Skylum Luminar Neo is available to purchase with a one-time payment or as a subscription, but how does this photo editing software stack up?

Skylum Luminar NEO at a glance:

  • From $79 / £79 or $275 / £275 one-off
  • Subscription or one-off purchase models available
  • Works as a standalone or plugin
  • Mac or Windows
  • (use AP10 to save more!)

Skylum developed Luminar Neo from the ground up to be different from previous Luminar editors like Luminar 4 and Luminar AI. It has all the Luminar AI tools and a very similar layout, but there are additional features and more ‘state-of-the-art technologies’. Unlike previous editions of Luminar, Luminar Neo has a modular engine and this enables faster image processing.

The one-time purchase includes Luminar Neo and all the maintenance and feature updates delivered for this software version (but not future versions). It can be expanded by purchasing ‘Extensions’. Alternatively, a Pro subscription which costs $89 / £89 a year brings the Luminar Neo software and all future updates and versions, plus all the extensions released during the subscription period. It’s worth keeping an eye on the Skylum website as there are frequent discounts and best deals.

Standalone or plugin

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

Luminar Neo can operate as a standalone package for working non-destructively on JPEGs or raw files or as a plugin for Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photos for Mac OS.

In this review, I’ve focused on using Luminar Neo as a standalone package, but it’s easy to access the same tools from within the host software. With an image open in Photoshop you just need to select Filter > Skylum Software > Luminar Neo, in the Develop module of Lightroom select File > Plug-in Extras > Transfer to Luminar Neo, and in Apple Photos the route is Edit > Extensions > Luminar Neo.


Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

Skylum has committed to developing Luminar Neo into a comprehensive creative editing package and it is expanding its functionality with ‘Extensions’. These include HDR Merge, Upscale AI, AI Background Removal, Noiseless AI, Supersharp AI and Focus Stacking Extensions. This review concentrates on the main software and doesn’t look at the Extensions.

Number of devices

Skylum offer licenses for 1 or 2 devices, which the company refers to as ‘seats’. Two seats allows you to install and activate Luminar Neo on two devices at once, regardless of their operating system. For example, you can use one seat to activate Luminar Neo on a Mac and the other one to activate Luminar Neo on a Windows computer, or you can use both seats for your Windows or macOS computers.

Moreover, you can always manage your activations in your Skylum Account. You are also able to add more seats in your Skylum Account if you have multiple computers or want to share your license with people who need access.

It’s also possible to reset a license from your old machine at no cost and activate that license on your new device. Just log in to your Skylum account to reset activations for the professional photo editing software Luminar Neo.

Getting started

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Luminar Neo has a simple catalog system that uses your computer’s filing structure. Images can be added to virtual albums to group images in different folders without changing their location. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

As usual when you launch an image-editing software package, the first step in using Luminar Neo is to open an image. Luminar Neo has a catalog section. It works with your computer’s filing structure, and you don’t have to actually import images into it. You just need to let it know which folders you are interested in working with. It’s also possible to work on individual images using the ‘Add Image’ button in the top left corner of the page to locate the file.

The catalogue is really just a file browser, but it comes with the ability to create albums. These are virtual collections of images that can be gathered together from a number of folders. The images aren’t copied or relocated. Luminar Neo just holds the location data and enables you to see all the images in a particular album on the same screen. It’s a handy function.

Double-clicking on an image in the catalog enlarges it so that it fills the frame. Clicking once on the larger view zooms you into 100%. Double-clicking again returns you to the browser view.

To start editing an image, you need to select it in the catalog. Then click on either ‘Presets’ or ‘Edit’ at the top of the screen. Presets makes a great starting point as they enable a number of adjustments to be applied with one click.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

The software suggests Presets that it considered appropriate for the selected image, but others can be applied. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

As soon as you select ‘Presets’, Luminar Neo suggests a few Preset Collections that it considers appropriate for the image. These are shown at the top of the column on the right of the screen. Below it, you’ll see a host of other Preset Collections that you can use and that are included with the software. You are also able to buy others by clicking on the ‘Add’ button.

