Evaluation of ON1 Photo Raw as a Lightroom user

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been evaluating a copy of ON1 Photo Raw with the thought of switching to it from Lightroom and I’ve written this post so I could share my thoughts.

First some background.

I didn’t actually decide to look around for a Lightroom replacement because I’m dissatisfied with Lightroom. I received a promotional email from ON1 about a discount being applied at the moment because a new version has just been released, and I thought I’d download the 30 day trial to see if it looked interesting. It was only after I’d played about with it for a while that I started to seriously think that it may be a good move, and to be honest this was driven by cost more than any other factor.

I’ve been subscribed to the Adobe Photographers plan for about 5 years now and over that time I’ve paid over £500 to have access to the latest version of Lightroom and Photoshop. Now that is actually quite a good deal if you use it all the time, but for the most part I only use Lightroom. On my rather elderly iMac (2011 i5 version with 12G ram) I can hardly run Photoshop because of the resources it needs, and anyway I only occasionally want to do pixel level editing. In contrast, the ON1 Photo Raw 2018.1 version is about £60 to purchase the software and own a perpetual licence to use it. Even if I purchase an upgrade version every year that is still about half the price.

My ON1 Photo Raw evaluation

So with my reasons discussed, here is my evaluation of ON1 Photo Raw. First thing to note is this is just my personal assessment after a few days trial – it may be that I have things setup incorrectly and some of the negatives are simply that I haven’t found the correct way to do things but for what it’s worth these are my findings.

Some ON1 Photo Raw screenshots

ON1 Photo Raw Negative Points

First I’m going to mention the few negative points I’ve found in my short evaluation of ON1 Photo Raw. I’ll add some detail for some of these points in the text that follows, but I’ll just say that for me none of them are real no-go, deal breakers. They are simply annoyances which I’ve listed in order of most annoying to least annoying

  • No history view to allow rollback to any point
  • No Hierarchical collections
  • Can’t select a lens correction if it isn’t detected
  • Doesn’t work with two monitors
  • Mouse wheel doesn’t scroll filmstrip although it works in thumbnail view

The History view is one of those things in Lightroom which I don’t use often, but when I do it is pretty important. Every time you make a change in Lightroom a restore point is added to the history view and you can step back to that point at anytime. When I tried to find the same view on ON1, I found it doesn’t exist. It is possible to remove all the edits and even to remove all the changes applied in any of the individual modules, but I would rather be able to step back to any point in the process.

I find hierarchical collections to be a good way of organising my photos, although I can live without them. For example, all my pictures of vintage cameras which I’ve taken for the vintage camera reviews on this site are arranged in collections underneath a top level collection called Vintage Camera Pictures. This makes it easer to find any particular set, and also removes clutter from the collection list.

The lens correction pane in ON1 is both better and worse in my opinion. One of the things I didn’t like with Lightroom was that I always had to apply the lens correction manually; Lightroom would detect the lens manufacturer from the metadata, but I then had to select the lens. Now that may have been me not using Lightroom correctly, but I could never find a way of making it automatic. ON1 Photo Raw does exactly what I want in that situation and automatically applies the correction if the option to do that is turned on. Unfortunately however, if I’m shooting with a manual, vintage lens so the metadata isn’t embedded in the photo, I can’t select it even if it is in the database of lenses. Instead I have to create a manual lens correction profile and then apply that.

The other two points about multiple monitors and the film strip scrolling are really just minor irritants.

ON1 Photo Raw Positive Points

These are features of ON1 Photo Raw which I find easy, useful or convenient to use and I’ve listed as Positive points. Again I’ll give some more details after the list, but unlike the negatives, this list is not in order of importance to me.

  • One application for both cataloguing and pixel editing
  • Full screen preview of Presets
  • Don’t need to move photos – import just seems to register the photo
  • Works with cloud based storage
  • Has proper layer editing
  • Lens corrections applied automatically
  • Built in HDR and Panorama support
  • Includes many training videos and documents in the introductory offer
  • Quick and simple Photo Compare (but Lightroom can also compare of course)
  • Price

I said above that I don’t do much pixel level editing and that I find Photoshop difficult to run on my Mac. Well, I suspect that the difficulty in running Photoshop is one of the reasons why I don’t do those type of edits; since it takes so long to get a Photoshop session running and it’s so slow when it is running, I just don’t bother doing it. This is one of the advantages of ON1 Photo Raw – all the editing features are built into the one program and you simply switch modules to use them.

ON1 Photo Raw Full Screen preset Browse
Full Screen preset Browse

I believe that ON1 started out writing plugins for Lightroom and Photoshop which apply filters and presets to images. If that is true, they certainly supply a lot of preset effects and film simulations in their own ON1 Photo Raw package which is good, but one of the best things I find is that I can see all the possible pre-sets applied to the image I’m working on as a full screen, browse window without actually applying them to the photo.

This is shown here and also in the gallery above, where you can see a whole series of film simulations applied to an image I took in York a few years ago. With examples this size (and the size can be adjusted with the browse image size slider) it’s easy to see if you want to apply any of the filters.

Probably the most important thing for me is a the next two items on the list. There is no need to import photos and it’s possible to use cloud storage systems. At the moment, my Mac has about 200G of its 1000G free, but I’m having to constantly move images to external disks in order to recover disk space.

With ON1 Photo Raw, I can move all of the raw images off the Mac and on to a separate USB drive and then just open the images directly from the drive when I want to. The images don’t need to be imported into the editor – it just opens the files from their current location and writes the changes it makes to a database so it keeps track of them. It is also possible for that location to be cloud based storage, although I haven’t worked out if that is actually pulling the files in from the cloud, or just using the local copy – I may try that later to find out.

The other points in the list above have either been discussed, like the Lens Correction, or are fairly obvious, but one other fairly important item included with ON1 Photo Raw is a whole raft of training videos which are included in the package. The few I’ve watched are pretty well put together and show a lot of how to get the most out of the software.

At the moment I’m still in the process of evaluating the software, but for an amateur photographer like me it seems a more cost effective solution than using the Lightroom / Photoshop option.

One comment

  • Hello Simon – downloaded ON1 but Win & won’t let it function. Another software for either Mac or Windows is Affinity Photo by Serif of Nottingham. I paid £45 in the early days, and receive upgrades free of charge for ever. Not sure if they still do a free download for assessment. Serif were an original US software developer and produced a 90% cheaper version of Pagemaker (which I couldn’t afford). Some legal problems in the US, and Nottingham became it. They produced a very good range of photo, and other media centred software, then decided to go up the pro route by scrapping all Serif products and starting a range of pro software. The software has already been the subject of awards and they have their own forums which can be quite technical… Have a try.


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