New Year New Image Editors

We all have our New Year’s traditions. One of mine is trying out new1 image editors and reevaluating older familiar editors that I’ve put aside. This year I looked at three editors.

  1. Luminar AI
  2. Picture Window Pro 8
  3. GNU GIMP 2.10.22

Luminar AI

Let’s start with Luminar AI. Luminar AI makes the possibly true claim that it’s the first commercially available “AI-Driven” image editor. Whenever salespeople concatenate qualifying phrases set your bullshit detector to eleven and proceed skeptically.

To start, the entire field of “Machine Learning,” and all its little subdisciplines like “AI image processing,” are horribly misnamed. XKCD pointed this out in this pithy cartoon.

I don’t know what you should call the many relatively novel image processing algorithms found in products like Luminar AI but calling them “intelligent” completely misses the mark.

Only conscious and self-aware entities can be considered intelligent.

Luminar AI is not self-aware — thank the all squiggly FSM for that — I wouldn’t want it in my house if it was!

Lucky for Luminar AI the only thing I ask of image editors is, “do they help me edit images?” In Luminar’s case, the answer is a resounding yes!

I’m a Luminar AI newbie but I already appreciate how it’s simplified some tedious editing tasks like sky replacement. Consider my boring light shot of the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

To replace the dull sky in this shot I’d generate a mask based on sky color and then tweak the boundary to avoid including tower and tree parts. Tweaking masks and selections is a time-consuming pain. Luminar AI eliminates the drudgery, pushing a few buttons yields.

Sky replacement has a long pedigree in photography. The practice started with 19th-century landscape photographers. They made film by mixing chemicals and spreading the mixture, called an emulsion, on large glass plates. Plate emulsions were very slow, (would you believe an effective ASA below four?), and “disproportionately sensitive to blue and violet light, resulting almost always in overexposed skies.” To fix their washed-out skies2 19th-century photographers resorted to darkroom trickery. Luminar AI has greatly streamlined this old image hack.

There’s more to Luminar AI than sky replacement. I’ve found its portrait and face manipulation features useful. The program does a very good job of isolating eyes in images. Consider this diptych of a boy holding dollars.

The original, on the left, has dark pit eyes. The Luminar AI version on the right has enlarged fake eyes and model smooth skin. You wouldn’t normally push pixels this hard but sometimes a little eye and skin tuning can make a portrait pop. I’ve only used Luminar AI for a few weeks but it’s already earned a spot on my image tools team.

Picture Window Pro 8

My next editor, Picture Window Pro 8, is a new version of what I have long considered the “best bang for your buck” image editor out there. I found Picture Window Pro back in 2003. I was looking for an inexpensive editor that could handle 16-bit channel images. Photoshop Elements, my second image editor, only supported 8-bit images and full Photoshop was way too expensive.3 Adobe’s larceny drove me to Picture Window Pro (PWP) but once I there I never looked back. PWP was much faster and more memory efficient than Photoshop and it’s many competitors. Traits that it maintains to this day. In 2021 it’s still the fastest loading editor I use.

I stuck with Picture Window Pro from 2003 to 2017, longer than most marriages. But, in 2017 Jonathan Sachs, the gifted developer of PWP, decided to retire the program. It was PWP’s retirement that led me to start trying out new image editors every year. My first post PWP editor was Affinity Photo. Affinity Photo is a fine tool that I use all the time, see my review here, but I missed PWP. So I was delighted when Picture Window Pro 8 emerged.

Picture Window Pro 8 (PWP8) has revamped the older program for modern large displays. You can now scatter PWP8 windows all over your giant monitor. The program has also introduced a well considered transformation history feature that makes it easy to track and reproduce long edit chains.

And, if you thought PWP delivered bang for the buck, PWP8 takes it to a new level. PWP8 is free for personal and commercial use. The developers ask you to make a small PayPal donation: a fee I gladly paid. High quality free is a killer combination! If you edit images on Windows machines you owe it to yourself to get PWP8.

GNU GIMP 2.10.22

GNU GIMP, or “The GIMP,” as its affectionately known, is a venerable open source system that’s undergone major upgrades in recent years. The most significant change has been the edition of high bit channel support. The GIMP now supports 16-bit channels and new high bit image formats like HEIC. This puts the GIMP on par with commercial editors.

I’ve always liked the GIMP’s vast potpourri of image hacking addins. You can tell that few marketers and product designers were involved in their development. Some guy, and let’s be honest ladies it was probably a guy, had an image edit itch and cranked out a GIMP addin to scratch it. This explains the existence of, “nobody asked for that,” tools like mapping images onto cubes and cylinders.

The GIMP is fun, sprawling, capable, comprehensive, idiosyncratic, and free: really free! If you’re so inclined you can fetch GIMP source code and build your own version. Sadly, this freedom has been abused. A fragile wokester that considered the word “GIMP,” which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, ableist4 has forked The GIMP and built a renamed version that supposedly won’t melt effeminate snowflakes. I am completely fed up with wokespeak; I will always call The GIMP “the GIMP” and so should you!


  1. New to me!↩︎

  2. Hacking skies in paintings probably goes way back to cave and rock artists.↩︎

  3. Some things never change, in 2021 Photoshop is still too expensive and now you are forced to subscribe to it.↩︎

  4. We can be thankful it still identifies as a program!↩︎

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