ON1 Photo Raw Review


Finding the photo editing software that’s right for you can a challenge these days – there are so many different options.

While Adobe Lightroom remains the industry standard, its competition has been fierce and offers some phenomenal alternatives. ON1 Photo RAW is one of the strongest competitors.

ON1 Photo RAW 2021

Subscription-free image editor with powerful features and regular upgrades. Recommended for all skill levels.

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Now, with the recent release of Photo Raw 2021, ON1 once again shows itself to be a prime contender in the Lightroom-alternative game.

Want to know what’s new? Not sure if it’s the photo editor for you?

Read on.

What is ON1 Photo RAW?

  • Excellent photo organization and metadata tools
  • Full-fledged photo editing suite
  • Nice UI for intermediate and advanced users
  • Powerful Artificial Intelligence Portrait editing
  • Excellent Replace Color filter
  • ON1 Resize is included
  • HDR, Focus Stacking, and Panorama stitching is included
  • Includes mobile and photo syncing options
  • Social media sharing is easy
  • Excellent presets
  • No subscription necessary
  • Browser and Quick Mask can be slow
  • Masking options clunky
  • Primitive healing brush
  • Steep learning curve for beginners
Use coupon code SHOTKIT to save 30% at checkout.

Billed as one of the top Lightroom alternatives, ON1 Photo RAW 2021 is designed to do everything a photographer could possibly need in a photo editor. From start to finish, Photo RAW has just about everything.

Similar to Lightroom Classic, it combines a powerful photo organizer with a strong Raw processor and a Develop module that lays all the standard photo adjustments at the photographer’s finger tips. The layout and user interface is also similar to Lightroom, making for an easy switch-over.

At the same time, ON1 Photo Raw also has the Photoshop-like functionality of layers, complete with advanced masking, blending options, and even the ability to add text. Unlike Photoshop, all of Photo RAW’s edits are non-destructive – you can always come back and change things, going back to the original photo if you so choose.

Add to this a large number of effects and presets that everyone from the beginner to the advanced photographer will appreciate.

The cherry on top? ON1 has a number of proprietary photo editing apps that they include in their Photo RAW editor, each of which is extraordinary on its own.

Used as a standalone program, On1 Photo RAW is intended to be the only software you’ll ever need – from its library function and advanced photo editing to its photo merging capabilities. Once you’re finished editing, Photo Raw provides industry-standard image enlargement, full printing capabilities, and social media sharing integration. There’s even a mobile version and cloud storage option.

Another bonus is that, while there are subscription options available, you can choose to purchase the program outright. There’s no need to be tied to the subscription model if that’s not your thing. (That’s why so many people left Adobe in the first place – to get away from the subscription model.)

No other program literally does it all, and certainly not at this price point.

And never fear, if you still love Photoshop and Lightroom but still want some of the excellent features ON1 Photo RAW brings, you can use it as a plugin as well.

  • What is ON1 Photo RAW 360?

One thing that sets ON1 Photo RAW apart from almost all of its other competitors is that it now offers cloud storage and synchronizing through Photo RAW 360.

If you’re someone who likes to access and edit your photos from your phone or tablet, Photo RAW 360 will be a game-changer. Used in tandem with ON1’s Photo RAW for Mobile, you can organize, edit, and share your photos from any of your devices.

Note, Photo RAW 360 is only offered on the subscription model. There’s no one-time purchase available. It can be bought as a subscription add-on for existing owners of ON1 Photo RAW, or you can bundle both together in a subscription.

  • What is ON1 Photo RAW Mobile?

In order to use ON1 Photo RAW on your smartphone or tablet you’ll need ON1 Photo RAW Mobile, a free companion app for Android and iOS devices. It offers a number of editing tools and comes with a built-in camera app.

While not as fully-fledged as the desktop version, ON1 Photo RAW Mobile has an impressive warehouse of tools and editing options. All the standard photo adjustments are there: exposure, white balance, contrast, noise reduction, sharpening, etc. It also comes with many of ON1’s excellent effect filters and presets, as well as its masking features, new healing brush, and the ability to do local adjustments.

You can use ON1 Photo RAW Mobile on its own, but it really works best with ON1’s 360 cloud sync service (described above).

  • System Requirements


  • What’s new in ON1 Photo RAW 2021?

