How Good is Luminar NEO?
No coverage of AI in photo processing would be complete without acknowledging the progress made by Skylum, whose adoption of AI in creating tools aimed at content creators rather than seasoned photographers has been industry leading. But how good is Luminar NEO compared to other tools? In this Luminar NEO review I will be assessing NEO as a tool aimed at a different market to Lightroom and PhotoLab. Not just photographers but also content creators.
Table of Contents
Content Creator vs. Photographer
Content Creators have a specific purpose in life – to use media to grow a following on social media for themselves and consequently their clients. The requirements of content creators prioritise speed and impact so that striking content can be created quickly and posted online.
These requirements overlap the requirements of photographers to an extent but Skylum recognise them as a different market to photographers.
The Luminar Approach
Where Photoshop, DxO PhotoLab and Lightroom slug it out in the detail, Skylum realise that to simultaneously satisfy the requirements of speed and creativity a different approach would be needed. Rather than supplying the tools and a workflow, Skylum decided to approach the task of photo processing at a higher level, focusing on usability and a shallow learning curve.
There are a number of ways to edit an image ranging from the one click use of presets to a much more comprehensive use of individual tools.
The screen is decluttered so that its is easy to use.
In any screen you see what is relevant to the task, no more, no less. Soon the left we see the layers applied to the image in the main viewer.
Top centre we see the menu offering the Catalog, Presets and Edit panels.
Middle Centre is the main viewing window. Neo is very responsive so you see the result of your edits in close to real time.
On the right, because we’ve selected Edit, we see the Tools and at top right we see the Export (Save) icon and a link to the Extras Marketplace where you can acquire new functionality in the form of extensions such as HDR Merge, Upscale and Focus Stacking.
Bottom Centre we have the “Eyeball” icon that shows before and after state of the image in full screen, a Before and After slider, Image screen area related to full size and the Actions drop down that allows you to revert to the original or save the current state as a preset.
Speed is achieved at a very high level through Presets. These apply a ‘look’ to a picture and take seconds to achieve. Neo comes with a collection of 22 Presets that are categorised as
- Mother Nature
More presets can be easily bought within the app and arrive ready to use in your workflow. Choose a preset by navigating to the screen in the image above and hover over each preset – you’ll see a preview of your image with the preset applied in the main panel.
Edits require more input from the user but are still presented in a user friendly high level format.
There are five categories of Edit.
The Edits you have performed are recorded in the edit panel and you can revisit them to adjust later in the process.
Note that if you applied a preset, the edits contained in that preset will show up here individually. Great for understanding how a particular look is achieved!
a placeholder for edits you use most frequently. It is prepopulated with Enhance (AI) and Sky (AI), The first runs an AI informed process that makes adjustments automatically to the picture, the second is concerned with Sky Replacement.
Contains the basic tools that are used to control the broad aspects of editing.
Develop contains a set of tools controlling Light – Exposure, Smart Contrast, Highlights and Shadows.
Blacks and Whites contains sliders controlling the blacks and whites in the photo.
Curves offers a tool that allows the user to manipulate the tones within the photo. Darks and Lights, Red, Green and Blue/
Color groups White Balance, Color Temperature, Tint, Saturation and Vibrance together.
Sharpen offers Sharpen, Radius and Masking adjustments. (Sharpen is global, Radius affects the degree of sharpening at the edges.
Noise Reduction affects noise in terms of luminosity and Color. The amount can be boosted after the correct balance is achieved for the image.
Optics gives us control over Lens Distortion and Vignetting
Transform offers a degree of protection from things like converging verticals where the lens has been tilted up to frame a building for example.
Erase is similar to the Heal tool in Lightroom, but uses AI to automatically remove power lines and dust spots originating from a dirty sensor.
Structure is another AI informed tool – it does the same thing that Structure tools do in other software, sharpens detail, but does so based on the learning the AI tool has extracted from thousands of images/
Breaks out the Saturation and Vibrance tools and adds a useful third tool – Remove Color Cast. The Color tab also gives access to HSL tools allowing the user to adjust Hue, Saturation and Luminance with sliders assigned to Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Cyan,Blue, Purple and Magenta.
The Hue Shift slider allows the user to shift the entire color spectrum
Black & White
The Black & White tab feature a Convert to B&W button and separate sliders for Red, Yellow, Green Cyan. Blue and Magenta allowing the user to apply filters enhancing the luminance and saturation of the conversion.
This is sharpening, divided into small details, medium and large with a separate slider for global sharpening.
This tab removes Noise from a photo, allowing the user to adjust two types of noise, luminosity and color.
The Landscape tab accesses the Dehaze slider and features two other sliders, Golden Hour and Foliage Enhancer these are aimed at Landscape images.
The Vignette tool has a choose subject button and Amount and Size sliders to adjust the vignette.
Summary of Essentials
These are the tools that most photographers will be familiar with, allocated to user friendly categories (they do what they say on the tin) and adding a few such as “Golden Hour” that you can visualise as working similar tp scripts, grouping some of the basic controls together to get close to a desirable result.
