bride and groom cuddling in Neo software

Luminar Neo Review: March 2023 Update (+ Extensions)

Honest and in-depth review of Skylum Luminar Neo (updated for recent release). Should you buy Neo this year, or is there a better image editor? Find out here.

By Mark Condon | Last Updated: March 15, 2023

This Luminar Neo review will cover Skylum’s latest photo editing software which is available for Mac and Windows.

With its headline AI-powered tools and easy-to-use interface, Luminar Neo has been available since its release – but does it still live up to its initial hype?

Luminar Neo
Luminar Neo

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There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the feature overlap of Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI, released only a year earlier.

With the latest version (Update v1.7), Neo presents a solid set of features that helps it step ahead of its predecessor and now includes ‘Extensions’ to expand its capabilities further.

Aside from all its flashy AI features, will photographers genuinely find Luminar Neo a useful editing app, or is it destined to be a transient gimmick for the Instagram generation?

In this review, I tested Luminar for a week with a selection of personal and professional photos to answer all the most common questions to help you decide whether you should buy Luminar Neo in 2023.

What is Luminar Neo?

  • 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
  • No free trial or student saving
Save $10 by using Code shotkit10neo

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.

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 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.

What are Luminar Extensions?

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

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.

At present, the Extensions Pack includes HDR Merge, Noiseless AI, Upscale AI, AI Background Removal, Supersharp AI, and Focus Stacking, with more Extensions expected in 2023.

Luminar Neo Review V1.7.0 (Updated for March 2023)

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

This Luminar Neo review is based on the latest version, v1.7.0, which was released in February 2023 with additional plugin functionality, Presets previews and various ug fixes.

I tested Luminar on a 2021 14″ MacBook Pro with 32GB of RAM and on my wife’s 2019 MacBook Air with 16GB RAM.

1. Installation & Setup

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 user).

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 which installs the companion mobile app Luminar Share.

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

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 which 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 which 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 which 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. Presets Interface

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

The software intelligently recognises the photo contains 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. 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:

  • Crop AI


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


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


  • Portrait Bokeh AI
  • 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 which 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.

As you can see in the before/after above, I was able to add a cool flare/light leak effect to an image from a recent wedding I shot using the new Layers feature and the results look great.

(I also applied one of the Presets that Luminar Neo recommended – all up, the entire edit took less than a minute.)

7. Standard Editing Tools

Using the basic develop editing tools in the software.

Clicking tools reveal various options for full manual control over editing.

For photographers who like to take a manual approach to their photo editing, the Develop panel is where it all starts – ‘Exposure’, ‘Highlights’ and ‘Shadows’ are familiar, while ‘Smart Contrast’ is unique to Luminar, controlling both highlights and shadows in tandem to give your image a nice boost.

Under that, ‘Blacks & Whites’, ‘Curves’, ‘Sharpness’, ‘Noise Reduction’ and ‘Transform’ are self-explanatory, while ‘Color’ refers to temperature and white balance, and ‘Optics’ fixes lens distortion and vignetting.

(According to a Skylum rep who talked to PCMag, Luminar Neo includes a database of lens and camera profiles that are used behind the scenes for these various optical corrections. For anything that doesn’t exist in the database, it uses general algorithms.)

Under the ‘Develop’ panel, there’s a mixture of AI-powered tools and more familiar standard ones such as ‘Vignette’ and ‘Details’.

Confusingly, ‘Color’ exists here too but deals with ‘Saturation’, ‘Vibrance’ and the removal of colour casts.

‘Erase’ contains two of Luminar Neo’s latest tools within its drop-down: ‘Remove Powerlines’ and ‘Remove Dust Spots’, both of which work similar to Photoshop’s content-aware spot healing tool, albeit but with no additional clicks.

Also of note is the ‘Landscape’ tool, which allows you to dehaze a photo, add the illusion of a photo taken at golden hour and even enhance the foliage in a scene.

