Why ON1 Photo Raw may be for me.

In the list of photo management and editors, ON1 Photo Raw has been under my radar for a while. Although I disregarded it for years when it was still called Perfect photo suite because it lacked any kind of photo management (DAM) and raw processing, in 2017 the company released its first version of the Photo Raw software. There has been (and still is) a lot of publicity around the software, many reviewers criticised the bugs, the slow speed and the lack of features that left it clearly behind the industries standard editor which is Lightroom.

Fast forward a year and a half, I read that the Photo Raw 2018.5 was a usable piece of software so I gave it a try.

Testing these new programs has enabled me to think about was I need and expect from my photo editor. I have used Lightroom/Photoshop for years and have a nice workflow in place. I still can’t use photoshop very well, and to be honest I have very few ideas on what to do to transform my photos. I watch videos on youtube from time to time to learn and I see people take a drab landscape to a 500px winner in what seems to be a lot of time and a lot of steps… I couldn’t do that, I lack the imagination I think and anyway, all the landscapes on 500px look the same…

So what photography do I do and what do I need? I encourage you to think about this as well, it can help to simplify and streamline the processing and save time as well.

  •  I take street photography mainly but on my memory card I will also have some family photos and some other genres depending on my mood and the places I go to (architecture, macro, travel photography…). I want to import all my raw files and keep them together but export my family photos in a separate place from my personal photography.
  • My street photography is in black and white. The software I use needs to do that properly : I want to modify the colour response and contrast globally, manage the structure, dodge and burn locally, add a vignette and odd little things.
  • I need little for my family photos, some quick adjustments, straighten and crop.
  • I used the Nik Software/Google plugins from photoshop for a long period and that covered anything I needed for my landscapes, portraits and architecture : some precise contrast adjustments, adjusting colour contrast is fabulous etc… I never really learned how to do this in photoshop without plugins so I need to have some kind of equivalent if I want to replace photoshop/lightroom.
  • My street photos go on Flickr, Instagram and google+, I sometime publish to 500px as well.

That is it .
I don’t need much from my software then.
Lightroom/Photoshop with plugins cover my needs.
Photo raw 2018.5 is the first piece of software that can do this on its own.

Let’s edit a photo and I’ll make a few comments on my workflow, the things I like and the things that are missing in Photo Raw. All the images here are screenshots so the definition will not be that of the real files.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.19.11

The importing is simple enough and I can do the same as in Lightroom : I put all my photos in subfolders classed by year/month/date. I rename the files starting by the name of the camera then the capture date and time. Lightroom uses a more flexible editor and I can get a name like : Sony-A7r3-2018-08-16-10h01min51s.arw
The same file in ON1 will look like Sony-A7R3-20180816-100151.arw
The extra hyphens, min, h, s are missing and I don’t see that I can add them in.

Once the photos are imported, you can get to work pretty fast. Here is the original file I’m working on. The raw conversion is very good. Highlight and shadow recovery work very well.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.21.44

The picture was taken quickly as I was walking past, it is not straight. Lightroom will have an auto correct that works really well. In the develop module of Photo Raw, there is a transform module. I used the keystone feature.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.24.44

I clicked apply and cropped the result a little.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.30.02The result is pretty convincing. The niggle I have is on the crop tool. By default it is in “Freeform” but I like to keep a 3:2 ratio for 99% of my pictures. You have to select the “original” mode to keep the crop aspect.

In the develop panel there is lens correction module that recognises my FE 35mm f/2.8 lens (one of the first lenses ever created for the sony a7 line) but it does not have a profile to correct for the vignette, distortion and aberrations.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.43.01

How bizarre… lets carry on then. I did very little in the develop module : a slight boost in exposure, a small adjustment in the white/black points and a bit of sharpening.
The adjustments in the black and white points in Lightroom are great. Stay pressed on the option/alt key and the screen goes black to let you adjust with precision. In Photo Raw, you press option/alt J to see the underexposed pixels in blue and the overexposed pixels in red. Not fancy but it works.

The magic happens in the Effects panel, which for me replaces the round trip to Photoshop and its plugins.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.57.31

The black and white conversion tool is very good, you can control the colour response, add grain, control the overall exposure, shadows, highlights and contrast without going back to the develop module. You can also do split toning to change to sepia, cyanotype…

I added a vignette and a bit of contrast with the dynamic contrast tool.

There are local adjustments possible too like in Lightroom with very good masking tools and what they call a “perfect brush” which is the same as edge detection in LR. You can make gradients, ovals, and a luminosity mask.
In this photo, I just added a bit of exposure to the faces. It was quickly done.

The last thing to do is to export. I make a jpg copy of my edited pictures in the same folder as the raw files and a copy to another drive. There are lots of options for the export (file type,size, location, sharpening…) which you can save into a preset like LR.
I’d like to export quickly using the right mouse button but it doesn’t work.  Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.05.40

I can export to Flickr from Photo Raw which is cool but there is nothing for google+, 500px or Instagram. I now use the ifttt.com website (If this then that) to publish from flickr to 500px and Googe photos but I need to upload to instagram manually.
LR manages the publishing better because you can see all the photos you have already uploaded and you can put them in the appropriate service but publish them later.

The effects panel has quite a few additions. I haven’t used them all yet. To each his own!

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.11.01

There is one last Panel I’d like to mention. There is a layers panel where you can add layers that have different processing and merge them with masks. You can also merge different photos (like sky replacement). If my understanding is correct though the process is done in a tiff or psd format and you lose the non-destructive workflow. I think I need to watch a few tutorials before I try.

Conclusion : likes and niggles.

I could use this software!

  • It is fast enough (comparable to editing in Lightroom).
  • It is being improved regularly so features are being added and niggles are being improved.
  • The image quality is very good.
  • Using a single application is very comfortable and the effects added to the photos are in the non-destructive workflow. This is a big improvement on using photoshop plugins. No more tiff files hanging around!
  • I’d like a better import module that gives more flexible file renaming.
  • I’d like a better export module that gives a one-click export using several recipes (like in Capture one) and that keeps track of what photo I have uploaded to what service… and I need more social media services.
  • The masking features are very good, and complex enough to make me want to learn more to use them better.
  • There are blending options like in Photoshop for each effect and local adjustment. I feel I can learn how to use this software whereas photoshop seems too complex.
  • I don’t understand the pricing. I have seen offers at 49.99€ up to 129.99€ for a pro plus plan with free updates. On the site, they say it is a non subscription program but it is only written “perpetual licence” on the the pro plus plan. Yearly updates seem to cost about 70€. Adobe LR/Photoshop costs 11.48€ per month that is 137.76€ per year.
  • I have had a few crashes, it is annoying. LR has not crashed on me for a very long time.
  • I don’t understand the advantage of cataloging a folder under photo raw. I used the browser to edit my first photos then I catalogued my raw files folder. I can’t see the difference. If I take a photo in b&w on the camera, the embedded jpg is b&w. It therefore appears in b&w in Photo Raw. When I open the develop module, it turns into colour because it is reading the raw file. This takes about 5-10s (quite long then). I’d like an option to render my raw files when catalogued for them to open faster in the develop module. I could launch this at night maybe if it need to take a long time.

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