Hands-on with ON1 Photo RAW 2018

After a series of 4 beta versions which ON1 used to correct bugs and adjust the program, the ON1 Photo RAW 2018 suite is ready, presented as a great alternative to Adobe Lightroom.

Hands-on with ON1 Photo RAW 2018

From being an app to Photoshop to the full program ON1 Photo RAW 2018 now available,  there has been a long road, and not an easy one. Despite all the problems, the future appears to smile to ON1 Photo RAW.

While the marketing from ON1 is busy on multiple fronts, including the presentation of a video, The ON1 Story, which the company hopes  contributes to create the sense of a community and the idea that the program is made by photographers for photographers, users are downloading the released version, hoping that it will be everything ON1 promises. It may well be on the way to be that promise, but expect some bugs, still, as this is the start of a long road.

ON1 is firmly betting on the idea that ON1 Photo RAW is a great alternative to Adobe Lightroom (although the program continues to work, partially, as a plugin of both LR and PS), and the recent decision by Adobe regarding Lightroom may well help ON1 to make that true, although there are other competitors wanting to be the exact same thing. Suddenly the market is busy with multiple names, from Affinity Photo to Luminar or Topaz Studio, not to mention all the others.

This new version includes a series of updates and enhancements, some of which I’ve already mentioned in previous articles about the program. Now, with the final version available, I took the time to explore some of the features that interest me most, like panorama stitching, which was not available before and is now part of the menu. This means that if you’re interested in the creation of panoramas now you don’t need to use any external software to get your panoramas.

Hands-on with ON1 Photo RAW 2018

The panorama mode combines multiple photos into a single panoramic or matrix photo. It automatically aligns photos, even if they are not shot on a tripod (which is something I do most of the time), and blends them together seamlessly. An option to embed panoramic metadata for Facebook panning is also available. While I tried the feature during two of the previous betas, I took it all the way – bar the Facebook option – this time, to check if I could use ON1 Photo RAW 2018 to edit my panoramas.

Hands-on with ON1 Photo RAW 2018

The caterpillar image published here is a final example I chose, but I worked with different test series, some with up to 16 images, and the program works well, although, as expected, it will slow down the more images you give it to work with. This caterpillar photo (of a Papilio Machaon butterfly), which results from four images, gives me a final 12000x 4000 pixel image, offering all the detail needed for a high-quality print.

Hands-on with ON1 Photo RAW 2018

When you start the panorama mode a pop-up window warns you that the program is still being improved, and that it may have difficulty with some images, especially those taken in extreme conditions or, I would say, all the conditions that break the rules: changes in exposure or colours, due to the use of automatic exposure, use of wide-angle lenses and insufficient overlap. If ON1 gets the program to work with photographs taken under those conditions, then the panorama mode will be magic. As it is now, it seems to work efficiently.

This new version includes HDR, which I did not even bother to try, at least for this first hands-on, as it is not something I use. There are many other features, from Luminosity Mask updates to the new mask Density and Feather sliders (under Global Mask Editing Tools ) to allow for changing the density or opacity of masks as well as blur masks for softening that will, no doubt, be interesting to explore, along with features as Blur and Chisel Mask Tools or Paint with Color Brush.

The updated user interface helps to get work done faster, and the little touch of being able to select your own UI accent color will be gladly explored by some users. On a more practical note, the fact that you can custom name filters and layers to easier keep track of work will be appreciated by many users.

Improved highlight recovery is something ON1 worked for this version, tweaking the algorithms. Additional camera and lens support, with the Nikon D850, Olympus EM-10 III, Panasonic DMC-G85, preliminary support for Sony a7R III present, plus a ton of new lenses, are something users will appreciate, especially because some companies seem to take a long time to update those essential elements of their programs.

