In this in-depth review of Luminar Neo, we’ll take a close look at the application and review the newest technology and tools. This write-up will cover some of the best features of Luminar Neo, as well as things we hope to see added or improved in the future.
What is Luminar Neo?
Luminar Neo is a new AI-driven creative image editor made by Skylum Software. It features several innovative tools that leverage artificial intelligence and 3D depth mapping to make complex editing quick and easy.
It works as a standalone application for macOS and Windows. Luminar Neo can also seamlessly integrate Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Photos for macOS and Microsoft Photos as a plugin and extension to accommodate a wide variety of workflows.
Luminar Neo is designed for all levels of photographers, from beginner to pro, to make creative image editing accessible and fun.
“There is a fine line between the photo you took and the photo you imagined. Often, small details make the difference. In Luminar Neo, we’ve built an editor to help you create the photo you imagined.”Ivan Kutanin, Skylum CEO
- Wide variety of powerful AI editing tools
- NEW Portrait Background RemovalAI
- NEW MaskAI
- NEW RelightAI tool with 3D Depth Mapping
- NEW Remove Powerlines tool
- NEW Remove Dust Spots tool
- NEW Luminar Share mobile app
- Ability to use tools multiple times
- Improved performance (compared to LuminarAI)
- Great plugin for Adobe/Photos for macOS
- Missing key features: Undo/redo, perspective correction, and Clone/Stamp
- Limited Layers Capabilities
- Very basic Catalog module
In the spirit of full disclosure, it is worth noting that I am a former Skylum employee. Even though I’m no longer officially representing the company, I continue to be a champion for their products and an active Luminar Neo user.
Top features in Luminar Neo
Luminar Neo is a powerful creative editor with a full set of editing tools. We’ll take a look at some of the most useful options and features below.
1. Editing tools powered by Artificial Intelligence
Luminar Neo comes with a fantastic array of creative editing tools to help make your creative ideas come to life.
Many of Luminar Neo’s tools were developed to leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to make editing fast, easy, and most importantly, effective. These tools execute complex edits with speed and ease while producing exceptional results.
Most of Luminar Neo’s tools can be used globally (meaning they affect all pixels in a photo) or locally (meaning you can apply the edits to specific areas). The AI does a great job of minimizing manual masking, but masking tools are available if you need them.
In addition to AI tools, Luminar Neo also has several basic editing tools to control Exposure, Tone, Contrast, Color, and more.
RelightAI lets you independently control the lighting in the foreground and background of your photo. It creates a 3D depth map of your image that allows you to adjust brightness and warmth for near and far objects — no manual masking required. It also has controls that let you set the location of the transition between foreground and background, as well as a Dehalo slider to smooth the transition between light and dark areas.
Overall I found RelightAI to be useful for both creative and problem-solving edits. While it works on a variety of photographic subjects including landscapes, it really shines when editing portraits. Luminar Neo does a great job of recognizing people in photos.
Remove Dust Spots (NEW)
Remove Dust Spots, located in the Erase tool, does exactly what you’d think — it automatically identifies and removes dust spots from photos.
Hopefully, you won’t need to use it on every photo (if you do, it is probably time to clean your lens and/or sensor), but when you need it, Remove Dust Spots is quite nice to have. It is a great timesaver and works quite well!
Remove Power Lines (NEW)
Remove Power Lines, located in the Erase tool, automatically removes power and phone lines from landscape photographs.
This tool is effective when the power lines are up against the sky, but if there are lines in front of architecture, foliage, or other intricate details, the results can be unpredictable. Overall, I found that Remove Power Lines lessened the time I’d spend manually removing power lines, but didn’t eliminate the need for some manual brushwork.
Portrait Background RemovalAI (NEW)
Portrait Background RemovalAI, located under Layer Properties > Masking, automatically removes the background from portrait images with a few clicks. The initial results are usually quite good, but if needed, the foreground and background areas can easily be refined by clicking on the Refinements Brush. Adjust the transition area between foreground and background, and select the object (portrait subject) and background areas to refine the results. I found the Refinements Brush to be highly effective with fine details such as whispy hairs.
