Alternatives to Lightroom: PhotoNinja, SILKYPIX, and Luminar 2018 Review

Recently, I contacted the developers of PhotoNinja, SILKYPIX 8 Pro, and Luminar 2018. When I asked to review their software, all of them were very kind, and provided me with full copies for review. Here is my unbiased review of each of them, the pros, the cons, what I liked, and didn’t like.

Since Lightroom. Capture One, and On1 are three of the largest RAW processing suites, it’s natural to compare the competition to them. I’m going to rate each piece of software from zero to five stars. I’ll use five different criteria (one star each) to grade each piece of software:

  1. Support for the latest cameras and lenses – Either it supports the camera or it doesn’t, and that includes having optimization for mirrorless lenses. After all, mirrorless is all the rage nowadays. The images used in this review were shot with My Fuji X-H1 and Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens and Fuji 35mm f/1.4. This is what I used this past week while on vacation in Grand Cayman.
  2. Performance and usability – For this review, I’m using my MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2017), 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7, 16 GB 2133 MHz LPDDR3, Radeon Pro 560 4096 MB. Not the highest end MacBook Pro, but certainly not the bottom either. Certainly powerful enough to handle RAW photo editing.
  3. Batch editing – Quite often I want to apply the same settings to multiple images, but then each image typically needs some tweaking afterwards.
  4. Overall output – This is subjective, but perhaps the most important aspect of this review.
  5. Value – Again this is subjective, but a definitive component in picking an alternative to Lightroom and Capture One.

1. Support for the latest cameras and lenses

This test was actually quite surprising to me. Two of the three products I reviewed actually failed this test. Specifically, Luminar 2018 and PhotoNinja. How did they fail? Well, they didn’t offer support for the latest lenses. They supported my camera – the Fuji X-H1, but not the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens in terms of automatic lens corrections. The majority of my shooting was with the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens. This was a lens that was released three years ago! I took it for granted that all RAW processors in 2018 had and utilized the built in lens correction from the manufacturers, but Luminar and PhotoNinja do not. This is such an egregious and frustrating omission by these software makers that it’s unforgivable in 2018.

Here’s some examples – all shot at 16mm to illustrate the corrected/uncorrected images. First, let’s take a look at some examples from Lightroom, Capture One, and SILKYPIX. The coloring is different because I set Lightroom and SILKYPIX to Astia, and Capture One to defaults. You’ll see that the lens corrections were automatically implemented and the images look virtually the same from an optical standpoint as they did coming from the out of camera JPEGs.

2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-18-04 Lightroom
2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-18-04 capture one
Capture One
2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-18-04 SILKYPIX

Next let’s look at PhotoNinja and Luminar 2018.

2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-18-04 Luminar
Luminar 2018
2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-18-04 Photo Ninja

At a casual glance, you might not notice it from the above example, but check out the differences when you look at people. In this next set, I alternated between corrected and uncorrected images, notice my oldest daughters face.

2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-14-13 capture one
Capture One
2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-14-13 Photo Ninja
2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-14-13 Lightroom
2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-14-13 Luminar 2018
Luminar 2018
2018-08-05 Grand Cayman 18-14-13 SILKYPIX

In the case of Luminar 2018 and PhotoNinja, you can go in and manually tweak the optical correction settings. It’s far from optimal to do it that way being that you need to eyeball it – better than nothing I guess.

For this category:

  1. SILKYPIX – 1 star
  2. PhotoNinja – 0 stars
  3. Luminar 2018 – 0 stars.

A side note to this section on compatibility. I also shot a lot of RAW photos with my GoPro on vacation – none of these software packages could natively edit those photos. There’s an awful lot of GoPros out there, it’s a shame that none of them support their RAW format.

2. Performance and usability

My expectations for this category were simple, I want to move a slider and have the app and preview be responsive in real time. That’s to say, have the adjustment appear in real-time while I’m clicking and dragging the adjustment sliders. This is the case with Lightroom, Capture One, and even On1 Photo RAW 2018 with their most recent update. Let’s see if the competition here can stack up to the big three.

