Lightroom vs Luminar 4

Deciding on the best photo editing software for yourself can be a surprisingly difficult task. 

Photo editors are usually long term decisions for several reasons:

  • They are not cheap
  • Mastering them takes time and effort
  • Not every photo editor works well for everyone

In this comparison of Lightroom vs Luminar 4 I will help you make your decision by stating pros and cons of each photo editor, as well as my experience with both.

However, if your mind is still wondering about other photo editors, here’s a list of a few others that I recommend.

Why Lightroom vs Luminar 4?

If you are having trouble deciding between Lightroom vs Luminar 4 in 2020, this review will help you make your decision.

Until recently, Adobe Lightroom (officially Adobe Photoshop Lightroom) has successfully reigned as the number one photo editing software amongst professional photographers. Its convenient library tool made culling massive amounts of photos a much quicker and a less tedious job.

Skylum has proven that such a monopoly never lasts indefinitely. Since Luminar has been released in 2016, it has received two major updates, namely Luminar 3 and 4, respectively, which paved its way to the top.

In this review, I compare Lightroom vs Luminar 4 in usability, editing capabilities, performance, price, and how they work together.

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Usability | Lightroom vs Luminar 4

Both Lightroom and Luminar 4 are relatively similar in the sense that they both come with library and editing options. 

Lightroom packs a set of modules, namely Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print, and Web, however the most used are Library and Develop modules.

In the Library, you can view all your images and organize them based on their location on the disk, sort them into albums, view recently edited, mark them, and edit their EXIF and Metadata. 

Lightroom vs Luminar 4 - Lightroom library
Lightroom’s Library
Lightroom vs Luminar 4 - Luminar library
Luminar 4’s Library

Both Lightroom and Luminar 4 have Folders – this is the most basic organisation tool, which tells you where image files are located on your internal or external hard drive.

Collections in Lightroom or Albums in Luminar 4 are a great way to organize your images within the software. Adding an image to a Collection/Album is similar to adding a song to your playlist. Doing so doesn’t change anything on your hard drive, they are just virtual folders, that help you keep your work organised.

Catalogs in Lightroom or Shortcuts in Luminar 4 are a database that tracks the location of your photos and information about them. When you import, edit, rate, add keywords or do anything at all to photos, these changes are stored in the Catalogs/Shortcuts.

Another great feature is Sync. Are you not sure what it does? Let’s say that you took 50 photos, which are all more or less the same – You can edit only one of them, and after you’re finished, synchronize the settings for all photos. 

Bottom line: both Lightroom vs Luminar are very similar when it comes to basic sorting  of photos. 

When you’re dealing with a huge amount of images, marking them in one way or another is a great way to keep your workspace organized. In both Lightroom and Luminar 4 you can flag (flagged, unflagged/unmarked, rejected), rate (from 0 to 5), and set colour labels.

This is where similarities end. Lightroom’s Library has a few additional features that keep your work organized. In Lightroom, you can add keywords, attributes, and text, but there’s more! You can also filter your entire library based on EXIF and IPTC metadata. What is more, you can even search by lens or camera!

Importing a photo is easier and freely customizable in Lightroom with presets, such as adding a lens profile correction during the import, whereas there are no such options in Luminar.

Usability | Conclusion

Feature Lightroom Luminar 4
Folders Yes Yes
Albums Yes (Collections) Yes
Database driven system Yes (Catalogs) Yes (Shortcuts)
Flag, Rate, Colour labels Yes Yes
Sync Yes Yes
Metadata Yes No
Import presets Yes No

Lightroom has become a gold-standard in photo editing world in the last decade or so, which doesn’t come with a surprise considering the tools it’s packing. 

Its organization system is robust, but takes a bit time to learn how to use it – but once you do it’s all-powerful. On top of that, if you’re a serious photographer, you’re going to need both keywords and more advanced metadata.

Luminar 4 has, however, adapted a similar yet more simple and intuitive, yet limited concept, making it much easier to use for a beginner. It’s still capable of either storing a photo in a folder or separately. What Luminar 4 lacks is the ability to work with keywords or IPTC metadata. But rest assured it will get fixed in future updates.

Skylum is still quite new to the table and is pushing out updates regularly. Luminar’s library has received some much-needed updates in the last 2 years.

Overall, Luminar 4 is easier to use for a beginner, while Lightroom makes it extraordinarily easy to organize and tag your photos with a plethora of its options.

