[LUMINAR’S user-friendly face]
In the never-ending search for a cheaper alternative to Photoshop we can report on a couple of promising contenders. Luminar, from macphun.com, and Affinity Photo for Windows from serif.com are well worth a look.
The Mac version of Affinity Photo has been around for a year or so and costs about $80 from the App Store. For current owners there is a beta version 1.5 available with impressive focus stacking and HDR merging functions. And now, at last, there is a Windows version, in beta and available as a trial download.
Serif represents Affinity Photo as a Photoshop alternative fit for the pros. It has a comprehensive set of features and controls and it is not for the faint-hearted. The learning curve is steep and it uses some curious nomenclature for its controls. Have a guess at what “Photo Persona” might be. No, it is not a picture of a person.
There is no user manual but there are video tutorials (not so helpful) and a Help section which is not bad. The application has some infuriating quirks such as preventing you from moving to the next step without first doing something else that you don’t understand and it doesn’t explain.
The user interface of Affinity will seem familiar to Photoshop users but a little bewildering to a newcomer to photo editing software. The only way to learn Affinity Photo is by using it.
Affinity Photo has been popular on the Apple App Store and it should be even more popular in its Windows mode because, unlike Macs the Windows 10 machines have no decent native photo editor. So, for $80 the hole in the installed software is plugged.
True to its professional pretensions it eschews automated routines. Users are expected to be grown-ups capable of using slider adjustment tools to fix tone, colour, sharpness and so on.
Macphun’s Luminar takes a different tack on automation, putting up an array of preset thumbnails showing the effects of instant selection. In default you choose from Clarity Booster (edge contrast), Image Enhancer, Mild Image Enhancer, Sharp and Crisp, Classic Black and White, Foggy Day (!) and so on. The intensity of each effect is set with a slider from 0 to 100 percent.
Luminar does automation better than most. Fix Dark Photos, for instance, judiciously recovers a decent image from a badly underexposed photo.
The black and white conversion preset makes a straight monochrome version of the coloured image which can then be manipulated with colour filters. Apply the red filter and you get a black sky, just as you would with red glass on the camera. Luminar opens every RAW file format that we threw at it so the black and white conversion is made with the best version of the photo.
Further controls are in the tool palette on the right of the screen. The usual controls for tone, colour, noise, sharpness come with one or two things that are a surprise, such as the polarising filter effect. The intensity of the filter is variable and just like the physical glass thing it works to reduce bright reflections and to make skies more dramatic.
There are different sets of presets for portraits, landscapes, street and dramatic photos. Even more presets are available from the Macphun web site.
The noise reduction function works by putting before and after previews side by side so that as the intensity of the reduction is varied the effect can be seen on the “after” preview. As noise reduction is always a compromise between removing the dirt and preserving the fine detail it is a help to see what is happening.
Where Affinity Photo is user hostile Luminar is positively cuddly in its friendliness.
At this stage Luminar is for Mac only (there is a trial version from the company web site or the full paid version from the App Store) but Macphun promise a Windows version next year. Luminar is easier to learn than Affinity Photo but is more directed at the occasional editor who doesn’t want to pay the price of Adobe’s products but wants something better than the photo editors built into the operating systems.