eXtensions - Wednesday 22 November 2017


eXtensions - The Wednesday File: Macphun Luminar 2018 for the Desktop and RAW Power for iOS from Gentlemen Coders

By Graham K. Rogers


The Mac has long been associated with graphics and photography. In recent years with the increasing use of OS X and macOS more imaging-focussed applications, like Macphun's Luminar, have appeared. iOS is rich in image manipulation apps, but while DSLR RAW images were inevitably edited on the desktop, the lines are now blurred.

I am still waiting for ordering to open for the iPhone X. While I had thought this would be available 7 days before it goes on sale here, like it has been in other countries, the online page resolutely shows, Not yet available.

Perhaps for reasons similar to when it was forced to pull VPN apps from the app store in China, it was reported earlier this week that Apple has also removed Skype from sale there. As this is developed by Microsoft, this would not be a move taken lightly and I expect there was consultation between the two corporations before this happened.

One of the most famous photographs in the world is Bliss, which was used for the default Windows desktop in XP. PetaPixel (Michael Zhang) is reporting that the photographer, Charles O'Rear who is now 76 has produced a new series of wallpapers for smartphones: Maroon Bells (Colorado); Peek-A-Boo Slot (Utah); and White Pocket (Arizona).

A number of people were excited when an article appeared suggesting that the new iMac Pro might have an always-on A10 chip installed as well as the standard Intel processors (Chance Miller, 9to5 Mac). Always-on Hey Siri is one thing, but what else might Apple be planning?

Despite editing a great many photographs each year, I do not use Adobe Photoshop because I do not need all of the features it provides. Real photographers may well do, but most users do not need such powerful tools. Over the years I have used several applications with enough for what I need. Since System 9 for example I have had Graphic Converter installed on all my Macs. More recently I have been excited by the arrival of new applications, such as Affinity Photo, Pixelmator and RAW Power. I also have a number of apps by Macphun.

Although this developer produced some interesting early apps for iOS, their output for Macs has given me considerable flexibility, starting with Tonality. As soon as I tried this, back in 2014, I updated to the Pro version, particularly as this gave me a plugin for Aperture. There are also plugins for Adobe software. This app was later changed to Tonality CK. The app allows users to apply some particularly dramatic monochrome effects to images, and there are some editing tools to make it easy if further adjustments are needed.

When Apple added extensions to macOS and these were made available for Photos, Tonality CK was updated. I can now use it as a standalone app or from within Aperture or Photos. Other Macphun apps were also available. I have been using Intensify, similarly as standalone and in Photos with the extension.

Tonality CK
Editing with Tonality CK in Photos

In November 2016, Macphun released Luminar, a photo editor for the Mac which had a similar interface to Tonality, but worked in colour. Several types of filter were available and I was able to add to these in the following months. The initial cost of $59 for early orders was reasonable for what could be done in a few keystrokes and I was pleased with the results from the standalone app, and (like Tonality) from within Photos with its extension, and Aperture with a plugin.

In December 2016 it was updated (1.1.0) and was then called Luminar Pluto. There were a number of improvements, including Batch Processing, a Golden Hour Filter and a Dehaze Filter. There were also several other improvements. The update also made it clear there was more to come.

A further update in June this year (Luminar Neptune) added another set of useful tools, with some other improvements, including,

  • Accent AI filter - Uses artificial intelligence to create stunning images with a single swipe.
  • Quick and Awesome workspace - 3 filters for great results within seconds.
  • Plug-in integration with Creative Kit and Aurora HDR 2017.
  • Brush, Gradient and Radial Gradient tools - Dramatically faster speed yields more fluid editing.
  • Vignette filter - New Vignette Styles, Place Center & more deliver versatile options.
  • Memory management - Faster performance for large files and 5+ simultaneous open images.
  • User Interface changes - In-app animation & mode transitions make everything smoother.
  • Crop tool update - Custom crop sizes for every situation.
  • Local history - Separate history for Transform, Denoise, Clone & Stamp modes

Recently things changed with the updates to macOS (High Sierra) and iOS 11 as Apple changed the basic file format of photographs taken with the cameras, from JPG to HEIF (High Efficiency Image File Format - files may also have the HEIC extension). Some applications could not handle this new file type within Photos on the Mac (Affinity Photo, Luminar), while others (Tonality, RAW Power and more) were updated. The standalone apps were still able to open the files as exporting from Photos produces images that are compatible (TIFF, JPG, PNG).

