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Luminosity Mask Panel Review

I have been a user of Tony Kuypers luminosity masks for many years, back when they were just actions creating channels. Luminosity masks have come a long way since then and have been adopted by a large number of photographers now that they are more accessible with these advanced panels. I had heard of other panels and being a geek, I wanted to see if these other panels would potentially improve my workflow, but I found that there were no good reviews out there comparing the panels. Lumenzia and Raya Pro were the only other panels I knew of at the time; then I started down the rabbit hole when I learned of ADP and Zone System Express, at the same time Tony had just released version 5 of his panel, I was in for a lot of learning. I created a spreadsheet to track all the features, which I go over in detail in the video.

Note: The spreadsheet below is more up to date than the video after making revisions based upon comments from the authors of the panels.

 

Comparison Matrix - click to see large

 

For my testing I spent lots of time with each panel to learn the nuances, I watched most of the training videos so that I could judge the quality of the materials as well. The video review ended up being over 1.5 hours, which is kind of ridiculous, but it is thorough! I even edited out the silence when the processor was working, but it still ended up being absurdly long. I can almost guarantee that you will learn many techniques from watching the video through.

Please see the notes below for a few updates on things I missed in the video.

Conclusions

TK Panel v5 by Tony Kuyper

The TK Panel is the most powerful panel out there; Tony continues to innovate making the panel faster and more powerful. I use the panel on every image I process and cannot imagine being without it now. The transition from v4 to v5 was painful initially, but once I understood how to utilize it I would never go back. Sean Bagshaw's training videos are fantastic, the only issue is that the 'Complete Guide to Luminosity Masks' was recorded with the v4 panel. While you can still learn a ton from this video series, it will be a bit of a challenge for the beginner to translate the techniques to v5, watching the additional videos for v5 from Sean will be critical to translate to the new panel. I am beginning to work on my own series with the v5 panel, so be sure to sign up for email notifications below. For those of you already familiar with luminosity masks, I highly recommend this panel, especially if you are on an older version of Tony's panel, this one blows them all away. If you are a beginner to luminosity masks, I do not necessarily recommend starting here unless you are committed to learning and want the best quality possible, then give it a shot.

Update: A few things I didn't mention in the video; the speed of panel is incredibly fast, overall I believe it is much faster than all the other panels. The TK panel creates luminosity masks using Photoshop calculations rather than curves layers like ADP and Lumenzia, this does give you better results, especially for extreme adjustments, in most day to day processing you will not notice a big difference.

ADPpanel+Pro v2 by Aaron Dowling

I was pleasantly surprised by this panel, Aaron has created a very clean and intuitive panel that I can highly recommend to users of all skill levels. The panel is not quite as powerful as the TK Panel, but it makes up for it with the training materials. Aaron has a fantastic set of videos that not only show you how to use the panel, but how to apply it in a workflow that is perfect for landscape photographers. Because the videos were based upon the current version of the panel, and the ease of use, this is the panel I would recommend to those just getting into luminosity masking.

Update: Aaron gave me a tip to make the panel work much faster, keep the properties window closed. Because the panel runs through a bunch of adjustment layers during mask creation, it has to refresh the properties window each time which slows it down massively. Below is an image of Aaron's recommended setup (click to see large) with ADP above the layers panel, and properties next to ADP. The panel is blazing fast now.

 

Lumenzia v3.0.2 by Greg Benz

This panel was beautifully designed, it is simple and elegant with great features. If you are not interested in all the extra features of the ADP panel and just want a simple panel for luminosity masks, I would take a long look at this panel. The way you can create luminosity masks using colors is much better than ADP but is very similar to TK. For pure luminosity mask creation, I believe Lumenzia is better than ADP overall.

Update: Somehow it completely slipped my mind that Greg does have a user manual that comes with the panel, in it are links to private YouTube videos (35 of them) which are fairly comprehensive. They were created with an older version of the panel, but it has not changed too much. With this update it is really hard to pick between Lumenzia and ADP for beginners, I would say the panel and training materials for ADP are targeted and better suited for landscape photographers, whereas the training materials for Lumenzia use many architectural photos.

Update 2: As noted above with ADP, if you keep the properties panel closed Lumenzia runs much faster!

Update 3: I mentioned the zones were pixelated or had artifacts, but I realized that I was comparing to the TK panel which works differently, TK is not as targeted and only partially selects a zone while feathering it out quite a ways, whereas Lumenzia is more targeted and feathers less, but is still effective. I do not consider this a negative anymore. For Photoshop shortcuts Greg has his Basic panel which is free that adds many of the shortcuts that the TK panel has, plus some additional tools. Lumenzia also has a 'Live' mode which is similar to the 'Auto-Apply' in the TK Panel, this immediately applies a clicked mask or zone to the selected layer so you can immediately see the results of changing a mask.

Lumenzia also has tools that none of the others do that I failed to mention:

  • Split Screen Masking allows you to see the mask and the image at the same time which is very useful.
  • Lighter/Darker Masks lets you select tones based upon the tones that surround it, click the link and it will make more sense, this is an extremely powerful tool!

With these revisions I find it exceptionally hard to pick between TK, ADP, and Lumenzia. If Greg can better organize his training materials he may be able to hold the top spot, this is really a fantastic panel.

