ON1 Photo Raw Review
Photographer Usena Lebendig spent a month shooting, editing and testing for this ON1 Photo Raw review. Discover whether she thinks its the true Adobe Lightroom alternative we’ve all been waiting for…
While I love both Photoshop and Lightroom, I’m definitely not a big fan of subscriptions.
Ever since Adobe decided to make the world’s favourite image editing software a subscription only product, I’ve been on a quest to find the best Lightroom alternative.
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With several other viable image editing and organisation softwares available in 2020, I’m keen to find the one that suits my workflow… and preferably one with no recurring monthly billing.
If you’re like me and believe that you should be able to own your image editing software outright, this review of ON1 Photo RAW will be of particular interest to you.
Billing itself as ‘The Photo Editor you’ve been searching for‘, can the latest release of ON1 Photo RAW really stand up to these claims?
I spent a month editing my landscape and studio work with it to find out.
What is ON1 Photo RAW?
ON1 Photo Raw is an image editor that combines photo organizing, editing and effects all in one program.
Like Skylum Luminar, it’s being touted as a serious Lightroom alternative, and offers some features that question the need for Photoshop too.
It’s designed for all levels of photographers, and has all of the tools most photographers need in their workflow from beginning to end.
This means it has everything from photograph organizing (a database based off your computer’s file system) to a develop module, as well as effects, sharing, and printing.
Like Luminar, ON1 Photo Raw comes both as a plugin and as a standalone program. This review will be looking into the standalone version as a possible alternative/replacement for Lightroom.
Let’s get into the details.
Sometimes it takes a while for a program to fully mature. Until this last update, ON1’s interface was pretty kitschy. It definitely didn’t have much of a pro feel to it.
With Photo Raw, however, the interface has gotten a bit of an overhaul and looks, feels, and performs more like a serious photo editing tool.
In the past, ON1 Photo Raw’s interface worked more like Lightroom’s with different modules for different purposes. For example, the Develop, Effects, and Layers features were all in separate modules and the app wasted a fair amount of time saving files anytime you switched between them.
Now there are only two different modules: Browse and Develop. All image adjustments and effects can now all be found in the same place and you can move between them much more easily. This is a huge change.
The layout is pretty similar to Lightroom, with columns both right and left and an optional film strip at the bottom.
In Browse mode, files, albums, filters, and tethered shooting shows up on the left; metadata, file info, and keywords to the right.
Unlike Luminar, ON1 gives a lot of attention to metadata data and keywording is easy.
You can also create metadata presets, show EXIF data, and more. This most recent update also creates a keyword master list, allows you to correct or erase misspelled keywords, and generally makes the whole process pretty up front and simple.
Browse mode also allows for numerous right-click options and for mouse/trackpad scrolling. The Develop mode doesn’t.
As far as the Develop module is concerned, to me there’s quite a bit lacking. On1 only has four panels in it’s Develop panel: Tone & Color, Details, Lens Corrections, and Transform.
Many basic adjustments are under Tone & Color (white balance, highlights/midtones/shadows, structure, saturation, etc.), but to get to Curves, HSL, Vignette, or Split Toning you have to navigate over to the Effects panel, which can be time-consuming.
Unlike Luminar and Capture One, On1’s interface is not very customizable either. With Luminar for example, if you edit often with Curves or HSL you can create a workspace preset that always has that show up.
With On1, what you see is what you get – not necessarily a bad thing, but just something to note.
Another thing that bothers me is that On1’s auto-adjust options are pretty non-functional for me. On my pro shots I adjust everything manually, but I have many shots that don’t need that level of attention. It speeds up my workflow to have a few good auto adjust features and I’m used to having decent options.
For example, Luminar’s Accent AI does great on many types of photos, Capture One’s auto levels works really well, and Photoshop’s auto curves gets things right most of the time. On1 has gotten it right only once so far.
I’ve also grown fond of Capture One’s copious reset abilities – it allows you to reset just about every single slider without affecting the others.
In On1, all of the basic adjustments under Tone & Color are affected if you choose to reset. You can, of course, hit Command-Z to undo or go to the history panel, but it’s not the same.
There are also, strangely enough, no right-click options when in the Develop module. What’s up with that? If you’re like me and use them all the time, this will definitely be frustrating.
Of course, these things will only affect you if you have an established workflow with another program. If you’re new to photo editing or don’t have a particular way you operate, you’ll be fine.
One thing that can be said for On1’s Raw Photo editor, is that it comes with a couple of nifty features that aren’t often found in other comparable software at this price point.
HDR /Panorama/Focus Stacking
On1Photo Raw comes with the ability to photo merge in a number of different ways, which is far more than many of its competitors.
One of ON1’s more prized effects, The ON1 portrait filter is now completely integrated into the Develop module. It automatically finds faces, where it creates a separate mask and adjustment panel for each face. From there you can go on to adjust very particular elements of the skin, eyes, and mouth.
