ON1 Photo RAW: A New Kind of RAW Processor

ON1 Photo RAW: A New Kind of RAW Processor

ON1 Photo RAW: A New Kind of RAW Processor with Michael Anthony

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

For professional photographers, a RAW processor is an absolute necessity. But because there’s so little competition, our current options are inefficient at best and completely unacceptable at worst.

After Apple discontinued support for Aperture, Lightroom became the only real option for photographers who are working with large numbers of images. While the robust options of Capture One are great, C1 does not work well for handling large numbers of files, beguiling for wedding or portrait photographers.

In December, On1 Software released its highly anticipated Photo RAW software. On1 has been hyping features of this software for a long time. It’s centered around speed and integration with On1’s already brilliant photo editing software. More importantly, On1 integrated its RAW browser into its develop module, which they say allows for much faster culling and organizing without having to use two separate apps.

First, let’s take a look at the biggest complaints with the current industry standard, Adobe’s Lightroom CC.

  1. Performance

Lightroom CC suffers in its most crucial function, the Develop Module. While rendering 1:1 previews works well with the browsing capabilities of Lightroom, an experienced Lightroom user can edit and manipulate photos much faster than the software can keep up with. Recently, Adobe added the ability to use smart previews to develop images, which was available through unconventional methods before. They also added GPU support, but it’s not full GPU support. Both of these help, but not nearly enough. On standard 20mp to 30mp files, LR experiences significant lag when moving from image to image, when applying presets and when using local adjustments. When processing over a million images a year, that extra one-second lag time adds up.

I process images on a water-cooled, overclocked 4.5GHZ quad core PC with 32gb RAM, a dedicated SSD and 1080 GPU. There is no excuse for why Lightroom cannot make use of this power. Adobe has made Premier Pro capable of using the resources of a powerful PC; it would be nice if they stopped treating Lightroom as their redheaded stepchild (no offense to redheaded stepchildren out there).

  1. Color

Color is my second biggest complaint with Lightroom. Lightroom uses camera calibration profiles that are designed to normalize files photographed with different cameras. While this is a beneficial feature, the embedded camera calibration profiles are not accurate to the JPEG previews that are shown on the back of my camera after I take a photo. If you have ever wondered why a photo’s color changes immediately after importing, it is because LR is applying the “Adobe Standard” color profile to your images. Changing that profile to “Camera Standard” does not give you an accurate rendition of color like it is supposed to. I have found that images on my 1DX Mark II and 5D Mark IV have much more contrast than Canon intended.

  1. Local Adjustments/Process Engine

Adobe’s process engine was revamped in 2012, and has received incremental updates since then. Software today needs to be built and updated as frequently as our camera technology changes. The cameras in 2012 were far less advanced than the ones in 2017, but Adobe has not released a new process engine since then. The local adjustments in Lightroom still require much work to be done in Photoshop (Clone/Heal tool, I am calling you out). If the technology is available, and Adobe obviously has it, why not make it available in Lightroom? Photographers who process a massive number of images should not need to go into Photoshop just to remove a few blemishes from their subjects.

Can Photo RAW (PR) actually be the solution to replace Lightroom? Perhaps it can, but let’s dive into the pros and cons.

First, a disclaimer. I am writing this article in late January 2017, right after ON1 has released a major update. PR is a work in progress, and On1 has made it very clear that it will be releasing new updates over the course of the next year. My initial use of this software has shown major potential, but, as will be discussed in a bit, the program still has a few bugs that are being squashed.


The Interface of PR is quite organized, and resembles On1’s other software. The layout is clean and everything is organized in an easy-to-use way. It offers many different functions, so will take some getting used to until you’re as efficient with it as you are in Lightroom. Do you remember opening Photoshop for the first time? PR doesn’t feel that overwhelming. You can get to where you need to be very quickly.

The software opens in Browse mode. Browse mode is similar to PhotoMechanic’s, which has been our studio’s method of culling for a long time now. PR natively supports color tagging of images in PhotoMechanic and displaying in Photo RAW without the need to adjust settings in PhotoMechanic like you do to get the same functionality out of Lightroom.