Each of the Preset Collections contains a number of Presets that you can apply with a single click. For example, the Nature Preset Collection has six presets called ‘Newt Noir’, ‘Sunny Small’, ‘MicroWorld’, ‘Distinctive Drops’, ‘Best Close up’ and ‘Arctic Atoms’. Clicking on each one in turn allows you to see their impact.

When working on a 2019 8-Core Intel Core i9 iMac and editing 61MP raw files from the Sony Alpha A7R IV, I experienced a couple of seconds lag between selecting a Preset and its effect being visible.

If you particularly like a Preset, it’s worth clicking on the heart next to its name so that it’s added as a favourite. You can remove effect of the preset by clicking on the curved arrow next to its name in the column on the right or by selecting ‘Revert to Original’ in the Actions dropdown list at the bottom of the screen.

After a Preset has been applied, you can tweak its impact by clicking on ‘Edit’ to access the controls. In the ‘Edits’ column, Luminar Neo automatically reveals the adjustments that have been applied to an image by a Preset. You can adjust the sliding control settings in the column on the right as you wish.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

The controls in the Tools section can be used to adjust the image after a Preset has been applied or you can use them without applying a Preset. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

The uppermost and most recently applied Edit is ‘expanded’ to reveal the sliders, but you can click on others below it to reveal and adjust their settings.

Something to bear in mind when adjusting a Preset using the applied Edits controls is that when you click on a control, the image reverts to that point in the history of the Preset editing process. For example, after applying a black and white preset, I was presented with a list of Edits controls, running from Film Grain at the top to Black & White, Supercontrast, Color, Enhance, Structure, Face AI and Skin AI, with skin AI at the bottom as it was the first edit applied.

Clicking on Supercontrast, which was applied before the Black & White conversion was made, reverts the image to colour. However, after you’ve made the Supercontrast or any other earlier Edits are adjusted, you can return the image to monochrome with the new edits by clicking on the top Edit, in this case Film Grain.

There’s a ‘Tools’ tab alongside the Edits tab and clicking on that reveals a whole host of additional tools which also have sliding controls. These are grouped into ‘Favourites’, ‘Extensions’, ‘Essentials’, ‘Creative’, ‘Portrait’ and ‘Professional’ and there’s a more comprehensive list than you’ll find in the Edits section.

The Essentials section has tools such as Develop Raw (with the typical controls you’d expect to adjust a raw file), Enhance AI, Erase, Structure AI, Colour, Black & White Denoise and more. Basically, it has the tools to enable exposure, contrast, colour and sharpness of an image to be adjusted.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

The automatic dust and power line removal tools prove quite capable, but you may need to use the Erase tool to clean up a few bits that are missed. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

The Creative section, however, has options such as Relight AI, Sky AI, Atmosphere AI, Sunrays and more. These tools enable you to make some dramatic edits to images, significantly changing their mood. They can be very effective and are easy to use, but they’re not suitable for use if you’re planning to enter an image into competitions like the Landscape Photographer of the Year.

Four of the five tools in the Portrait section use AI to help you improve the appearance of photographs of people. They generally work well, but their impact isn’t entirely predictable. The automatic Skin defects Removal tool, for example, removed one freckle on a models face but left another nearby in place.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Luminar Neo’s cloning tool isn’t the most sophisticated, but it only took a few minutes to remove a couple of distracting hairs from this image. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

I used the Portrait Tools to lift the faces and blur the background more, before using the Color and Toning Tools to get the look I wanted. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

Before you start work on an image, it’s advisable to right click on the image thumbnail in the Layers column on the left of the screen and select ‘Duplicate Layer’, so you’re not working on your original image.

