The post-processing software realm is a bit of an ‘old boys’ club made up of a few key and dominating members. It’s sort of like the supercar world in that sense, where Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren are the staples, and you can’t just buy the cachet that’s associated with those brands that have been developed over time. It’s extremely rare for a company to find its way through the cracks and join as Pagani has, and ON1 is trying to pull a Pagani with their new ON1 Photo RAW.

This isn’t to say ON1 is just breaking onto the scene, because they’ve been around in some form or another, but they’ve never really gunned to compete directly with the likes of Adobe’s Photoshop, ACR, or Lightroom, or other staples like Capture One. Now, however, they seem to want to compete with all of those, using a single application. That’s ambitious, and the fact they are removing some accepted norms is either brilliant or mad.


It appears ON1 is trying to differentiate themselves rather than being just a tweaked alternative, though whether they’ve accomplished that will be seen during testing. The premise they are putting forward is that the current shelf of post-processing software has its foundations embedded from the ‘Genesis’ of digital photography, and that back then it was almost inconceivable to think digital cameras and files would have become the monsters they are today, thus suggesting they are ill-equipped to deal with the current reality. So it makes sense then, that ON1 is claiming this is “the future of raw photo editing,” a sentence repeated almost hypnotically in each of the introductory videos they’ve released.

The future of raw editing is a nice soundbite but that’s a big claim. Actually, there are a lot of big claims made in the videos and their initial press materials, and if they are true they’ll certainly be reasons to sit up and pay attention to the software. Claims like being able to open a 50mp raw file from a 5DS in a fraction of a second versus multiple seconds on ‘traditional’ software. That’s huge. They also claim no lag during adjustments and so forth allowing for ‘real-time’ editing.


One major way it differs from Capture One and Lightroom is they’ve decided against the import and catalogue system, and so when working on files they are pulled directly from the folder in which they sit on the computer, and they are worked on non-destructively. No doubt many will find this highly appealing, as the catalogue system takes a careful touch to manage and can be cumbersome. However, it’s yet to be shown just how they’ll handle editing on multiple computers and so forth, which is an area where catalogues shine.

But this isn’t strictly meant to be competing with ACR or LR, because they added in some layer functionality and other ‘retouching’ tools like certain effects and portrait retouching tools. How complete they are is hard to tell, but they also claim to be the world’s only non-destructive retouching app, and world’s only non-destructive stackable and re-editable filter. Essentially what they’re saying is they are a new option for all-in-one raw processing and photo editing.



However, even if all of this is true, whether it will be enough for some to switch is a different story. Working photographers don’t work in a vacuum, but rather within systems that have developed and have been tuned to work synergistically.

While it allows for ‘photo editing’, Photo RAW doesn’t appear as robust in that sense anywhere near Photoshop, and it’s pretty simple to work non-destructively in Photoshop anyway. In terms of raw processing, it should be noted also that there’s a variance in how certain programs process and what the output is like, and one only need speak to Capture One users, like myself, to hear how differently it handles raw files and renders tones than Lightroom. So where will ON1 find itself in the mix? Better, worse?
Speaking of, Capture One also offers the ability to do some serious retouching work, if not exactly pixel bending, and it would seem this is more trying to be like CO than LR.

[REWIND: The Profoto Dream Photo Shoot Giveaway]

Now, the argument for ON1’s Photo RAW (why they insist on capitalizing raw everywhere on their site is beyond me) is that the timing seems pretty ripe for something fresh and new, and better, and Affinity is proof. Affinity came on the scene and some laughed but it’s turning out that Affinity is actually rather good, and with the growing discontent with Adobe and how it’s handling Lightroom’s progression, it would seem opportune for a newcomer to fly in and leave a mark. I’m just not sure this is it, but it’s going to be available in the autumn so we’ll see soon enough. You can see more and pre-order here.

If you did want to get it, it’s not free, but rumor has it it’ll come in under $150/year, which is actually more expensive than the photography plan from Adobe that gives you Lightroom and Photoshop, though it’s also suggested that you can buy it outright. So what do you think? Is this something for you, and are you actively looking for a new option?