Luminar Neo Review (Latest Test by Pro Photographers)

This Luminar Neo review goes in-depth on Skylum’s award-winning photo editing software for Mac and Windows.

I’ve been testing Neo’s AI photo enhancement tools to see how easy they are to use for newcomers to image editing.

Highly Recommended

Luminar Neo

Powerful AI editing tools improve photos in less time. Affordable one-time price and expandable features.


Can absolute beginners really perform complex edits like replacing skies, enhancing portraits and erasing backgrounds?

As I’m a professional photographer, I also wanted to test Luminar Neo’s manual editing toolset.

I wanted to discover whether Luminar Neo is a viable alternative to Adobe Lightroom as an image editor for advanced users.

For existing Luminar AI users, I also investigate whether there’s a need to upgrade to Luminar Neo.

Finally, we discuss how Luminar Extensions bring additional editing powers to the core software.

For this Luminar review, I’ve been testing Neo for over a year with a selection of RAW and JPEG images.

Let’s take a closer look together at whether you should buy Luminar Neo in 2023.

What is Luminar Neo?

Luminar Neo is a powerful image editor for Mac and Windows, powered by AI technologies that can simplify complex photo editing tasks, making them fast and fun.

Headline AI features include the ‘god-like’ ability to relight a scene, replace the sky, remove powerlines and dust spots, and perform various jaw-dropping portrait enhancements in just a couple of mouse clicks.

The main attraction of Luminar Neo is the opportunity for a complete novice to carry out immensely complex photo editing tasks with a couple of clicks. It’s also useful for more experienced photographers who want to save time or experiment with their image editing.

In addition to this artificial intelligence wizardry, Luminar Neo provides a solid selection of core editing tools that rival other popular image editors.

Numerous Presets are supplied (with more available to download/buy), which apply instant photo effects to images to alter their look – AI recognises the image and suggests suitable ‘For This Photo’ Presets to save time.

Price of Luminar software

The ability to buy Neo as a one-off purchase is particularly attractive.

Luminar Neo pairs up with Luminar Share, a basic mobile app for iPhone and Android devices that allows you to wirelessly transfer your smartphone images to be edited in the desktop Neo software or vice versa to be shared on your favourite social media network.

You can also install Neo as a plugin for Photoshop and a plugin for Lightroom Classic, allowing it to load from within their respective interfaces.

This is handy if you want to keep using the DAM functionalities of your existing LRC catalog, while taking advantage of the AI tools in Neo, for example.

Pros & Cons of Luminar Neo for Photo Editing


  • Affordable one-time price
  • Easy and fun to use
  • Effective one-click presets
  • Impressive AI tools
  • Excellent portrait enhancers
  • Fast RAW image imports
  • Promising layer-based workflow
  • Handy extensions help with specific tasks
  • Especially useful as a Lightroom Plugin

  • Slow to respond (initially)
  • Limited photo management features
  • Limited print and export options
  • Disappointing mobile app
  • No GPU acceleration (except Extensions)
  • No free trial or student saving

What’s New in the Updated Luminar Neo?

Skylum released Luminar Neo in February 2022 with the intention of providing frequent updates.

This Luminar Neo review is based on the latest version, v1.12.2, which was released on July 27, 2023.

This update includes the new Undo and Redo functionality, performance improvements in the RAW Develop and Mask AI tools and a variety of bug fixes.

Previous updates have also seen various additions to the core photo editing software, including the addition of a histogram, dodge and burn tool, clone tool, and portrait background removal AI.

Luminar Neo is now built on a new ‘modular’ framework, which means that larger feature updates can be slotted into the core feature set more easily and regularly than before.

A recent example is the release of several ‘Extensions’ that build upon the core editing software with useful tools.

In releasing these Extensions, Skylum has said that they’re fulfilling the main vision for Luminar Neo to become a one-stop creative platform for photographers.

We’ll take a closer look at the Extensions later in the review.

1. Skylum Luminar Neo Installation & Set Up

After downloading and launching the Luminar Neo installer, you’re given the option to install Neo as a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom Classic (if you’re already an Adobe photo editing software subscriber).

Strangely enough, you’re no longer able to install third-party plugins in Luminar Neo (such as Topaz Gigapixel, for enlargements) – something you were able to do with Luminar AI. Hopefully, we’ll see this in a future update.

