Skylum today has released a free update to Luminar Flex bringing it to version 1.1.
What is Luminar Flex? Don’t they have Luminar 3 too?
For those not familiar with Flex, think of all the great photo editing filters and tools from Luminar 3, minus the not-ready-for-primetime catalog features that Luminar 3 has. If you don’t want to use the “DAM” (digital asset manager) of Luminar 3 (and I can’t blame you as it has been a big disappointment from day 1) but still want to use Luminar’s filters to enhance your photos, then Flex might be for you.
Luminar Flex v1.1 running as a plugin inside Photoshop
I say “might be for you” because this is where things get a little confusing. And bear with me for a moment as I discuss Flex, as I never posted a review of it when it first came out. If you just want to see what’s new with Flex, scroll down to the New Features.
A Little History
Luminar 3 arrived back on December 18, 2018 and was initially marketed by Skylum as a Lightroom replacement, even though it barely had any more organizational power than Finder on Mac or Explorer on Windows. I was not a fan, and apparently I wasn’t alone as the majority of people in my Learn Skylum’s Luminar & Aurora HDR Facebook Group who voted in a poll I conducted just last month still couldn’t use the DAM because of missing features and/or performance issues. Only a small percentage were happy with Luminar 3 at the time. In fact, one of my most popular YouTube videos I have is a video I recorded showing how to use Luminar 3 without the catalog.
Results of my Facebook poll at time of this writing.
Skylum took notice of customer complaints and started dropping the Lightroom replacement marketing it was doing for Luminar 3. And then on April 4, 2019 they released Luminar Flex, calling it “Something Special for Adobe Artists”. Rather than try to compete with Adobe’s Lightroom, they marketed Flex as a plugin that works inside of Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, and Elements, and as an extension in Photos.
Here’s where things get confusing.
Luminar 3 works as both a standalone AND as a plugin in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, and Photos. But once Flex arrived Skylum mentioned they will eventually update Luminar 3 so it doesn’t work as a plugin anymore and only as a standalone.
Luminar Flex works as a plugin and is marketed as such, yet it still runs as a standalone program even after this update, and if running as a standalone you get extra benefits of Batch Processing – something that can’t be done as a plugin. Skylum has mentioned they will eventually update Flex so it doesn’t run as a Standalone, but that hasn’t happened yet so it is odd to still see Batch Processing in Flex Standalone.
So if you want to use Luminar 3 and it’s library catalog but don’t need it as a plugin, you buy Luminar 3. If you don’t want the library catalog of Luminar 3 but want all the editing filters & tools and want to use it as a plugin, you get Flex. If you are still running Luminar 3 as a plugin in Photoshop it won’t work with Smart Objects, but Flex does along with Actions. If you want to work on RAW files with Flex you can’t with the plugin unless you are sending the file from Lightroom or are using it as a standalone (for now). If you want the option to use Luminar both as a standalone AND as a plugin, you have to get both – but you might want to hold off on that until Skylum figures out how to not have Flex run as a standalone. Lastly, if you bought Luminar 3 before a certain cutoff time, you might already have Flex. Sign into your account at Skylum to see.
Are you still with me?
Another confusing issue is that Skylum is not updating Luminar 3 and Flex on the same schedule. For example, Luminar 3 received an update on April 25 with a new Accent AI 2.0 filter and has heavily promoted it since. Flex, now 2.5 months later, is now finally getting that same filter.
On To the Flex v1.1 Update
In order to update the Flex plugin, you need to launch it as a standalone. You can find it in your Applications folder. Then on the Mac click on Luminar Flex/Check for Updates… and follow the instructions. On Windows you can find that under the Help menu.
I’ll outline the new features next. For each new feature I’ll first let Skylum explain it, then I’ll add my commentary.
1. Accent AI 2.0. “Enhance your photos in seconds with the power of Artificial Intelligence and let Luminar Flex do all the heavy lifting. Accent 2.0 is human aware and the perfect adjustment for EVERY photo.”
The Accent AI Filter 2.0 in the Standalone version of Flex v1.1. This is with a RAW file from the Olympus O-MD E-M1X camera – a RAW file format that Luminar still doesn’t support even thought the camera has been out since February.
As I mentioned, getting this filter was a 2.5 month wait for Flex users, as Luminar 3 users received it back in late April. Was it worth the wait? It is definitely a solid filter, with one slider controlling many editing variables for you in the background to help enhance your photo quickly. Accent AI 2.0 is a big improvement in regards to image quality over their original Accent filter, and now it is aware of people in your photo so it can make appropriate adjustments.
2. Filter Catalog. “With this new update, whenever you open your Luminar Flex plugin, the Filters catalog will be open by default. It’s perfect to find your favorite filters, fast. It’s also searchable by keywords and tasks, automatically learns from you with the Recent feature, and you can even mark your favorites!”