I wrote to Serif (Affinity) and Macphun, who are changing their name to Skylum, about this. Both gave non-commital replies. Affinity Photo was updated shortly after, but this did not change HEIC access using the Photos extension, although another extension I use, Affinity Monochrome does work.

Luminar 2018 A short while after my email, Macphun announced a new version of Luminar: Luminar 2018, at a price of $69 (pre-order $59). I was able to upgrade for $39. When this arrived it was able to handle HEIF images within Photos, which did please me. I did note that it was lagging slightly in Photos (initiating and saving), but the choice of filter options made up for this. Tonality CK also lags slightly in Photos, but the standalone versions are fine, so the additional processing when working within Photos draws some power.

I installed it on the 13" MacBook Pro to start with and noted also that it does make use of the Touch Bar. I installed it on the Mac mini I use at work as well and this was fine (no Touch Bar of course). When I put it on a 15" MacBook Pro I also use, the extension was not available. In online discussions I found that I was not alone here.

The fix from Macphun was a little complex and required deleting the app with AppCleaner (which I had to download), restart the Mac and run Luminar 2018 again. It took a couple of attempts, but I finally saw the extension and all was well; but this is not what I expect from a paid application.

There are seven categories of filter: Basic, Street, Outdoor, Portrait, Travel, Dramatic and Aerial (new). There were also options for All Presets, which I am dubious about as every available filter is there, displayed at the bottom of the screen, rather than in groups; and for Favorites (the user can select specific filters that may be accessed often).

Luminar 2018
Luminar 2018 in Photos on the Mac

Access to the filters has been moved from the side panel to a Categories button between the image and the available Presets. This is much tidier and frees up some space to the right of the screen where the tools are shown. Below a Curves panel, there are several tools and sliders to edit and enhance the specific filter effect selected. Icons at the top of the screen show or hide these tools; while other icons reveal Crop, Free Transform, Clone & Stamp, and Erase tools.

Although I certainly like the output possible from Luminar 2018, if the annual update process continues in the same way, this is merely a yearly subscription: something I avoid if I can with the software I favour, which is why I stick with Graphic Converter and Affinity Photo among others. If Macphun (or Skylum) has another paid update next year, I will have to reconsider if this is truly the value I want from the application: plenty more fish in this sea.

RAW Power
RAW Power in Photos on the Mac

One of the other extensions I use is RAW Power from Gentlemen Coders, which provides a good selection of tools (standalone too) so that editing within Photos may be accomplished quite successfully. An interesting option in the preferences (accessible within the Photos interface) is a choice between GPU or CPU for exporting images. There is a warning about the slowness of using the CPU option.

Following the lead of Serif (Affinity Photo) Gentlemen Coders have now brought a version of RAW Power to the iOS platform, although only as a standalone app. Unlike Affinity Photo, this can also be used on the iPhone and is one of the few apps that allows me to edit RAW images. Once a photo is selected (and loaded) a number of tool options are shown at the bottom of the screen when the iOS device is in Portrait mode. When switched to Landscape mode, the tool options are displayed on the left, with the addition of a thumbnail image selector at the bottom of the screen.

RAW Power RAW Power

RAW Power on iPhone: Portrait mode

RAW Power
RAW Power on iPhone: Landscape mode

Tools available are Crop, RAW (several sliders are shown for RAW processing), White Balance, Curves, and Sharpen. White Balance, Curves, and Depth Effect are not included in the free version of the app. I unlocked these with an in-app purchase of 349 baht ($9.99). Depth Effect is only available when editing images originally taken with the dual lens system available on some iPhones.

Depth Effect did not appear for all of the images I had taken in Portrait mode, perhaps because I had edited them already. This tool only adjusts certain aspects of an available image (Highlights, Shadows, BG Highlights, BG Shadows, and Depth Mask). It does not adjust the depth itself as is possible in the Focos app I looked at recently.

Although I used the iPhone 7 Plus for most of the examination of RAW Power, I found it just as easy to use on the iPad Air I have. The obvious difference is that the larger screen makes viewing the image and controls much easier.

RAW Power
Editing with RAW Power on the iPad

The real advantage of RAW Power is its good collection of tools, even in the free version combined with its almost unique ability to edit RAW images on iOS devices. Both of the apps here are useful in their own ways. They are part of a new wave of apps that allow ordinary users to produce good output from a variety of sources and on a mix of platforms: desktop and iOS.

RAW Power
Editing with RAW Power on the iPad

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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