WINNER: Lightroom

Editing | Lightroom vs Luminar 4​

The editing part of the Lightroom vs Luminar 4 is the main reason you’re here. 

First I’ll cover tools that they have in common, such as Basic tools, Tone curve, Color panel, Split toning, Sharpening and Denoise, and Vignette. Then I’ll focus on tools that are unique to each software, and try to explain how you can make up for it.

Tools that Lightroom vs Luminar 4 have in common

Basic tools

Both Lightroom and Luminar 4 have basic editing tools, such as white balance, exposure and contrast sliders, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks and saturation, which can be either applied to the whole photo or only a certain area. 

While there’s virtually no difference between both panels, I give Lightroom slight edge here – its sliders feel more balanced in the amount of editing they do. With Luminar 4 I can’t seem to make it work well – they are either too responsive or not responsive enough.

That is why I usually do my basic edits in Lightroom, and import photo in Luminar 4 later.

Lightroom vs Luminar 4 - basic panel comparison
Basic panels: Left: Lightroom, Right: Luminar 4

Tone Curve

To compare Curves Lightroom vs Luminar 4 – both have the same usability, although Lightroom’s seems easier to use and yields more accurate results. 

In Lightroom you can either “freestyle” with Tone curve or enable Region, which will open a tab with Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows sliders, that will work the tone curve for you. Note that this functionality is only available for RGB, and not for individual tones.

Lightroom’s Tone Curve has built-in 3 presets that differ in contrast that they apply, while Luminar 4 comes with 7 built-in presets – you can also add more!

Colour

Colour panel is a much more complex tool than some realize. To a beginner it might seem just as a way to (de)saturate specific part/colour in their image, but with some experience, creativity, and a clear vision of what you want your image to look like it offers a lot more.

Besides the obvious design choices of the panels, there is no apparent difference between Color panels between Lightroom and Luminar 4.

Split toning

Split toning means pushing colours to highlights and shadows separately. By doing so, you can create a mood in your images. For example, pushing yellow/orange into highlights and cyan/blue into shadows creates a golden-hour effect. 

With both Lightroom and Luminar 4 you can achieve the same effect, however, it might be slightly easier in Lightroom. By pressing “Alt” (Option key on Mac) saturation temporarily switches to 100% to help you choose the right tone. Luminar 4 has no such functionality to my knowledge.

Sharpening and Denoise

Sharpening is applying contrast to areas that photo editor recognizes as edges – contrast better defines the edge, giving the feeling or a sharper image. 

Similarly to Split toning by pressing “Alt” (Option key for Mac) your image is temporarily turned into Black & White, making it easier to notice the changes. 

While there’s no such Black & White aid in Luminar 4, it offers Details Enhancer, where you can selectively add texture to Small, Medium, and/or Large details. 

What I like to do is perform basic sharpening in Lightroom, and then add some small details in Luminar 4 (it works similarly to Lightroom’s Texture tool).

Both also have Denoise tool, which works as intended, although Luminar 4’s doesn’t seem sensitive enough sometimes.

Sharpening images in Lightroom seems smoother and gives better results.

Lightroom vs Luminar 4 1
Lightroom’s Sharpening
Lightroom vs Luminar 4 2
Luminar 4’s Sharpening

Vignette

Vignette is a pretty straightforward tool. It creates an area of decreased (it can also be increased) exposure around the image to help lead the viewer’s eyes into the frame.

I prefer Luminar 4’s vignette tool, because it allows for subject selection, whereas Lightroom always assumes your subject is in the centre of the image. Of course, you can bypass that by applying a Radial filter, but that’s more of advanced technique.

Lightroom-only tools

Lightroom doesn’t have that many creative tools, but those that it has are impeccable.

Calibration

Calibration tool in Lightroom consists of 4 parts. The first slider is Tint for shadows, moving this slider towards the green (left) pushes green tones in shadows (ideal for gloomy, moody images), and by moving the slider towards the purple (right) you push purple tones into shadows giving a warmer overall feel to the image.

The rest of the Calibration panel consists of 3 sections that represent each primary hue – Red, Green, and Blue. Each section is made up of 2 sliders – one for hue and another for the saturation.

By mastering these 6 sliders (3 × 2) you can achieve virtually every colour effect, from Orange and Teal to green moody shot.