The biggest fail of this category goes to SILKYPIX. I would click and drag the slider, see a particular tone and color combination on screen, only to have the preview change seconds later to something different. It’s terribly frustrating! See the following video and notice the blockiness of the image as it updates the settings, and notice the changes that occur to color and tone with every adjustment. It’s quite unusable! By the way, In case you’re wondering what you are looking at in the video, it’s a thinly sliced piece of raw fish over a rectangular block of raw duck. Gross if you ask me, but my wife loved it!

[wpvideo mH5k1wBR ]

The other issue (while not a big one) with SILKYPIX is that their verbiage is unique and not intuitive or industry standard vernacular. For example, rather than having the option to “reset” the image to it’s defaults, they call it “initialize development parameters.” You could get use to it, or they could change their English labels.

The second worst performer is PhotoNinja. It works, but it’s not instantaneous. You’ll make an adjustment and wait for it to keep up. It’s definitely better than SILKYPIX, but not what I would entirely call responsive. Check out the video below:

[wpvideo G2XJC4P8 ]

Another annoying aspect of PhotoNinja is that every section of the adjustment process requires you to select “apply” to apply the setting and then “done” when you are done with the image. No other RAW processor that I have worked with makes you go through those extra steps. It seems unnecessary and slows down the process unnecessarily, but it does work.

From a performance standpoint, Luminar 2018 works exactly as you would expect. It’s sliders are responsive and while it’s not 100% realtime, it’s darn near. From a usability standpoint, a complaint I have against Luminar 2018, is that when opening files, you can’t see a preview of the RAW file you’re opening (in the dialogue box). Both PhotoNinja and SILKYPIX at least have a way to browse your photos visually as opposed to filename based. Skylum is promising browsing functionality in a future update, but at the time of this writing it doesn’t exist. For now, it’s just vaporware. The other complaint I have is that you have to save your edits to a separate file as opposed to automatically saving an XMP file, or the like, in the same folder as your images. It just takes an extra step. From a functionality standpoint, there are a lot of filters, options, and even layers in the program. It even lets you use LUTs!

With regards to performance and usability, the scores are as follows:

  1. SILKYPIX – 0 stars. The performance issues hamper this software and it essentially made it painful to use. They really need to go back to the drawing board when it comes to their performance. There’s no excuse for it to perform as poorly as is it does with decent hardware.
  2. PhotoNinja – 1/2 of a star. It works, it’s ok, but it is a bit laggy. It’s useable though.
  3. Luminar 2018 – 1 star. It functions as expected, but the fact that you can’t browse is annoying.

3. Batch editing

Quite often, I’ll take a number of photos in the same kind of lighting conditions, same location, etc. I’ll want to apply the same settings to a number of photos and then go in and tweak them as needed. This is easy to do in Lightroom, Capture One, and On1 Photo RAW 2018, let’s see how these alternatives fare.

SILKYPIX actually does quite well in regards to batch editing. You can apply settings to multiple images by selecting the photos you wish and then making the adjustments in the sliders. You can also cut and paste settings between photos. It’s pretty much what you would expect from a modern RAW processor.

PhotoNinja doesn’t let you apply edits to multiple photos at once, but you can copy and paste adjustments between photos.

Luminar 2018 isn’t made for batch editing at all. You can open multiple images at a time – each in their own tab or window, but you can’t select multiple images at once and apply edits. What you can do though, is to create a preset, and then apply it to a batch of images, but that’s only when you use a convert and save dialogues box. It’s not optimal if you want to go in and tweak a bunch of images after applying a preset. You can get around all this, but it really puts them”work” in workaround. It’s too bad, because Luminar has some great editing options too.

With regards to batch editing, the scores for this section are as follows:

  1. SILKYPIX – 1 star.
  2. PhotoNinja – 1 star.
  3. Luminar 2018 – 1/2 stars. It’s just not designed for editing batches, but you can kind of get it accomplished.