There is more to this version, but I wanted to explore what a normal workflow would look like, so I moved some recent images from a recent Halloween studio shoot and event through the Browse, Develop and Effects modules, which are those people will visit the most. Browse continues to be a fast enough tool, faster if you catalog the folders. Probably, the more images you catalog the slower the system gets – only time will tell us that – so, right now, I am only indexing those folders I feel I might use more. It will be interesting to see how ON1 Photo RAW 2018 works with different computer specs, so I will keep an eye on the conversations online, which are always a source of information.

The program crashed once, when I tried to change from fast to accurate RAWs, and behaved well while I worked, but as usual, “mileage may vary” so my own experience may not be similar to yours. This said, the ON1 Photo RAW 2018 is, as ON1 puts it, “a viable integrated tool with accelerated photo management, precise photo development, hundreds of customizable photo effects, fast and beautiful HDR, pano stitching, masking and blending adjustments, layers, and much more – in one app.”

While the program is the essential element that may interest readers, I believe it is always interesting to go behind the scenes and discover those creating the tools we adopt. In that sense, the video The ON1 Story – I know, it is a marketing thing! – reveals how a small company has been working to have a presence in the market. While with a giant corporation it is hard to know who does what, in this small group it is, at least for now, possible to find individuals who care deeply about photography and understand their role in the whole process. If you’ve followed ON1 evolution, looked at the tuition videos online, you’ve come to feel that you almost “know” some of the people, you’ve learned from their experience – and errors –  and that human touch, I believe, is also part of ON1’s story.

The small group is, you discover in the video, formed by individuals who care deeply about photography, committed to help users to get the most out of ON1 apps. The company’s mission “has always been and will continue to be building powerful editing tools and providing valuable educational content to save time and money for everyone who loves photography. We are committed to helping you get the most out of ON1 apps by providing you the best support and service in the industry.”

The road to ON1 Photo RAW 2018 has been made with the help of the community, through the ON1 Photo RAW Project. In fact, almost every feature and improvement made to the app in version 2018 is a direct result of community input, something ON1 wants to keep alive for future editions. The company says that “what we build and how we build is for all to see. We will continue to share with the world the features and improvements we work on and solicit customer feedback in an open forum via the ON1 Photo RAW Project” and promises to do its best “to provide photography software and education for many years to come.”

Hands-on with ON1 Photo RAW 2018

ON1 Photo RAW 2018 is available for download as a free 30-day trial from the ON1 website. Previous owners of any ON1 app (or ON1 plug-in) can upgrade for $99.99. Those who don’t own an ON1 app can order for $119.99. ON1 Photo RAW 2018 is also bundled with some excellent bonus materials which include: three ON1 Photo RAW 2018 courses by Product Director Dan Harlacher, and all of their 2017 and 2018 Loyalty Rewards. ON1 Photo RAW 2018 works with both Mac and Windows.

Price wise, ON1 Photo RAW is not very different from Lightroom’s perpetual license version, which is no longer available, apparently. The difference, though, is that even if ON1 releases a new version each year, users are not forced to update, and the software continues to be theirs, one aspect that is important to many users. Another important aspect to consider is that the price includes activation on up to five computers, something many seem to forget when discussing the cost of different programs. In a mobile world being able to have the same program installed in different computers with a single license is an advantage.

One last note: if you’ve tried the recent beta version of ON1 Photo RAW 2018, you may receive a coupon for $20 off Photo RAW 2018. Use coupon code RAW20 to get your discount after adding the product to your cart. With this coupon, owners of previous ON1 products can purchase for just $79.99, and new customers can purchase for only $99.99 (reg $119.99). Expires November 14th.


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Jose Antunes

I am a writer and photographer living on the West Coast of Portugal, a place I tend to call the Atlantic Realm. An area of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches overlooking the sea, a coastal area sitting between the Atlantic Ocean waves and hills and forests with some of the most magical palaces, castles and prehistorical sites for you to visit and photograph. Little hamlets, vast fields, inviting you to a contemplative state of mind. That’s where I live, and the landscape surely makes you what you are.

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