The only real new “feature” here is that the Filter Catalog is open each and every time you now launch Flex. All the other “features” mentioned were there in the original Flex.
Lost screen real estate now that Flex defaults to always having the Filters Catalog open each time you launch the program.
The real bad thing here is that there is no way to now launch Flex with the Filter Catalog hidden, and I wish Skylum provided us with an option to have it hidden upon launch. The Filter Catalog takes up valuable screen real estate and was only one-click away when you needed it.
3. Improved Looks. “Looks are one of the best things about Luminar Flex. Install them right from the plugin or extension and transform your images into works of art in minutes. You can check them out in the Looks browser, and you can download even more Look packs from our marketplace.”
To install new looks you originally had to run the standalone Flex. Now you can do this via the file menu when running it as a plugin.
4. Install custom workspaces. “Now you have the option of using your own workspaces in the plugin or extension. Simply go to File > Show Workspaces Folder and add your custom workspaces to this folder. Make Luminar Flex even more comfortable.”
What is new here is being able to find your Workspaces Folder via the plugin. This was always available in the original Flex when running as a standalone.
5. Performance updates. “We love our users and try to fulfill your requests in the best way possible. We’re constantly working to improve the overall performance of Luminar Flex with every update. Enjoy the best version of Luminar Flex ever. FIXED: Filename doesn’t appear after exporting image from Lightroom to Luminar Flex, FIXED: Application crashes on applying clone & stamp in Luminar Flex as Plugin, FIXED: Doesn’t work auto activation from inside purchase, FIXED: Application crashes on opening document one by one.“
I have nothing to add here except that I’ll take their word for it that they have optimized Flex to run better.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 6 months regarding Luminar 3 and Flex. Skylum has definitely made a commitment to Flex for now, but from the outside looking in it appears that Flex arrived as a separate fix to the issues Skylum was having with Luminar 3 and running it as a plugin.
Luminar 3 was initially marketed as a way to move on from Photoshop and in particular Lightroom. Flex is marketed to keep you working inside of Photoshop and Lightroom. Luminar 3 received a major new filter (major based on the amount of marketing that announced it) and Flex took 2.5 months to get it. Is this the upgrade path of the future? Confusing strategies for sure! Interesting that companies such as ON1 can deliver just one product to run as a standalone AND as a plugin…
I don’t have any insider information here, but my guess is that Flex was not even a thought when Skylum was releasing Luminar 3 back in December of 2018. Now their resources are stretched even more trying to fix Luminar 3, maintain and advance Flex, and hmm did Skylum forget about Aurora HDR 2019? That program is still on it’s 1.0.0 release from way back in September of 2018 and they still haven’t updated it yet for the linking via Open In/Luminar to go to the newest version of Luminar instead of the old Luminar 2018.
RAW file was edited with Capture One Pro, tif file opened in Photoshop and then Flex was used as a plugin for final enhancement.
With all of that said, I am a big fan of the editing power in Flex and use it on almost all of my photos to put the finishing touches on them. It’s about time Skylum supported Smart Objects inside of Photoshop! Prior to Luminar 3 I was actually using Luminar 2018 to process my RAW files. But since Luminar 3 is still such a slow and feature-poor program I have gone back to using Capture One Pro for my RAW files and Flex for the finishing touches.
And the fact that it still runs as a standalone for now, users can think of Flex as a new version of Luminar 2018. Again Skylum says they will remove the ability to run as a standalone program at some point in the future, but the future isn’t now and right now you can run Flex just like you ran Luminar 2018 and have access to RAW editing without going through Lightroom as well as access to Batch Processing.
Interested in Flex? Skylum has a special promotion going on for new purchasers. Flex is currently available for $70 and it includes over 300 Looks. Prior owners should receive an email soon from Skylum giving them access to these Looks too.
You can save an additional $10 on Flex with coupon code mattsuess
I have been a big supporter of Macphun/Skylum since the very beginning of Aurora and Luminar and have recommended their products for years. I still love Aurora and was very disappointed with Luminar 3 – so much that I don’t even recommend it anymore to anyone.
Flex is the closest thing we have now to an upgraded Luminar 2018 even though it is supposed to be run as a plugin only. But the fact that it still runs as a Standalone program, I definitely still recommend Luminar – only the Flex version of Luminar however.
Disclosure about product links and affiliations: Some of the links I provide are affiliate links which means I get a small commission, with no additional cost to you, if you click it and end up buying something. It helps me provide free educational resources and articles. So if you use them, thank you! My affiliations however never influence my opinions on any products/services and I am only affiliated with companies whose products/services I personally use.
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