4. Overall output

PhotoNinja is good for basic edits. The output is clean and the presets are generally nice. If you don’t want to do a lot of tweaking ,and are OK with the images not having auto optical correction enabled, it does a decent job. Portrait presets tend to shift a little too pink though. Thus, forcing you to alter the white balance manually – annoying, but you can make it work. If you want more creative renderings like mimicking film, cross processing, etc., you’ll need to look elsewhere as PhotoNinja wasn’t designed for that. It’s not the best at shadow or highlight recovery, but noise correction is good. Not great, but good. What is great about the program though, is it doesn’t take long to make a few exposure tweaks after picking a preset and having perfectly nice and useable images. I processed the next five images using the various presets of PhotoNinja with minor and basic tweaks.

2018-08-04 Grand Cayman 15-44-21 Photo Ninja2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 12-34-11 Photo Ninja2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 12-56-04 Photo Ninja2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 13-14-35 Photo Ninja2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 13-24-31 Photo Ninja

SILKYPIX has so much potential, but it’s plagued with performance issues. These issues make it difficult to unlock that potential without a lot of frustration. SILKYPIX offers camera setting presets (as tested on my Fuji X-H1). As a Fuji user, it’s nice to be able to select the different film emulations like Velvia or Astia. There’s also a multitude of other presets as well. Unfortunately, there’s no option to independently control highlights or shadows. Instead, it’s lumped together into an HDR control section that has on slider. Now you can change the HDR mode, but still one slider. It’s a mixed bag, unpredictable, and gives mixed results. I have no doubt that if you fight with the software long enough, you can get some nice images though. Furthermore, As shown earlier in this review, every adjustment you make causes the image to redraw at a painfully slow rate, the colors and contrast change between your adjustments, and what you think you’re going to get and what the redraw actually is are radically different. Also, the images tend to be schmeary (that’s the word I’m going with). Here’s the same five images as above, but processed with SILKYPIX. I fought with the software some, but I am not going to spend another minute battling with the software to try to improve the images any more – I’d rather use something else.

2018-08-04 Grand Cayman 15-44-21 SILKYPIX2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 12-34-11 SILKYPIX2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 12-56-04 SILKYPIX2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 13-14-35 SILKYPIX2018-08-06 Grand Cayman 13-24-31 SILKYPIX

Luminar 2018 has tons of options to let you tweak the image this way and that. It has the best highlight and shadow recovery of any tool. You can use LUTs. It’s AI filter and polarizer filter work wonders, and it allows you to really give your images any look you want provided you know how to work the software. Here are some samples from using Luminar.

2018-08-04 Grand Cayman 15-44-212018-08-06 Grand Cayman 12-34-11 Luminar 20182018-08-06 Grand Cayman 12-56-04 Luminar 20182018-08-06 Grand Cayman 13-14-35

Scoring for overall output is as follows:

  1. PhotoNinja – 1 star.
  2. SILKYPIX – 0 stars.
  3. Luminar 2018 – 1 star.

5. Value

PhotoNinja is decent, but not polished. It needs work. The developer has written online that he is working on version two of the software that in many ways is a rewrite of some of his code. If minimal processing is your thing, it’s worth trying it out. The next time I’m in a rush and I want to throw a ton of images at a program and let it work it’s magic, I’ll be giving PhotoNinja a try. Would I buy it now or wait for version two? I could toss a coin on this one. Download a trial and see if you like it.

SILKYPIX isn’t worth your time, money, or even downloading a trial. Run away and don’t look back.

Luminar 2018 is less than a hundred bucks and has many options. If you pair it with something like Photo Mechanic for browsing, then it’s quite capable. Of all the image processing suites it’s the best value.

Scoring for the value category is as follows:

  1. PhotoNinja – 1/2 star.
  2. SILKYPIX – 0 stars.
  3. Luminar 2018 – 1 star.

Conclusion and recommendation

The final rankings are as follows:

  1. SILKYPIX – 2 stars.
  2. PhotoNina – 3 stars.
  3. Luminar 2018 – 3 1/2 stars.

For me, I found this review terribly frustrating. I really wanted more from these competitors.

