In 2020 we reviewed Luminar 4, an easy-to-use photo editing software powered by AI technology that can be used as a standalone app or a plugin for Adobe Lightroom Classic or Photoshop. During these two years, the program has not become our primary photo editing tool, but as a plugin for Lightroom, it was often handy: for example, when we needed to quickly retouch a series of portraits for a client.
Luminar 4 was followed by the Luminar AI version, which we skipped. It seemed like a minor upgrade; both apps shared the majority of tools, so we decided that Luminar 4 was more than enough for our needs.
In February 2022, Skylum released Luminar Neo. According to the first reviews, the initial version of the new editor looked more like a beta version of the application, and only after a couple of updates all the bugs were fixed, and all the initially promised features became available. One of the most significant updates to the Luminar NEO happened just earlier this month (November 2022), so we thought now would be a good time to check it out.
If you need to get more familiar with Luminar and how it works, we suggest you read our post about Luminar 4. Many core features remain similar (but updated and improved); therefore, that article and our photo examples will perfectly demonstrate what you can achieve with Luminar in a few clicks.
And the purpose of this post is primarily to focus on the new tools available in Luminar Neo.
Mask AI can be found in the Masking tab of the various editing tools (e.g., Develop, Color or Dramatic).
Masks in photo editing software is an instrument that isolates different parts of an image for selective application of an effect or adjustment. What’s cool about Luminar’s Neo masks is that they are also powered by AI that scans an image and detects up to nine separate elements in a photo: people, skies, buildings, vehicles, water, plants, mountains, and both natural or artificial ground. This way, Mask AI can save a ton of time!
Although Mask AI in the picture above did a great job identifying the car, house, and plants, it also offered odd choices, such as “mountains” as parts of that house. Sometimes this happens, but it’s not such a big problem because you simply ignore that element or choose another one (or even several at once). In addition, Skylum also says that as the AI learns, it will be able to identify and isolate even more elements. So hopefully, this tool will become even more powerful and accurate in the future.
While Mask AI automatically selects up to 9 elements in a photo and helps you fine-tune various effects and adjustments, the Relight AI tool is quite simple but effective.
This tool uses artificial intelligence to detect the foreground and background of a photo, giving you the ability to adjust the exposure and white balance of the foreground or background without manually creating masks (or using Mask AI).
Updated Erase Tool
In addition to the standard brush option, the new Erase tool has two automatic options: Remove Dust Spots and Remove Powerlines. Both options can be helpful and will save a lot of time for photographers who either have a dusty sensor in their cameras or don’t like power lines in their cityscape or landscape shots.
In the image below all power lines were removed with one just click:
Portrait Bokeh AI
The Portrait Bokeh AI tool was already available in Luminar AI, but since we’ve never used that version, it’s something new to us. Essentially, this tool blurs the background, simulating the bokeh effect of a photo taken with the aperture wide open.
The tool automatically detects people in the frame and creates a mask that separates them from the background. You can then use the Brush Control tools to refine the mask with brush strokes and fix imperfections. You can also use the Amount and Background sliders to adjust the amount and quality of background blur. In this way, you can achieve a good and realistic result by using both the AI automatic tools and the manual adjustments together.
Here is an example with the bokeh amount slider set to 30:
We tested the Portrait Bokeh AI tool with different portrait images, and honestly, the results are good but could have been better. The automatic mask is not always imperfect, so you need to refine the selection with brushes manually. Also, sometimes if there are many objects in an image, some parts of the image are not blurred even though they are at the same distance from the camera as other parts that are, however, blurred.
This tool also only blurs the background and does not affect areas in front of the focal plane. If there are objects in the image that are close to the camera, they will remain untouched, like the plants in the bottom right corner of the image above. This looks unnatural because when shooting with a wide aperture, anything outside the depth of field will be out of focus, including the foreground, not just the background.
Portrait Bokeh AI is probably good for low-resolution images such as those used in social media, but no more than that. There is no magic here, and this tool cannot replace an actual lens with an open aperture.