The explanatory labelling of tools is Skylum attempt to make the photo editing process more accessible to the average person. While in Lightroom, you’d need to twiddle with colour temperature, clarity and various other tools to get a golden hour effect, in Luminar Neo, you can get the same result in a single click.

The ‘Creative’ panel houses tools that you really need to experiment with to understand their effect, despite explanatory names such as ‘Dramatic’, ‘Mood’ and ‘Mystical’.

My favourite is the ‘Sunrays’ tool, which still blows my mind despite being several years old. The ability to place a realistic sun in your image, and have the sun’s rays wrap around or poke through objects as if the entire scene were three-dimensional is simply incredible.

forest with trees in foregroundsun rays streaming through trees in forest
Where is options to control the look of the sunrays

Various options finetune the look of the sun rays.

The ‘after’ image above is just from applying the default sunrays settings – from here, you can use various other sliders to fine-tune the look to your preference – see the screenshot above which shows the options.

The ‘Portrait’ panel contains mostly AI tools, and finally, the ‘Professional’ panel, which houses ‘Supercontrast’ and ‘Color Harmony’.

‘Supercontrast’ allows you to adjust the highlights, mid tones and shadows contrast individually, then use balance sliders to fine-tune the adjustment.

‘Color Harmony’ deals with ‘Brilliance’ and ‘Warmth’, which seem similar to ‘Saturation’ and ‘Color Temperature’ found elsewhere in the panel.

Under this, you’ve got ‘Color Contrast’, ‘Split Color Warmth’ and ‘Color Balance’, which allows you to separately adjust the colours in the shadows, mid tones or highlights.

8. AI Editing Tools

Using portrait facial recognition tool in Neo

Realistic portrait manipulation is well within the grasp of anyone. Image: Maria Lysenko

OK, so this is where all the fun starts.

If you’ve read any other Lumnar Neo review, you’ve no doubt already been bombarded by images of skies being replaced and faces slimmed – it’s easy to become desensitized by just how incredibly simple and realistic complex photo manipulation has become.

In a nutshell, Luminar Neo offers a suite of non-destructive RAW editing tools powered by artificial intelligence that lets you carry out complex editing tasks in just a couple of clicks.

While several of Luminar Neo’s much-touted AI editing tools are actually available in some form or another in Photoshop and elsewhere, the way they’re presented in Neo is much more user-friendly.

Here’s the current selection of AI tools:

  • Mask AI
  • Portrait Background Remover AI (New!)
  • Crop AI
  • Enhance AI
  • Structure AI
  • Relight AI
  • Sky AI
  • Atmosphere AI
  • Portrait Bokeh AI
  • Face AI
  • Skin AI
  • Body AI

I’ve tested all the available tools and can confirm that they work exceptionally well in the majority of cases.

As a professional photographer with over 10 years of experience editing photos, I have little need for certain AI tools offered by Luminar Neo.

I can achieve similar results to ‘Crop AI’, ‘Enhance AI’ and ‘Structure AI’ manually by using tools found in the standard adjustment panels.

Things like adding realistic bokeh to an image, removing a background or relighting a scene (controlling foreground and background brightness), I can definitely handle, but it takes considerable time to do properly.

However, I draw the line at replacing an entire sky, changing the shape of a subject’s body or performing delicate facial retouching. This is the realm of a professional retoucher with years of experience.

With Luminar Neo, you can achieve all the above in a couple of clicks – sometimes, with just one click, like in the example of the Eiffel Tower below.

I could show you before and after images of the effects of these AI tools, but to be honest, they’re all best illustrated right here on the Luminar homepage – you can even click and interact with some of the tools in real-time.

Out of all the AI-powered tools, Sky AI is still my favourite and most impressive. Whether your photo is a pure landscape or an urban scene with people and buildings, Neo does a jaw-dropping job of swapping out the sky and relighting the scene to suit.

Eiffel tower on cloudy day

Close-up of Eiffel Tower showing sunset through beams

100% zoom highlights the delicate masking of new sky through the tower.

Even if your original photo is a cloudless scene at midday, you can make it look like a sunset shot in a couple of seconds.

