Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best for You?

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One of the interesting things about their Luminar image processing software is that Macphun has promoted it heavily as a potential Lightroom replacement, whereas in reality, it is a far more likely replacement for Photoshop.

To understand why this is we need to think about the similarities in the way Luminar and Photoshop work, along with what they can’t do.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

I developed this photo using the Dramatic and Orton Effect filters in Luminar.

How Photoshop works

Most photographers need no introduction to Photoshop. For many years it was easily the best photo editing program available. Most photographers either bought Photoshop or (let’s be honest) used a pirated copy.

Then eight years or so ago, things have begun to change. Companies like Macphun, ON1, Nik Software, Topaz Labs, DxO and Alien Skin Software started making photo editing tools that were much easier to use than Photoshop.

Raw processors like Lightroom, with its digital asset management capability and ease of use, showed that there were easier and more intuitive ways of processing Raw files and photos. So, why is Photoshop so difficult to use? To answer that, let’s look at how it works with photo files and Raw files.

Photoshop and photo files

Photoshop is a pixel based editor that uses layers to apply powerful photo editing tools to photos. When you open a photo file (i.e. a JPEG or TIFF rather than a Raw file) in Photoshop you have to decide which tools to use and how to use masks and layers to apply them.

There’s no doubt that Photoshop’s photo editing tools are very powerful, but the drawback is that it’s complicated to use. If you have anything less than an eidetic memory then you need to continually refer to tutorials to remember how to carry out processes like bringing out detail, converting to black and white, or retouching portraits.

A good example of this is the Orton process. Do you know how to do this in Photoshop? My guess is that most photographers would answer no, or that they would have to refer to a tutorial to remember how to do it.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

Photoshop’s layers. Can you work out how to apply an Orton effect from this?

Orton Effect in Luminar is easy

In Luminar, on the other hand, you simply go straight to the Orton Effect filter. It’s easy and intuitive to use, and you won’t have too much difficulty figuring it out even if you are a first-time Luminar user. That’s what I mean when I say that Photoshop is difficult to use compared to many newer programs.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

The Orton Effect filter in Luminar is quick and easy to apply. No tutorials needed!

By the way, this is the result of applying the Orton Effect filter in Luminar.

Before image.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

After applying the Orton Effect filter in Luminar.

Not convinced? I developed the photo at the top of the article using just two filters in Luminar – Dramatic and the Orton Effect. It took less than two minutes. These are the settings I used.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

Photoshop and Raw files

When you open a Raw file in Photoshop then the program opens it inside Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). This is a Raw conversion plugin that has sliders and tools very similar to those in Lightroom. They are just arranged in a different order.

When you have finished in ACR, the software converts your Raw file to a JPEG or TIFF file that then opens in Photoshop, ready for you to work on in more detail. This makes converting Raw files a two step process in Photoshop. First, you use Adobe Camera Raw for the basic global adjustments, then you go to Photoshop to make local adjustments and do the things that Adobe Camera Raw can’t.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

The Adobe Camera Raw interface

How Luminar works

With Luminar, things are different. You can open a Raw file or a photo file directly in Luminar, and the process for both is identical. All of Luminar’s filters and tools are immediately available. This gives you a great deal of flexibility and versatility.

Luminar’s filters are easy to understand and use. You can probably figure out a lot of the functions yourself by selecting filters and experimenting with the settings. Or, you can try a one-click preset and then explore which photo editing filters were used to create that particular style. Tutorials may be useful for clarifying how things work and finding the hidden secrets of the program, but they are not essential.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

You’ll see something like this when you open a photo in Luminar. Click the Add Filter button to select a filter to apply to your photo.

Luminar Versus Photoshop Software Comparison – Which is Best?

As you move the cursor over the filter names, Luminar displays some information explaining what the filters do.

What neither Photoshop nor Luminar does (yet)

The big thing that’s missing from both Photoshop and Luminar is a digital asset management component. Lightroom is by far the best option for managing photos, which is probably part of the reason that you can only buy the latest version of Photoshop in a bundle with Lightroom.

Macphun tells me that future versions of Luminar will include a library or catalog of some sort. But what form that will take, and when it will arrive, remain to be seen.

Who should use Photoshop

Photoshop is best for expert Photoshop users, such as photographers who do high-end portrait retouching. If you’ve already gone through the learning curve required to reach expert level in Photoshop, then you should continue to use it unless you desire faster results available in tools like Luminar. Similarly, if you use Photoshop for making complex selections, or for compositing, then stick with it.

Who should look at Luminar

Luminar, on the other hand, is ideal for beginners or photographers looking for software that is easier to use than Photoshop. If you don’t want to invest the time required to reach an advanced level in Photoshop, then Luminar makes a lot of sense. It’s easier to use and gives you a lot of creative options.

Luminar is also ideal for photographers who use a stand alone version of Lightroom, or even Apple’s venerable (and now unsupported) Aperture and don’t have access to Photoshop. You can use Luminar as a plugin in place of Photoshop. This gives you a very powerful combination of tools.

Luminar is also a good option for photographers who use Photoshop Elements and don’t use either Lightroom or Photoshop. The two programs (Luminar and Elements) complement each other nicely.

How to use Luminar

In my opinion, the best way to use Luminar is as a Lightroom plugin. Keep Lightroom as the heart of your workflow because of its digital asset management capabilities. Do as much work in Lightroom as you can, then export to Luminar (or a different plugin if it’s better for what you want to do) for the stuff that Luminar does best. If you’re a Lightroom CC subscriber, you’ll have both Photoshop and Luminar and can enjoy using both.

Disclaimer: Macphun is a dPS advertising partner.

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Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Click here to enroll in his new Lightroom course for free.

  • Parkinson Sniper

    In short, Luminar is for beginners, Photoshop is for professionals.

  • I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Just because Luminar is easier to use than Photoshop doesn’t mean it’s only useful for beginners.

  • I agree with Andrew. Luminar does things you certainly can do in PS as well but at what time cost? Personally if a piece of software saves me time to get the results I want I will use it.

  • dave riddell

    I am in total agreement with the points made in this post and Andrew and Darlene’s comments. As an enthusiast, I have the Adobe CC Photographic subscription (LR & PS); but, I’ve struggled with Photoshop and by the time I come back to use it (for way simpler things than the Orton Effect), I’ve forgotten how to and have to start again. Luminar is so simple and almost intuitive (relatively), has a tonne of free (and paid) presets, and works so simply as a plugin for Lightroom. I’ve had so much fun with Luminar that I’ve even bought Tonality Pro (B&W conversion to replace the soon-to-be obsolescent Nik Efex).

    Obviously this costs money but seriously!? But get this in perspective: It’s way cheaper than a half-decent filter for a camera lens and you’ll use it far more often .. While you’re at it, check out Tonality Pro (my replacement for Nik’s Silver Efex).

    PS Andrew / Darlene – you could probably make some money out of creating presets for Tonality (just saying 🙂 ).

    Dave. Sydney

  • LOL thanks Dave!

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