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ON1 Photo RAW | ‘The Future Of Raw Processing’ Or Confused Alternative?

By Kishore Sawh on April 28th 2016

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?

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Thomas Zorichak

    Huge improvement ! Contrary to my pessimistic fears looking at the 2 pre-releases; ON1 RAW 2017 in its “full” release is almost unrecognisable – it works so much better! Cannot understand why they offered such a flaky pre-release ……..? Anyway all credit to the team – after using it for a couple of hours this version looks promising – I’d eat my hat if I had one! Well done guys and gals!

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  2. Thomas Zorichak

    Crazy or what ? I paid for the ON One RAW update on 31 Aug having found ver 9 and 10 were good at some things ….. BUT

    The 2nd release yesterday of pre-release ON One RAW is just as disappointing as the 1st …….

    I don’t actually experience any improvements and this is beginning to look like a dying horse.

    Re my 1st Support Ticket message – found the spacebar and hand but it only works sometimes – especially after some masking with the brush the hand is completely frozen and there is no way to pan about an enlarged/zoomed image ……


    Using a Lenovo Z50 PC laptop with Win 10 16gb and working on 18-20mb Panasonic RW2 files and in a Local Adjustment mask – Perfect brush is really slow – almost unusable and with or without the Perfect brush the mouse/cursor is leap-frogging about the screen in a random manner and freezing for 10+ seconds ………… (I am using the NVDIA GeForce 840M graphics by default – not Intel graphics)

    Looking at Win Task Manager – ON One RAW appears to be using 87-99% of CPU most of the time – and even after 1-2 min when nothing has been selected and no tool is working it shows 70-80% of the CPU – that does not seem right ????

    In the Local Adjustment panel – clicking the settings cog-wheel – the slider bars go deep grey and overwrite the screen – and everything locks up ……… (to be continued)

    Generally trying to click on and move the sliders – very difficult and VERY slow to respond …….

    In BROWSE mode and with an image in the Browser panel – clicking on DEVELOP sometimes opens the FIRST image in the Browser panel folder – NOT the one selected …………

    I’m not inclined to waste more time documenting the various things that are going wrong – or even more time on a non-working version of the software – but can I wait forever indefinitely for you to get it right ? Sorry – NO !!!

    I still just cannot believe that you have released this “First New RAW Processor in Years” WITHOUT working Histogram, Navigation and Brush panels/tools ……..

    Come on – please get moving and get this product back on target and track or I’m going to be inclined to dump it for DXO Optics Pro 11 and Capture One 10 – both of which work now ……….

    Disappointed …..


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  3. M S

    I bought the pre-release version of Photo RAW a few days ago and it’s a disaster. Images load very, very slowly and thumbnails don’t show unless you click on them one by one. After several attempts to sort out the problem, I wrote ON1 about it. It took them two days to respond, and all I got was an auto-reply that didn’t address my issues at all. This tells me that ON1 has rolled out yet another huge disappointment, and isn’t focused on customer service. I’d steer clear of Photo RAW until they get it together…which may be never.

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    • Jean-Francois Perreault

      I got the pre-release too :( Sometimes I’m smart, sometimes I’m dumb. That was one of my dumb moments.

      I can’t imagine why or who decided to release this buggy and slow beta. Unless they pull a magic trick, it is hard to see how they can fix all of the problems by December 19.
      They promised state of the art rendering and speed. They are soooo far off on both it is insulting.

      I sincerely hope their development team is as good as their marketing team because there is no way I see them deliver on their promises. I really hope I’m wrong…

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  4. Trevor Rowell

    Unfortunately on release I am getting the same disk error message in PS CC 2017 as version 10 did. After ON1 sorted out authentication issues I was able to open the standalone version. A set of images which takes around 30 seconds to load in LR, Capture One and DxO Optics Pro took over an hour to load in ON1 RAW. ON1 support have not provided a solution for either the disk error or speed issues. As they had to publish a fix for the same problem in V10 I am very disappointed they released RAW with exactly the same issue. Since V8 they have been trying to reinvent LR and have done a poor job.