With the latest 2021 update, many powerful new features have been released – click the dropdown buttons below for all the details:

New Features in ON1 Photo RAW for Computers
  • New Full Integration of ON1 Portrait AI — ON1 Portrait AI finds each face in your photos, analyses them to find the eyes and mouth, and classifies them to apply the correct retouching. It gives excellent results with minimal effort using frequency separation-based skin retouching. It’s also super easy at making more complex adjustments such as face shape and lighting. Each edit is completely non-destructive and re-editable for fine-tuning as well, giving photographers complete control over their final look. The addition of ON1 Portrait AI into ON1 Photo RAW will enable portrait photographers to automatically retouch an entire shoot, detecting and analyzing each face, then give them best-of-breed control and results for manual retouching when needed.
  • New Spot Healing Brush — A new modern approach to removing distractions like dust spots, power-lines, and unwanted people from photos. The Spot Healing Brush is not only faster than current tools; it maintains full non-destructive adjustments for each area removed.
  • New Replace Color Filter — Easily change the color of an object to any new color. It’s perfect for tweaking or changing the color of objects like eyes, flowers, buildings, and apparel.
  • New Custom Brush Shapes — Brushing has taken a quantum-leap in control and creativity. Choose from a variety of custom brush shapes or even import brush collections. The new flow control in brushing makes building up a mask more natural too.
  • New Smart Organize Mode — Take control over cluttered photo archives. Quickly find duplicates or find and group photos that have a similar appearance, location, or time. Smart Organize Mode can help cull photo libraries to find the best photos in a series.
  • New Color-Sensitive Gradient Masks — Combines the new color-sensitive technology with gradient masks. When enabled, it detects the color under the gradient and applies the mask to only that adjustable color range. It makes it a breeze to mask areas like skies while maintaining things like buildings or trees that go into the sky.
  • New Plugin Support — In addition to working as plugins for Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, and Apple Photos, ON1 now extends into those using workflows in Affinity Photo, Corel Paint Shop Pro, and Capture One (coming soon). Easy access to ON1 Develop, Effects, and Portrait AI are available right inside these apps as plugins.
  • New Quick Slideshow & Fullscreen Preview — In only one click, launch a full-screen slideshow complete with user-adjustable delay and an elegant dissolve transition. Or use the new full-screen preview mode to maximize your work area on a small screen.
  • New Batch HDR and Pano — Save time by batch processing HDR brackets or panoramas. Organize brackets into sub-folders, then let ON1 Browse build new HDR and panos automatically, a life-saver for real estate photographers.
  • New Color Fill Layers — In ON1 Layers, quickly set a background color for a composite layout. They are also handy when used with the new custom brush shapes for painting in objects like grass, trees, and clouds.
  • New Cameras –– Canon EOS Rebel T8i (850D), Canon EOS R5 (uncompressed only), Canon EOS R6(uncompressed only), Fujifilm X-S10, Leica M10-R, Nikon Z 5, Olympus E-M10 Mark IV, Olympus E-30, Panasonic DC-S5, Panasonic Lumix DC-G100, Sony A7S III, Sony A7c
  • New Lens Profiles –– Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM, Canon G5 X Mark II & compatibles, Canon RF24-105mm F4 L IS USM, NIKON Coolpix P1000, Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S, Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S, Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN | Art 019, Sony FE 35mm F1.8, Tamron 17-35mm F/2.8-4 Di OSD, Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD (B028), Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M
New Features in ON1 Photo RAW for Mobile
  • New Syncing between multiple Computers and Mobile devices –– Sync non-destructive masks, local adjustments, effects, presets, and more between your mobile devices and computers, with ON1 Photo RAW 360.
  • New Spot Healing Brush — A new modern approach to removing distractions like dust spots, power-lines, and unwanted people from photos. The Spot Healing Brush is not only faster than current tools; it maintains full non-destructive adjustments for each area removed.
  • New Presets – A curated collection of the best factory presets to speed up your workflow and get professional results with the hottest looks and styles. Categories for all types of photos from landscapes to portraits, HDR, matte, cinematic looks and much more.
  • New Local Adjustments — Make targeted edits to your photos with powerful masking tools. Apply changes to a portion of your image, and adjust those areas with a full range of tone, color, and sharpening sliders. You can apply these adjustments using either the Adjustment Brush or Masking Bug shapes.
  • New Effects Masking Perfect Brush –– Selectively apply each filter to just the areas you like with the powerful masking tools. Quickly brush around objects of your photo with masking brushes or the adjustable gradients in different shapes.
  • New Perfect Brush –– Quickly brush around objects of your photo with automatic edge detection.
  • New Dynamic Contrast Filter –– The gold-standard for adding clarity, also known as tonal contrast or structure, to your image, making it pop.
  • New Curves Filter — A powerful, advanced tool for adjusting contrast and color in your image. Adjust the composite RGB channel, or adjust the individual Red, Green, or Blue channels.
  • New HDR Look Filter — Recreate the HDR style of tone mapping, with accentuated edges and sharpening.
  • New Glow Filter — Add a soft-focus glow to the image and adjust the blending mode to set the glow effect.
  • New Vignette Center Tool — Select the center point of the vignette for total control.
  • New Search and Filter — Designed to help you find photos in your photo library, based on a variety of criteria specific to photos and the metadata embedded in them. You can search based on any text associated with a photo, as well as likes and star ratings.
  • New Sort By — Sort the thumbnails in a number of different ways. The sorting options include date captured or modified; file name, type, or size; and rating.

