Calling raw handling software a “Lightroom Killer” is a cliche. While, this powerful suite of tools is starting to overshadow the Adobe Photographer’s Plan. It is now posing a real challenge to Lightroom and Photoshop. ON1 Photo Raw has another update, and now it offers everything most photographers need. It’s why I’ve said goodbye to Lightroom and Photoshop. Will it tempt you too?
ON1 Photo Raw has taken time to evolve into what it is today. I first came across it years ago under its old name, Perfect Effects. It was a viable alternative to the early iterations of the Nik software, and it worked as a plugin and stand-alone program. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with its results back then, which seemed to do little more than what Instagram filters later did. But it started to grow and evolve.
Since then, it has come a long way. It now includes a browser module that incorporates an advanced catalog. Imagine the prodigious love child of Lightroom and Bridge. It has an integrated raw development and layers-based editing module like ACR and Photoshop combined. Then there’s the AI-based resize software, plus the newly improved denoise tools that knock spots off most everything else on the market. It is also a portrait enhancing, HDR processing, time-lapse creating, focus stacking, AI-controlled sky swapping, panorama stitching photo editor with an advanced search engine, and many other tricks up its sleeves.
Switching between the modules is immediate. It’s much faster to switch back and forth between the raw development and the 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 ON1’s unadjusted results of my cameras’ raw files far more than Adobe’s, which I find over-sharpened and lacking.
The most significant change brought by the latest update to ON1 Photo Raw 2022.5 is the inclusion of Resize AI within it. The AI version of Resize uses information trained by millions of photos, so the resizing process adds information to the image instead of just blowing up the photo’s existing data. It uses real-world texture examples to decide how the image should look. The resizing can be batch processed to an entire folder of images, and the Resize module also enables batch printing.
I’ve used ON1’s Resize AI to increase the size of small images to more than double their original proportions. The detail in the enlarged images is incredibly fine. I find that with my super-sharp OM-1 photos, I must increase the smoothness slider to avoid unwanted artifacts.
Another new feature is the increased number of lenses added to the lens correction feature. As an OM System (Olympus) user of the excellent quality pro lenses, lens profiles aren’t such a big deal for me. However, if you have lenses that give barrelling, pin cushioning, vignetting, and chromatic aberrations, then this is where the software comes into its own. It also includes profiles for popular third-party lenses such as Tamron and Sigma. Even with no profile built into the software, such as with compact fixed-lens cameras, ON1 Photo Raw accurately estimates what correction is needed. You can easily make further manual adjustments if required, for example, to photos shot with an old film SLR lens.
Another improvement is with the masking in Sky Swap. Advanced masking has been an area where ON1 has been 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 up with noticeable lines around them. ON1 gives smooth transitions, and the gaps between the twigs and leaves of trees are accurately masked.
If you’ve previously read my reviews, you’ll know I am a fan of ON1 NoNoise AI. It’s a function I rarely need with my newest camera, although I have some old images I do use it for. It works at the de-mosaicking level deep in the raw process and does a fantastic job. But it also works on RGB photos, such as JPEGS, PNGs, TIFs, etc. With that latter group, there have been considerable improvements in the latest release. It does an incredible job of cleaning noise and retaining fine details in the image.
The individual components on ON1 work as plugins for other apps. If you want to open them from Lightroom, Affinity, and so on, the plugins need to be purchased separately or added to a subscription. Likewise, it is possible to send images from On1 into external applications, in much the same as one would open another app from Adobe’s software. I do like the black and white results I get from Silver Efex Pro, so being able to open into that directly from ON1 is essential to 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 ON1’s UI is quite different from Adobe’s. There are enough similarities in how it works to make the change from using one program to another easy. But, like any new program, some things take a little learning.
Because it combines a browser with a catalog, importing pictures into the program is unnecessary as you do with Lightroom. However, an advanced import method is available to bring images in from a memory card. That is accessible through the file menu; There’s not a big import button using 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’s Package. Moreover, you can buy it outright and not commit yourself to a monthly fee. I still know photographers who balk at the idea of renting software. Buying it outright costs $99.99, although this drops to $79.99 for an upgrade.
Many photographers are tightening their belts as disposable income is becoming scarcer. Accordingly, switching to ON1 might be attractive for many who need to consider their budgets. There are a host of subscription models. $89.99 annually gets you ON1 Photo Raw, plus all the plugins and cloud synchronization with the mobile app. Compare that with Adobe Photography Plan, costing $119.88 per year and only gives you 20 GB.
With 1 TB of cloud storage, ON1 Photo Raw is $179 per year, $60 less than the equivalent Adobe package. This latest upgrade 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 we never use because it is aimed at digital artists and other creators who are not working with photographs. ON1, however, is made by photographers and aimed at photographers. What I really like about it is its usability. It is aimed at every level of the photographer. An absolute beginner is served by single-click presets. Meanwhile, advanced layers adjustments and creative tools suit editing experts. Furthermore, ON1 produces a host of tutorial videos that explain how to use its wide array of tools.
Unlike Lightroom, the browse module allows me to access folders and files not imported into the catalog. Switching back and forth between different modules is lightning fast. I really like the results I get from editing raw files. Most of my images go no further than just being tweaked in raw. If I need masks, then ON1s tools are far more advanced and accurate than anything else I have used.
If I do any editing, the layered editing tools are intuitive and wide-ranging. ON1 has some adjustments that would take a while with multiple layers to replicate in Photoshop. I am still particularly taken by Dynamic Contrast and the Tone Enhancer for making an image pop. They work far better than Adobe Raw’s clarity and detail sliders. Furthermore, the noise reduction is miles ahead on Adobe’s muddy results.
It’s great that you can import the catalog settings from Lightroom and the Develop Module adjustments too. Once applied, they give a close approximation of the adjustments you made. However, the import process takes a long while, especially if you transfer the adjustment settings too. You may need several hours to do this, depending on the size of your catalog and the speed of your computer.
Historically, I experienced some performance-related issues, but these were ironed out in the 2021 version. ON1 Photo Raw 2022.5 operates smoothly and quickly on my 8-year-old computer.
Can I recommend it? Definitely. The website has a 14-day free trial and is worth giving it a go.