The Sky AI tool is not new. In fact, it was one of the selling points of Luminar 4. This tool allows users to replace, correct, and enhance the sky in photos with just a few clicks.
We included this tool in the article because it has been improved since the release of Luminar 4. So let’s see what this tool can do.
This is the result of the Sky AI tool in Luminar Neo:
And here is the result of the Sky AI tool in Luminar 4:
Not the most realistic sky for this scene, but we chose a more dramatic example to better illustrate the effect and differences between Luminar Neo and Luminar 4.
Here again the final two images are side by side:
With all the settings and sliders set to the default position, the masking quality in the Neo example (along the mountain ridge in the center of the image) is better, plus the water gets some natural reflection from the sky and is also better lit. The water in Luminar 4 is almost unaffected.
New Luminar Neo Extensions
In November 2022, the Skylum team released Luminar Neo Update 1.5.0, which included four new extensions added to the HDR Merge and Noiseless AI extensions released over the summer:
- Focus Stacking
- Upscale AI
- Background Removal AI
- Supersharp AI
All of these extensions are now available to monthly and annual Pro Plan subscribers, as well as 2022 extension package owners.
Focus stacking combines multiple images shots taken at different focus distances to produce sharp results with a greater depth of field than the individual source images. The AI algorithm selects the parts with the best focus from all the photos, corrects lens and chromatic aberration, and automatically aligns and crops all the images.
For example, here are 4 images with different focal planes:
And here is the result of the Focus Stacking extension in Luminar Neo:
As we can see, the result is alright but not perfect. Yes, all the cups are in focus, but their insides are not. But this is explained: in none of the original photos were these parts in the focal plane. To achieve a better and more natural result, you need to take many more photos, and when working with the Focus Stacking tool, you can combine up to 100 images.
With this tool, you can upscale images up to 6 times (but the best results are achieved at 2x and 4x enlargement).
We compared the Upscale in Luminar Neo with the Enhance/Super Resolution tool in Adobe Lightroom, which can only double the resolution of photos. The enlarged jpg files looked the same. But the enlarged RAW images were much better in Lightroom. The results in Luminar have much worse detail, and all the lines are jagged.
So if you rely heavily on upscaling for large prints, we suggest you look elsewhere. At least until the Upscale AI tool in Luminar gets some updates.
Background Removal AI
Like the AI Mask tool mentioned earlier, the AI Background Removal tool can identify the main object and up to nine other objects in a photo and isolate them. Then, with a single click, remove the entire background.
The result of this tool depends a lot on the image and how uniform the background is. But there is also the Refinements Brush instrument that will let you fine-tune the masking.
The image with the removed background can be used as a layer for further creative manipulations or exported as a PNG file.
The Supersharp AI tool can be used to rescue photos taken with out-of-focus or unintentional shake caused by camera movement and slow shutter speeds. You can also use Mask AI to select the area of application of this effect.
In the image below, the car was moving, so there is some motion blur (the vehicle is blurry). In this particular case, it works well, but we chose this shot to illustrate how the tool works.
After testing Supersharp AI on various photos, we concluded that this tool could only improve images with slight motion blur.
So, is the Luminar Neo good? Can it take its place in a photographer’s arsenal? It’s definitely ‘Yes’ to both of these questions!
It is an excellent tool with many powerful AI instruments and a unique approach to editing. Luminar can be the only essential tool for cataloging and editing photos for beginners and intermediate photographers.
For advanced and professional photographers, Luminar can be an excellent plugin for programs like Lightroom or Photoshop that will be useful from time to time when complex tasks such as retouching portraits or simple but time-consuming tasks like object removal need to be done. Luminar Neo makes complex photo editing easy!
And extensions like Focus Stacking can be great and useful tools in their own right, no matter where or how you edit your photos.
If you want to try Luminar Neo yourself, here’s a link to the free trial version.