Raya Pro 2.0 by Jimmy McIntyre

I had high hopes for Raya after hearing from many people how much they enjoyed using it, but I was disappointed. If these other panels were not available, I am sure I would put Raya to good use, but I now know the difference between a good panel and a great one. Raya is good, but the prior three panels are great. Using Raya feels like stepping back in time before panels became refined, it simply feels clunky in its design and programming. Jimmy does have great tutorials that you can learn a lot from, and the panel does have some useful tools that may help some people with exposure blending. Personally, I cringe every time I open the panel knowing I have to go on a mission to find what I am looking for, wait for all the channels to be created, not being able to visualize what the masks look like, etc. I am sorry Jimmy, but I cannot recommend the panel.

Update: Jimmy has let me know in the comments that I missed a few things. Raya does have general sharpening under the Finish tab called 'Sharpen Full Size' and 'Sharpen No Edge' which work decent. It also has a blend if function under Blend>Quick Blending>Rapid Blend If, this is a pretty basic way of exposure blending using Blend If, Lumenzia still has a much more powerful implementation of Blend If. It also has a gradient mask (different from the gradient in ADP), which is a simple way of using a gradient to exposure blend two images with a flat horizon. There is also a tool to find dust spots which works well. Jimmy mentioned that it does have a live preview of masks, but as I showed in the video it is very limited and you have to turn it on and off every time you make a change. Jimmy does include free updates for life, so when you purchase the panel that will be your last purchase ever. I still cannot recommend it even though Jimmy is obviously a great guy, I hope that he can re-design and catch up with the newer technology to make Raya a viable competitor.

Update 2: Jimmy has stated in the comments that the Luminosity section is now considered legacy and superseded by the Precision Masks. The precision masks are really only intended for exposure blending, which is obviously the direction he is taking the panel. The Precision masks are a slight improvement as they do not leave channels behind, but they are very limited. Again, you can achieve the same thing with the other panels in a more elegant refined way, if you know what you are doing. The Raya Pro panel is for the beginner to exposure blending that does not want to dive too deep into luminosity masks and wants the process fairly automated for them.

Zone System Express v3.6 by Blake Rudis

If you are considering this panel, I would not base your decision purely on this review. It was a bit unfair to include this panel considering it is not based upon luminosity masks, Blake agreed to have it included as it is often mentioned when talking about luminosity mask panels. Blake has created a unique workflow that you must adapt to in order to use his panel. It is very specific to his style of processing that uses a lot of color grading and slightly grungy HDR looking styles. If you are looking to re-create a film-style look, etc. then I would highly recommend this along with Blake's fantastic video series. For the traditional landscape photographer, I would not necessarily recommend this panel because the training videos are targeted towards a specific look using color grading, etc. The panel could certainly be put to good use by a landscape photographer, but the training is not targeted towards landscape photography in the way the TK or ADP panels are. Blake is certainly a master of Photoshop, and you should definitely check out his videos at f64 Academy, even if you do not like his style there is still plenty to learn from him.

Update: Blake was gracious enough to comment despite a bit of a harsh review, I have updated the description above to better reflect my opinions on this panel. I have also updated the spreadsheet to reflect some of his comments, there is a color zone picker, but no luminosity zone picker. You can use the color zones to change the saturation of colors, but this is not quite the same as the saturation masks in the other panels, as they select only the most saturated colors to adjust them specifically, with the color zones you would have to work with each color individually. I was mistaken in that there is a live preview, you do have to turn it on first, but then when you adjust the blend if it will update in real time.

MASK Equalizer 1.1 by Know How Transfer

I received a request to add this panel after I had done the video review, they were kind enough to send me the panel to review. It is well designed and simple to use, and cheap at $33, it is a bare bones way of creating luminosity masks that could be great. I cannot recommend it because of some severe limitations; first you cannot create a mask on an adjustment layer, you must first create the mask on a duplicate layer and then move the mask to your adjustment layer, a painful workflow. You cannot create a selection directly from the panel either, you would have to create the mask on a duplicated layer and Ctrl+Click the layer mask to activate the selection. They only have a simple user manual with four basic videos for training. I cannot recommend this panel based on these major downfalls. Portrait photographers may consider looking at their full suite of plugins.

Would love to hear what you use and why in the comments!

Update: I forgot to mention in the video another factor, support and adoption. Do these guys get back to you when you ask them a question? I have heard Tony and Sean are extremely responsive and helpful when posed with a question. Aaron has been very responsive with me on the ADP Panel and has a private group on Facebook to share images and ask questions which is currently around 500 members and fairly active. I have heard Greg is very helpful with Lumenzia, and he has a group on Google+ sharing/support which is currently over 1500 members and fairly active. From what I hear Jimmy only provides short answers to questions, but this may be an isolated incident. Blake seems very helpful but I have no experience beyond that.

The other consideration is adoption, what are the vast majority of people using? My guess would be the TK Panel by a long shot, all of the well known photographers I know use some version of it, yet I know of nobody personally that uses any of the other panels. In my workshops I demonstrate using the TK Panel, and my next video series on luminosity masks will be based upon TK.