Luminar 4 vs Lightroom
If you’re in the market for a great photo editor here in 2021, this Luminar vs Lightroom comparison should give you something to consider.
Luminar vs Lightroom – Which is Better in 2021?
The main difference between Luminar and Lightroom is that Luminar has a faster editing process than Lightroom. Luminar also features a much easier to use interface, than Lightroom, with one-click artificial intelligence that benefits professional photographers. Luminar is also a one-time purchase model that makes it better for professional photographers.
Adobe Lightroom has long been the industry standard, but once they moved to a subscription platform many photographers began looking for alternatives.
Now there are a number of alternatives to Lightroom, including the award-winning Luminar 4.
Which you should choose really depends on your experience, your workflow, what level of photo editing you’re looking for, and what you intend to do with the images.
Let’s dive deep and take an in-depth look at Lightroom vs Luminar 4 and how they perform in various areas.
1. Ease of Use
The difference in the user interface is one of the most notable differences between Luminar 4 and Lightroom Classic – at least for beginners.
(Lightroom CC is much more similar to Luminar 4, but doesn’t have as many features as Classic, so we’ll be comparing with Classic in this post.)
Luminar is exceptionally easy to use and needs next to no instruction to get started.
The catalog loads automatically – no need to import or choose destination folders. The basic filters are self-explanatory as are the various workspaces that come with it.
The advanced tools are also pretty easy to access.
Lightroom Classic, on the other hand, has a pretty steep learning curve. See our full review for more info on that.
It takes time just to learn how the catalog feature works, much less all of the editing tools it holds. I’ve been using it for years and feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with it.
2. File Management
As far as the catalog system is concerned, Skylum is pretty new at things. They only got Luminar’s library working recently and it’s still pretty basic.
You can do basic sorting like star ratings, pick/reject, and color labels, but not much more.
It also allows for Albums, but the only way to create them is to drag and drop and that doesn’t really work out so well for those of us with large collections.
One thing Luminar 4 doesn’t yet have is the ability to work with keywords or IPTC metadata. That is a major no-go for those planning on doing stock photography, adding copyrights, or who like to search for images via text.
This will eventually get fixed in a future update, but for now, the only way to tag your images is to use ratings, flags and color labels.
Lightroom, on the other hand, has a robust cataloging and organization system. It takes a bit of learning to get started with it, but once you know it, it does just about everything.
Not only can you set star ratings, pick/reject, create custom tags, etc., you can also filter your entire library based on almost any characteristic available in the EXIF and IPTC metadata.
You can even search by lens or camera. (I’ve needed this feature more than once!)
It also has smart collections and metadata import presets.
Basically, Lightroom Classic makes it exceptionally easy to organize and tag your photos any way you want.
On top of that, most serious photographers need both keywords and more advanced metadata. Lastly, I don’t think I could live without being able to search via metadata – I use it all the time.
As I mentioned before, both Luminar 4 and Lightroom Classic have both basic and advanced photo editing tools. Adjustments such as tone, contrast, HSL, vibrance, white balance, etc. are all easily available in both programs. This is similar to most other major photo editing software such as Exposure X5, reviewed here.
From there, though, the two programs diverge a bit.
Luminar’s intention has always been to speed up workflow, primarily for the casual photographer.
As a result, they put considerable time into developing their AI filters. The crown jewel of these is AI Sky Replacement, which allows you do literally that – replace entire skies in your photos just with one-click.
Every time I use the tool, my jaw is left on the floor – it really is that good.
Luminar 4 also has a number of powerful AI filters that add unique effects. As a rule, these are easily abused. Used sparingly, however, they can add a wow factor that would take much longer to achieve in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Then there’s AI Portrait Enhancer, AI Skin Enhancer, AI Structure… basically a whole host of incredibly powerful image editing tools that take a few seconds to use, with realistic results every time. You can read more about them in our full Luminar 4 Review.
Other favourite effects carried over from Luminar 3 include the Orton Effect and Image Radiance – used super low.
(It took me over a year to learn how to make the Orton effect work for me, but once I did, I loved it.)
