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The Strange Differences Between Luminar 4 and Luminar AI

Many presumed Luminar AI to be the big update for Luminar 4. But Skylum surprised everyone when Luminar AI turned out to be a completely different program. Or perhaps it isn’t that different at all?

There has been a lot of advertisement for Luminar AI. It is said to be the next step in post-processing. It uses a very clever algorithm that is called Artificial Intelligence, although it won’t pass the Turing test at all. But as the name suggests, it will take a lot of work out of hands when it comes down to processing your precious digital raw files.

Luminar 4, and Its First Steps With AI

Artificial Intelligence was already introduced with Luminar 4. It makes it possible to enhance a landscape or portrait photo by adjusting only a few sliders. The program recognizes elements in photos and will adjust the photo based on that. The A.I. can also recognize the sky, and thus it became possible to replace a sky with only a few mouse clicks.

At the beginning of 2020 I recorded a series of 36 Dutch tutorial videos about Luminar 4. During the recording, I learned about the masking options, and about the rudimentary layer functionality. Besides that, I found Luminar 4 to be mainly about a quick edit without diving deep into precise or complicated post-processing steps.

This was strengthened by the lack of an extensive library function. You can’t add keywords or other metadata at all. It uses the folder structure as a library, and it lacks a flexible album function or the use of collections. Although it is possible to add a star rating, and color rating, Luminar 4 is not made for managing a large photo library.

Fortunately, Luminar 4 comes with a Lightroom and Photoshop plugin. This way I could replace the skies of my real-estate photos in an easy way. It does lack the possibility to perform this batch-wise, but in those days it was quicker compared to manually masking the sky in Photoshop.

Luminar AI Is Not an Upgrade, It Is Something Completely Different

With the announcement of Luminar AI, I hoped it to be a huge step forward. The program could use a more adult photo library, and options that would allow for a professional workflow. Although I’m happy about using Lightroom Classic, I knew Luminar AI could be a possible replacement for those who don’t like the subscription model by Adobe.

Luminar AI turns out to be a completely different program compared to Luminar 4, in a very strange way. It is not possible to migrate your old catalog. If you have been using Luminar 4 to manage, and edit your photos, you have to import, and process every single image all over again.

You could keep both programs of course, and use Luminar AI only for the newer images. But the support for Luminar 4 seems to end in about one year as of this writing. Although the program will keep on working, it is difficult to say how it will evolve after that moment in time. Even so, using two different programs to manage your photos is often far from ideal.

But how different is Luminar AI exactly? Is it adding enough extra functionality compared to Luminar 4? About one week before its official release I started recording a new Dutch video tutorial about working with Luminar AI. I learned about all the functionalities, and discovered to my surprise how some great functions are completely removed from the program.

The Differences Between Luminar 4 and Luminar AI

With Luminar AI the post-processing is directed towards the recognition of the photo, and then you use one of the presets that Luminar will advise. These presets are now called Templates instead of Looks, and you can buy as many as you like on the website. Fortunately, Luminar AI comes with a whole bunch of built-in Templates, many of them with inspiring names. The Looks you might have bought for Luminar 4 won’t work in Luminar AI.

With Luminar AI is still possible to make your own adjustments to a photo. The way it works is similar to Luminar 4, although there are a few new additions for portrait photographers. Changing the color of the iris is added, just like changing the shape of a body, including the abdomen. The Sky Replacement that takes reflections into account will be added in a later stage, just like a few other new things. These are not yet available. Luminar AI has the option to advise on cropping an image, relying mostly on the Rule of Thirds for composition. It also suggests an aspect ratio, based on what is recognized in the image. 

If you shoot a lot of photos you need to have a good, and reliable library with many functions to rate images, the use of albums or categories, and an extensive search function based on this information. If you’re expecting a more extensive library function with keywords and metadata, you will be disappointed.

Unfortunately, Luminar AI didn’t change the library at all. On the contrary, it even removed the possibility for star ratings and color ratings. You can flag a photo, but that’s it. On top of that, the possibility for the use of layers is also removed. Although it was rudimentary in Luminar 4, it was usable, and on some occasions necessary to obtain more precise post-processing. Masking is still possible, but not as extensive compared to Luminar 4. Blending options and luminosity masks are removed from the program.

My Thoughts About Luminar AI After Extensive Use

Luminar AI is a completely different program, built from the ground up. Skylum made this very clear from the beginning. It is relying very heavily on the Artificial Intelligence functions, mostly by suggesting Templates based on the image itself. Landscape photographers and portrait photographers are provided with many tools to adjust or manipulate an image, with the help of Artificial Intelligence.

Besides the new Templates function, it is surprising how Luminar AI resembles Luminar 4. There are no additions for importing or exporting images, and the print function is unchanged. At the same time, it is stripped from many features like ratings in the photo library and the more sophisticated post-processing options like layers, and blending options. It feels like a step backwards instead of forwards. Fortunately, it still comes with a Lightroom and Photoshop plugin.

Luminar AI is relying mostly on the quick edit, without bothering about a good library system. If you don’t care about that library, and just want to transform your image into something special in a very quick, and easy way, Luminar AI is perfect for you. If you prefer a more personal way of post-processing, I think Luminar 4 is the better choice. But if you are looking for a good library function to manage your precious photos, you might want to skip Luminar all together.

What do you think about the new Luminar AI? Is it perfect for you, or were you hoping for something else with the release of Luminar AI? Do you prefer Luminar 4? Please share your opinion in the comment below.


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