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  5. Garland Cary

    I’m not actively looking to replace Capture One Pro, which I love the performance and results of. However, I’m always curious about new alternatives and whether or now I can simplify workflow without compromising on image quality (at all)! The idea of a true all-in-one photo editor is appealing, but until I know the quality of its raw conversion, I’m not splashing down one red cent. If it’s at least as good as Capture One, I’ll bite–especial given it’s a catalog-free system. However, if it’s benchmarked Lightroom for the quality of its raw conversions, it’s dead in the water for me as I find Lightroom/CameraRaw conversions to be awful in terms of color, shadow recovery and fine detail.

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  6. Callib Carver

    This both and sounds interesting, but I’m not ready to drop any money, let alone $150 on it. I don’t want to knock it, I’d just like to try a demo of it first to see how the program works, from A to Z.

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  7. Chris Rockstroh

    I use Perfect Browse often, and the speed is insane. It loads 100% previews, even on 40MB D800 RAWs almost instantly. You can flick with almost no detectable delay.

    If they’ve managed to pull of that speed in this new program and it has a half decent profile or at least allows to import from colorcheckers + the RAW engine is even half decent, I’ll be there with bells on. The amount of time you wait on LR or even C1 to load images… You’d save probably half of your editing time in subtle waiting.

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    • Colin Woods

      I agree – Perfect Browse is an integral part of my flow now. I use it to review my raw files and give a 5 star rating to keepers. After that its into DxO and filter the raw files for 5 star only – all my keepers are there ready to process. Much quicker than anything else I have seen (though a friend uses Photo Mechanic that looks pretty quick too).

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    • Thomas Zorichak

      When it worked the Browse was great in ver 9 and 10 but probably because I was also using Lightroom and then DXO Optics Pro and trying a trial ver of Capture One I started to get ON One 10 crashes saying that the Catalog was corrupted – not sorted out.

      Good news so far with the ON One RAW pre-release is that for all its many faults the Catalog problem has not occurred with about 200,000 images on my hard drives

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  8. Luis Lara

    I think they are using the Acdsee pro aproach, with the option to use the directory structure, it is also non destructive raw edit, has better clone tool, I have used Acdsee and LR, I agree that LR is slower to import, the only drawback for me to stay only with Acdsee is the noise reduction tool and some plugins

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  9. Ben Young

    Wow! I just checked out their website too. This looks good.

    I’m a little tired of waiting on Lightroom – it’s constantly playing catch-up with just about everything I do.
    Adobe says they’ve programmed Lr to take advantage of GPUs but I think they need to try a little harder at that.
    I for one am looking forward to trying On1 Photo RAW …. time will tell if it’s any good ….

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  10. Nick Buchholz

    This takes me to my second point: “Adobe’s marketing dept. got it right”

    It doesn’t seem long ago that Adobe launched its subscription based system. Many people were outraged having to pay a monthly fee. I didn’t mind paying monthly, but I was opposed to them bundling LR and PS. I wanted to only have LR at maybe half the price. But since I’m paying for PS I might as well install it and try it out. In hindsight, this was a brilliant move from Adobe.
    Two years have passed since, and I’ve started using PS and integrating it into my workflow. I only use it on a few selected images, but it’s a tool I no longer want to live without.
    I tried C1 for the 30 day trial period and I loved it. Did I switch? No. Why? It was a lot better than LR, but it didn’t have PS. Is it that great that I would want to pay two subscriptions? Almost.
    Had Abode offered a LR-only subscription and I’d never got into PS I would probably be a C1 subscriber right now. Had they listened to all the outcries from the public in the beginning when they introduced CC they would have lost clients like me in the long run.
    I’m not married to Adobe, just like I am not married to my camera system or my operating system. I will never rule out changing any of them in the future is the competition is better. But I have to give Adobe credit where credit is due. Kudos also for lowering their monthly fee. It used to cost $15/month here in Switzerland and they have gone down to $12 or something this year. (C1 is $13)
    ON1 plus looks like it will also fall into the $12/month range and offer “LR+PS”. I hope they make a great product. (See point 1)