You can see in the screenshot above the incredible level of detail retained by the Sky AI tool – every gap in the Eiffel Tower shows the replacement sky through it! Cloning and masking something like this in Photoshop would take hours and a very skilled hand.

I’m also impressed with the Portrait enhancement tools which can perform edits to faces and bodies that could rival even the best professional retouchers.

I can see the portrait manipulating features being useful for quickly editing selfies to be shared on social media – things like whitening teeth, smoothing skin or even changing eye colour can be done in a couple of seconds with Luminar Neo.

Aside from the ability to slim faces, darken lips and whiten teeth, by far the most useful application in my opinion is the ability to control the face light even in photos of multiple people – this is incredibly helpful for me when editing family groups, with the software controlling the brightness of each face in the photo.

You can see in the ‘After’ image above how the software uses artificial intelligence to recognise each of the subjects’ faces for me to manually add the Face Light feature with the slider.

(If you look closely, you’ll notice the second girl’s face is unaffected by the tool, presumably because the Face Light tool has brought the exposure up on the other girls’ faces to match hers.)

Another great tool which is exclusive to Luminar Neo is the Portrait Bokeh AI feature, which using AI to recognise the subject(s) in your photo, separating them from the background so a fake-bokeh can be applied (blurring the background).

Fake bokeh applied to background

Portrait Bokeh AI allows you to control the background separately from the foreground to introduce a fake bokeh effect which can be manually adjusted using a mask (shown in red).

Portrait Bokeh AI is useful for photographers who don’t own expensive ‘fast’ lenses, or when photographing groups such as in the example above, where using a large aperture would normally render some of the subjects out of focus.

Another key feature of the latest Luminar Neo release is the long-anticipated Mask AI, which uses a neural network to detect up to 9 separate elements in a photo: people, skies, architecture, transportation, water, flora, mountains, natural ground, and artificial ground.

In other editing software, masking involves a tedious process of manually ‘painting’ areas with a masking brush. This is no longer necessary in Luminar Neo, with the Mask AI doing it all for you automatically… although with mixed results.

In practice, I found that the tool did a mixed job of identifying elements in a photo – as you can see in the screenshot below, it correctly recognised a human, sky, flora and mountains, but incorrectly spotted architecture and man-made ground.

Clicking each of the elements to view the mask revealed further inconsistencies – while the subject and sky were spot on, the other elements weren’t so accurate.

This is where the manual tools come in, with the new Gradient and Radial masks used in conjunction with the regular brush allowing you to fine-tune everything.

AI masking function finding subjects in a photo

AI Mask correctly identifies some elements in photo.

I like the direction Mask AI is taking the software, but admit that there’s still some way to come. It does a decent job when the photo contains very distinct elements, but of course, this is not always the case with photography.

One nice feature of Mask AI is the ability to copy and paste adjustments to subsequent images, with mask applying adjustments only to the same masked areas – i.e. it intelligently recognises the same element in each photo.

Another exciting new feature that was released recently is the Background Removal tool, nestled away in the ‘Layer Properties’ panel – selecting the ‘Portrait Background’ tool, then clicking ‘Remove’.

Depending on the complexity of your scene, Luminar does a decent job at removing the background – anything that the AI misses can be added or subtracted using the ‘Refinements Brush’.

When you’re happy with the results, you can export the final image as a PNG, then reimport it as an image in the Layers panel – once it’s there, you can drag and drop the PNG onto any other photo you like, effectively creating a new background for your subject.

9. Output and Sharing

Luminar Neo sharing options

Sharing options are definitely limited.

Once you’ve done editing your photos, you may be wondering what next – how do you get your photos out of Luminar Neo?

The answer lies in a tiny share button located in the top right corner of Neo – clicking it reveals 4 sharing options: ‘Disk’, ‘Messages’, ‘Mail’ or ‘Share to Device’ via the companion app.

Why Skylum chose not to include all these options in a dedicated export module baffles me.

