Luminar Neo has arrived, and this next stage of the software is turning out to be truly impressive so far! Skylum’s AI technology has always been at the forefront of image processing, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with your artistic craft. This latest app is no different; it combines virtually everything that was possible in Luminar 4 and Luminar AI, and much more! That is why we are doing a Luminar Neo review today.
Those who already own Luminar 4 and/or Luminar AI might be worried, however, because Luminar Neo is yet another stand-alone software. That’s right, it’s not an official, direct successor to Luminar 4, or Luminar AI.
Currently, you can purchase the software (outright) for $109. However, there’s more to it. According to Luminar’s website, what you’re getting for that $109 seems to be a subscription, for which there are also annual and monthly plans ranging from $14.95/mo to $99/yr.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The pricing options for Luminar Neo seem to have changed during the course of writing this review. It was previously available as a $59 subscription or a $79 one-time purchase. We will update this section if there are further changes, or if we hear from Skylum about the availability of different purchasing/upgrade options.]
In this 2022 Luminar Neo review, we’ll describe where this product sits in the Luminar family, and then we’ll dive into just how capable it is, and of course, we’ll go over the pros and cons, and who should consider purchasing. With that said, let’s get started!
[Related: Read our 2021 Luminar review here!]
What is Luminar Neo?
What is Luminar Neo? Is it a totally new program, different from Luminar 4 and Luminar AI? For anyone who has been following the Skylum/Luminar family of software, this is probably your first question.
Well, here’s the answer: Luminar Neo is indeed a bit of a successor/replacement to Luminar 4. However, Neo also contains the advanced technology of Luminar AI, and more. In other words, all three programs seem to currently be destined to coexist, serving different purposes.
Luminar AI will continue to exist as its own, more affordable, basic software for those who simply want to apply quick, automated edits to their images. Luminar 4 though, might not be replaced by a Luminar 5.
Think of it this way: Adobe has both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, (as well as other “Elements” apps) because they know that some people want the “kitchen sink” list of tools at their disposal, while others find benefit in a simplified, straightforward application. There is also the dichotomy between Adobe Lightroom “Classic” and Lightroom Creative Cloud, with both applications continuing to be supported (by subscription only!) in the future.
Overall, here’s what you really need to know: Luminar Neo is the most capable app yet. Its features are unmatched, and it offers significantly improved performance, too. So, if you’re looking for a photo editing program that unleashes new realms of creative editing, this program should be one of the first you check out.
What’s New in Luminar Neo
Considering that the word “Neo” literally means both “new” and “combined”, our expectations are high for what this generation of the Luminar family will offer. Indeed, it lives up to its name, with all-new features and a combination of both Luminar 4 and Luminar AI features. Here are the official new features:
- Speed up your editing workflow with our new fast core engine. It’s based on unique technologies developed by Skylum and works on a module system, which means that different parts of the application can now be optimized separately for the best results. Thanks to the independent modules engine, Luminar Neo will be updated more frequently. Luminar Neo has a more flexible editing process, which means less memory is required to edit photos. The new engine has many small background optimizations of memory use, which increases the speed of all processes inside the application, from uploading to applying editing effects, using layers, and exporting.
- Completely transform your photos with new relighting options. Luminar Neo analyzes each image to recognize the depth of a scene and its subject allowing for unique control over exposure and tone.
- Easily remove distracting image blemishes caused by a dirty camera sensor or lens. There are also new tools to clean up unwanted elements in the background of a photo.
- Explore creativity with an effortless layers workflow and combine a photograph with other visual elements. Discover a collection of textures, overlays, and visual effects to add creativity to an image and personalize it. This addition unlocks new creative options for compositing images and visuals to create a custom style. You can add an infinite number of Layers, move Layers on top of each other, use blending modes and masking modes, make collages, add double exposure effects, and do more on each layer.
- Skylum is also excited to announce that a new mobile app is in development. It will allow easy transfer of photos between a mobile device and a computer. This will make it easier to add pictures captured on a mobile device to your Luminar library. Once edited in Luminar Neo, results can be sent back to the portable device for easy social sharing or viewing on the go.
So, it does sound like Skylum is setting up Luminar Neo to be their most future-proof application, finally. Considering that a subscription to Neo costs less than half the price of a Lightroom subscription, and either 1/3rd or 1/5th the price of a Capture One subscription, ($179 if you pay annually) …it is a great value whether you go with the $59/year subscription or the $79 stand-alone purchase.
Luminar Neo Review | Pros & Cons
In this Luminar Neo review, we want to answer a few important questions: Is Luminar Neo worth upgrading to from previous versions? Also, is it good enough that you might not need to worry about buying new software for quite a few years?
This is always a good question to ask, regardless of which platform you’re using, especially if you are using the software for DAM (Digital Asset Management) and plan to manage your entire portfolio of work from within the application. So, let’s talk about the benefits and disadvantages of Luminar Neo.
