. It works very similarly to Photoshop’s “Spot Healing Brush Tool”, however, with Luminar 4 all you have to do is move the slider and tick a box.
By automatically analyzing a person’s skin, AI Skin Enhancer can get rid of various skin imperfections like acne, freckles, and moles. Its content-aware technology can smoothen the skin, but still recognizes details like hair and eyelashes and leaves them sharp as they are.
If you need to boost an adjustment to a higher value (such as Dark Circles Removal or Teeth Whitening) just add an adjustment layer and use a second instance of the tool.
#7. Golden Hour
This tool brings the warmth typical for Golden Hour to your photos. This means pushing yellows, oranges, and reds into highlights. Golden Hour filter works very similarly to “Split toning” > “Highlights” > “Pick an orange-ish colour”.
According to Skylum, the Golden Hour filter work best with portraits taken outdoors. Luminar 4’s content-aware technology recognizes people, making them look warmer and more illuminated, with golden accents in their hair.
Additionally, even eyes can pop with this filter, especially those with light-coloured irises.
Golden Hour filter isn’t all-powerful. The image taken in poor lighting conditions, or during the day when the shadows are harsh, will not be improved by this filter – it may even ruin the photo, making it look unnatural, so make sure you use it sparingly.
#8. Color Styles Library (LUT Mapping)
Look-Up Table (LUT) is a little-known technique that transforms the colour and tone of your image. It converts colours and details in a source file to a new destination state.
You can think of LUT as a colour style presets, that can be masked and have their contrast, saturation, and the amount increased or decreased.
Luminar 4 comes with a handful of pre-prepared LUTs, however, more can be loaded in .cube format.
Skylum Luminar 4 Looks are some sort of presets, which change the entire look of your image with one click.
To save time when developing your image, you’ll find an extensive collection of Luminar Looks. These were create by professional photographers from all over the world.
To apply a Luminar Look make sure an image is open in Luminar 4. If the Luminar Looks Panel isn’t visible, click its icon in the Top Toolbar. The Luminar Looks Panel will open at the bottom edge of the screen.
You can click the Luminar Looks Panel button in the Top Toolbar to toggle displaying and hiding the Luminar Looks bar on the bottom of the window.
Examine the Luminar Looks available by exploring their thumbnails at the bottom of the page. Each offers a live preview as to what the image would look like with the Luminar Look applied.
Click on a Luminar Look thumbnail to apply it. You can quickly switch Luminar Looks by clicking on a new thumbnail.
To view all the Luminar Looks in a given category, simply use the horizontal scrollbar located at the bottom of the Luminar 4 window.
If you hover your mouse over a Luminar Look, an Amount slider is revealed, with the default set to 100% opacity. By moving the Amount slider located within the Luminar Look name you can lower the intensity that the effect has on your image.
Click the star icon on a Luminar Look thumbnail to add it to your Favorites list for easy access.
To see the new tools in action, check this video by Anthony Turnham.
How to install Luminar 4?
For those who are upgrading from Luminar 3, I suggest that you create a backup copy of your Luminar Catalog(s) and save it in a different folder before installing Luminar 4, to avoid any problems with your current Catalog(s).
- Double-click Luminar_4_setup.exe (Luminar 4 Installer on Mac) to launch the installer application and begin the installation process.
- Read the license agreement and click Accept.
- Choose a destination for installing the application.
- Select which plug-ins you want to install. (I strongly recommend both Lightroom and Photoshop – read more about it in my review of Lightroom vs Luminar).
- Click the Install button.
- Enter your email and activation ID.
- Click the Launch Luminar 4 button.
Luminar 4 as a plug-in or stand-alone
Luminar 4 offers great flexibility. It may be used as a standalone application or as a plug-in for the following applications:
Windows & macOS
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Lightroom Classic CC
- Adobe Photoshop Elements
- Apple Aperture
- Photos for macOS
You can access Luminar 4 from many different applications.
- Adobe Photoshop:
- When editing an Image: Filter > Skylum Software > Luminar 4
- Adobe Lightroom Classic CC:
- When viewing an image in either Library or Develop modules: Right-click the image > Edit in > Luminar 4
- From the menu bar: Photo > Edit In > Luminar 4
- Apple Aperture:
- Select an image and go to Photos > Edit with Plug-in > Luminar 4
- Photos for macOS
- How to activate the extension: YouTube Tutorial
- Select an image and click Edit > Extension > Luminar 4
Luminar 4 offers creative flexibility with the plug-in option and I am loving this feature. I always start with Lightroom to do my basic adjustments, then I open Luminar 4 as a plug-in and finish my editing there.
Luminar 4 Interface
Luminar 4 has two primary views. The Library view is for browsing and navigating your photos. The Edit view is for enhancing them. The interface is designed to be intuitive and easy to navigate.
With the update switching between Library and Editing module became very rapid and fluid.
The library module consists of two side panels that need to be understood to be used effectively.
The first one is the Library toolbar, which automatically groups your photos by year, month, and even day.
Since the update navigating between images is a lot easier and finding the perfect shot you’re looking for is an easy task.
At the right side of the Luminar 4, Library module interface is a Library side panel, that keeps track of all your shortcuts, albums, and folders, which keep your images well-organized.
Luminar 4 offers 3 ways to keep your images organized in the new library.
Shortcuts offer quick access to your library with a series of predetermined shortcuts, including All Photos, Single Image Edits, Recently Added, Recently Edited, and Trash.
So far, I’ve loved all these shortcuts, especially “Recently Added” and “Recently Edited”, which allow you to quickly find the last photos you were working on. This feature especially comes in handy when you’re dealing with large amounts of photos.