Another bizarre omission is any dedicated print module – the only way to print images from Luminar Neo is by clicking File > Print in the top menu, which exports your chosen image to your computer’s default print app.

The lack of export and print options is all rather anti-climatic. After making your photos look amazing with all the various AI tools, you’re left wondering why Skylum isn’t as excited as you to share or print them!

For professional or keen hobbyist photographers, the inability to control export settings or the print process will be a deal-breaker.

However, many photographers won’t care. It’s a simple process, and at the end of the day, you’re still able to get your photos out of Neo to store, share or print.

limited print options in Luminar Neo

Selecting Print from the menu just launches your default OS print screen.

The option to ‘Share to Device’ is an odd one. You’re instructed to scan a QR code using your phone to connect the Luminar Share app to the desktop Neo software.

From here, you can ‘Send Photos to Luminar Neo’ or ‘Mirror Luminar Neo’ – the latter option lets you see any edits you make to your image in real-time.

At first, I dismissed the companion app as completely useless, but in time I realised its appeal to Instagrammers in particular as a way to share Luminar Neo creations on Instagram in fewer steps. It’s also a handy direct way to transfer any images shot on your phone to Neo.

10. Performance

High CPU usage of Luminar Neo while using certain features.

AI tools cause very short CPU spikes.

Since testing a buggy and frustratingly slow early access version for my initial (scathing) Luminar Neo review, I have to say things have improved in the performance department.

However, there are still some issues with speed, most notably when you apply presets or use any of the processor-intensive AI tools for the first time.

We were promised a much faster experience with Luminar Neo when compared to its predecessors. While I admit the AI tools are certainly quicker than Luminar AI, there’s still room for improvement.

Clicking ‘Sky AI’, for example, involves a couple of seconds wait for the new sky to be added. However, any subsequent skies are inserted almost instantly.

Luminar Neo’s imaging engine needs a couple of seconds to analyse the contents of your photo – when that’s complete, making various changes within the same tool is a relatively fast and smooth process.

In testing, I used Mac OS’s Activity Monitor to see what was happening under the hood of Luminar Neo, and sure enough, the AI tools caused a sharp spike in CPU usage, which quickly dissipated to normal levels.

Since the CPU spikes are so short-lived (2-4 seconds), they don’t affect the stability of any applications you may have running in the background. However, these spikes may have been the reason for the software to occasionally crash like Lightroom and any other processor-intensive editing software.

One thing I would like to see in Luminar Neo is some kind of indication that the software is processing a task – it can be quite disconcerting to be waiting without knowing if anything is actually happening. A simple spinning wheel on the cursor would suffice.

Aside from the headline AI features, everything else functions well with good responsiveness and smooth transitions.

There’s little to no delay when switching between the ‘Catalog’, ‘Presets’ and ‘Edit’ modules, which is something Lightroom usually struggles with.

Adding images to Luminar Neo is lightning fast, although you do need to wait a second for the image to render if you want to edit it.

Some users would prefer to have Luminar Neo GPU acceleration – rather than relying on the CPU to perform processor-intensive tasks. 

However, as of update 1.4.2, only the Noiseless AI extension runs on your computer’s GPU, and will work with only mac)S 11 and 12.

All in all, as long as your computer meets and preferably exceeds the minimum system requirements and you’re aware of the lack of any indication that an image is processing, using Neo is much less frustrating than it used to be.

11. Extensions

extensions screen in neo

Neo can be enhanced with Extensions.

A key benefit of Luminar Neo over its previous versions is that it’s built on a modular framework – this means that Skylum can provide significant upgrades to the base software with extensions, a bit like 3rd party plugins do with other editing software.

A recent example of this is the HDR Merge Extension which allows you to create high-dynamic-range images from up to 10-bracketed images or simulate the effect by increasing the dynamic range from a single photo.

Other features include auto-alignment of multiple images for when your shots are slightly misaligned (useful for hand-held shots), and ghost-reduction when there’s a moving object in your otherwise still shot.

sample neo hdr

HDR can squeeze every last detail and colour from your images.