Luminar 4 does have a tool that could compensate for Calibration tool, however, it is more difficult to use and doesn’t produce the same results, it can be found: Edit panel > Professional > Color Enhancer > Advanced setting.

Luminar 4 only tools

Tools exclusive to Luminar 4 are the main reason I fell in love with this photo editing software. It offers almost endless creativity, and even after 2+ years of using it, I still find myself joyfully concatenating various tools to achieve new effects.

Let me introduce the tools so it won’t sound like I am overselling Luminar 4.

You can also read a more in-depth Luminar 4 review.

AI Enhance

This is an amazing tool for a beginner. It creates an HDR-ish image, all you have to do is move one slider. It automatically analyzes your image and instantly corrects it while still offering control over the final amount.

This tool is composed of two sliders: AI Accent and AI Sky Enhancer.

AI Accent makes photo more HDR and reduces noise. This tool usually brings down highlights, increases the shadows, boosts saturation and fixes exposure, resulting in naturally beautiful results.

What is great about this, that it takes only one slider to achieve all this, whereas you’d have to manually juggle with up to 6 sliders otherwise. 

AI Sky Enhancer makes skies beautiful without much effort from you. It works similarly to the polarizing filter. This tool automatically detects sky and recognizes objects with the help of Skylum’s deep neural network, which has been trained using hundreds of thousands of images.

luminar 4 review ai accent gif

AI Structure

AI Structure boosts detail where it’s needed without damaging the rest of the photo. 

AI Structure seems like a mix of Lightroom’s Texture and Clarity sliders combined, but it does a better job adding texture to your image due to its content-aware AI. It can differentiate between almost every significant object in your image. 

For example, it is human-aware, meaning it won’t affect skin.

luminar 4 review ai structure scheme

AI Sky Replacement

This tool does an amazing job automatically masking out skies and blending in the substitute. It also comes with a few sliders with which you can manually refine masking.

Interesting skies is one the most important features of a good landscape photo (for those where the sky is visible, of course). Way too often you find a perfect scenery, but the sky is rather plain, which makes your photo average. 

luminar 4 review ai sky replacement

AI Augmented Sky

With Luminar 4.2 update new tool was released, which can be found in the Creative tab. 

AI Augmented Sky lets you choose various objects to overlay on your photos, such as birds, planets, aurora, moon, clouds, mountains, fireworks, giraffe, etc. You can also add custom objects.

luminar 4 review ai augmented sky

AI Skin & Portrait Enhancer

AI Skin Enhancer & Portrait Enhancer make improving skin a simple task accessible to anyone. It automatically removes skin imperfections like acne, freckles, and moles in addition to smoothing skin.

By automatically analyzing a person’s skin, AI Skin Enhancer can get rid of various skin imperfections like acne, freckles, and moles. Its content-aware technology can smoothen the skin, but still recognizes details like hair and eyelashes, and leaves them sharp as they are.

luminar 4 review portrait enhancer

Golden Hour

This tool brings the warmth typical for the golden hour to your photos. This means pushing yellows and oranges into the highlights.

This tool works very similarly to “Split toning” > “Highlights” > Pick an orange-ish colour.

Color Styles Library (LUT Mapping)

Look-Up Table (LUT) is a little-known technique that transforms the colour and tone of your image. It converts colours and details in a source file to a new destinations state.

You can think of LUT as a colour style presets, that can be masked and have their contrast, saturation, and the amount increased or decreased.

This tool could also be used as a substitution for Lightroom’s Calibration, with which you can achieve Orange and Teal look.

Orton effect and Mystical tool

Orton effect is a softens the image, while Mystical tool “softens the colours”. 

You can partly achieve this effect in Lightroom by decreasing the Clarity slider, but it’s not the same.

This tool is a MUST for every soft, misty, moody image.

Editing | Conclusion

In conclusion, both Lightroom and Luminar 4 come with basic editing tools, but Lightroom’s seem more polished and easier to use. 

As far as Lightroom is concerned, there are a number of tools that perform better in Lightroom than in Luminar. The most important to me is Lightroom’s Spot Removal, which is in my opinion superior to Luminar’s Erase tool both in performance and in the final results.

Luminar 4’s editing panel has way more creative options, which allows users to achieve effects that are impossible in Lightroom.

This is why I give a slight edge to Luminar 4.