A little goes a long way with each of these sliders and it’s easy to overdo, but definitely a seriously cool feature to have in an editing program.
Following in their quest to be an all-in-one editing program, ON1 allows for editing with layers, much like Photoshop. In fact, it even saves the resulting files as Photoshop files.
Before this most recent update, Layers were a separate panel and weren’t part of the non-destructive workflow.
With ON1 Photo Raw however, that’s all changed. Now Layers is part of the Develop module and gets saved as such, meaning you can always go back to them and readjust.
Another super cool feature of On1 Photo Raw is the ability to use text in your images. It basically works just like Photoshop by creating a separate layer for whatever you’re wanting to write.
Photoshop and other paint/design programs have this, but this is definitely the first time I’ve seen it integrated into photo editing software before. Nice touch!
Lightroom Migration Assistance
ON1 obviously wants those Lightroom users who are looking to switch. To this end, they’ve created this great migration assistant that brings everything non-destructively over into ON1, including settings from Lightroom’s Develop module including local adjustments, cropping, and retouching.
Once they’ve migrated, you can then edit everything as normal in ON1 – a huge time-saver.
ON1 has a number of other tools, some expected (like the healing brush), some a surprise (like the AI Quick mask). Here’s a list of the most important ones:
- Healing Brush and Erase
- Clone and Stamp
- Masking (includes AI Quick Mask)
- Refine Edge (for masks)
- Transform (complete with Keystone adjustments)
- Local Adjustment Panel
Of these, the healing brush worked well, and I was most unimpressed with the AI “Quick” Mask, which saves a lot of time when making multiple selections.
Filters and Effects
ON1 Photo Raw comes with filters for adjustments and effects, as well as a number of excellent presets.
I was somewhat disappointed by the filter selection, being used to both Photoshop and Luminar. In fact, the only ones that fit into my regular workflow are basic adjustments that I think should be in the Develop panel – Curves, HSL, Color, etc.
On the plus side, each effect has the ability to be used both with a mask and as a separate layer, which gives you precise control over where and how the effects occur.
I guess to make up for the limited amount of adjustment filters, ON1 has plenty of presets that are actually really cool.
I tend to only use presets when I know an image has potential but am out of ideas/inspiration. The ones that ON1 provides were both useful and effective.
That being said, many of the presets I liked were using filter effects that could be found in Luminar, but are strangely absent on ON1 outside of presets (i.e. the Orton Effect and Image Radiance).
ON1 Photo RAW Strengths
In my opinion, the greatest strength of ON1 Photo Raw is the fact that they have just about everything you need in one place.
If you’re satisfied with how the adjustments and effects work, you really don’t need to go outside to anything other program or plugin.
You have photo organization, image adjustments, effects, photo merging (HDR, etc.), layers, and even text all in a single program. If you’re looking for one program that does it all, ON1 Photo Raw pretty much wins that hands down.
As far as performance is concerned, ON1 is no sluggard in terms of speed. Well, except when using the AI selection tool. In terms of HDR photo merging it’s actually much faster than many other programs.
I also appreciate the fact that ON1 has no problem recognizing and correcting for whatever lens I’m using, even on DNG files. That was a pleasant surprise.
And metadata. I don’t know what’s up with Luminar not putting metadata into L3 (what’s photo organization without metadata?), but ON1 has a healthy metadata system that is easy to use and perfectly functional. Thank you.
Another strength is having the portrait retouch panel integrated into the Develop module. Anyone looking to get gorgeous portraits really should try it out.
Of course, I could do all the same adjustments in Photoshop, but it’s nice not having to go out of one program and into another, and a neat little time saver if you need frequent access to those tools.
ON1 Photo RAW Weaknesses
While ON1 Photo Raw has a number of great assets, I found a few weakness with it as well.
Raw Photo Rendering
To begin with, I found its Raw photo conversion lackluster at best. To my eye it’s not as good as Luminar 3, which it’s most similar to in price and functionality. It’s far beneath Capture One standards too.
What both Luminar and ON1 haven’t seem to have considered is that layer functionality is only as good as our ability to make selections/masks. Painting in takes a long time compared to the quick selection selection tools of Photoshop.
For example, taking out the background in the photo above would only take me moments in Photoshop. Not so in ON1 Photo Raw.
ON1 tries to make up for this with the AI Quick Mask, but I find it unable to even do the simplest of tasks (i.e. remove a green screen). I gave it plenty of information – the red and green marks – and it still missed a few things. On top of that, it took over five minutes to render.
In addition, I found that I couldn’t resize or move my image while drawing in the mask. That’s particularly unhelpful. I had to toggle out to the hand/view tool every time I wanted to resize. So while ON1 allows for edge refinement, not being able to navigate at the same time is a serious drawback.
Difficult to Back Up
Most reviews seem to ignore this fact, but there’s no built-in way to backup ON1’s database. That means that if something gets corrupted, all your image adjustments are out the window if you don’t have side-car files.