Key Features of ON1 Photo RAW

Previous versions of ON1 Photo RAW already came with a number of excellent features, but the new 2021 version comes with a couple of additions definitely worth trying out. Below are the top features all the way around, both new and old.

  • Powerful File Management

ON1 Photo Raw Library

ON1 Photo Raw comes with a robust photo organizer.

No Lightroom alternative would be complete without a powerful photo organizer/DAM. ON1’s has one of the better library systems available and has long been far ahead of Luminar in terms of metadata, keywording, and searchability.

ON1 Photo RAW uses a browser-based system. There’s no need to import your photos – just direct Photo RAW to where they are on your drive and they’ll just appear. This makes it far less complicated to use than Lightroom’s catalog system.

You can organize photos into albums and/or create smart albums that store search criteria. There’s even a map view option which allows you to see in map form where your photos were taken and add location information to images that weren’t taken with GPS metadata.

Unfortunately, I find ON1’s browser to be surprisingly slow in loading photos – much slower than Lightroom or Capture 1 or even Luminar. Still, it’s much more robust in terms of metadata and search functions than Luminar, and for me, easier to learn and use than Capture One.

  • Professional-Level Photo Editing

ON1's Develop Module

All the essentials you need for professional-level photo editing are included.

ON1’s photo editor has all the editing options most photographers will ever need, neatly in the right-hand column and/or available in their Filters section. It starts with only the essential adjustments so as not to clutter the screen.

If you want more advanced options, simply click on the Show More button or reach into the Filters.

Like Luminar and many up-and-coming programs, ON1 also includes a number of Artificial Intelligence (AI) options. In the Develop module these include AI Auto Tone and AI Match, which tells the Develop module to match the image to the one you saw on the back of your camera.

Personally, I find ON1’s auto tone to be far inferior to that of Lightroom’s and Capture Ones’s auto tone. Here, Luminar reigns supreme with its Accent AI.

As mentioned before, all of Photo RAW’s adjustments are non-destructive, meaning changes are not made to the original file but rather stored as a set of instructions that can always be changed or returned to the original settings.

Like Lightroom, ON1 Photo RAW supports the Raw photo formats of hundreds of different cameras. It also comes with a good supply of lens profiles so that lens corrections are both easy and automatic.

In my opinion, the quality of its Raw photo rendering is better than Luminar’s and maybe even Lightroom’s.

  • Layer Functionality

ON1 Layers Functionality

With ON1’s layers functionality you can change out backgrounds, create photo composites, and switch skies.

One of the cool things ON1 has had for years is the ability to work with layers. This allows you to do everything from making composites and swapping skies to manually blending exposures.

Along with the layer functionality comes different brushes, all the standard blending options, and of course, layer masks. In fact, every filter you use is automatically added on as a layer, making it is easy to fine tune any adjustments separate from the rest of your adjustments.

As a bonus, Photo RAW comes loaded with a number of backgrounds, replacement skies, and other elements to use in photo compositing. The AI Sky Replacement in Luminar is superior, but it’s still easy enough to do in ON1.

Photoshop users will find the selection tools a bit primitive, though, even with the AI. (This is also true of Luminar.) Having to manually paint everything that the AI misses can take a lot of time.

  • 23 Different Effects

ON1 Effects

ON1 has long been known for it’s filters and effects. Many – like Curves and Vignette – are just standard adjustments. Others – like Sunshine and Grunge – will broaden out your creative editing opportunities.

Because of ON1’s layers functionality, you can stack multiple filters on top of each other and blend them together to create your own unique look. The masking and blending options are built-in with each filter, so you can easily pinpoint the area of the photo you want to effect.

The game changing filter for photographers is the new Replace Color filter in Photo RAW 2021. It’s much easier to use than Photoshop’s and does a surprisingly good job with just a single click – very impressive.

