MacPhun seems to have been making Mac image apps for ages, and had a real success with last year’s Aurora HD (which was recently updated in an excellent new version for 2017, available now; I have already reviewed this) but is also known for the very handy Snapheal cloning tool – it has powerful erasing and healing tools for removing things you don’t want in images, as well as standard editing tools.
In the CreativeKit, MacPhun bundles six handy photo apps, including Snapheal and FX Studio Pro … this company knows what it’s doing. (Luminar pretty much has all of these in the one place, though.)
Luminar will be available soon, as it just went on presale, is a non-destructive RAW photo editor, built from the ground up around two things: simplicity and creativity. I’ve been trying software like this for a while, as I resent Adobe’s new subscription policy. If I thought I could replace it with a standalone app that did what I use Photoshop for, I’d get it. So, will this be the one ..?
Luminar is designed to be usable right out of the (virtual) box, without a steep learning curve, but to then adapt as your use becomes more sophisticated to offer more capabilities. Luminar’s user interface adjust to your skill level and preferences: you can use a one-click fix (like the magic wand in Photos) or you can develop away with 35 filters, all with their own settings faders, plus tools, layers, blend modes, brushes, masking and more. Add to that Layers, Custom Textures, Brushes, Masking (including automatic Luminosity, Gradient and Radial Masks), Noise Reduction, a Healing tool, Crop & Transform, History Panel, Selective Top & Bottom adjustments, plug-in support
I used to really like Aperture until Apple killed it off, as its non-destructive tools were excellent. It was better than Photoshop at fixing up scans of old photographs, of which I have quite a collection. And I tried Adobe’s Lightroom but I found it deeply irksome that it followed a darkroom of old as a sort of digital workflow method. This might sound weird coming from a former darkroom technician, but I’d fully embraced digital and I didn’t see the point of going through ‘stages’ of a process artificially to get where I wanted.
Luminar has perhaps the best of both worlds as it it uses workspaces you can tailor to your preference. They can be set up to feature only the tools most suitable for your type of photography, saved into sets of different filters. The defaults are Portrait, Black & White, Landscape and Street. You can add different filters to these workspaces or build your own.
Interface — This looks a lot like Aurora in that the image loads into the large space in the middle to the left edge, with features down the right edge and presets along the bottom. The presets are Clarity Booster, Classic B&W, Detailed, Fix Dark Photo, Foggy Day (adds fog), Foreground Brightener, Gloomy Morning, Image Enhancer, Mid Image Enhancer, Sharp & Crisp, Sky Enhancer, Soft & Airy, Vivid, 60s B&W, Center of Attention (sic), Cold Morning, Enhanced Reality, Noble, Only Yellow, Peruvian desert, Subway, Abandoned Place, Auto Smart Sharpener, Bright Day, Colors of the Fall (sic), Daydreams, Fix Dark Landscape, Misty Land, B&W Fashion Magazine, Enhanced Portrait, Glamour, Mysterious Girl, Noble Beauty, Portrait Soft Glow, Smooth Portrait, Dark Moon, Dull No More, Explore Dark Alleys, Final Frontier, Ghost Ship, Happy Memories, Impressive, Marco Polo, New Discovery, Silver Crystals, Sleepy Valley, Vivid Dreams, Warm Sunset, Artistic Copper Strong, Bloody Mary, Cold Mood, Dramatic Grungy, Dramatic Look, Enigmatic Vision, Film Noir, Lost Soul, Mood Enhancer, Tears in the Rain and Vintage Look. I count 56!
Clicking on any preset resets all the sliders in the tool strip from scratch, and each preset area has its own intensity slider so you can choose how much of the combination of controls you apply. A second or two and the effects are applied to the image so you can see it full screen. Rolling the mouse or stroking your trackpad over the main image zooms it in and out. You can click a little star at lower right of each preset to make it a favourite, which might be a good way to start working out what you’ll want in a customised workspace.
The tools — The tools down the right side have group buttons on the right-most edge: Hand, Brush, Gradient, Radiant Mask, Rectangular Marquee tool, Stamp (clicking on this initiates a 3-second ‘Preparing’ operation), Eraser, Denoise (which immediately zooms in so you can inspect the effect) and Crop (with rule-of-thirds grid). The first four keep the sliders in the rest of the right vertical strip visible, but the next batch of five don’t.