Unlike Lightroom, the database is not stored in a single file. Instead, it’s a collection of image edits, preferences, and presets spread across multiple files.
The way around this is by having the side-car files checked (they’re optional), but personally I hate sidecar files – they clutter up my folders.
The bottom line is, if you’re planning to use ON1 for important photo-shoots, put some serious thought into your backup system.
ON1 Photo Raw vs Lightroom
As far as editing tools are concerned, there’s a lot of crossover between both ON1 Photo Raw and Lightroom.
In fact, on the surface, ON1’s interface looks very similar. Most of the adjustment sliders have the same names, many of the keyboard shortcuts are the same, and the placement of the tools is also very similar.
That being said there are also a lot of differences. I’ll only include a brief list here, as we’ll be going more in depth with a comparison/contrast in a future article.
- ON1 uses a database for photo organization while Lightroom uses a catalog system. You don’t need to import photos into ON1 – they’re already there the moment you boot up the program. ON1 is easier to learn in the beginning.
- While Lightroom’s catalog system has higher learning curve, they can also be backed up, with all your edits preserved at a given date. ON1’s database has no internal backup system.
- ON1 has layers, including masks and blend modes very similar to Photoshop’s. Lightroom does not.
- Both programs can create panoramas and HDRs. ON1, however, now has focus stacking.
- The most recent versions of Lightroom have more advanced sorting tools, such as facial recognition and artificial intelligence keywording.
- ON1 doesn’t have custom color profiles or dual monitor support, two things that pros often use.
- Lightroom has a number of third-party plugins available, as well as hoards of preset packages. ON1 has a much smaller third-party world, though the built-in presets are quite impressive.
- Lightroom has more advanced search options.
- ON1 doesn’t have slideshows, geotagging, or online album compatibility (SmugMug, Flickr, Facebook, and so on). Lightroom does.
- Lightroom is only available as a subscription. On1 is a perpetual license.
What’s new in ON1 Photo RAW 2020?
With the latest 2020 update, several powerful new features have been brought out, free for all existing ON1 users. These include:
- Professional Grade Speed Updates
- A New ON1 Mobile Ecosystem with ON1 Sync
- Color & Tone Perfection Using AI
- Trending Looks & Styles
- Go Back in Time
- Get the Photos You Saw on the Back of Your Camera with AI
- Golden Hour Power
- Portfolios and prints
- Control the Weather Make it rain or snow or foggy.
- Shift Entire Color Ranges
- Get Natural Color with Custom Profiles
- Increased Print Options
- Have the Sharpest Eye
You can see more information about these updates here.
It’s good to see that ON1 is constantly striving to keep up with its competition, and in some ways actually overtake them with a series of solid updates that really improve on the already impressive software.
ON1 Photo RAW Price (50% Discount)
That’s right – ON1 Photo Raw is available for much ess than the 12 month cost of Lightroom/Photoshop… AND you get a perpetual license.
For everything you get, that’s quite affordable – especially if it gets you off those dreaded Adobe subscriptions…
There’s also the ON1 Plus Pro bundle, which offers free upgrades for future versions as long as you stay subscribed. With the Pro bundle, you also get:
- 12 Premium Monthly ON1 Courses
- 6 Premium Photography Courses
- Premium Monthly Rewards
- Private Community Forum access
- Access to Educators
- …some other random stuff!
You can also click here to download a free 30 day trial of the latest version of the software, for both Windows & Mac.
There’s no limitations to the trial, and it only begins the first time you actually launch the software.
ON1 Photo Raw Review | Final Words
Is On1 Photo Raw capable of being your one and only photo editor? In my opinion that depends on your workflow. I’d say yes if:
- you don’t do a lot of work with layers and/or you don’t need selections that have a high degree of finesse,
- you don’t mind having side cars and backing them up frequently,
- you’re not accustomed to using third-party plugins like Nik or Topaz filters or Luminar,
- you like the way ON1 renders Raw images.
Also, if you need high-end sorting and viewing features, Lightroom is still the better option. You may also not like how the various sliders make adjustments. I also prefer Aurora HDR to either ON1’s or Lightroom’s HDR, and it comes as a plugin for Lightroom.
For most other things, ON1 Photo Raw performs perfectly well for day-to-day needs – exceptionally well in others.
You might have seen my review of Luminar and more recently, my review of Capture One Pro – they’re both great options when it comes to organising and editing your images with no recurring monthly payments.
On1 Photo Raw joins these world-class software solutions – if you’re just needing a standard photo organizer/editor, you should definitely give it a try. It’s certainly one of the fullest-featured all-in-one editing programs on the market right now.
Not sure if it will work for you? You can always give it a free 30-day trial. If it works with your workflow and you like the output, you’re golden.
|Save over 50%!Subscription-free image editor with powerful features and regular upgrades. Recommended for all levels of photographer.||Check Price|
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.