It’s exciting to see what else ON1 brings to the software in its updates which usually appear throughout the year.

  • Portrait AI

Portrait AI

Portrait AI is included in ON1 Photo Raw 2021

ON1 has always had an impressive Portrait filter, but now they’ve gone one step further with their release of Portrait AI, which is included in Photo RAW 2021.

Portrait AI can find multiple faces in an image, automatically locate their eyes and mouths, and then add just the right amount of retouching. The frequency-separation skin adjustments are especially impressive.

Each face in the photo has its own independent controls and adjustments, so you can manually adjust the skin, eyes, mouth, and lighting or leave it all up to AI. There are even options for face resculpting.

If you like the results from the AI you can batch process an entire shoot, letting it do the lion’s share of the work. Want to go back and make some changes? No worries. All the changes are non-destructive, so you can go back at any time and fine tune things.

Artificial intelligence is slowly rolling out to other popular photo editing apps (see our Cyberlink PhotoDirector review for one example), and it’s nice to see it well implemented in Photo RAW.

  • High Quality Presets

ON1 Presets

High quality presets are another thing ON1 has long been known for. It’s one of the features that made it so popular back when it was still just a Photoshop plug-in.

ON1 Photoshop RAW comes with many more presets than Lightroom, all of which are high quality. It also lets you preview your presets next to each other.

Here, I think ON1 wins out over both Luminar and Lightroom, though Lightroom has far more third-party options available.

  • Spot Healing Brush

ON1 Spot Healing Brush

One of the new features in Photo RAW 2021 is its all-new Spot Healing Brush. With it you can make quick work of removing lens dust, skin blemishes, power lines, and other unwanted elements in an image.

It works by allowing you to select the area it takes information from – much like a Clone and Stamp tool. If you don’t like the result you can always move the selection point around, even after you’ve selected it.

Unlike Photoshop’s healing brushes, everything you do with ON1’s remains non-destructive – you can always change things or fine-tune them later.

I’m really glad that ON1 has included it in this version, as I can’t imagine a fully-fledged photo editing app without it. Still, it seems much clunkier than Lightroom’s. If you’re a Photoshop user, you’ll probably find ON1’s version of the spot healing brush to be rather primitive.

Still, it’s a great start and an important addition to the software as a whole.

  • HDR, Focus Stacking, and Panorama Stitching

HDR, Focus Stacking, and Panorama stitching

In their bid to be a “one-stop shop,” ON1 made sure to include advanced photo-merging abilities in its core program. That means you don’t need to invest in other software to shoot in HDR, use focus stacking, or create panoramas.

While Lightroom has HDR and panorama capabilities, it doesn’t have focus stacking. Luminar doesn’t have any photo merging capabilities, but rather encourages you to buy their Aurora HDR software.

Being someone who often shoots in HDR, I prefer Aurora to either Lightroom or ON1. But if you’re looking for an all-in-one editing app and you shoot in HDR, the results here are certainly high quality enough to going on about.

I also found ON1 to be a lot faster than Aurora in its HDR rendering…literally almost half the wait time!

  • Resize

ON1 Photo Resize

ON1’s proprietary Photo Resize app is included. It’s one of the best photo enlargement apps on the market.

A professional-class photo enlargement program, ON1’s Resize is worth purchasing on its own. The fact that it’s included in the main photo editor is just awesome.

With it you can quickly resize any image, enlarging up to 1000% without losing detail! The prints you can make using Resize are impressive. Posters, placards, signs…even billboards.

Resize is an industry class photo-enlargement app, and well worth investing in on its own.

  • The Text Tool

ON1 Text Tool

This was just playing around, but in all honestly ON1’s text tool does everything you need – it has all the fonts, size options, and color options you’d expect and the layer transform option allows you to place your text exactly how you need it.

If you’re someone who likes to make banners, cards, memes, or other images that contain text, you’ll find ON1’s text tool to be very handy.

It has all the fonts, size options, and color options you’d expect and the layer transform option allows you to place your text exactly how you need it.

A text tool is not something every photographer needs, but when you do it’s nice to not have to go into another program for it.

  • Advanced Masking Options

ON1 Photo Raw AI Quick Mask

ON1 comes with a number of advanced masking options, including the proprietary AI Quick Mask feature. Here I used more green than was strictly necessary, but I  like to give the program as much information to work from as possible.

One thing unique about ON1 Photo RAW is how early on they brought in AI to aid in creating masks. Their AI Quick Mask option is designed to cut out your subjects with just a few strokes. Simply tell it what to lose (red) and what to keep (green) and the program will mask it for you.