WINNER: Luminar 4 [sibwp_form id=2]

Performance | Lightroom vs Luminar 4

Lightroom used to be fairly slow, however, over the past few updates the users noticed a considerable boost in speed. With the introduction of Lightroom Smart Previews, your workflow will be even faster.

Both Lightroom and Luminar transition between the Library and Edit modules smoothly, although Luminar feels less laggy, especially on a low specs machine.

While Lightroom lets you wait for the edit to be applied, which can take a couple of seconds, Luminar developers found a different solution. Edit is applied instantly, however, it temporarily dramatically lowers the resolution of the preview.

It is a great way of dealing with the “edit lag”, but it takes some time getting used to moving a slider and watching the effect take place in real-time on a low-resolution photo.

Lightroom vs Luminar - Luminar performance WINNER: Lightroom

Price | Lightroom vs Luminar 4

When it comes to pricing, there is a major difference between Lightroom and Luminar 4 purchasing models. 

Lightroom has a monthly or a yearly subscription plan, which can be a turn off for some because as soon as you stop paying, it loses virtually all usability. However, it comes with Photoshop, for only 9.99 €/month.

Lightroom vs Luminar 4 3

On the other hand, Luminar is offered with a one-time payment at a discount of 35%.

Lightroom vs Luminar 4 4

To sum up, Luminar’s $89 one-time payment pays off in 9 months in comparison to Lightroom.

After these 9 months, you have paid the same amount money for both, however, you own Luminar 4, while Lightroom stops working when you stop paying.

What is more, you will get a discount on future versions of Luminar, making it even more cost-efficient.

Start editing professionally editing photos now with Luminar 4 >>

There’s a downside to picking Luminar over Lightroom, because Lightroom has built-in Panorama and HDR merging tools, whereas Luminar 4 doesn’t. You can opt-in for $169 offer and get Aurora HDR with Luminar 4, an amazing piece of software to create merge into HDR. WINNER: Luminar 4

Using Luminar 4 with Lightroom

This comparison is mainly aimed at the audience that is trying to choose between Lightroom and Luminar, but if you already own one or are planning to buy both pieces of software, there is a great feature that allows you to use Luminar 4 as a Lightroom plug-in. 

Luminar 4 offers great flexibility. It may be used as a standalone application or as a plug-in for the following applications:

WINDOWS & MACOS

  • Adobe Photoshop:
  • Adobe Lightroom Classic CC
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements

MACOS-ONLY

  • Apple Aperture
  • Photos for macOS

You can access Luminar 4 from many different applications.

  • Adobe Photoshop: 
    • When editing an Image: Filter > Skylum Software > Luminar 4
  • Adobe Lightroom Classic CC:
    • When viewing an image in either Library or Develop modules: Right-click the image > Edit in > Luminar 4
    • From the menu bar: Photo > Edit In > Luminar 4
  • Apple Aperture:
    • Select an image and go to Photos > Edit with Plug-in > Luminar 4
  • Photos for macOS
    • How to activate the extension: YouTube Tutorial
    • Select an image and click Edit > Extension > Luminar 4

luminar 4 review luminar 4 plug in
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Feel free to ask questions in the comment section.

Do you think Lightroom and Luminar are the best photo editors available at the moment?

No, I don’t think so. Lightroom (plus Photoshop) seems the most versatile combination for photo editing. There are a lot of other great photo editors out there such as On1, Capture One, Fotor, …

Read this review of the best photo editors.

If you had to choose right now, which one would you go for?

I would probably go with Luminar 4 because it offers way more than Lightroom, however, I can hardly imagine my workflow without Lightroom and Photoshop.

Which is in your opinion a better future investment?

Lightroom’s development has stagnated for a couple of years now, while Luminar 4 has been quickly growing. If the trend persists, I think that in a year or two Luminar will become the better photo editor.

Conclusion | Lightroom vs Luminar 4

While both Lightroom and Luminar 4 are excellent photo editing software available at an affordable price, beginners or casual photographers might find more value with Luminar 4 due to its powerful AI’s and Creative Looks.

However, pros who deal with colossal amounts of photos and rely on the use of metadata, and/or need specific image exporting and/or printing features would opt for Lightroom.

If you are an existing user of either software, my recommendation is to consider purchasing the other – the synergy of both gives outstanding results for all types of photos, from landscape to portrait and cityscape.

Even though Lightroom is a renowned brand name, I would say give Luminar 4 a shot – with the discount.

Disclaimer: As an affiliate I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases made using links provided in this post.

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