Lightroom Versus ON1 Photo Raw 2023: Which Will Be the Victor? It Depends on Your Camera.

Lightroom Versus ON1 Photo Raw 2023: Which Will Be the Victor? It Depends on Your Camera.

With ON1 Photo Raw 2023 having just won a Pop Photo Award for its AI features, it is apt to compare the app with Lightroom next. How would it stand up to different camera raw files?

I've already tested two products that act as an alternative to Lightroom Classic: DxO PhotoLab 6 and Capture One. In these tests, I have been displaying and comparing the same raw files. Unlike those other programs, I have used ON1 for several years, although I have used Lightroom for longer. 

On1 Photo Raw is probably the closest package you'll find to Adobe's Photographer Plan. Its raw development tools work similarly to Lightroom Classic, it has an advanced layers-based editor that can be easier to use than Photoshop, and it has a mobile app with a cloud service that is cheaper than Adobe's offering too. It also has an advanced catalog.

The New Version, ON1 Photo Raw 2023.1, Will Be Released Soon

The new version of ON1 Photo Raw, to be released imminently, has new overlays for the crop tool. It also enhances the Sky Swap AI's features, increases the NoNoise AI and Resize AI modules' speed, and changes the font size, making it easier to see on smaller screens. It also supports more cameras, including the Canon EOS R6 Mark II and the Panasonic Lumix DC-S5II.

The upgrade is free to the users of ON1 Photo Raw 2023 and is otherwise priced at $99.99 for a perpetual license for new customers. Owners of any previous version of any ON1 products can order version 2023 for the upgrade price of $79.99. There's a free 14-day trial available, and once the 2023.1 product is officially made available, if you have used the trial of Photo RAW 2023, you will be able to download and use the trial of 2023.1 for 14 days.

ON1 Is Not That Dissimilar to Lightroom Classic and Photoshop

ON1's raw interface has a very similar look and feel to Lightroom Classic. The catalog functions similarly, too. If you can find your way around searching images in Lightroom, you will in ON1. In fact, it is possible to import the catalog and development settings from Lightroom Classic into ON1 Photo Raw. Pricing is slightly more competitive than the Adobe Photographer's Plan and can be bought outright or through subscription options.

There is a lot more under ON1's hood than with Lightroom Classic. It combines much of the functionality you find in the Adobe Photographer Plan, including a phone app, cloud sync, and various plugins in one package. The Editor's advanced layers tools are more intuitive too.

Similar to DxO PhotoLab 6's Deep Prime, it is slightly unfair comparing ON1 to Lightroom Classic because it has AI noise reduction and sharpening functionality, which Lightroom doesn't. You would need to buy those as plugins for Adobe's offering. However, this review mainly looks at the initial raw files on import. I may mention the functionality of some of the settings, but I am not looking at the results, as those are subjective.

Raw File Test Results

ON1 and Nikon

Comparing results between ON1 with Lightroom with Nikon images took me by surprise. I had been impressed with the output from Lightroom, and ON1's was very similar. The greens seemed slightly lighter in On1, but the yellow of the grass was a little darker and sharper. There is a fraction more detail in the sky as well. Using the slider below, you can see a difference in the profiles applied by the two programs, something to test before buying if you shoot architecture, for example. Saying that, I found ON1's lens profiles did not create horizontal or vertical lens distortion.

Lightroom is on the left in the following two examples.

As you can see in the grass, in some areas, ON1 brought out a tiny bit more fine detail that I could not see in Lightroom.

I am not using a before and after slider in the following image because I want to let you see a larger version, which you can get by clicking on the image. The trunk of the tree on the ON1 version is a fraction lighter, showing more details, but the details in the tree's needles are similar. Other apps brought out more details there.

Cropped in Lightroom

Compare the detail in the foliage above with that produced by ON1 below.

Cropped in On1

Overall, at default settings, the Nikon image appeared to have slightly more punch in ON1. For Nikon owners, the differences between the two programs seem minimal.

ON1 and Canon

The Canon image was not over-sharpened in ON1 as it was in Lightroom. Furthermore, the noise in the shadows was far less visible in ON1.

The model's skin in the Lightroom version is slightly yellow, and the false purple hue of the blouse is visible in that too. The ON1 version is slightly brighter. ON1 is on the right, and Lightroom Classic is on the left.

Overall, looking at all the images I tested, Canon's raw files appeared brighter in ON1 than in Lightroom, albeit only very slightly. However, the colors from ON1 were much more accurate than with Lightroom's default. A subject's blue blouse appeared almost purple in Lightroom. The photographer, without knowing which programs I was showing, chose the ON1 result as being the closest match. I subsequently changed all the camera profiles in Lightroom, and they all showed the blouse having a purple hue. I preferred the skin tone in ON1 to Lightroom. But, for my taste, DxO Photolab 6 was better.

ON1 and OM System

I shoot with an OM-1 and Olympus cameras before that. Like Lightroom, I've been using ON1 Photo Raw for years. In many cases, I liked the developed results it brought far better than Adobe's. However, using the same image I had for testing previously, I was more impressed with the Lightroom output. The yellows in ON1 Photo Raw seemed over-saturated. The tonal transition through the highlights was also not smooth; look at the highlights around the sun in the following image.

Again, Lightroom is on the left, and ON1 Photo Raw is on the right.

I could fix that in processing, but that isn't the point of this test.

