The long awaited version 3 of Luminar from Skylum arrived this month. It held the promise of new features, and digital assets management tools (DAM) that would rival Lightroom. That's important, because some percentage of photographers don't like the Adobe subscription model, and while powerful, Lightroom's Library management can be a pain. Of course others love it, and would never switch.
We've reviewed Luminar 2018 here, and the editing is pretty much unchanged. It's mainly the library/catalog that is the attention getter here. The new Luminar 3 with DAM was due in 2017, but it missed the mark, and a few other projected dates. It made it in 2018, but just slipped in.
The new Library tools allow you to create catalogs, and the photos its cataloging can be local, on a NAS, a thumb drive or even in the cloud. Unlike Lightroom, if you move a photo, Luminar keeps track of the location changes, and doesn't throw a fit as Lightroom can do. Move a file in the Luminar catalog, and Luminar updates its database. That's all good, and it's easy to figure out how the Luminar library functions work.
Luminar is lightning fast. Working on my 2.9 GHz Macbook Pro Luminar cataloged more than 50,000 files in about 3 minutes. At that point I could assign ratings from zero to five stars, mark them as flagged or rejected, or apply five color labels, and after some editing it is easy to find files by date, rating, or if they were recently edited. Edits can be easily synced to other photos, similar to the Lightroom sync feature. Edits are of course, non-destructive, and there is a backup system for your catalogs.
So is it time to junk Lightroom? Not really. Adobe has had years of perfecting photo editing and cataloging. Lightroom keeps improving, but Skylum is moving pretty fast with Luminar, notwithstanding some slipped release dates.
Luminar 3 struck out on one major feature I use all the time. When I want to send brackets to Aurora (another Skylum product), I could select the images in Lightroom or Adobe Bridge, and a right click would send them off for HDR processing. Now you'd expect Luminar to do the same, since they make Aurora. But no, if you try it, only one image makes it over to Aurora. I talked to the Skylum people, they are aware of the issue, and expect it to be fixed in the next update.
There is no ability to import your Lightroom catalogs, something that competitor ON1 does quite well. Skylum says a Lightroom migration tool is coming, but I think think that's going to take a lot of work to get right. Essentially, when you create a Luminar catalog, you are starting fresh. Your camera metadata makes it over, but that's it. Also, there is no way to add keywords, which seems pretty basic to me. Keywords are a big feature of Lightroom.
This is all fixable, and I imagine it will be, but Luminar 3 as an asset manager is not a mature product, but rather an opening flourish. As a photo editor, I prefer Luminar to Lightroom and On1.
It's all very natural, easy to work with, and in general I like the results. I have some little nits to pick, for example, the gradient tools are weaker than the ones in Lightroom, but in general, Luminar is a great editor. Their sky adjustment tools, polarizing filters, and AI adjustments are quite good.
If Skylum can make the Library/cataloging functions more robust, they are going to seriously challenge Adobe. But that won't happen in a day, or even a year I'll bet.
Having said all that, Luminar is an excellent buy at $69.00. Even better, it's free if you have Luminar 2018. Luminar works well as a Photoshop or Lightroom Classic plug-in, so you can have the best of both worlds in a simple workflow.
Yes, the DAM is quite a bit less than the hype that surrounded its release, but for a photographer just getting started and not importing thousands of previously cataloged images, Luminar 3 makes some sense. If you're a pro or semi pro, Luminar is still a great editor, and I think they will rapidly build on their library foundation and eventually have a first class, highly competitive product.