The thing I like most about this tool is that I can create a cutout of my subject and save it as a PNG, preserving the transparency. I can open the file as a new layer on another image in Luminar Neo, or use it in other photo editing apps that support transparencies. The possibilities for creative compositing with portraits are endless!
MaskAI brings precise AI-powered masking to Luminar Neo. It allows for easy compositing, the ability to precisely apply local adjustments, and facilitates other complex editing tasks. MaskAI detects separate elements in a photo. Currently, this includes people, skies, architecture, transportation, flora, water, mountains, natural ground, and artificial ground, with more elements being added in the future.
Using MaskAI is simple. Choose a Tool and move a slider, then click on Masking > MaskAI. Let the AI work its magic, and choose the element you want to affect. If needed, you can switch to the masking brush to add or remove areas of the AI-created mask.
My experience with MaskAI has been mixed. Sometimes the mask is nearly perfect, other times I have substantial cleanup work to do with the brush. Well-defined elements with good tonal and color contrast are more easily recognized by the AI — which is to be expected. Overall, this is a great addition to my editing workflow and is usually a valuable timesaver.
AtmosphereAI uses 3D depth mapping and content-aware technology to add fog, mist, or haze to the background or foreground of a photo.
It does a beautiful job of adding a touch of depth and mystery to landscape photos.
BodyAI uses human-aware technology to realistically shape a subject’s torso and abdomen. It effectively corrects lens distortion when photographing portraits with wide-angle lenses and can give the appearance of removing or adding weight when needed.
Portrait BokehAI uses human-aware 3D depth mapping to mimic the look of photographing a portrait with an expensive, large-aperture lens by softening and blurring the background and accentuating the quality of light behind the subject.
In order for Portrait BokehAI to work well, there needs to be depth in the image — meaning physical space between the subject and the background. On the right image, this tool creates beautiful results. However, when the subject is too close to the background (or there is little to no contrast in the background), the effect is not as convincing.
CropAI analyzes a photo’s composition and suggests a crop based on the contents. The suggested crop is often an improvement, but I usually tweak the placement of the crop before finalizing the results.
EnhanceAI contains two sliders: AccentAI and Sky EnhancerAI. AccentAI is essentially a slider version of an Auto Tone button. Move the slider to the right to improve tone, color, contrast and more using AI analysis. Sky EnhancerAI recognizes the sky and makes blues richer, clouds more defined and can intensify sunrise and sunset colors.
When I’m editing photos in Luminar Neo, EnhanceAI (specifically AccentAI) is usually my first stop. With one slider I can improve the overall tone of my image without having to mess with all of the sliders in the Develop section (but if need them, I can use those, too).
FaceAI is a collection of several artificial intelligence-based tools for retouching portraits. Slim faces, adjust the lighting on faces, make eyes stand out, whiten teeth, and more — no manual masking required.
FaceAI is a dream for portrait photographers. Complex retouching tasks are made simple and the results are stunning.
SkinAI is specifically designed using AI technology for smoothing and retouching a person’s skin. The results are remarkable. Even when moving the slider to higher levels, realistic skin texture is preserved, while lines and blemishes are de-emphasized.
SkyAI is Luminar Neo’s sky replacement tool. It allows you to use one of many included sky textures or you can create and use your own. SkyAI has several sliders that allow for precise placement and blending for a realistic effect.
SkyAI is one of my favorite features in Luminar Neo. A lot of other apps do sky replacement, but in most cases, Luminar Neo does it best!
StructureAI allows you to adjust midtone contrast and clarity. Human-aware and content-aware AI technology applies the effect selectively based on the contents of the photo so that areas that need extra detail get it, and areas that should have less detail are preserved.
StructureAI works exceptionally well and is put to use on almost every photo I process.
2. All New Luminar engine, built for performance
Luminar Neo was rebuilt from the ground up and is designed for speed. According to Skylum, Luminar Neo is significantly faster than LuminarAI for complex editing tasks.
Performance gains will vary based on your computer’s specifications. On my machine (a very well-equipped 2019 MacBook Pro) I didn’t see a noticeable change in performance compared to LuminarAI, but it is worth noting that LuminarAI typically worked smoothly on my machine as well.
