A First Time for Everything – Saying No to Luminar 3

It’s just before Christmas, and the spate of Christmas offers from all manner of retailers is becoming overwhelming.  Not to be outdone, Skylum Software, the authors of Luminar image processing software, this week released the next version of their product.

SkylumThey elected to call it “Version 3” rather than 2019 because promises made to users of version 2018 were not fulfilled until now (and were only partially fulfilled even now).

Those promises included delivery of a fully functional Digital Asset Management System (DAM) as a companion element to their impressive image editing software.  A DAM allows for review and selection of photos to be edited inside the tool itself, rather than from an outside source, which could include a file manager, other image editor or by using a File Open command.

Let me say that from the outset in 2017, I was very impressed with Luminar.  I felt that Skylum had not only developed a remarkable image editor, but had overcome many of the inherent problems of legacy tools like Lightroom and Photoshop by designing a product that was intuitive, logical and gave you as much help or as little help in image editing as you wanted.  The software, at least for me, was not subject to the frustrating slowness of those legacy tools and behaved just as I expected, even on my older hardware.

Then things went dark.  Over the past year, barely a peep from the developers.  The company was rebranded to Skylum, and we saw press releases about new senior management additions.  But no updates or improvements to the software.

Then just this fall, three significant developments:

  • a new version of one of their other signature products, Aurora HDR
  • a teaser release of new “free” AI sky enhancer functionality for the patient users of Luminar 2018
  • a promise that the new DAM would be available on Dec 18/18 and all current users of Luminar 2018 would benefit from enhancements well into 2019

Now I understand why the second half of the promise was made for current users of Luminar 2018.  The DAM, while respectable, is woefully incomplete, lacking keywording, smart albums, virtual copies and many other standard features available in other products.

Luminar CatalogueIt also seems strangely put together, drawing on elements of the Photos function in the Apple ecosystem (for Apple users) and adding a lot of overhead for the benefit.  As an example, the complete history of any photo edit is now available and can be recalled, but at the expense of creating a large companion file that sits on your hard drive.  These appear to be hidden .TIFF files of 72MB or larger in size for each edited file – at least they are on my system.  Sorry but no.  While history can be useful, I have no interest in cluttering up my hard drive with files I will likely never use.  I was and am perfectly happy saving the .lmnr file with my changes should I need to go back to it for any reason.

On a positive note, Skylum relies on the existing file management system to add, move, rename and remove image files.  Whether done inside Luminar or outside in the File Manager, changes are sync’d automatically.  This is in contrast to legacy products like Lightroom that have no idea what you do to files outside the product.

Luminar DAM InterfaceBut anyone who launches Luminar 3 as a standalone product must create a DAM and import at least one folder into it.  I have a folder where all images from a shoot are first placed, in order to cull and rate them.  So, that was the folder I tested.  The result was a mosaic-like view of all of the images in the folder, with no data nearby identifying the image files.  It seems that Skylum thinks this is a good thing, calling it a “sleek interface” without “distractions”.  Users can add an information bar AT THE TOP of the interface to show the filename, if desired.

Again, on the good news front, images can be colour coded and star rated, but those bits of information don’t appear in the DAM unless you hover over a specific image.

Far from being “decluttered”, the new interface seems more cluttered and less functional to me than anything I’ve seen before.  Is that just an “old fart” reaction to something new?  Maybe.  But I like data as a side-dish to my images, and this doesn’t work for me.

Feeling a bit frustrated, I posted a question on Skylum’s Facebook page asking if there was any way to bypass the new DAM and work as I did previously.  I got one response before the post was removed, supposedly because I had posted it on their image page, not on their support page.  Ok.

Luckily, I have since discovered that if you use Luminar 3 as a plugin for other software, or use the “Edit In” feature that now seems to be available in most other software, you can bypass the DAM completely.  I still have to deal with those history files though.

For the first time ever, I’ve uninstalled a product upgrade not because of hardware issues, but because it isn’t worth using.  I really like Luminar’s editing engine and will continue to happily use Luminar 2018 with no DAM.  I would strongly encourage the makers to consider happy users like me and, with the next release, make the DAM optional and available for those who don’t already have one.  I’d really like to stay with the Skylum family, but this rent is just too high for me.