One key feature that Luminar 4 has that Lightroom lacks is layers. Of course, since the standard Adobe photographer’s subscription bundle includes both Lightroom and Photoshop, that’s not a huge deal. Yet if you’re hoping for an all-in-one program, Luminar’s layer ability is a huge plus.
That being said, I haven’t found the layers function to be of much use in my own work. I tend to need precise selections and having to draw in my masks and/or use radial or gradient masks takes too much time for me.
I’d much rather use Photoshop paired with Lightroom for these.
As far as Lightroom is concerned, there are a number of tools that Lightroom has that I think perform better than Luminar’s. The most important to me of these is the healing tool, which I find to be far superior both in performance and final results than Luminar’s erase tool.
I also prefer Lightroom’s sharpening, vignette and lens corrections to Luminar’s. The results are just far superior.
Lightroom also allows you to create virtual copies – a big deal for many of us.
I like to have different edits of my photos. In Luminar you’re always editing the main image. While it’s indeed non-destructive (you can always set it back to the original RAW version), you can only make other copies if you export the image (as far as I can tell).
It depends on what kind of image editing you’re looking for. If you don’t quite know how to edit or are just learning, Luminar 4 is a great option. It has everything you need. If you need pro tools that are higher performing, I’d say stick with Lightroom.
4. General Performance
As far as general performance is concerned, Lightroom Classic used to be fairly slow. After a lot of user feedback, however, Adobe put a lot of time and effort into speeding it up and it generally works well now.
With the use of Lightroom Smart Previews in particular, you’re able to vastly speed up your workflow, with Lightroom creating ‘mini RAWs’ that are smaller and easier for the software to process.
Smart Previews also mean you can ‘disconnect’ from your main hard drive, for ease of file management/editing while traveling.
However, there’s still a long way to go to make Lightroom faster – many users are hoping for a complete ground-up rewrite of the software, but this isn’t likely any time soon.
As for Luminar 4, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. As you can see in the gif above, switching between the Library and Develop modules is snappy – much better than Lightroom.
However, editing images with Looks can be rather slow, with the Looks panel taking a few seconds to load, then strength adjustments lagging.
In addition, without the benefit of Smart Previews, dealing with huge libraries of photos in Luminar 4 is slower than in Lightroom.
5. Printing and Exporting
Two places where Luminar is particularly weak are in the Export and Print departments. For example, the export window in Luminar is pretty basic, with very few options and no ability to use presets.
This won’t be a problem if all you want is JPEGs or TIFFs, but if you have a variety of clients who all need different requirements for image delivery, you’ll be out of luck with Luminar.
Being able to print is also something that’s important to some (mostly pros). Still, it’s quite possible that Skylum will address this at some point with an update.
As mentioned before, Lightroom has numerous Print and Export options – something for just about every need.
6. Pricing and Value
In the area of pricing, the primary difference between Luminar 4 and Lightroom is the purchasing model.
Luminar 4 is available as a one-time purchase, with future updates being offered at a discount to current Luminar owners.
Lightroom is only available with a subscription (monthly or yearly). If you stop paying the subscription, your access to Lightroom will be cut off.
On top of that, it’s said that the last non-subscription version of Lightroom – version 6 – may not work with the new Mac OS coming out soon.
Essentially that means that all Lightroom 5 and 6 users (including me) will have to move to a subscription model to continue using it. This rubs many of us the wrong way.
To add insult to injury, Aperture also won’t run on Mac OS10.15, so Aperture and Lightroom 5/6 users will have to make a decision pretty quickly.
At the moment, Luminar 4 is around $89, and currently that includes some bonus ‘Inspiration Looks’, worth around $50. You can also save a further $10 using our exclusive Luminar 4 discount:
The cheapest subscription for Lightroom costs $9.99 USD per month, but that includes a full version of Adobe Photoshop, which many of us need.
The Lightroom + Photoshop option is always up-to-date and the upgrades and improvements are all included in the price, which is around $120 USD per year.
One big drawback to Adobe’s subscription model is that you’ll need to keep paying forever – as soon as you cancel, Lightroom is rendered pretty much useless – you’ll have access to your images of course, but you can’t make any further edits to them – see our guide: how to cancel Lightroom subscription.