In such cases, I suggest you use Albums but more about those later.
Luminar 4 folders directly mirror folders on your hard drive. This means that Luminar works with your existing folder structure, making rearranging images a much more straightforward and less confusing task.
If you add an image to your folder on the hard drive it is automatically added to your Luminar Folders.
Albums work very similarly to Folders, but with one crucial difference – albums are virtual within Luminar 4.
Adding a photo to Album changes nothing on your hard drive, leaving you with more freedom to arrange your photos without messing up your folder structure.
If you’re familiar with Lightroom’s Collections, Albums will be easy to master for you, because they are virtually the same thing.
I’ve already covered the edit module’s tools back in the second heading “What is new?”. In this subchapter, I’ll only quickly go over every button available in the edit module.
Similarly to the Library, the Edit module also has 2 panels that need to be understood for effective use of Luminar 4.
The first one is the Editing toolbar, which you can see across the top of the screen when in Editing mode. Here are the buttons from left to right:
On the right side the Editing side panel can be found, where all basic tools are located, such as histogram, layers, canvas, categories, and history.
Luminar 4 Performance
Luminar’s speed has been improved with the update from Luminar 3 to Luminar 4, however, it still isn’t thrifty when it comes to processing power.
I have tried running it on several different machines and setups, and even the beefiest of them weren’t capable of running Luminar 4 smoothly – in terms of applying edits on large raw files.
That being said, no photo editor I have tried so far has seen perfectly optimized.
Skylum suggests the following tech requirements of Luminar 4 as minimal and recommended:
Luminar 4 on Windows
Minimal requirements for Luminar 4
- Intel® or AMD® CPU with 2 cores
- 8 GB of RAM
- Operating System Windows 7® (only 64-bit OS), Windows 8.1® (only 64-bit OS), Windows 10® (only 64-bit OS)
- 2 GB free space for installation
- Monitor with 1280×768 resolution
Recommended requirements for Luminar 4
- Intel® Core™ i7 7th generation or better, AMD Ryzen™ 7 2nd generation or better
- Discrete GPU with 4GB+ of RAM
- 16+ GB of RAM
- SSD as the primary drive
- Calibrated monitor with at least 1920×1200 resolution
Luminar 4 on Mac
Minimal requirements for Luminar 4
- Intel® CPU with 2 cores
- 8 GB of RAM
- macOS Catalina 10.15, Mojave 10.14.6, High Sierra 10.13.1, Sierra 10.12.6, El Capitan 10.11.6
- 1 GB free space for installation
Recommended requirements for Luminar 4
- Intel® Core™ i7 CPU with 4+ cores or better
- 16+ GB of RAM
- Discrete GPU with 4GB+ of RAM
- SSD as a primary drive
Since Skylum has proven itself to be listening to its customers, we can expect future updates of Luminar 4 to come with performance optimization, possibly free of charge.
Luminar 4 is available as a one-time purchase at a very reasonable price, considering what you get for it.
With each purchase Skylum also guarantees:
- Instant activation
- Secure Payment Encryption
- 30 Days Money Back Guarantee
- 24/7 Technical and Sales Support
Related reading: How to claim Luminar 4 $10 discount
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is Luminar 4 worth buying?
Yes, Luminar 4 is definitely worth buying. Its AI tools alone are easily worth the price of the software alone. It’s a perfect tool for both beginners and professional photographers.
Is Luminar 4 any good?
Luminar 4 is an award-winning photo editor, so it just might be the best photo editor available at the moment. It has every tool any photographer would ever need, plus, a lot of creative tools that help you define your style.
Is Luminar 4 better than Lightroom?
Lightroom and Luminar 4 are both excellent photo editors. Lightroom has better organizational features and complex editing tools, whereas Luminar offers extraordinary one-click AI tools.
Is Luminar 4 a free upgrade?
Upgrading from Luminar 3 to Luminar 4 is not free. Luminar 4 is a stand-alone software, a completely new version of Luminar, however, Luminar 3 owners get a discount on Luminar 4 purchases.
Is Luminar 4 worth upgrading?
Considering the AI tools that come with Luminar 4, it certainly is.
Does Luminar 4 do HDR?
No, Luminar can’t do HDR. There’s a fantastic HDR tool, Aurora HDR 2019, from the same developer as Luminar 4 (Skylum), which is also available as a free trial, at the moment.
Conclusion | Luminar 4 review
Skylum is still rather new to the photo editing scene but has already created an award-winning Luminar 4.
Since the Luminar 4 release, we’ve got Luminar AI, a new AI-powered photo editing app. Here’s my full review of Luminar AI.
What is even more impressive is that it is a strong competitor to Lightroom, which has been known as the king of photo editors for a long time.
Its unique tools are what give Luminar 4 an edge over the competition. Skylum lab has done an amazing job perfecting AI’s and successfully incorporating them in photo editing. Creative tools and Luminar’s flexibility as both standalone and plug-in were the main reason I fell in love with it.
Writing this review I had to swallow my pride on occasion and admit that its AI’s are in fact useful. Although I choose not to use tools like AI Sky Replacement/AI Sky Enhancement because it feels like cheating, these tools are well-developed and priceless to those who are willing to manipulate their photos to such degree.
However, Luminar 4 isn’t almighty. It still runs slowly when you edit large photos, no matter how powerful is your computer. Essential tools could use an update at least, although I would like to see an overhaul in the future. They seem inaccurate and inconsistent, especially when compared to Lightrooms.
If you know someone who’s been thinking about purchasing Luminar 4, make sure to share this Luminar 4 review with them!
Have fun editing!
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