PhotoNinja has potential, but it’s just not there when it comes to performance, creative options, or consistent results.

Luminar is on it’s way too, but still not there yet – add a proper browser and batch editing, also the ability to import and add many LUTs all at once and easily scan between them when picking which one to use, and they’ll be golden.

SILKYPIX – performance has to be addressed. They need to find a developer that can help them unlock the potential of graphic card acceleration. Also,they need to rework a few of the tools and user interface – including language to make it more industry standard and easy for others to switch to and adopt.

Even though I was disappointed by these software packages, this experience was eye opening to me. I realized that for me, I want a RAW professor that does all of the following well:

  1. Browsing and cataloging.
  2. Editing in real time.
  3. Batch edits.
  4. Ability to have multiple creative options and utilize LUTs.
  5. Be affordable.
  6. Work on all the RAW files that I through at it.
  7. Good shadow and highlight controls.
  8. Be affordable.
  9. Frequent updates.
  10. Built in and automatic lens corrections for mirrorless lenses.

I’ve been using Capture One for edits and Photo Mechanic for cataloging, but the LUT implementation with Lutify.Me could be better in Capture One. You can’t adjust the percentage of the LUT strength easily in Capture One. Furthermore, it’s catalog chokes on large amounts of images and they’re not fixing the problem. Lastly, it too doesn’t support my GoPro RAW files.

So, I did the unthinkable. I hate myself for it, but I went back to Adobe. What’s the takeaway here? Using the alternatives with their problems, performance issues, and omissions drove me to Adobe. What does that say about the competition?!?!?

I’d like to thank the developers of PhotoNinja, SILKYPIX, and Luminar for allowing me to review their software. I’m more than willing to try out upcoming beta versions and give my opinion privately as well as to try out and review future updates.

  • Thank you for this review. I keep trying to use Luminar, but have the same issues. The lack of the ability to browse is virtually crippling for me. It sounds like I shouldn’t bother trying either of the others. 🙁

  • Observations from a long time Photo Ninja user:

    * It has no inbuilt lens corrections, you train it to each of your personal lenses. It takes seconds; once done it’s done forever and works very well. Each individual lens is unique and this system accounts for that.

    * You said Photo Ninja’s presets are nice. They’re not. They’re thermonuclear. Ditch them, use ‘neutral’ and tweak to taste or make your own presets (your pictures using Photo Ninja’s presets are horribly over-saturated).

    * Copying and pasting settings in Photo Ninja is simple and takes mere seconds. Photo Ninja batch renders to jpeg and other formats (annoyingly though, you can’t specify pixel dimensions, only a proportion of the cropped size).

    * Highlight recovery in Photo Ninja is actually amazingly good, but ideally you shouldn’t need to use it. Expose properly!

    * Having to hit ‘Apply’ and ‘Done’ gives you a chance to evaluate changes you make before committing to them (or rejecting them and going back). I like it.

    * There are a great many adjustments you can make in Photo Ninja that you have clearly not tried.

    * It’s probably worth pointing out that Photo Ninja is only an alternative to Lightroom in terms of being a raw converter. It has no digital asset management capability of its own.

    Several other things I like about Photo Ninja (don’t know if other raw converters do these things):

    * You can make light source profiles for each situation. It takes seconds and gives accurate colours (from which you can tweak if desired – I rarely need to).

    * It does automatic, very quick and effective chromatic aberration analysis and adjustment.

    * You can use it as a Photoshop plug-in. After raw conversion and basic global edits, Photo Ninja can send the file seamlessly to Photoshop for local edits, sizing, output sharpening, watermarking etc. No intermediate TIFF or DNG required. It also works seamlessly with Photomechanic, Lightroom and Aperture.

    * Whenever I’ve emailed Photo Ninja’s developers (just two people) with questions, I’ve got considered and helpful replies within hours. Impressive, considering I live on the other side of the world from their base in Texas.


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