Ever since it was released on Monday, I've been getting emails asking me for my opinion of the new Luminar AI program from Skylum.
I will add my own thoughts in a bit, but I suggest you start with a pair of external reviews, this one from Digital Camera World and this one from Digital Photo Mentor.
Both of these reviews echo my own experiences so far so I think they make a good jumping off point for the rest of my comments.
I've had some time to play with Luminar AI and I think it's great as a plugin for achieving certain special effects, but... that's all it's ever going to be for me – a filter or plugin for doing something like sky replacement or detail enhancement.
It's definitely not a substitute for Photoshop or Lightroom. More importantly, you should understand that Luminar AI is NOT an upgrade from Luminar 4, although it has many features from that program that you will recognize.
Luminar AI is actually something different entirely.
Skylum appears to be moving away from pro photographers and more toward the broader instagram/influencer/content creator market who just want an easy way to add sizzle to a photo without having to learn a lot about editing.
From the DCW review: "Skylum has taken a bold step. It is ending development of Luminar 4 and taking its core technologies in a new direction. That may disappoint a lot of Luminar fans hoping for an ever more sophisticated and advanced Lightroom or Photoshop alternative. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now."
...and then a bit later...
"Luminar AI does exactly what it sets out to do, though, by allowing novice photo editors to inject some magic into their images without the need for a lot of know how to time consuming manual editing. It is very easy to create ‘idealized’ reality with Luminar AI, which we suspect will be popular with content creators but perhaps controversial too."
Did you catch that last part about "idealized reality"? It was almost mentioned in passing, but I think they are referring to the fact that the built-in AI has a tendency to make all your images look the same if you rely on it too much. The algorithms can do some nice things to your photos, but there is no substitute for the creative eye.
Now that you've had an overview, let's dig a little deeper into the various features and functions of Luminar AI
The program has a series of automatic "templates" you can apply to process an image using "Artificial Intelligence" and these templates include a mixture of various processing parameters that are automatically configured using Luminar's various AI components for composition, accent, color, contrast, and more. The program will suggest various templates based on analyzing the image you give it. (This is something of a hit or miss process.)
I'm going to be honest here and say that I find these templates to be nearly useless for anything practical. There are only a few of them so far and the results they produce are rarely pleasing and often quite garish and over processed looking to my eyes.
Instead of relying on one of the templates to do everything automatically, I suggest users go in to each of the individual parameters and make more thoughtful adjustments there. The AI features will still be available, but for realistic results, you'll need a lighter touch than the automatic routines seem to exhibit thus far.
From the AI enhanced functions, I would say Accent AI, Structure AI, and Sky Enhancer AI are all useful adjustments when applied tastefully. The Body AI, Face AI, and Iris AI functions have more limited use but can be handy in certain retouch scenarios.
From the non-AI based adjustments, I would say that the Details, Landscape, Super Contrast, and Color Harmony are the most useful and unique functions. I particularly liked the "Golden Hour" and "Foliage Enhancer" sliders within the Landscape adjustment. Most of the other tweaks can be done just as easily in Lightroom or Photoshop or whatever your host program might be.
Then of course, you have special functions like Sky Replacement (now called Sky AI), Augmented Sky AI (which allows you to add suns, moons, and other celestial objects to your scene), and Atmosphere AI which allows you to add haze, mist, or fog to your image. Other effects include Glow, Film Grain, Mystical, Matte, Mood, Dramatic, and more. Each imparts a specific look and you'll want to try them out yourself to see what they really do to your images.
They really seem to be positioning this program as a "gee whiz" special effects "enhancement" app for users who are looking for an easy fix. Experienced photo editors will likely find themselves only using a smaller sub-set of these effects as needed. This is why I view Luminar AI as being more like a Filter or Plug-In I can use with Photoshop or Lightroom to add a special effect. It's never going to be my daily editing program for the bulk of my tasks if they keep going in the direction they are.
Some other things to consider:
1) Luminar AI cannot import catalogs from the previous versions. I don't really use them. So this isn't a deal breaker.
2) The Sky Replacement feature still doesn't do reflections as teased in their promotional videos. Maybe this feature will be added at a later date? Until then, you can keep using the technique I described in my article on Easy Sky Replacement with Reflections.
3) Luminar AI has no support for layers as of this release. This is disappointing as I though the layers function worked very well in Luminar 4 for stacking adjustments on top of each other. Given the new direction Skylum appears to be headed, I wonder if they will ever add layer support.
The novice editors and instagram content creators will love the simplified interface and ability to make gee-whiz special effects, but for the rest of us I think this is going to be a niche product.
I will use Luminar AI as a plug-in or special effects filter, but if this trend continues, I don't see it ever becoming a daily-use photo editor for myself and the majority of the photographers I work with.