Calling raw processing software a “Lightroom Killer” is a cliché. Nevertheless, this powerful suite of tools is beginning to eclipse the Adobe photographer’s plan. It now poses a real challenge to Lightroom and Photoshop. ON1 Photo Raw has another update and now offers everything most photographers need. That’s why I said goodbye to Lightroom and Photoshop. Will this tempt you too?
ON1 Photo Raw took a long time to evolve into what it is today. I first encountered it years ago under its old name, Perfect Effects. It was a viable alternative to early iterations of Nik software, and it worked as a plugin and a standalone program. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly impressed with its results at the time, which seemed to do a bit more than Instagram filters did later. But it began to grow and evolve.
Since then, it has come a long way. It now includes a browser module that includes an advanced catalog. Imagine the prodigious love child of Lightroom and Bridge. It has an inbuilt raw development and layer-based editing module like ACR and Photoshop combined. Then there’s the AI-powered resizing software, as well as the recently improved denoising tools that knock most other products out of the market. It’s also portrait enhancement, HDR processing, time-lapse creation, focus stacking, AI-controlled sky swap, a panorama stitching photo editor with an advanced search engine and many other tricks up its sleeves.
Switching between modules is immediate. It’s much faster to switch between raw development and image editors than between Lightroom and Photoshop. Additionally, On1 has clearly put a lot of work into developing its raw development software, so it doesn’t use the same generic algorithms employed by some of Adobe’s other competitors. I like the unadjusted results of ON1’s raw files from my cameras much more than Adobe’s, which I find too sharp and lacking.
The biggest change brought by the latest ON1 Photo Raw 2022.5 update is the inclusion of Resize AI within it. The AI version of Resize uses information formed by millions of photos, so the resizing process adds information to the image instead of just exploding the photo’s existing data. It uses examples of real-world textures to decide how the image looks. Resizing can be processed in batches for an entire folder of images, and the Resize module also allows batch printing.
I used ON1’s resizing AI to increase the size of the small images to more than double their original aspect ratio. The detail of magnified images is incredibly fine. I find that with my super sharp OM-1 photos, I need to increase the smoothing slider to avoid unwanted artifacts.
Another new feature is the increased number of lenses added to the lens correction feature. As a user of the OM (Olympus) system of excellent quality professional lenses, the lens profiles are not so important to me. However, if you have lenses that give barrel, pin damping, vignetting, and chromatic aberrations, that’s where the software really comes into its own. It also includes profiles for popular third-party lenses such as Tamron and Sigma. Even without a profile built into the software, as with compact fixed-lens cameras, ON1 Photo Raw accurately estimates the correction needed. You can easily make further manual adjustments if needed, for example, on photos taken with an old film SLR lens.
Another improvement concerns masking in Sky Swap. Advanced masking is one area where ON1 is miles ahead of Adobe. Even the latest introduction of sky masking in Lightroom leaves a lot to be desired, with the boundaries between the sky and foreground subjects ending in visible lines around them. ON1 gives smooth transitions and gaps between twigs and tree leaves are precisely masked.
If you’ve read my reviews before, you’ll know that I’m a fan of ON1 NoNoise AI. It’s a feature I rarely need with my new camera, although I have a few old images that I use it for. It works at the level of demosaicing deep within the raw process and does a fantastic job. But it also works on RGB photos, such as JPEGS, PNG, TIF, etc. With this last group, there have been considerable improvements in the latest version. It does an amazing job of cleaning up noise and retaining fine detail in the image.
Individual components on ON1 function as plugins for other applications. If you want to open them from Lightroom, Affinity, etc., the plugins must be purchased separately or added to a subscription. Likewise, it is possible to send images from On1 to external applications, in the same way as one would open another application from Adobe’s software. I love the black and white results I get from Silver Efex Pro, so being able to access it directly from ON1 is essential for me.
The user interface is well thought out. Some other programs, such as Affinity, copy the look of Photoshop. Many raw developers are similar to Lightroom. But the user interface of ON1 is quite different from that of Adobe. There are enough similarities in its operation to make it easy to switch from one program to another. But, like any new program, some things take a little getting used to.
Because it combines a browser with a catalog, importing images into the program isn’t necessary like you do with Lightroom. However, an advanced import method is available for importing images from a memory card. This is accessible via the file menu; there is no big import button that uses up valuable UI space. A small export button is located at the bottom right of the screen.
ON1 Photo Raw costs less than the Adobe Photographer package. Plus, you can buy it outright and not commit to a monthly fee. I still know photographers who balk at the idea of renting software. Buying it costs $99.99, though that drops to $79.99 for an upgrade.
Many photographers are tightening their belts as disposable income is becoming scarce. Therefore, switching to ON1 could be interesting for a lot of people who have to consider their budget. There are a multitude of subscription models. $89.99 per year gets you ON1 Photo Raw, plus all plugins and cloud sync with mobile app. Compare that with Adobe Photography Plan, which costs $119.88 per year and only gives you 20 GB.
With 1TB of cloud storage, ON1 Photo Raw costs $179 per year, which is $60 less than the equivalent Adobe package. This latest update is free for those who already own ON1 Photo Raw 2022.
What I do and don’t like about ON1 Photo Raw
Photoshop is a bloated program with many features that we never use because it’s aimed at digital artists and other creators who don’t work with photographs. ON1, however, is made by photographers and intended for photographers only. What I really like is its user-friendliness. It is aimed at all levels of photographer. An absolute beginner is served by one-click presets. Meanwhile, advanced layer adjustments and creative tools suit editing experts. Additionally, ON1 produces a wealth of video tutorials that explain how to use its wide range of tools.
Unlike Lightroom, the browse module allows me to access folders and files not imported into the catalog. Switching between the different modules is ultra-fast. I really like the results I get when editing raw files. Most of my images go no further than being edited in raw. If I need masks, the ON1 tools are far more advanced and precise than anything I’ve used.
If I’m editing, the layered editing tools are intuitive and varied. ON1 has some adjustments that would take some time with multiple layers to replicate in Photoshop. I’m always particularly taken with Dynamic Contrast and the Tone Enhancer to make an image stand out. They work much better than Adobe Raw’s Clarity and Detail sliders. Plus, noise reduction is miles ahead of Adobe’s muddy results.
It’s great that you can import catalog settings from Lightroom and adjustments from the Develop module as well. Once applied, they give a good approximation of the adjustments you have made. However, the import process takes a long time, especially if you also transfer tuning parameters. This may take several hours, depending on the size of your catalog and the speed of your computer.
Historically, I’ve had performance-related issues, but those were fixed in the 2021 release. ON1 Photo Raw 2022.5 runs smooth and fast on my 8-year-old computer.
Can I recommend it? Absolutely. The website offers a 14-day free trial and is worth a try.