It’s hard to beat a one-off payment for software this powerful. Professionals who are used to the Adobe ecosystem may prefer to continue paying each month, but for everyone else, Luminar 4 is the clear winner.
Using Lightroom with Luminar 4
The purpose of this article is to pit Luminar vs Lightroom, but this assumes that you’ll be choosing one software app over the other.
For existing Lightroom users who are happy to pay each month for the privilege of using what it, and probably always will be, the industry-standard image editing software, Luminar 4 actually interacts very well with the existing Lr workflow.
If you own both pieces of software, you can easily continue using Lightroom as your main image editing software and/or file management software, then choose ‘Edit In > Edit in Luminar 4’ to take advantage of the most powerful AI editing features available in 2021.
The best bit? Once you’re done editing in Luminar, you simply save the file for it to return straight back in to the Lightroom window. From here, you can carry on editing, move the file, add it to a Collection, print it, export it… basically do anything you normally would, just as if the file had only been edited in Lightroom.
This workflow is actually incredibly powerful, and allows you to ignore each softwares inherent weaknesses, and instead, make the most of their huge strengths instead.
What is Luminar 4?
Skylum Luminar 4 is a universal photo editing platform that was originally designed to function both as a stand-alone application as well as a plug-in.
It began as a Mac-only application in 2016 but has lately evolved into a multi-platform app with a DAM (digital asset manager) and all the editing tools most photographers will need.
Many are hailing Luminar as one of the best alternatives to Lightroom, especially since it won the EISA 2019/20 best product of the year award.
It features non-destructive RAW and JPEG editing, powerful AI filters, both basic and advanced editing, layers and masking, a suite of stellar effects, and a number of excellent presets (called looks).
What is Lightroom Classic?
Lightroom, on the other hand, has been an industry standard for well over a decade. It provides extensive tools for a complete photographic workflow, from importing and keywording to editing, exporting, and printing. It literally has just about everything you need from start to finish.
It’s the choice most pros still opt for.
Because it’s been around for some years there are a number of third-party plugins and presets available, as well as full integration with other Adobe products – especially Photoshop.
In the past Lightroom was just a single program, but in the last year Adobe decided to split it up into two separate programs: Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC.
Lightroom Classic is the fully-featured desktop program that’s been around all these years and that most of the pros use. Lightroom CC is a slightly pared-down version designed for mobile users who prefer to work in the cloud. (This post will focus primarily on Lightroom Classic.)[Related: Lightroom Classic vs Lightroom CC]
Both Luminar and Lightroom allow you to organize, edit, and export photos, yet there are some very key differences between them. Let’s start with the user interface and ease of use.
Luminar vs Lightroom: Frequently Asked Questions
Is Luminar better than Lightroom?
As we’ve seen, there are areas in which Luminar trumps Lightroom, but the opposite is also true. Depending on your needs, Luminar is certainly the more cost-effective option.
Can Luminar replace Lightroom?
No, we believe it cannot replace Lightroom. However, if you’ve never used Lightroom before and need a simpler way to edit and manage your photos, Luminar is a great option.
What is the best alternative to Lightroom?
If you’re fed up of Adobe’s subscription model, Luminar is certainly an attractive alternative to Lightroom at an affordable price point. It offers many of the same features as Lightroom, and some impressive one-click editing functions that Lightroom does not.
Luminar vs Lightroom : Conclusion
While it’s clear that Luminar will have a broad appeal to casual photographers and many enthusiasts, pros who rely heavily on the use of metadata, shoot large volumes of photos, and/or need specific image exporting features will still gravitate towards Lightroom (or Capture One) – see our comparison of these two options here.
If you’re an existing Lightroom user and ingrained in its workflow, my recommendation would be to purchase Luminar as well – both softwares can be used together effectively, allowing you to take advantage of each one’s strengths.
Either way, I’d still recommend giving Luminar 4 a shot – the AI editing software are worth the price alone. There’s simply no other photo editor that can replicate what it does.
Which seems like the best option for you?
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.
Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.