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Review: MacPhun Luminar

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Reviews, by Mark White
July 10, 2017

Does this latest application from Macphun have what it takes to challenge Lightroom?

Macphun has a proven track record of producing sophisticated and attractive software applications for photographers, which have tended to focus on specific processes and tasks, such as its Aurora app for HDR, or the Tonality app for converting to black and white.

Luminar is a little different, in that it is a general photo editor that’s designed to offer flexibility and adaptability to users, enabling photographers of all types and skill sets to work with it. In truth, this really means that it’s aimed at relative newcomers to image processing ahead of experienced enthusiasts and pros – few people are likely to be converted away from Lightroom or Photoshop – but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have plenty of attractions.

It can be installed as a plug-in to Lightroom, Photoshop, Elements and Aperture, or you might prefer to run it as a standalone application. The downside of the latter option is that there’s no library or browser option in Luminar, which is of course integral to Lightroom, but in terms of its main functionality as an image editor, Luminar does have plenty to offer. To get the very best from it, RAW files are the preferred option, but you can edit JPEG files and TIFFs too. Luminar requires a little more thinking time when you are processing a RAW file, and the software is as lightning fast as some, but this will depend on the speed of your machine to some extent.

If you have already experimented with any of Macphun’s other applications, Luminar will feel very familiar. When you first load up an image, you’ll find that there’s a strip of previews along the bottom of the screen, which are divided into sections by subject. These provide very convenient and quick starting points for your editing, and are especially useful when you don’t have a clear preconception of how you want the image to end up looking. There’s also an option here to access and download some additional preset packs that have been uploaded to the Macphun website.

One of the chief selling points of Luminar is its adaptive user interface, which sounds as if the software is going to intelligently identify your skill set and image adjustment needs and adapt itself accordingly. In reality, it simply means the ability to dispense with and/or rearrange some of the sliders, such as Tone, Saturation/Vibrance, Clarity and Structure. Slightly frustratingly, if you’ve started by selecting a preset from the filmstrip at the bottom of the interface, changing the interface counts as a history step, and so undoes the preset you’ve already selected and changes the way your image looks. It would be nice to have the option to retain an initial starting look from the presets filmstrip and also be able to modify the available sliders, but that’s us being picky.

As is typical of Macphun’s applications, Luminar makes it easy to reach an attractive and/or creative result in very little time, so this is ideal for beginners or those who want to process their images with minimum fuss. Being able to select a look from the presets with just a single click is very advantageous for those who don’t want to have to experiment in order to achieve a certain look, and it enables you to learn how to create effects of that kind so you can learn the software without having to wait for your editing skills to catch up.

The verdict

9/10 – This is an excellent piece of software and with additions already on the way at the time of writing, Luminar looks to have potential for future upgrades.