It didn't seem like very long ago that I reviewed Luminar 3, and while I liked the editing features, I dislikes the fact that if you weren't using Luminar's "Lightroom lite" catalog feature you were stuck with it and couldn't turn it off.
Now, as we've highlighted in another post, Skylum is offering Luminar Flex, which is basically all the things I love about editing with Luminar 3, but they've taken the catalog/data base feature out. Hooray! In this post I want to go over the reasons for this new version, and my impressions after using it.
At some point Luminar will have a worthy Lightroom catalog competitor, but they're not there yet. So we have Luminar Flex. It works as a stand along application or as an Adobe plugin. (It also can integrate with Apple Photos and Aperture but most of our readers won't use it that way.)
According to Alex Tsepko, CEO of Skylum. “The Luminar Flex plugin lets photographers continue to use their host software of choice, while taking advantage of Luminar’s one-of-a-kind editing features, such as Accent AI, Golden Hour, Details Enhancer and AI Sky Enhancer.”
I'm fine with that, and I am a heavy user of Luminar 3 and glad to trade it in for Luminar Flex. Here's the really good news: if you are a registered Luminar 3 user, you can get Luminar Flex for no cost. Otherwise it's $59.00, a bit cheaper than Luminar 3 at $69.00. More about the free update later in this article.
The new Luminar Flex operates as a plug in with:
Photoshop (Windows & macOS)
Lightroom Classic (Windows & macOS)
Photoshop Elements (Windows & macOS)
Photos for macOS
Using Luminar Flex
I gave Luminar Flex a pretty good work out, picking from my large collection of 16 bit raw files. I could not discern any difference between Luminar 3 and Luminar Flex. All the filters and sliders I usually use are there. All that was missing was the catalog that always popped up every time you launched Luminar 3, so this new Flex version is a welcome improvement. I'll just uninstall Luminar 3 and the associated plugins. Luminar Flex still has the features I used in the older Luminar versions. I think the Sky AI renderer is top notch, and generally the image adjustment options mirror Lightroom pretty closely. I don't use the "looks" (presets) Luminar offers, as I think many are over the top, and I refer a lighter touch to editing photos. Still, Luminar Flex will do what you want it to do. It seems stable, and smooth in operation.
If you're a new editor coming into the Skylum ecosystem you now have a choice of the full featured Luminar 3 or Luminar Flex. Since their cataloging option is pretty good, but not really full featured yet, I think it makes sense to go with Luminar Flex and forego the hassle. If you already have Luminar 3, and are comfortable with the offered catalog features, you can stay put. If you have purchased Luminar 3 already, you'll be receiving information soon about getting a free copy of Luminar Flex, a really great and customer friendly solution from Skylum. Here's how Skylum explains the free update:
Luminar Flex will have its own development roadmap. Owners of Luminar 2018 and Luminar 3 will receive a free copy of Luminar Flex. With the next major version of Luminar, the plugins workflow will be removed from Luminar with Libraries and will only be available in Luminar Flex. Luminar Flex is Skylum’s recommended workflow for photographers who want to add the Luminar engine and filter set to their existing photo editing workflow. Luminar 3 is a desktop application (which also offers basic plugin workflows) will become a standalone product only with its next major update.
I really do like the Skylum lineup of Aurora for HDR editing, and Luminar 3 and Luminar Flex. I've recently complained about issues I have with Adobe, and for many photographers the Skylum suite is a good substitute set of editing tools. No, it's not as mature as the Adobe applications, but Skylum is coming up fast and has made quite a positive impact with many photographers.