With Adobe’s recent announcement regarding Lightroom, many photographers are looking for an alternative solution to their raw photo organization and post-processing. And I completely get it; not everyone is ready to switch to a cloud-based service (for those looking to Lightroom CC), and many photographers don’t want to be on a monthly (or yearly) subscription, even for the “standard” Lightroom Classic CC. The good news is that there are alternatives! This article stems from a question I get very regularly: how does Luminar compare with ON1 Photo RAW? Hopefully, this helps clear things up for those of you with the same concerns.
As a disclosure and a reminder, I have partnered with both of these companies and will continue to do so in the near future and this post contains affiliate links. This post is about helping you decide which program is best for your needs. You might even find that both options are excellent tools for your processing requirements. I personally use both programs regularly, but I still use Lightroom as my main “hub” for all of my organization and raw processing. A typical workflow for me is to process the raw image in Lightroom and then edit it in either Luminar or ON1 Photo to “polish” or enhance the photo beyond Lightroom’s capabilities.
ON1 Photo RAW is more expensive but offers more tools and features. This obviously can be a good thing, but also overwhelming if you are looking for something that is easy to use right away but might unfamiliar with the software. Fortunately there are several training options on the ON1 Photo website, as well as in the Nicolesy Store.
Luminar is a lower price but has fewer bells and whistles than ON1. However, it is very user-friendly to new users and allows you to create both basic and advanced enhancements to images. With that said, the Macphun/Skylum website offers free video tutorials on their software, and there are is third party training as well (including some new tutorials in the coming months to the Nicolesy Store).
Let’s begin by comparing the features of each application. I have chosen many of what I feel are the standout and important features that we look for with photo organization and processing. Here is my take on how the applications compare with each of the following features and categories.
• Image Organization (DAM):
ON1 Photo: ON1 Photo has a dedicated module called Browse which allows you to view and index existing folders on your computer. The previews are fast and make it easy to quickly browse through several photos in a short period of time. You can also add presets, edit metadata, and export images from this module.
Luminar: As of writing this article, Luminar does not yet have Digital Asset Management (DAM) capabilities. However, they do have a free update coming in 2018 which will add a DAM to Luminar. But you can edit and export (including batch processing) using the main Luminar application window.
• Raw Processing:
ON1 Photo: Last year, ON1 Photo updated their software to include non-destructive raw processing. In fact, they have an entire module called “Develop” that is specifically for working with raw files.
Luminar: Luminar also has the ability to non-destructively process raw photographs and has a “Develop” filter created specifically for editing the white balance, exposure, contrast, and other tonal elements of the raw image.
• HDR & Pano:
ON1 Photo: In the new version of ON1 Photo RAW 2018, they have added both HDR and panorama capabilities to the software.
Luminar: Luminar does not have HDR or Panorama capabilities, however, its “sister” application, Aurora HDR, does allow you to process HDR photographs. Click here to watch a video to see how this program works.
• Filter Selection:
ON1 Photo RAW & Luminar: Both ON1 Photo RAW (the Effects module) and Luminar have a good selection of filters, and all filters in both applications can be stacked, blended, and selectively masked. In many ways the filter selections are similar, however, I personally prefer the filter selection in Luminar over ON1 Photo RAW. I find the filters in Luminar to be easier to adjust and have fewer “hidden” features, whereas the ON1 Photo filter options have a lot of detailed features that can be overlooked. However, while Luminar appears to have a larger selection of filters, many of the filter options in ON1 Photo RAW allow you to achieve comparable effects to what you can achieve with the filters in Luminar.
• Special Effects Filters:
Both applications are made primarily for standard photo processing but do have some ability to add special effects as well:
ON1 Photo: ON1 Photo RAW has two main “special effects” filters: Lens Blur and Lens Flare. The Lens BLur filter can be fun if you want to add blur or a tilt-shift effect, and the Lens Flare filter is an attempt to create a flare from a part of the scene (however I’ve honestly never been too thrilled with it and think it can use some updating to make the effect more realistic).
Luminar: The most intense (and newest) filter in Luminar is the Sun Rays filter. You can add distinct rays of light as if they were coming from the sun, or you can use the effect to create a more subtle beam of light (my personal preference). Either way, it can add a unique and beautiful presence to a photograph.
An image processed in ON1 Photo, including the use of the Lens Blur filter:
An image processed in Luminar, including the use of the Sun Rays filter:
ON1 Photo: Both applications have the ability to mask, but if you are looking for something with advanced masking tools, then ON1 Photo RAW might be a better fit. ON1 Photo RAW’s masking tools not only allow you to mask filters with a brush and gradient/radial tools, it also has an entire module—Layers—that allows you to stack images and colors. It also has Luminosity Masking support. Plus it has an array of advanced masking tools to easily swap out backgrounds or skies. I find the masking tools in ON1 Photo to be complementary to Photoshop and an efficient way to either mask an area completely, or to give me a head start so that I can refine the mask in Photoshop (or vice versa). I even have an entire book on masking in ON1 Photo in the Nicolesy Store (click here to view).
Luminar: Luminar’s masking tools consist of a masking brush, as well as gradient and radial masking tools, plus the ability to create a luminosity mask. The masking is straightforward and doesn’t allow quick masking based on color or contrast (with the exception of a handy trick I shared on my blog). However, the masking tools work well and are ideal if you are primarily looking to mask filters for selective edits.
• Photoshop Integration:
ON1 Photo: One of the advantages of ON1 Photo RAW for Photoshop users is that it creates PSD files (particularly when saving from within the Layers module), and the individual layers are cross-compatible with the layers in Photoshop. Features such as layers, blending modes, color fill layers, and even masks will transfer back-and-forth between the two programs. Some edits, such as smart layers (ON1 Photo) and smart filters (Photoshop) are not compatible between the two, but can still be brought over as flattened/rasterized layers, and the program can be used from within Photoshop as a plugin as well.
Luminar: If you use Photoshop, then you can edit files into Luminar using a plugin. However, a file saved from the Luminar application with layers intact is saved as a proprietary .lmnr file, which can only be re-edited within the Luminar application in which it was created.
There is quite a significant price difference between the two programs, which I feel are both appropriate. ON1 Photo RAW costs almost twice as much as Luminar but also has many more features and modules.
ON1 Photo RAW: Full price = $119.99, upgrade price = $99.99 (click here to learn more)
Luminar: Full price = $69, upgrade price = $49 (click here to learn more)
The “X Factor”
There are still many small factors that may lead you to one program over the other, many of which I am unable to comment on here because they stem from personal experience and feelings towards a company or application. Such as: how good is their customer service? Are you looking for something that is user-friendly or more complex? How much training are you able to find about each application?
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that each of these products tends to update on a yearly cycle. Historically, ON1 releases a new version each Fall, and while Luminar is still very new (it was released in the Fall of 2016) Skylum has begun its update cycle with a new version this Fall as well. So if you like to stay up-to-date on your software (which is always the best plan of action) then you will want to pay the upgrade price each year. This will ensure that you have the best and fastest version of the software.
If you would like to discuss the software or ask questions of current users, I would suggest checking out each of my discussion groups over on Facebook:
The great thing about each of these applications is that you can download a free trial to test it out before you buy. Use the links below to download a free trial of each version. (Please note that during Luminar preorders, free trial downloads may not be available):