The program takes up 2.84GB of space on my Mac’s hard drive, which seems average when compared to other photo editors.

When the installation is complete, and you’ve created a Skylum account, you’re shown a QR code that installs the companion mobile app Luminar Share.

We’ll take a closer look at the app later, but don’t hold your breath – it doesn’t do much!

2. Importing & Browsing Images

Screen showing importing of images to Luminar neo

Getting images into Neo is simple and fast.

Getting photos into Luminar Neo is dead simple and a refreshing experience for anyone who’s ever tried using Lightroom for the first time.

Clicking the Add Photos button does exactly that – you choose a folder or selection of photos on your hard drive, click Add, and then everything suddenly appears in your Luminar catalogue.

Photos are added impressively quickly on my 2021 MacBook M1 (32GB RAM) – testing on my wife’s 2020 Macboom Air with 16GB of RAM was also similarly fast.

It’s important to note that photos aren’t really ‘imported’ into Luminar Neo – they are actually being ‘referenced’ in their original location, much like a file browser. This has certain distinct advantages and disadvantages.

The main caveat to this file browser experience is that the photos need to exist somewhere outside Neo, or they appear as ‘missing’.

This means that you’re unable to import images to Neo from your camera’s memory card unless: a) you’re willing to keep the card in the card reader until you’re finished with the images, or b) you transfer the images to your hard drive first, then add the photos to Neo from that new location.

Confused? Basically, when your photos are moved or deleted on your hard drive (external to Luminar Neo), the same thing happens within Neo.

If, however, you delete an image from within Luminar Neo, it’s added to a ‘Luminar Trash’, with the original image remaining intact outside of Neo.

Software such as Lightroom, however, employs an actual image-importing process which creates a duplicate version of the file within a separate catalogue, meaning any external changes won’t affect the catalogued image.

For many photographers, Luminar Neo’s file browser approach to file management will be a breath of fresh air – there’s close to zero wait time for photos to appear in the software, ready to be edited.

However, for professional photographers who need a direct way to get images off their SD card into editing software, Luminar Neo isn’t an appropriate choice.

It’s also worth noting that you can add photos from external hard drives or even network-attached storage (NAS), but as soon as you detach the devices, Neo will no longer be able to show them.

3. Photo Organisation in Luminar Neo

Various organisation options with in the software

Organisation options auto-populate depending on your actions.

Ignoring the restrictions on importing from non-permanent devices/locations, you have to admire the simplicity of photo management in Luminar Neo.

On the left of the screen, the ‘Catalog’ module consists of 5 locations that auto-update based on your actions:

  • All Photos
  • Single Image Edits
  • Recently Added
  • Recently Edited
  • Trash

Hovering over each title reveals the number of images in each case, and ‘Recently Added’ and ‘Recently Edited’ offer drop downs that reveal the dates the actions were performed.

Under this, the ‘Folders’ level houses any folder from your hard drive that you add to Luminar Neo.

Finally, there are the ‘Albums’, which behave similarly to Lightroom Collections, allowing you to compile collections of various images that already exist in your Neo catalogue.

You can add multiple photos to an album or create a new one by selecting them all and right-clicking to reveal the options. Oddly, you can’t drag and drop the photos into the Albums panel to create new albums.

4. Catalog Interface

Right clicking in the software reveals various options

Right-clicking on photos reveals various options.

Luminar Neo Catalog’s single photo view shows a filmstrip below – right-clicking photos in the single view or within the film strip reveals various options:

  • Set Flag
  • Adjustments
  • Export
  • Share
  • Open In
  • Go To
  • Create Album
  • Move to Luminar Trash
  • Show in Finder

Aside from the self-explanatory, ‘Set Flag’ allows you to Favourite, Reject or Unmark, using the same shortcut keys as Lightroom, and ‘Adjustments’ allow you to Sync, Copy or Paste any image edits made across other photos.

‘Open In’ allows you to open the photo in various apps you may already own: Photoshop, Lightroom, Photos, Elements and Aurora HDR.

There’s also a heart icon to favourite, an ‘X’ to reject and an eye icon that shows a before (unedited) version of your image, although I still prefer the implementation of the Before/After tool in Luminar AI.

One slight annoyance is the frustratingly narrow side scroll bar, which only comes into partial view when you move your mouse’s scroll wheel.

5. Luminar Presets Interface

Example of Neo's artificial intelligence suggesting the correct photo preset to use.

