On November 9, ON1 software released the latest version of their flagship editing software. Photo RAW 2018 looks to move ON1 further forward to being a genuine alternative to Adobe suite as an all-in-one photo editing tool. Touting a variety of critical new features Photo RAW 2018 promises to be the strongest iteration of the software to date. In this review, we will be putting Photo RAW 2018 through the gauntlet to determine if its latest new features move it closer to that goal.
New in ON1 Photo RAW 2018 is the addition of a panoramic stitching feature. For anyone familiar with panoramic stitching in Lightroom, the Photo RAW tool will be quite familiar as it also involved selecting the various images involved in the stitch then simply right-clicking and selecting "Merge to Panorama." Next, the user is presented with a warning dialogue reminding the user that the panorama stitching tool is still under development and that results may not be perfect. Photo RAW then computes a preview of the stitch surprisingly quickly, in my tests faster than Lightroom or Photoshop. Unfortunately, the warning dialogue is accurate in that the algorithm isn't perfect. In my tests, it was unable to compute panoramas that other apps were able to do without a problem. I noticed this issue particularly with shallow depth of field images such as the one below. One other thing worth noting is that, unlike Lightroom which stitches raw files into a larger raw file, Photo RAW stitches images into a 16-bit PSD file.
The versions feature is a pretty simple addition that creates another copy of a given image without actually copying the image so that you can experiment with different post-processing settings without increasing the file size on your desktop. As far as I can tell, versions is effectively the same as Lightroom's virtual copies and functions exactly as can be expected. In all, for some users versions adds a critical tool to the Photo RAW workflow that brings it more in line with its primary competitor.
Photo RAW 2018 introduces a more advanced masking tool set by adding global and luminosity masking. Global masking allows the user to adjust the mask after it has been created by adding a feather to blur the mask which works exactly as expected, great for gradated effects. A density adjustment has also been added to masking which allows the user to effectively fade the mask to decrease the effect which functions fantastically and is a strong addition. A luminosity mask tool has also been added to help quickly select either the highlights or shadows of an image, which, in certain situations, can be incredibly useful. The masking features in Photo RAW 2018 works very well and are welcome additions to the application.
Brushed Noise Reduction
Being able to brush away noise without needing to apply noise reduction to the entire image is an interesting addition to match the offering of Photo RAW's competitors. In my testing, it worked wonderfully allowing me to effectively eliminate noise in specific areas of shadow where noise tends to become more pronounced. Personally, this isn't a tool I'd ever use as I very rarely am shooting at an ISO that produces noticeable noise and when I do, I prefer my image to have a consistent noise profile. But I can certainly see the desire for users who often are shooting at higher ISOs, and the addition of noise reduction to the local adjustments tool in Photo RAW certainly gets the job done.
The Photo RAW 2018 HDR experience begins by selecting the series of images that would like to merge into HDR, then right-clicking on one and opting to merge them into HDR. The first window that is presented asks whether you would like to create a natural-looking HDR or a surreal-looking HDR, and if you would like the HDR to be rendered automatically or with custom settings. If you choose custom settings you are then brought to another window that lets you adjust the HDR image with controls similar to a raw editor. I was very impressed by the HDR feature in Photo RAW 2018 and was able to easily achieve more pleasing results than I could with either Photoshop or Lightroom using the same images. I particularly enjoyed using the natural preset as it created images that were rich in tonal range and color while completely avoiding the common over-baked look that HDR tends to often lead users towards. In summary, I'd argue that Photo RAW 2018's strongest new offering is its HDR tool which I will certainly be using going forward for when I create HDR images.
Photo RAW 2018 continues to suffer from some of the speed related issues of its predecessors as I found myself frequently waiting for modules to load. On the positive side, however, preview generation and image load times feel much faster. I also noticed that when I applied effects to images that the effect was rendered far quicker than in the previous version of Photo RAW. One unfortunate issue was that I did encounter a myriad of small display bugs while using Photo RAW 2018 that made the software feel somewhat less polished. For example, previews randomly failing to load and effects flickering weirdly while being rendered.
What I Liked
- Panoramic preview generates very fast.
- Excellent new HDR feature.
- Effects and preview icons render far quicker than before.
- Improved masking tools work very well.
What I Didn't Like
- Switching modules continues to be slow.
- UI contains a myriad of small display bugs.
- Panoramic stitching struggles with some images.
Photo RAW 2018 is a considerable upgrade over Photo RAW 2017 which is nice to see, but as a full replacement, I feel the software still feels somewhat immature to be able to compete with other raw tools such as Lightroom or Capture One and certainly can't replace a workflow that depends on Photoshop. The key selling feature of Photo RAW 2018 remains its robust effects suite which finally has enough speed to be a desirable user experience. Overall, Photo RAW 2017 shines best as a plugin used as part of a workflow rather than becoming the keystone of said workflow. ON1 Photo RAW 2018 can be purchased on the ON1 website for $119.99 or as an upgrade for existing users for $99.99.