As well as duplicating, deleting or hiding a layer, Luminar Neo allows you to add new layers to your image. There are four layer collections with a selection of flare, light leak, sparkle and bokeh effects that you can apply, but selecting the ‘Load Image’ option allows you to create a layer from another of your images.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Luminar Neo does a good job of selecting the right subject ready to blur the background using Portrait Bokeh. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

If you choose this option, Luminar opens a standard file browser rather than the catalog. It’s a good idea to know which image you want to add in advance. The new layer is added with 50% opacity by default so that you can see the layer(s) beneath, but you can adjust the opacity to suit.

Each of the Edit and Tool adjustments can be applied with a mask. The mask can be applied as a brush, a linear gradient, a radial gradient or using AI. Whichever method you select, the effect of the adjustments disappears at first and reappears where you apply the mask. There’s also an eraser to remove the mask.

If you use the brush to paint in the effect, you’ll find you have controls to adjust the size and softness of the brush along with a third slider that allows you to set the strength of the effect. The Strength slider adjusts the visibility of the edit from that point onwards. It doesn’t impact upon the area you have already painted.

However, you can adjust the opacity of the layer using the Layer Properties control. When you’re finished, hitting the return key and selecting Tool you were previously using again to make further edits if you wish.

Replacing a sky

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

It took just seconds to give this image a more interesting sky. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

Sky AI is one of the most impressive aspects of Luminar Neo. It enables you to replace a dull sky with just a few clicks. The software does a remarkably good job of blending the sky into the foreground, even coping with lots of leaves and twigs reaching into the sky.

If you swap a bright overcast sky for an intense sunset, it’s likely to look a little strange around complex areas with fine detail, but there are other skies to choose from that may fit the scene better, or you can upload your own. Alternatively, duplicating the image layer and using Sky AI to replace the sky in the duplicate before knocking back the opacity a little produces a much more natural effect.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

Adding a starry sky, turning the image monochrome and tweaking the exposure has done a reasonably convincing job of turning this daylight image into a moon-lit one. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

With your sky selected and applied, you then have the opportunity to move it up or down, left or right, or flip it horizontally. It’s also possible to soften the sky, which is handy if you’ve shot your subject with a wide aperture, and you can add a reflection of the sky to any water in the scene. There are also controls that let you adjust the rest of the image so that it matches the colour of the sky more closely.

Skylum Luminar NEO Review

The Sky AI technology usually does a good job of aligning your chosen sky with the horizon, but there are controls to make adjustments if necessary. Image credit: Angela Nicholson.

As with all of the Tools and Edits, it’s possible to create a mask of the sky and paint on it using a brush or one of the gradient tools. In most instances, I found this unnecessary as the software does a great job of recognising the sky. But it can be helpful when there are areas of uniform tone in the non-sky areas that cause confusion.

Skylum Luminar NEO verdict

While the impact of the Presets and some of the AI-powered tools can be a hard to predict, I enjoy using Luminar Neo and it’s capable of producing some great results.

The Presets can produce attractive-looking images by themselves, but it’s good to be able to tweak the final image and apply additional edits using the Tools. However, it’s important to remember that the order in which the tools are applied affects the end result. Turn an image black and white, for example, and then add a blue sky, and you’ll have to revisit the black and white conversion controls to take the colour from the sky.

In the early stages of using Luminar Neo, you’re likely to spend time investigating the impact of the Presets and Tools, but they are easy to apply and their impact can be removed quickly if they don’t work for you. After a while you’ll find those that you like and you can create your own Presets for future use.

Unsurprisingly, Skylum pushes the subscription model for purchasing Luminar Neo and it can be hard to find the one-off purchase option.

There’s also an option to buy ‘X Membership Premium’ for £54 year. This gives you access to educational materials, an exclusive community and extra skies, Presets, LUTs and overlays. This, plus the selling of extra presets and skies within the software can give something of a marketplace experience, but Luminar Neo has lots of functionality, you can create your own presets and add your own skies, so you may not need anything else.

4.5 stars

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