Unprecedented Artificial Intelligence Capability
Simply put, the biggest reason to check out Luminar Neo is the fact that you really can’t find this level of intelligent, advanced automated editing anywhere else. While “AI” based photo editing software is becoming more common, Luminar is way ahead of the curve in terms of all the capabilities it offers.
Thanks to Luminar Neo’s latest-gen AI that has learned from a sample set of 7000 images, it has never been easier to detect subjects in a scene, isolate backgrounds, and create dramatic results such as completely re-lighting a portrait, or replacing the sky in a landscape photo.
We’ll talk more about the exact list of features next, but here’s what you need to remember: features are only worth talking about if they actually work! That is where Skylum’s numerous generations of AI technology give them an advantage: While things like auto-masking a subject or background used to be highly flawed and basically unusable, they have come a long way in the last few years. Simply put, Luminar Neo actually delivers the goods, better than ever before, and the results speak for themselves.
Most Diverse Array of Features
Indeed, the list of features or tools that Luminar Neo offers is a long one. Here are the tools that use Luminar’s advanced AI technology:
- Face, Body, Structure, Composition, Enhance, Sky, Augmented Sky, Atmosphere
There are even more features, however, which do not rely on AI, but are still equally useful for taking your imagery to the next level:
- Glow, Portrait Bokeh, Supercontrast, Details, Denoise, Sunrays, Landscape, Color Harmony, Dramatic, Light
Whether you are a fine art landscape photographer/artist, or you are taking your artistic portraits to the next level, there are probably quite a few features that you can’t find anywhere else, and/or features that function better than any other option on the market.
Other demonstrations have shown how easy it is to remove power lines in your landscape or cityscape photos. This used to be a very tedious process, but it was still doable. Personally, however, the feature that I found to be totally above and beyond what I could have ever hoped to achieve without the help of Luminar was the Sunrays feature!
Not only did it actually work very well at rendering light beams shining through trees in an accurate-looking manner, but it also gave an infinite array of options for the number of Sunrays and their randomness. This is very important because otherwise, your composite art will begin to look very similar very quickly if you use the same basic effects over and over again.
Speaking of keeping things unique, I should note that during my review I found more than enough sky replacement options, (“Sky AI” is one of their flagship features, of course) …however I also noted that it is extremely easy to add your own sky images for your own infinite possibilities.
Again, not only are these types of features unprecedented in their level of customization but also, they just work well. I was surprised at how intuitive the various tools became after only a few minutes of trying out every slider. (I usually never read “instruction manuals” when doing reviews, and the same goes for software!)
New Core, New Speed
After seemingly hitting the limits of what Luminar 4’s engine was capable of, and after developing Luminar AI specifically to be a simple yet powerful version of Luminar’s AI-capable processing engine, Luminar Neo has been built from the ground up using a new “high-speed core engine” in order to present all these new features without compromising smooth, fast operation. This is very good news for your high-megapixel images! These days, speed and reliability are always a concern, even with the most popular, name-brand software!
Thankfully, we are happy to report that Luminar Neo is running fast and smooth on our test computers, a 3-year-old Windows 10 Acer Concept D Laptop, and a 4-year-old Apple iMac Pro. It is important for our readers to know that you won’t need the absolute latest-and-greatest, high-powered machine in order for such cutting-edge software to run smoothly.
Even when the AI is analyzing an image, and even with only 16GB of RAM and an older i7 CPU, it never took more than a few seconds. Adjustment sliders respond virtually instantly.
Beautiful Raw Developing
Of course, all great photo edits must begin with a raw conversion. Luminar Neo can integrate seamlessly with your Lightroom workflow if you prefer to do your basic color correction there. However, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I skipped a test of the raw conversion capabilities of Luminar as a stand-alone editing tool.
The results are fantastic! In fact, the raw conversions I am getting with Luminar are downright beautiful. Not only that, but they are also a delightful balance of simplicity and advanced capability. Specifically, in the “Light” section of the develop tab, the only sliders available are Exposure, Smart Contrast, Highlights, and Shadows. These four sliders do just as good a job as Lightroom’s EIGHT sliders for similar controls! (Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Dehaze.)
Of course, Luminar Neo does have additional adjustments for similar effects, they are just grouped differently. The bottom line is that I got the hang of these sliders before I was done processing my very first raw image, and I noticed a difference in the simplicity of the process.
When combining the basic adjustments that you’re used to for raw processing with Luminar’s powerful tools such as Structure AI, Relight AI, or Atmosphere AI, the results are stunning.
Non-Destructive And Destructive Edits In The Same Interface
One thing that always tends to “bog down” photo editing software is adding multiple advanced edits, one on top of the other. Sometimes this can cause a relatively fast application to slow to an unbearable crawl. Or, in other applications, you simply can’t “double down” with an edit; you only get one use out of each slider.
That was one thing I was worried about when I began this Luminar Neo review because it mixes both non-destructive and destructive edits. A LOT. In practice, though, I found the implementation of how it all works to be a brilliant compromise. You can start with a raw conversion, and then move on to other AI-based effects, layering each edit on top of the next. At any time, you can go back through the list of edits, and re-work any one of them by itself, then return to the top-layer (newest) edit to review the final look.