A welcome addition in Photo RAW 2021 is a Refine Mask feature, that cleans up around hair, tree branches, and other fine details that’s hard to get to otherwise.

Practically speaking, I find AI Quick Mask to be slow and not particularly precise. Every time I’ve used it (prior version included), I’ve had to wait a while for the mask to render and then do a lot of touchup afterwards by hand.

Still, without Photoshop’s advanced selection tools, every bit of help Photo RAW can give for creating quality masks is a boon. The Refine Edge brush, though far from perfect, is an important addition for compositors who use Photo Raw as a standalone program.

  • Optional Mobile Editing and Cloud Storage Options

ON1 Photo Raw 360

With the advent of both Photo RAW Mobile and Photo RAW 360, a whole world of possibilities has now been opened up – especially for photographers who rely strongly on their smartphones and/or tablets.

Second only to Lightroom CC and its corresponding mobile app, the 360 ecosystem puts online backup, photo syncing, and editing on the go at your fingertips.

It is, however, only available by subscription and not much cheaper than Lightroom CC’s subscription price. It’s also not yet as well developed as Lightroom CC/mobile.

Still, if you use ON1 Photo RAW as your main photo editor and use your devices in your photography work, 360 is a real game changer.

Is ON1 Better than Lightroom?

Comparing Photo Raw to Lightroom

Whether ON1 is “better” than Adobe Lightroom really depends on what you’re looking for and how you intend to use it.

If you want an all-in-one program that you can buy straight out, ON1 Photo RAW is an excellent choice. It does just about everything you need from start to finish and even includes a decent print suite.

Lightroom, however, has been around a lot longer: its functionality and features reflect that. The catalog system is more powerful, the tools work much more effectively and quickly (at least on my 2019 iMac), and it’s pairing with Photoshop in Adobe’s Photography Plan make it an excellent investment for anyone needing advanced editing abilities.

Still, Lightroom doesn’t come with Portrait AI or Resize. You’d have to buy these or similar programs separately as plugins.

Basically, it all comes down to what you need, whether you’re willing to buy into a subscription model, and whether  or not you want the extra features ON1 includes.

Of course, if you want both, ON1 Photo RAW works great as a plugin.

How much is ON1 Photo RAW? (+ Discount Code)

There are a few ways to buy ON1 Photo RAW 2021, depending on your needs:

1. Owners of any previous version of any ON1 product can order version 2021 for the upgrade price of $79.99.

2. ON1 Photo RAW can also be ordered with a 1-year membership to ON1 Plus for $129.99.

(ON1 Plus is the #1 training resource for ON1 and photography and includes over 25 courses, ebooks, 100’s of presets and bonuses, and much more.)

3. Subscribe to ON1 Photo RAW 360, which includes the latest version of both the computer and mobile software, as well as seamless cloud syncing of photo organization and editing between computers and mobile devices.

A single purchase of any ON1 product includes Windows and macOS versions, for use on two computers, and support for 11 languages.

ON1 Photo RAW Coupon Code

Save 30% by entering the coupon code SHOTKIT at checkout.

ON1 Photo RAW Review | Final Words

At this point I’ve reviewed three different version of ON1 Photo RAW. I rally appreciate the improvements ON1 has made to the UI and usability in its 2021 version.

It also gets high marks for its photo organization tools. (Since I do stock photography, the lack of advanced keywording has stopped me from seriously considering Luminar as a standalone.) The Develop module has everything most photographers will ever need and the inclusion of Portrait AI and Resize definitely make the pot sweeter.

I still prefer Luminar’s effects to ON1’s, though I find ON1’s presets to be much more useful. Also, the lack of advanced selection tools make working with layers in ON1 maddening.

Lastly, the entire program simply doesn’t run well on my computer. The library takes forever to load. (So does Luminar, but it’s not quite as slow as ON1.) Any masking activities take forever – especially quick mask. The HDR is quicker, but since I already have (and love!) Aurora HDR, I wouldn’t switch just for that.

But don’t take my word for it…

In the end, it really comes down to you’re workflow and what you’re willing to spend. If getting out of the subscription model is important to you and/or you use ON1’s proprietary features often and/or you need an all-in-one photo editor, ON1 Photo Raw is a great option.

Still not sure? The best thing to do is give the free trial a spin, see how ON1 Photo Raw works with your workflow, and go from there.

ON1 Photo RAW 2021

Subscription-free image editor with powerful features and regular upgrades. Recommended for all levels.

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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.

Usnea Lebendig

Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.