HDR photography is a popular technique for landscape, architecture, and real estate photographers in particular, or anyone who wants to bring out details in underexposed nighttime photos or fine-tune images with exposure issues.

Since the merge functionality is housed within Neo, you can still take advantage of all of Neo’s other editing tools after producing your HDR image.

HDR Merge only works as a paid extension within Luminar Neo – to activate it, you need to click on the extension button near the Luminar logo. Once purchased, it can be found in the side panel of the Catalog module.

You can find out more about the HDR Merge extension and the various ways to get it here.

Another exciting new extension is AI Background Removal which allows you to remove the background from behind the main subject of your photo, then replace it with anything you like. This is especially helpful for product photography.

Upscale AI is a great extension that helps with image resizing, allowing you to upscale a photo up to 6x and increase image resolution in a natural way. This is great if you need to digitally ‘zoom in’ on an element in a photo or prepare an image for print and maximise print quality.

Then there’s Background Removal which does exactly what you’d expect, Supersharp AI for sharpening your images, and FocusStacking, which is particularly useful for landscape and macro photography.

Most recently with Luminar Neo update 1.6.0 in December 2022, Magic LightAI joined the existing family of extensions.

This exciting new tool analyzes the photo and looks for any points emitting light, then lets you make them more intense, add beams and adjust the glow.

Note that Magic LightAI and all other Extensions are available in Luminar Neo for Pro Plan monthly and yearly subscribers as well as for owners of the Extensions Pack. Additionally, Extensions can now be purchased separately.

With more extensions still to be released, this is an exciting time – I’ll be gradually updating this Luminar Neo review to keep up with all the latest features.

How Much Does Luminar Neo Cost?

luminar pricing table

Luminar Pricing: Correct on March 14, 2023

Luminar Neo is available in 3 Plans:

1. Explore: All the essential tools: $9.95/mo or $99/yr (16% saving)

2. Pro: All tools and Pro Extensions: $14.95/mo or $119/yr (33% saving)

3. Lifetime – RECOMMENDED: Own Luminar Neo forever: $149 one-time payment. You can also pay $299 to include the Extension Pack.

My recommendation:

Buy Luminar Neo on the Lifetime plan as it’s the best value for money and you own it outright (no subscription needed). Tap here to see all pricing in your currency >>

(All options come with a 30-day money-back guarantee since there is currently no Luminar Neo free trial available. There’s also no student discount.)

Only the Pro plan allows you to use Neo on 2 computers.

There are other plans which include a Luminar X Membership, the Extensions Pack, and various bundle presets as gifts – since the offers frequently change, tap the button below to see exactly what’s available today.

Luminar Neo Code – $10 Saving

Skylum has provided a limited-time Luminar Neo code to save $10 on the one-time purchase plan – use this promo soon before it expires.

Code: shotkit10neo

(The code can also be used in conjunction with any existing Neo price but is only valid on the one-time purchase plan.)

To use the code, click the button below, then click one of the Buy Now buttons, then click the blue ‘Enter Promotional Code’ text and enter shotkit10neo and finally click Apply.

How I Tested Luminar Neo

I downloaded a fresh install of the latest version of Luminar from the Skylum website so I could test it from scratch, as a ‘new’ user.

Although I’ve been using Luminar Neo and all previous versions extensively, I wanted to test Luminar from the perspective of someone using it for the first time.

I installed Luminar on my 2021 MacBook Pro – it’s running the powerful M1 chip with 32GB of RAM, so is certainly no slouch.

Since many users will have lesser-powered computers, I also tested Luminar on my wife’s ageing Macbook Air which has 16GB of RAM and an older Intel chip.

During my week of testing, I ran various image editing tasks using both the AI-powered and manual editing tools on both computers.

Unfortunately, since I don’t have a Windows computer, I was only able to test on MacOS. However, as per Skylum, there is little to no difference in operation between both OS.