The only thing I did wish Luminar Neo had was a more robust “undo/redo” or a step-by-step history list. If you accidentally reset an underlying edit and then return to your final image, I’m not sure if there’s a way to go back again and undo your mistake.
Capable Retouching Tools
Most third-party software has done a terrible job when it comes to cloning/healing brushes, but Luminar Neo is very different. It’s as good as, or better than, what you’d get with Lightroom and/or Photoshop’s basic retouching/cloning tools! In my experience, it might even be a bit faster and do a better job, but I won’t be able to say for sure until I’ve used the tool for hundreds of hours like I have with Adobe’s retouching interfaces.
Catalog Import | Digital Asset Management
One major difference that existed between Luminar 4 and Luminar AI, besides the AI capabilities, was the fact that Luminar 4 had a catalog system. You were not able to take your Luminar 4 catalog into Luminar AI, however, this catalog (and catalog import) function is now present with Luminar Neo.
In other words, all the hard work that you have already put into organizing and editing your images can be transferred to this new catalog interface. As wedding photographers who capture and edit high volumes of images, we definitely recommend using a catalog system to manage and edit your photos!
Could I use Luminar Neo for my entire workflow process, using its basic catalog interface? Probably not; I’d simply use Luminar Neo’s catalog as a means to keep track of all the advanced/composite image edits that I do. I don’t need to use it to keep track of the tens of thousands of other images where I am only applying basic color correction!
Lumiar Neo & Luminar X / Luminar Marketplace
As composite imagery becomes more popular, (and widely accepted as an artistic craft all by itself, standing apart from photography!) …artists are increasingly hungry for not just the tools to perform their edits, but also source material to improve to their final results.
That is where the Luminar Marketplace (and/or a Luminar X subscription) comes into play. You have access to some of the highest-quality source imagery, such as skies, various overlays, and of course, Signature Templates, AKA, presets.
Why Didn’t Skylum Upgrade Luminar 4?
The question many people are asking themselves right now is, “why do we have to buy another new application? What’s next? In another year are we just going to see Luminar…Trinity? Luminar Neo-AI-5?
Honestly, these are valid concerns, given Skylum’s track record. However, there are quite a few things to consider. First and foremost, If you look at what Adobe offers, they’re not very different. In fact, in many photographers’ opinions, Adobe’s most-popular option is definitely worse because of its own never-ending cycle. We’re up to multiple versions of Lightroom and multiple versions of Photoshop, none of which are capable of doing *everything* in one application.
Luminar Neo, on the other hand, appears to be one of the best one-stop shops for basic-to-advanced editing. In other words, even if there is something new out in a couple of years, this program is already equivalent to 2-3 programs combined. I honestly believe that Luminar Neo will be “it”. I would be 100% certain if their membership/subscription offer included Luminar Neo itself, however, that does not appear to be the case at present.
For anyone who is interested, here is Luminar’s semi-official word on how their family of software could progress in the future:
“…you should view Luminar Neo as taking the best parts of all Luminar apps and designed for a user who wants to spend time editing…. whereas Luminar AI is about saving time and quick edits.”
Luminar Neo vs Luminar 4
Alright, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the differences between the three main apps/ecosystems here, and more specifically, why we’re seeing this third Neo software, as opposed to a mere upgrade to one of the existing programs.
First and foremost, Luminar 4 doesn’t have powerful AI capabilities, and according to the folks at Skylum, such AI can’t simply be added; it’s part of the very core of the application.
Hence the need for a new application, Luminar AI. But, as I mentioned, well, read on…
Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI
Luminar AI is meant to be a simple, fast editing application that focuses on allowing its AI technology to identify your image’s key elements, and make suggestions or give you templates for creating a new final image. You can get in-depth and customize your images, of course, but the emphasis is on simplicity and speed.
One key difference between Luminar AI and Luminar 4 is that with Luminar AI, you can’t work with multiple layers. Skylum kept things simple, again because of both simplicity and speed.
This version of their AI software isn’t obsolete, though; it is meant to be a little sibling to Luminar Neo. (Neo does appear to be “replacing” Luminar 4, effectively, if not officially.)
So, there you have it. Luminar Neo can do what Luminar AI can, as well as Luminar 4, and more. It combines simplicity and speed with the most advanced customization possible.
Luminar Neo Review | Conclusion
If you don’t already own either Luminar 4 or Luminar AI, then this is definitely the program you’ll want to check out first. It’s not just the best of both worlds; it’s the future of Skylum, it seems.
However, if you already own either of the existing applications, before jumping on board with Luminar Neo, you can ask yourself about your creative style and overall workflow.
Luminar Neo Price & Subscription Options
Currently, you can purchase the software (outright) for $109. There are also annual and monthly plans ranging from $14.95/mo to $99/yr.