The interface is broken into five modules: Browse (similar to Library in LR), Develop, Effects (to make use of On1’s other software), Layers (you heard that right) and Resize. These features are useful for the majority of photographers. It still takes three to five seconds to change between modules, but, since speed is a major focus of this software, I am sure that On1 will address this in future updates.

Getting into the develop module, one thing that I love is that the module doesn’t use LR’s long scrolling method to get to the tools in the interface. Instead, it uses a drawer with different options that you click on when you need them.

The options available as of now are: Black and White, Color Adjustments, Curves, Glow, Noise Reduction, Sharpening, Skin Retouching, Split Tone, Transform and Vignette. All of the usual tools, like cropping and local adjustments, are found on the left-hand edge of the screen, right next to presets.

Keyboard shortcuts are available as well to get you to where you need to be.

Overall, the interface for PR was well thought out, allowing you to work quickly and efficiently.

RAW Conversion

I found RAW Conversion to be very good with PR. I am very happy with the color renditions and the added features, such as highlight/shadow purity, excluding skin tones from vibrance edits and integrated skin retouching.

Dynamic Range was also very impressive. I am pleased with the software’s ability to render colors without the need to embed a proprietary color profile. The automask feature is brilliant, and the ability to work in layers is exceptional. The foundations laid down by PR are exactly what photographers have wanted in a RAW converter for some time.

Contrast handling is very good, and it is clear that On1 spent a lot of time making sure this area of PR worked well. In terms of color adjustments, Capture One is still king, in my opinion, but the features added to PR that are not available in C1 would make this a much better solution for wedding and portrait photographers who are delivering many images.

Structure is PR’s version of clarity. As with LR, structure provides a local contrast that can easily be overdone and cause haloing if not used properly. I prefer LR’s version of this tool (but I seldom use either).

I like On1’s integrated presets and effects panel, which allows you to quickly apply filters to your images if that is your kind of thing.


Performance is make or break for PR. That’s because PR’s only real competitor, Lightroom, suffers dearly in this category. I have to address the first selling point of this software, its speed. On1 had positioned PR to work in the Develop module with little to no lag. I see that as slightly optimistic. Images in Browse mode do in fact load significantly quicker than in Lightroom, but not quite as fast as PhotoMechanic. Images take about a quarter second to load in Browse mode and are easily navigated and tagged.

Improvement can be made in the Develop module. Like Lightroom, PR still takes two to three seconds to load each individual image. This is the largest detriment of the software that I have found. I am sure that On1 is aware of this and is looking into fixing it with future software updates, but right now, I put it on par with Lightroom.

Summing Up

I was optimistic about the launch of PR because improvements need to be made for professional photographers in RAW conversion. It is clear that On1 spent a lot of time developing this software. While the software hasn’t lived up to all the promises made by On1, it is still a work in progress. On1 has released a roadmap of updates to improve performance over the coming years. Now that there is serious competition in the RAW conversion space, I am sure we will see improvements at a rate that will keep up with technology.

Overall, I am pleased with the RAW conversion abilities of this software. I wish PR would have obliterated the performance of Lightroom, but that is likely asking too much from new software. On1 is listening to its users and implementing upgrades quickly. Having skin retouching, the ability to work with layers and a fast browsing solution integrated into one program will make the job of event and portrait photographers easier. It’s just a matter of how quickly On1 will get the speed issues fixed so that we can make the switch from Lightroom.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the June 2017 magazine.

You might also like:

Leave a Reply

Want more content like this?

Check out our recent posts

yt thumbnail dramaticlightingonlocation

Dramatic Lighting On Location

Ready to take your off camera flash to the next level? In this photography video tutorial, I show you how to use the Westcott FJ400 to light your subject up and create dark and dramatic portraits for your clients.

Read More »
yt thumbnail outdoorportraitsusingreflector

Outdoor Portraits Using a Reflector // Westcott Fusion

Harsh sunlight? No problem. You can create stunning portraits with nothing more than a reflector and clever use of blocking techniques. In this photography lighting tutorial, we use the Westcott Fusion which gives us several variations for lighting control.

Natural light photography doesn’t have to be flat and boring. Using a reflector can add dimension and that pop of life into your subjects eyes. If you have ever wondered how to use a reflector for outdoor photography – this video is for you.

Read More »