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  11. Nick Buchholz

    My first point: “More choice is always better”

    We all remember the classical Canon vs Nikon debates. I couldn’t stand them anymore and luckily the likes of Sony and Fuji have stepped up to the plate and the comparison of camera brands has become less emotional.
    The problem is that if we only have one or two real options people have to pick a side. You belong to one camp, and the other side are all “traitors”. These debates become too emotional, arguing about the weaknesses of the opponent, instead of your own strengths. I like Kishore’s sportscar analogy, but the best example would be Pye’s recent comparison of a $4’500 PC vs Mac. …going on 200+ comments… Crazy! How many comments thanked Pye for going through the effort of testing and writing his article? How many haters replied (from both sides!) just to bash the opposition?
    In conclusion: more choice is ALWAYS better.
    Have 4 or more options, each with strengths and weaknesses. Force the manufacturers to stay on their toes.
    I’m a subscriber to Adobe CC, but I desperately want the likes of Capture One, ON1 and Affinity to succeed.

    Feel free to comment, but please don’t continue the PC vs MAC debate here! :)

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    • Dave Lyons

      I’m really starting to love Infinity Photo and now since you can use ps plugins with it I am slowing transitioning away from ps & lr to that and capture one.

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  12. Jean-Francois Perreault

    I, for one, am pretty excited about this. As a Fuji shooter, Lr’ slowness has now become a problem. I’ve somewhat managed to get this a bit faster using smart previews and renaming my folder but this is an extra step I shouldn’t have to do.
    Also, the import/preview building really is problematic. Yes I can import at night but sometimes I want to start working right away.

    So yes, I’m rooting for them to release an excellent alternative to Lr but I honestly don’t get my hopes up as I’m way to often disappointed with promises like these.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      You would not be alone in your thinking there. I am curious how it would handle Fuji images, given Fuji has proven problematic for some.

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  13. Walt Polley

    Do you mean cachet?

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  14. Sean Liu

    Faster than lightroom would be great

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  15. Colin Woods

    I use their Perfect Photo Suite 9 quite a lot and its pretty good. Its browser is superb, really fast full screen previews from RAW (Caps just for you Kishore) files (D750). I might be tempted to have a look as I use DxO Optics Pro and, good as it is, I find its slow rendering times increasingly frustrating. If the price is right and the performance is good, I may be a customer.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Colin you’ve spoken before about your use of DxO Optics Pro, and while i have it and have used it, I’ve never given it a proper run. I must

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    • Colin Woods

      I really like it, despite its irritations. No software is perfect and DxO is no exception, but what it does well – it does really well. Its best feature is its automated lens corrections. I submit my photos to an agency who edit for technical perfection, and for me its so good that I no longer have to check each image for CA, vignetting…Its curse is that its memory hungry and its rendering is slow, so each change you make takes a few seconds to appear. It doesn’t sound much but when you want to do a before and after comparison those few seconds of blurry image are a real pain. In terms of getting every bit of detail out of raw files, its outstanding, up there with Capture 1.

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  16. Terry Tetreault

    I assume they use all caps for RAW because it is the standard for the file type:

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Well raw isn’t actually a file type but can reference files that use raw image data, that come in a variety of types. This is unlike JPEG or TIFF which are quasi-acronyms/initialisms but are dedicated file types. This is me being pedantic though…

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    • Andrew Leinonen

      While it may not be 100% technically correct, I prefer RAW capitalized. It is used to refer specifically to a type of files, rather than just saying “raw” in a context which could sometimes be confused with the other meanings of the word.

      It’s just convenient to think of RAW as a .*** file extension which could be a .CR2, a .NEF, a .ORF, a .PEF, a .RW2…

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    • Paul Meachen

      When we talk about raw files we are actually using the word “raw” in the context you describe as other meanings i.e. unprocessed – just like raw meat or raw data etc. Raw is not a format – rather it is used as a generic term for all the different manufacturers proprietary formats – but it basically just means unprocessed. RAW, on the other hand, IS a file format, once used by Casio and early Panasonic cameras (and was the forerunner of RW2, currently used by Panasonic).

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