3. Mirror photos between desktop and mobile with Luminar Share (NEW)
The Luminar Share mobile app (for Android and iOS) is designed to transfer photos between Luminar Neo and your mobile devices. The app creates a local peer-to-peer connection between your mobile device and computer (no internet required) allowing you to mirror photos from your mobile device’s camera roll to Luminar Neo and share edited photos from Luminar Neo back to your mobile device.
I had a rocky start with Luminar Share, but after some help from the Skylum Support Team, I now have the mobile app up and running.
I was skeptical about Luminar Share’s usefulness and have other fairly simple ways of moving photos between my computer and phone. However, I was delighted to find that Luminar Share saves me a few steps.
With Luminar Share, I don’t have to go searching through my Downloads folder or dig through my Apple Photos library. Also, since the shared photo from my iPhone now resides in Luminar Neo’s Library I can go back and re-edit it anytime — the changes are not baked in.
I’m optimistic that Luminar Share will be far more useful than I initially realized.
4. Use tools multiple times
One of the limitations of LuminarAI was that a tool could only be used once. Luminar Neo solved this problem and now lets you use and add any tool multiple times. This is extremely useful when you want to use a tool at different levels (or in different ways) to accentuate or de-emphasize different areas of a photo. You can also use multiple instances of a tool to create an extreme effect if maxing the slider out isn’t enough of what you’re looking for. Combined with MaskAI and other available masking tools, using a tool multiple times allows for exceptional creative control.
5. Luminar Neo integrates with Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Photos for macOS, and Photos for Windows
For those who have an established workflow with another asset manager or other image editing tools, Luminar Neo makes an excellent plugin.
What’s missing in Luminar Neo?
Luminar Neo is quite powerful but is lacking a few features you may have expected including:
- Clone & Stamp
- Dodge & Burn
Limited Layers capability
The implementation of Layers in Luminar Neo is disappointing. They work similarly to textures in LuminarAI’s Local Masking, and as far as I can tell offer no additional functionality. At this time, only image layers can be added. There is no mechanism for creating an adjustment layer or stamped layer.
No improvements to the Catalog
Luminar Neo’s Catalog module is virtually the same as what was available in LuminarAI, with only minor changes to the user interface. Users who were hoping to see additional organization tools such as Stars, Color Labels, Keywords and the ability to edit metadata will be disappointed.
Who is Luminar Neo for?
If you love working with your photos and want to have a wide variety of editing tools at your fingertips, Luminar Neo is for you.
Luminar Neo is a good fit for:
- Enthusiast and pro photographers who want editing tools that perform complex tasks with ease.
- Portrait photographers who want retouching tools that save time and produce amazing results.
- Landscape photographers who want a wide array of creative tools at their fingertips.
Luminar Neo may not be a good fit for:
- Photographers who want quick edits and prefer to be behind the camera, instead of the computer.
- Photographers looking for a Lightroom replacement
Luminar Neo pricing
Luminar Neo users can choose between a 1-year subscription or a lifetime license of Luminar Neo. Pricing is based on “seats” which represent how many computers you can have Luminar Neo installed on. You can save 10% with the code PHOTOFOCUS.
$59 for 1 seat or $79 for 2 seats. Subscribers get the added benefit of receiving all future updates and new feature add-ons.
$79 for 1 seat or $99 for 2 seats
Luminar Neo comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you don’t love it, you can request a full refund within 30 days of your purchase.
Luminar Neo — AI photo editing to boost your creativity
Luminar Neo’s advanced AI technology-driven tools make it an innovative solution for photographers who want to do intricate editing without complexity. It offers flexible options that can fit a variety of photographic workflows.
Luminar Neo is designed for all levels of photographers, from beginner to pro, to make creative image editing accessible and fun. The overall toolset is useful and enjoyable to use. It will be fascinating to see how this software evolves over time.
Create the photos you imagined, with Luminar Neo
Your photos are precious. That’s why Luminar Neo puts them in the spotlight. Check out the latest in AI photo editing, with tools to make your workflow faster and allowing you to bring your unique ideas to life!