This week, ON1 Software released their new Photo RAW 2017 processor. It functions as both a raw processor and a simple editing workflow that can be used as a standalone application or as a plugin within various other editing applications such as Lightroom. In this article, we will take a quick look at Photo RAW 2017 in order to provide some first impressions on what ON1 is touting as one of their most powerful tools to date.
As with Lightroom, Photo RAW 2017 is broken down into a series of modules designed to work together or independently within your workflow. This review will cover each in succession to evaluate them on their own merits and shortcomings. This review is not meant to be comprehensive, as it is only based upon a few hours of use.
Photo RAW 2017 is touting the browse module as an alternative to Lightroom's organizational structure. Unlike Lightroom, Photo RAW 2017's file management module does not depend on any sort of importing. The user simply browses through his or her own file system to organize and manage photos. The workflow is designed to be quicker and less cumbersome than Lightroom, but this comes at the cost of being less concise. As a whole I found that the feature delivered on what its goal was, and it is likely that many users will be quite happy with it. Personally, I still prefer the Lightroom workflow. It is really the only thing left in which I feel Lightroom still remains a leading force.
The develop module is what I'd consider to be the most important aspect of Photo RAW 2017 and is what would ultimately decide whether this software would make it into my own personal workflow. There is no shortage of raw processors on the market to place a fairly high bar on Photo RAW 2017. In terms of raw processing features, Photo RAW 2017 aims for a fairly simplistic approach similar to that in Lightroom. The standard controls that have become fairly expected within raw processors are all present. Photo RAW 2017, however, appears to lack any of the more advanced features such as lens profile corrections or a tool to fix chromatic aberration.
One nifty option that I did quite enjoy was a simple checkbox below the vibrance slider that allowed the user to reduce the impact of a vibrance adjustment on skin tones. Photo RAW 2017 also included a panel for automated skin retouching that seemed to work decently well for me. I wouldn't ever use it for commercial work, but I could see it coming in handy for work such as wedding photos.
As for raw processing quality, I wanted to compare Photo RAW 2017 to the two other industry-leading raw processors, Capture One Pro 9 (which was actually recently updated to version 10) and Lightroom. The images below were processed in their respective applications with no additional alterations. The images were loaded directly from the Nikon raw files and exported at full resolution without any adjustments.
In terms of dynamic range, I was quite pleased by Photo RAW 2017. The image enjoys somewhat less contrast than the image processed with Capture One Pro 9, but without sacrificing color quality as is clear with the Lightroom image which felt somewhat washed out to me. Photo RAW 2017 also seemed to handle color accuracy within mid- to low-saturation areas very well. I was surprised to see the degree in which Capture One Pro 9 added a slight red cast to those same tones. Photo RAW 2017's accuracy seemed to struggle, however, within the context of more saturated colors such as the knife handle, which appears to have a rich orange that is closer to red than the others, which does not reflect how the knife handle appears in real life. Both Capture One Pro 9 and Lightroom were much closer to the true color of the object photographed.
As a whole, I'm quite pleased with Photo RAW 2017's raw processing. In my opinion, it created the most visually pleasing image by default, even if if color accuracy wasn't perfect. In this comparison, I feel Lightroom is the clear loser.
The effects module represents a pretty typical color grading tool that is very reminiscent of most of the others that can already be found on the market. It especially reminded me of Alien Skin, which, personally, I don't use. It was quite fast, however, which is certainly a boon that puts it ahead of many of the other effects suites that I have used. I also quite enjoyed the button that let me fill the screen with large previews of a given folder of presets. Generally I find tiny thumbnails quite difficult for judging if a preset is desirable, so I end up clicking through each image one by one. This tool eliminated that need and certainly would speed up my workflow. With that in mind, I was quite disappointed to see no support for color lookup tables, which I primarily use to color grade my photos using 3D LUT Creator. This is something that would likely keep the effects module out of my workflow.
The layers module largely felt like a simpler version of Photoshop, but designed for those who long to go beyond the editing capabilities of a tool like Lightroom but don't want to learn the breadth of a tool such as Photoshop. For what it is, I found the layers module decent enough but sufficiently lacking to a point where I would likely never place it within my workflow. The layers module would work great for photographers who only need to do simple masking along with retouching blemishes. For anything else, I would recommend moving to Photoshop. I was quite surprised not to see a dodge and burn tool, which would be needed before I might take the layers module seriously.
The resize module is quite poorly named. It is more of a finishing module designed to help the photographer prepare his or her photos for export. It includes the obvious resizing options along with post-resize tools such as sharpening and the ability to add grain. The resize module also includes a nifty widget that helps in the creation of images destined for gallery wraps or tiling. The most important aspect of the module is certainly sharpening, however, which I compared to Lightroom (before).
The photos below are at 100-percent zoom with the sharpening turned to maximum.
Lightroom did a considerably better job of sharpening the in-focus part of the image. ON1 Photo RAW 2017's version is softer, even with sharpening turned to maximum. In contrast, though, ON1 handled out of focus areas much better than Lightroom, which is apparent when comparing the wood section of the photo. The Lightroom version introduced a noise pattern into the photo whereas ON1 did not. As a whole, I probably would not use either and still prefer to sharpen in Photoshop, which allows me to achieve the Lightroom-like sharpness without adding a strange pattern to blurred areas.
Another aspect to note is that these images are unaltered other than being processed by their respective software with the exception added sharpening. Within the context of this zoomed view, it is quite obvious that ON1 Photo RAW 2017 does a much better job of processing shadows than Lightroom. The shadows within the holes of the cake in the Lightroom sample have virtually no detail in them while ON1 is able to maintain some detail.
ON1 is claiming incredible performance out of Photo RAW 2017, which I would suggest is somewhat of a stretch. While I would say that it is certainly decent enough performance, I often found switching between modules to be as much or more sluggish than switching between modules within Lightroom on a computer that is no slouch. I would place ON1 Photo RAW 2017 firmly within the realm of usable, but wouldn't go so far as to give it a top grade for editing performance.
In short, my first impression of ON1 Photo RAW 2017 is that it is by far the best software I have ever used that has come from ON1 and is the first time I am actually considering bringing a piece of their software into my workflow. Photo RAW 2017 certainly isn't perfect and leaves tremendous room for improvement toward which I expect ON1 is already hard at work. I would suggest for most users that their best course of action would be downloading the 30-day trial from the ON1 website and giving Photo RAW 2017 a whirl to see if it fits in their own personal workflow.
What I Liked
- Strong raw processing
- Innovative workflow
- Elegantly designed
What I Didn't Like
- Mediocre performance
- Poor color accuracy within highly saturated tones
- Mediocre sharpening
- Lack of LUT support