The software intelligently recognises the photo containing a girl’s face and recommends portrait presets to suit.

Next to the ‘Catalog’ module is ‘Presets‘ – clicking this reveals a selection of thumbnails with somewhat ambiguous titles, like ‘Experimental’ and ‘Influencer’.

These presets were the headline feature of Luminar AI (named ‘Templates’), promising to save hours of fiddling around with sliders to achieve the desired look.

The ‘For This Photo’ presets are your first taste of artificial intelligence coming to your rescue in Luminar Neo, predicting the one-click ‘look’ that would best complement your photo, based on its perceived contents.

In practice, if your photo contains a person, ‘For This Photo’ will show presets best suited for portrait photography. If the photo is of a landscape, the AI suggestion will show presets such as ‘Scenery’, ‘Sunsets’ or ‘Easy Landscapes.’

Clicking into each main preset category reveals various more associated presets, and so begins the testing process.

Clicking into The Presets reveals various other options

Clicking a preset title reveals other associated presets.

Rather than complicating the process of photo editing, the Luminar Neo Presets panel seems to have been designed to encourage experimentation – ‘Influencer’, ‘Cozy Den’ and ‘Winter Refuge’ mean nothing until they’re clicked.

Don’t like the effect? Simply click the arrow to return to the original, or click the heart icon to add it to your favourite presets.

Bizarrely, there’s no option to fine-tune the presets in Luminar Neo like there was in Luminar AI – you either apply the preset in its entirety…. or you don’t.

Being able to ‘back off’ the effects of a preset would be a welcome feature, so hopefully, we see this added to Neo in a future update.

6. Luminar Neo Edit Interface

The ‘Edit’ module houses all the manual and automated editing tools of Luminar Neo. In its ‘Tools’ panel, you’ve got the following:


  • Develop
  • Enhance AI
  • Erase
  • Structure AI
  • Color
  • Black & White
  • Details
  • Denoise
  • Landscape
  • Vignette


  • Relight AI
  • Sky AI (Sky replacement)
  • Atmosphere AI
  • Sunrays
  • Dramatic
  • Mood
  • Tonight
  • Matte
  • Mystical
  • Glow
  • Film Grain


  • Portrait Bokeh AI tool
  • Face AI
  • Skin AI
  • Body AI
  • High Key


  • Supercontrast
  • Color Harmony

When clicked, each of the tools reveals multiple sliders and sub-menus.

Anything with a slider invites you to experiment, with the partially hidden sub-menus containing options for when you’re more comfortable with the basic functionality of each tool.

Those coming from more professional-photographer-orientated photo editing software may poopoo the somewhat hodgepodge organisation of the tools, but if you’re new to photo editing, the layout is user-friendly and quickly becomes familiar,

Anything with ‘AI’ after its name denotes something with a very special party trick – more on those later.

Next to ‘Tools’ is the ‘Edits’ panel, which is kind of like Lightroom’s History tool, keeping track of each edit you’ve made to the image.

You’re also presented with another eye icon for a before/after, a revert arrow to undo each specific edit, and a pen icon, which allows you to make local adjustments like creating masks to add/remove effects.

One thing I found rather confusing was the fact that any preset you apply to your image will be shown in the ‘Edits’ panel, broken up as individual steps of the edit.

e.g. the ‘Nighthawks’ black and white Preset applies ‘Black & White’, ‘Details’, ‘Enhance AI’, ‘Structure AI’, ‘Face AI’, ‘Denoise and Develop’ – I assume this may change slightly depending on the contents of the photo.

Screen showing various edits applied automatically when choosing preset.

Presets can be viewed in the Edits panel as individual edits.

While this allows for some granular control over the preset, it’s difficult to tell what differences the individual edits actually made to your image – choosing to control each one feels like a stab in the dark.


You’ll also find ‘Layers’ on the left of the ‘Edit’ module – clicking the + icon reveals a selection of overlays that you can add to your image to produce various effects: ‘Flares’, ‘Light Leaks’, ‘Sparklers’ and ‘Stardust Bokeh’.

You can also load any image from your hard drive to use as a layer for a double exposure effect. Any layer’s opacity and blending mode can be altered to achieve your desired look.

Those hoping for a true layer-based editing experience akin to Photoshop or ON1 Photo RAW will be disappointed, but if all you want is a simple way to experiment with your photos, Neo comes up with the goods.