Although Luminar Neo is a useful tool for professional photographers or advanced retouchers, it’s most beneficial to beginners and newcomers to photo editing.

I kept this in mind during the review process.

Is It Worth Buying Luminar Neo?

Price of Luminar software

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

Buy Luminar Neo if:

  • You want to save time editing photos – there’s no denying how useful the AI tools are in Lumianr Neo. There’s no simpler and faster way to perform certain complex edits, and the one-click presets make your photos undeniably prettier.
  • You don’t want to pay for an Adobe subscription – while Luminar Neo is definitely not a replacement for Lightroom or Photoshop, it does offer many of their tools and several that don’t exist on either platform.

Luminar Neo can be bought outright for the same price as a few months’ Adobe subscription, making it great value for money.

  • You find Photoshop too complicated – again, they’re very different programs, but Neo can help you perform complicated image edits in seconds that would take you hours in Photoshop.
  • You want to have fun with your photo editing – playing around in Neo is fun. The interface encourages experimentation, and tool labeling is mostly simple and self-explanatory.
  • You’re a heavy Instagram user and need a simple way to polish and share photos

Don’t Buy Luminar Neo if:

  • You need powerful photo management tools – Neo is more of a photo browser than it is a photo manager. The distinct lack of keywording/tagging/sorting tools makes it a no-go for pros who require this functionality.
  • You need various print options – there’s no way to print photo sheets, collages, etc. You can only control print sizes from within your computer’s default printing app.
  • You need an integrated mobile editing app – while you can wirelessly transfer images to and from Luminar Neo to the smartphone app, you can’t do much else with it. It’s a far cry from the excellent Lightroom Mobile app.
  • You already own Luminar AI – there’s little need to upgrade at this point unless you really need one of the aforementioned tools that the older software is lacking.
  • You don’t have a powerful PC or Mac – check the Luminar Neo recommended specs below. If you don’t meet them, the editing experience will be sluggish.

Alternatives to Luminar NEO

  • Adobe Photoshop – a powerful vector graphics editor and image manipulator with a steep learning curve. Photoshop can replace skies and perform portrait retouching like Neo, but it’s much less user-friendly and also requires a monthly subscription.
  • GIMP – a free, open-source alternative to Neo with a rather dated interface and no AI-powered tools. It’s also not suitable for batch editing or managing a photo library.

Frequently Asked Questions About Luminar

Is Luminar Neo better than Luminar AI?

Yes, Luminar Neo is much better than Luminar AI since it has the latest and greatest photo editing features provided by Skylum. Neo also supports Extensions which make the core software even more powerful. Neo is built on a different framework to AI which means it can be updated more easily and more regularly, which is better for the user.

Does Luminar Neo replace Luminar AI?

Although Skylum has not said this officially, the likelihood is that Luminar Neo will replace Luminar AI in due course. Users purchasing Luminar for the first time are recommended to buy Luminar Neo.

Is Luminar Neo better than Lightroom?

For certain artificial intelligence-related tasks, yes, Luminar Neo is better than Lightroom – it can perform complex editing tasks quicker and more simply. It also offers more presets that adjust with AI than Lightroom currently does. However, Lightroom’s photo management, printing options, data management and mobile app are superior to Luminar Neo.

Is Luminar Neo better than Photoshop?

Photoshop is the more powerful layer-based image manipulation software, but Luminar Neo can perform similar tasks much quicker and easier. For beginners or inexperienced image editors, Luminar Neo is better than Photoshop, although there are some editing actions it cannot perform.

Is Luminar Neo a one-time purchase?

Yes, Luminar Neo is a one-time purchase, meaning you don’t need to pay a monthly subscription to be able to use it. However, there is also the option of a subscription plan, which provides additional benefits such as free lifetime upgrades, extensions and more.

Does Luminar Neo work on iPad?

No, Luminar Neo only works on PC and Mac. However, its developer Skylum Software released an iOS app that offers nearly the same features.

Known as Imgmi, this app helps you post-process photos by allowing you to remove or replace unwanted elements, such as power lines and overcast skies. Needless to say, it’s easy to improve image exposure and color saturation simply by adjusting the app’s basic editing controls.

