At some point, after you pick up your first digital camera, the question of image editing arises. For years, the leader has been Adobe with their package that includes Lightroom and Photoshop. However, lately, other software companies have been dipping their toes in the waters of image editing applications. One of the latest is MacPhun, makers of the Macphun Creative Kit. Their entry into image editing, available for Mac OS X based computers only, is called Macphun Luminar.
Luminar is a standalone application for nondestructive RAW processing and image editing, but can also be used as a plugin for Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, and Apple Photos. The application window and tools available are identical whether it runs as a standalone or as a plugin.
When opening Luminar, you’ll be presented with a window that gives you two options; Load Image or Batch Processing.
Selecting Batch Processing allows you to drag and drop images, or load them from folders on your computer. You’ll then be prompted to choose certain settings such as a preset to apply (more on the presets later), as well as where you would like the images saved, what type of file to save as, resizing, and file naming. In addition to the opening dialog, Batch Processing is also available from the File menu within the application.
I’m a little disappointed that I can’t see a preview of the preset I’m applying to the batch, but overall, the process is easy to understand and runs pretty efficiently. I processed a batch of 24 RAW images in just under three minutes on my late 2013 iMac.
The other option you see when starting up Luminar is “Load Image”. This allows you to open a single file and edit it to your liking, and then export it in any number of ways. I kind of wish Luminar had a file browser to allow me to view thumbnails, rather than just the “Load Image” dialog.
You can customize the application by using one of the workspaces available, which automatically brings up a set of filters appropriate for the subject matter. The preset workspaces include Black and White, Landscape, Street, and Portrait. You can also create your own workspace based on the filters you find yourself using the most (see above).
Once you have a file opened, you’ll be presented with the editing screen. The main window will show your image. Across the bottom, you’ll see the Preset Panel. This shows various presets that can be applied to your image. In addition to the default presets, Macphun has a selection of preset packs available for download on their website (some are free, some are for purchase). The presets are separated into various workspaces, including Outdoors, Portrait, Street, Dramatic, Basic, and Travel.
On the right side of the screen, you’re presented with the layers panel which shows the different layers you have in your current image. Similar to Photoshop, layers can use different blending modes, and the opacity of each one can be adjusted to give you exactly the look you want. A Transform tool is also available to work with the layers if needed.
Beneath the Layers palette, you’ll find the sliders to adjust the filters currently in use. Each preset uses various filters that can be adjusted using these sliders. You can also create your own look simply by adding the filter or filters of your choice from over 40 available. In addition, each filter has a separate blend mode that can be changed to adjust the look as well.
Toolbars and palettes
On the right edge of the screen sits a toolbar, which houses various tools including Move, Masking Brush, Gradient Mask, Radial Mask, Transform, Clone Stamp, Eraser, Denoise, and Crop.
Any of the panels and palettes within Luminar can be shown or hidden with a click of the mouse, making it easy to customize the workspace to your liking.
Once you’re done making your edits, Luminar offers an easy interface to share your images to various photo sharing and social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, 500px, Smugmug, Flickr, Messages, and Mail.
Pros of Luminar
Macphun’s Luminar, as a standalone application, offers an excellent option for those who don’t want to get involved in a subscription service. Luminar is currently available from Macphun for $69, making it an easy way to get started editing RAW photos with a powerful image editor. For those already using Photoshop or Lightroom for their editing, Luminar works as a plugin that provides all of the powerful editing options of the standalone.
Luminar is easy to use, with a multitude of sliders that are pretty self-explanatory and provide for fine control over image effects. In a very short amount of time, you can be editing your RAW files and exporting finished images in a variety of formats, including TIFF, JPEG, PNG, GIF and PSD. If you’re familiar with MacPhun’s interface in the Creative Kit, Luminar will be easy to figure out.
I found the quality of the images edited in Luminar to be excellent, but as in Creative Kit, I thought some of the presets needed to be dialed back a bit for the best results. The variety of effects and options available really lets you customize the look of your images as well. I found some presets to be excellent starting points, but then by adding another filter or two, I was able to get exactly the style I wanted for my image.
As of a recent update to the program, there is now the ability to save images as .lmnr files, which will save the layers and work done on an image, so you can come back to it later. A nice feature similar to saving as a layered PSD file.
Cons of Luminar
As someone who’s used Photoshop for years, I found that some of the tools, such as the clone stamp, worked differently than I expected. This is easily overcome as familiarity with Luminar grows, but it took a little while before I got results I liked.
One other puzzling question is, why isn’t there native support for Macphun’s Creative Kit? MacPhun indicates in their product FAQ that there will be support for plugins eventually, but it would seem to make sense to have that powerful suite of plugins available from Day 1. Once support for plugins is available, Luminar becomes an even better value, in my opinion.
Luminar, while an excellent photo editor and RAW processor, lacks certain tools available in Photoshop, such as the ability to output to CMYK, have multiple print layout options, or add text to an image. While many will never have a need to do any of that, it is a distinction that should be made, especially for those who like to add a watermark to their images being shared online.
Finally, Luminar lacks an asset management component like Lightroom, so for those who like to create catalogs, collections, and add keywords and descriptions to images, you’ll still need to use Lightroom while using Luminar as a plugin.
Macphun Luminar has a simple to understand interface and a lot of great features that make it an excellent RAW processing application. Its flexibility to work as either a standalone application or a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, and other photo applications means that Luminar will be easy to integrate into your current workflow. My first thought, however, is that its primary market is people who want a powerful photo editor that is simpler to use than Photoshop, without paying a subscription fee every month.
Luminar offers some excellent editing tools, and with over 50 presets, it’s easy to get started towards the look you want. The interface is easy to understand, with self-explanatory sliders clearly marked to allow you to adjust the effect to your liking. If you’re just getting started with processing RAW files and photo editing in general, Luminar is a great choice.
Luminar is available from Macphun’s website for $69, for Apple computers only (currently, supposedly a PC version is coming in the future tbd). Here are a couple more before and after images of what you can do with Luminar. Have you tried it? What are your thoughts?