These are the tools that allow content creators to conjure up looks in a few clicks of the mouse. You have a lot more creative control than the presets, which are off the shelf templates you can use as is or as a starting point for further editing.
Relight is a tool that allows you tot adjust the lighting in a scene. It offers control over the relative brightness of areas in the photograph with sliders for Brightness Near, Brightness Far and Depth.
The Advanced Settings tab offers a Dehalo slider and control over the warmth of the light in the Near and Far selections.
Atmosphere offers AI presets to apply Fog, Layered Fog, Mist and Haze to an image with sliders to amend the Amount, Depth and Lightness of the effect.
The Sunrays tool has attracted quite a lot of comment. Essentially it allows you to place a light source (the Sun) by choosing Place Sun Centre and dragging the effect around. The rays are generated 360° around the centre, but if you drag it off the image then you can create a realistic effect of Sunrays lancing through a forest for example.
You can alter the overall look, the length and penetration of the rays in a few moves of the sliders. Again, Skylum have done a good job of labelling and categorising these tools wit he aim of making it possible for a content creator to get the point quickly.
Essentially combines sharpening and contrast to create an old fashioned HDR look. I have to say I’m not a fan of this slider!
This is about color grading. Applies a LUT (Lookup Table) of your choice to the image and allows you to adjust the effect with sliders controlling the Amount, Contact and Saturation of the look.
Applies or enhances tones in the Shadows and Highlights of the image.
Applies a matte to the image and controls the Amount of the effect, Fade, Contrast and Vividness.
Manipulates contrast and sharpening to create an effect that is controlled via Amount, Shadows and Smoothness sliders. Additionally, there is a Colorise section that subtly alters the color balance applied via Saturation and Warmth sliders.
Offers four styles of “Glow” including Soft Focus, Glow, Orton Effect and Orton Effect Soft. The Orton Effect is a good example of how much work goes on behind the scenes in Neo. To create the effect in Photoshop relies on multiple layers, Gaussian blur on one layer, sharpening on the other and blending the result to create a ‘”glow” across the whole image. In Neo this can be done quickly using a single slider sand then tweaking the Softness, Brightness, Contrast and Warmth in the Advanced Settings.
Lastly, Grain mimics the effect seen in analogue photography and allows the user to adjust the Size and Roughness of the effect as well as the overall amount.
Summary of Creative Effects
There is no doubt that the Creative effects offered here enable a content creator to quickly edit a striking image for social media. Skylum have done an excellent job of aggregating, categorising and labelling the tooling so that it’s obvious what every tool does and easy to work out how it does it.
I have to say immediately that I’m not a portrait photographer. If I was, I’d probably be amazed by the AI power options here, including artificial Bokeh, Face enhancements including to eyes, Skin enhancements and Body enhancements. Technically these are all impressive.
The professional tools offer Supercontrast which accesses the highlights, midtowns and shadows separately, more advanced color grading tools including Split Tones in Color Harmony, Dodging and Burning via a Brush Tool and Cloning.
Masks and Layers
Almost every editing tool supports Masks, within the tool. What this means is that you can select an area of the image and apply the effect to that area alone.
Layers exist in Luminar Neo, but not in the sense they do in Photoshop. Instead you choose the type of layer you want from a selection of Flares, Lightleaks, Stardust Bokeh and Sparklers and this is set as an overlay. You can then choose the blend mode from the Layer Properties panel on the right hand side.
The detail of this is closer to Photoshop than it is to anything we’ve discussed here so far, so beginners can simply try the blend mode and see how it looks. And although this certainly works, it highlights my biggest concern about Neo which is that “Try it and See” comes with some disadvantages. Chiefly that photo editing becomes an accidental process rather than a deliberate journey towards a defined end point.
The concept of Luminar Neo as a quick and easy editing tool doesn’t encourage the use of Workflow. At its simplest, I’d recommend selecting a preset and then making a few edits. I think Less is More in this respect and I’d advise to keep checking the edit list and remove the most recent if you think you’ve strayed off path.
One point here – when you select a preset, it displays all of the edits involved in the preset in the edit list. This is great for learning how the presets are built but can be confusing.
Creating a Preset
For Content Creators wishing to create a repeatable look for their brand, nothing could be easier – take a photograph, start wit the RAW file and edit it until you have the look you want. Then in the floating menu bar at the bottom of the screen choose Actions and Save as Preset. The best practice is to then apply the preset to a different picture and make sure it turns out as expected. I’d save a few with different picture styles eg. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring as the base photograph will be very different.
Conclusion – How good is Luminar Neo?
Behind the user friendly interface, Luminar Neo is a very well engineered and surprisingly powerful editor. The learning curve is not steep and it’s ideal for beginners, content creators and photographers in a hurry. Luminar Neo plugs a yawning gap in the photo processing world, slotting easily into a world where Canva is the preferred graphics package and offering a very welcome short cut for photographers who straddle content creation as well as photography.
That being said, there are two parts to creating a great photograph, the part that happens in camera and the part that happens in processing. A good photographer needs to understand both parts as the best processing in the world cannot rescue a badly framed and badly exposed photograph.
How Much does Luminar NEO Cost?
Click here for the most recent Luminar NEO Price page.
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