What are the System Requirements?


  • MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, Mac mini, early 2010 or newer
  • CPU Intel® Core™ i5 or better
  • Memory 8 GB RAM or more (16+ GB RAM is recommended)
  • macOS 10.14.6 or higher. IMPORTANT: macOS 10.13 is not supported.
  • Hard disk 10 GB free space; SSD for best performance
  • Display 1280×768 size or better


  • Windows-based hardware PC with mouse or similar input device
  • CPU Intel® Core™ i5 or better, AMD Ryzen™ 5 or better
  • Open GL 3.3 or later compatible Graphics Cards
  • Memory 8 GB RAM or more (16+ GB RAM is recommended)
  • Operating System Windows 10 version 1909 or higher (only 64-bit OS).
  • Hard disk 10 GB free space; SSD for best performance
  • Display 1280×768 size or better

What are the Supported Languages?

  • English
  • German
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Chinese Simplified
  • Chinese Traditional
  • Korean
  • Japanese
  • Dutch

More info here.

What is the latest version of Luminar Neo?

Luminar Neo 1.7.0

You can now use the HDR Merge, Focus Stacking, and Upscale AI Extensions in Luminar Neo and also from the Lightroom plugin.

You can now scroll down the list of Presets and view the effect of each Preset on your photo on hover, without needing to click and apply it.

Overall, Luminar Neo 1.7.0 is faster and more stable when applying the first edit, making further edits and managing the Edit History, reapplying effects, and editing photos that contain people.

Is there a Luminar Neo User Guide PDF?

Yes, you can download a Luminar Neo PDF user guide from this link.

What is the difference between the Luminar Explore and Pro plans?

In both plans, you get access to the Luminar Neo photo editor app, but with the Pro plan, you also get:

  • Immediate access to all existing pro-level Extensions and future access to any new Extensions as soon as they are released: AI-based tools for sharpening, upscaling, noise reduction, focus stacking, merging HDR images, background removal, light manipulation, and more.
  • The ability to use Luminar Neo on two devices instead of one
  • A bigger discount (10% instead of 5%) on Marketplace items (Skies, Presets, LUTs, Overlays, etc.)

Final Words

There’s no denying that Luminar Neo has some impressive party tricks.

The entire focus of the Skylum marketing and the furore surrounding its release has been on these headline AI features, and in that, Neo completely delivers.

As a ‘regular’ image editor, it offers all the tools most photographers will ever need for a manual editing experience.

Where it falls short, however, is as a one-stop-shop for all your photo management/editing needs – this is why it’s also been developed as a free plugin for Lightroom, a far superior DAM.

At first, I thought a professional photographer like me would have no need for Luminar Neo, but I was wrong. In fact, I find myself opening Neo to perform quick image edits that would normally take much longer or just simply to have a play around with my photos.

It’s in this experimentation that I’ve grown to enjoy using Luminar Neo – editing photos is no longer a laborious task, or a means to an end.

Furthermore, for amateur photographers or those simply unaccustomed to complex post-production techniques, Luminar Neo is a silver bullet to achieving things that would otherwise be impossible.

Once you accept Luminar Neo for what it is, it’s hard to resist. It’s a simple, powerful, enjoyable and affordable software which continues to improve.

Luminar Neo
Luminar Neo

Powerful AI editing tools improve photos in less time. Affordable one-time pricing and exciting future updates.

Use code shotkit10neo to save $10.

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Resources & References

Mark Condon
Shotkit Founder, Editor, Writer & Reviewer

Mark Condon is a British wedding photographer and editor of Shotkit. When he’s not taking photos or reviewing the latest camera gear and software, Mark can be found cycling around the northern rivers.



Mark Condon is a professional photographer with 10+ years of experience in taking and editing photos using a myriad of photo editing tools. His current software of choice is Lightroom, using Photoshop for complex edits and Luminar Neo for time-saving edits.


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