Ready to take on Lightroom: Luminar 3 with Library

Skylum has just released a library-equipped version of Luminar and updated the version number in one fell swoop. After playing around with a late beta, I think it’s a decent attempt at making a photo management system and the roadmap promises improvements that will answer most of the professional photographer’s needs.

The Luminar library is a highly customisable image catalogue that allows for browsing, rating, and organising. In contrast to the library feature of DxO Photolab 2, Skylum opted for a nicely designed image wall instead of thumbnails that sit in boxes. The library has no database of its own but works with the existing folder structure on your system. Images can be located on a hard drive, a connected device, or synced cloud storage. The advantage is that you don’t duplicate images or need to sync between the database and the folders where the actual images are, as with some other media asset management functionality, such as the one used by Capture One Pro. The disadvantage is that, if the storage medium is off-line, so will your images.

You can organise images by several criteria, including “capture time”, pick, and “edit time”. A nice feature is that you can quickly focus on images of the same date. Skylum has also redefined batch editing by introducing what is essentially a one-click approach to adjusting multiple images. It’s called adjustment synchronisation and gives you the ability to adjust one image, select others and then have all of those adjustments applied to them with one click. This works with all adjustments, including crops and rotations.

On the same context menu, there’s also an option to copy adjustments and paste them, but neither gives you the choice of synchronising not all adjustments but a selectable list of the ones you applied to that first photograph so that you could choose which ones you want to “sync” with other images. It’s what Apple does in Final Cut Pro X when you copy/paste an effect from one clip to another and I find that works really well.

The sidebar has three icons – Library, Edit, Info. When you click on the Edit icon, the Library navigator disappears and the selected image becomes editable with the images before and after it in the Library listed in a small sidebar on the left, and the preset looks available in a row beneath the image. When you’ve finished editing and click on the Library icon, you’d expect to go back to the full library view but, instead, you only get access to the navigation sidebar, which is a bit confusing at first. However, you’ll quickly learn that going back to the entire library view is possible by double-clicking an image in Edit mode as well.

Rating is done as usual: stars, a flag that equals a pick, the multiplying symbol that equals a reject and colours. The flag looks like a heart, which is nice but confusing if you’ve ever worked with an image asset management system. Still, a heart does communicate a pick better than a flag. The colours can’t have a useful label that makes sense to you, so that’s an area where I believe the app should definitely be improved, but it certainly isn’t a deal breaker.

The one aspect of Luminar’s library that I do have a problem with is the same one that I have with practically all of the recent photo libraries: the lack of metadata support. The only metadata you get for each photo is the basic EXIF information, such as aperture, f-stop, etc. There’s no way you will be able to view or edit IPTC information, such as copyright settings, ownership, your address or pretty much anything else that matters to professional photographers.

Having seen the roadmap, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that taken care of in the next release.

As far as the image enhancements are concerned, Luminar has an almost perfect sky enhancer based on AI. It’s almost unbelievable that you can achieve this sort of effect without first creating a mask and then applying a whole bunch of filters. It never ceases to amaze me.

In Luminar 3, presets are no longer available. They’ve been replaced by “Looks” and these should be quicker to apply. I couldn’t tell as I switched Macs right before the new version came out, going from a mid-2011 model to a new Retina 5K 27in one.

Conclusion

The big news for Luminar 3 is that it contains a library. It’s not perfect but a very decent first version of it. Within some six months from now, according to the company’s roadmap, it will be a lot better. At that moment in time, I think we will have something that can compete with Adobe’s Lightroom head to head.

At the moment, it is a viable alternative if you hate subscription licences and are prepared to accept the lack of sturdy support for metadata. If you want to migrate your images from Lightroom to Luminar, however, you’ll have to wait until around June of next year before the migration tool will be ready.

In terms of image improvement, however, I think you’ll find Luminar 3 to give you the results you’re after quicker and with the same level of control as Lightroom does. And all that for a fixed price of €69. Upgrading is possible at €49.

But guess what? If you have Luminar 2018, you can upgrade for free.

Since you’re here …

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