To the left of these, but still in the right vertical strip, there’s Levels at the top, Layers, Filters (click to make a menu appear with 35 filters in it), the Workspace menu (Custom, Clear, Default, B&W, Landscape, Portrait and Street) and then there are different sliders that appear below this section depending on the workspace you choose – for example, under Street there are Colour Temperature sliders and below that Tone (Exposure, Contrast, Smart Tone, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks) and beneath that in turn, Saturation/Vibrance sliders, Clarity, Structure, Soft Focus, Curves, Cross Processing, Texture Overlay, Vignette and Grain. And then, in case that’s not enough, an Add Filter button that shows those above-mentioned 35 filters. Other of these include Bi-Color Toning, Channel Mixer, Foliage Enhancer, and Orton Effect … So do you have plenty of variations available? Goodness yes.
The feature of customisable workspaces means that if you find yourself using specific filters on particular types of photos, you can create a custom Workspace for them. For instance, for landscapes you may want to always use Clarity, Saturation (or Vibrance), Polarizing Filter, Brightness and Contrast.
But wait, there’s more — There are also options along the top of the work space: from left to right, there’s a folder icon for Open, then Share; plus, minus and the zoom amount is displayed; Quick Preview (click and hold to see the ‘Before’ state of the image); the cool Wiper tool found in Aurora (shown above, where you can also see the intensity slider on the preset itself – click the image for a larger view). With the wiper, turn it on with the upper central button then then drag the vertical line on the image to see Before and After states side by side.
Then there’s Undo, Redo, History, buttons to flip on the Layers vertical right-hand toolbar or the Filters one, and buttons to turn on or off the Prestes strip along the bottom and/or the Tools strip on the right hand side.
A lot of this may strike you as familiar to Aurora, but Luminar is a single-exposure editor and not an HDR editor (like Aurora). Luminar does not have the ability to merge exposure brackets to HDR and then flexibly control those ranges.
Luminar also has Layers, Custom Textures, Brushes and Masking (including automatic Luminosity, Gradient and Radial Masks), Noise Reduction, a Healing tool, a History Panel, Selective Top & Bottom adjustments, supports plug-ins and more. The only thing really missing is the ability to make selections and paths, and that’s a shame, because they’re the only tools I keep having to go back to Photoshop for.
What’s great — The workspaces are all fine, but what’s really great are the image controls which are full featured, very variable and very comprehensive. It’s pretty great you can use it as a plugin for Lightroom, which it installs by default, but I suspect most users will want to add this to Photos.
Here’s how: install Luminar (and/or Aurora), open Photos, select an image, click the Adjustment button at top right (it looks like three sliders), find Extensions at the bottom of the list of adjustment controls (under Retouch), click it’s three dots in a circle icon, choose More then tick Luminar (and/or Aurora). Awesome! Now you can use the magic right from within Photos when its own tools prove insufficient by going into this area (above) to improve a photo.
What’s not — It’s a bit clunky getting though the presets at the bottom as the keyboard arrows don’t do it, there’s no left and right arrow. You can swipe left and right using the trackpad (and some mice) but with some mice, the only way is to grab the little scrollbar at the bottom and drag it left and right. I also had a strange glitch in my pre-release version that let you roll the scroll-wheel to zoom in, but when I hit max zoom, the same motion zoomed out. I really wish there were selection tools like Paths and Feather.
Needs — Anyone for whom Aurora is too specific; also works well as a companion to Aurora.
Luminar pre-order from November 2nd; launch is scheduled for November 17th; US$59 (about NZ$83). If you already own a Macphun app for Mac, you pay only US$49 (about NZ$69) to get Luminar along with some exclusive bonuses.
System — Intel Core 2 Duo from late 2009 or newer; minimum 4GB RAM; OS X 10.10.5 or newer; 2GB free space on hard drive; display resolution 1280 x 800 or higher (Retina displays supported).
More info — MacPhun’s Luminar page.