The ON1 default result for the OM-1 was far cleaner than Lightroom's; there were no unwanted ugly artifacts. At default, Lightroom hugely over-sharpens Olympus and OM System images. I could detect just a hint of luminance noise in ON1. As ON1 has built-in AI noise reduction and sharpening, applying those produced a far superior result to Lightroom's, although I did have to reduce the default AI sharpening settings a lot.

Looking at a different image, the color accuracy was better than in Lightroom, with greens being more muted and closer to life. In the following example, the greens shown in the Lightroom export on the left are too vivid. I was also able to significantly increase the details in the dark tones using the shadows slider without introducing noise in ON1, which I was less able to do in Lightroom Classic. But, the Lightroom version has more clarity at default values than ON1. Besides the structure slider in the raw development panel, ON1's edit module has an excellent layer tool called Dynamic Contrast that addresses that.

Sony and ON1 Photo Raw

The following slider shows Lightroom on the left and ON1 on the right. In LR, it automatically selected the "Camera ST" profile, so in ON1, I selected their camera standard profile. There is a significant difference between the two images. The ON1 version is 0.8 stops brighter; it may even be slightly too bright. The skin color looks more natural to me in ON1.

Using ON1, I recovered details in the shadows, introducing minimal visible noise to the image. Again, using the numerous images I tested, colors were more accurate, and skin tones were more pleasing than with Lightroom. There wasn't the strange color cast I saw in Capture One.

The following image from an a7 Mark III is shown using Lightroom on the left and ON1 on the right. Again, there is a significant difference as there was using other raw files I tested.

On1 and Fujifilm

Once again, there were significant differences in the default results between ON1 and Lightroom. The greens are lighter in ON1, and the castle walls are a more pleasing color. However, I am less sure about the sky color; I prefer the blues in Lightroom.

Again, Lightroom is on the left, and ON1 is on the right.

As I pointed out before, my tests with Fujifilm shots were not great with Lightroom; there seemed to be an unpleasant blurred painterly effect in the complex fine detail greens of tree leaves. In ON1 Photo Raw, this was less evident.

What I Like and What Could Be iImproved in ON1 Photo Raw 2023

The app is probably the most versatile of all the programs I have tried. It is accessible to beginners, with one-click adjustments, and advanced photographers who want precise control over their adjustments. It is also cheaper to buy a perpetual license or a subscription than anything else I have reviewed so far.

I found ON1's sliders to be gentler in their use than Lightroom's, so their control was more precise. The one exception was the contrast slider, which I found to be over-sensitive.

Of all the programs I've tried, ON1 Photo Raw had the biggest diversity of results. There were significant differences depending on the camera brand and the subject being shot. Sometimes, it was better than Lightroom, and others, not. Nevertheless, these results are only the default conversions. If one spends time developing the images, it can produce super results for all brands with either program.

The raw results, the features in the Edit Module, and especially AI NoNoise, make it well worth consideration as an excellent alternative to the Adobe Photographer Plan.

You can download a 14-day trial of ON1 Photo Raw 2023 by clicking here.

I want to once again thank my fellow writers for generously sharing their images for me to play with: Used with the kind permission of Peter Morgan, Canon; Gary McIntyre, Fujifilm X-T5 and Nikon Z 7II;  Andy Day, Sony a7 III, and John Ricard, Sony A1 and Nikon Z6.

Ivor Rackham's picture

A professional photographer, website developer, and writer, Ivor lives in the North East of England. His main work is training others in photography. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being. In 2023 he accepted becoming a brand ambassador for the OM System.

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When Adobe went to subscription only I looked at and tried other options. After much trial I settled on ON1 (2019). Was quite pleased with it. I then upgraded this year to 2023 and am really happy with the speed and AI improvements. For the money I think it is a great all-in-1 alternative to the Lightroom / Photoshop alternative and much easier to use.

Glad you are getting along with it. Thank you for signing up to comment.

On1 PR 2023.1 is a significant upgrade in terms of speed, performance, and stability. Additionally, it adds an expanded feature set to its healing brush crop overlays, improved AI masking, and sky replacement.

I agree! Thanks for the comment.

Is anyone doing a compare on ACR and C1 to O1 and specifically the color rendering. Most of the time items such as sharpening, contrast noise reduction is something you can to a large extent tweak until you are happy but the color rendering is where I think has been the biggest difference in AR and C1 and im getting a little bit curious about these new raw apps, and specifically once they are now getting a decent catalogue system.

I've set up hundreds of presets in ON1 to apply to any genre I shoot. Frankly colour is never an issue, I just apply the preset I like the look of most (from the preset previews) and use that as the base for further processing/tweaking.

Hi Karl, I've been comparing Adobe Lightroom of the unadjusted raw files with different software, including Capture One and DxO PhotoLab 6. ON1 is a cool bit of software that has evolved into what it is today over 15 or so years. It's well worth giving the trial a go.

The tests I've done do show the different color rendering. But this is purely using the unadjusted raw files as the adjusted results vary depending upon the photographer's experience with the software, and there is a degree of subjectivity involved.

Thanks for taking the time to comment Karl and Kevin.

There's no such thing as an unadjusted raw file, unless you're looking at a monochrome checkerboard of non-gamma corrected pixels. I think what you mean is the application's unaltered *default* rendering of the raw data?

No, I meant unadjusted by the photographer using the software. I thought that was obvious. Sorry you couldn't understand it.

So in other words processed by some engineer's idea of what a middle of the road Jack of all trades and Master of none set of default instructions should look like? Lightroom rarely, if ever, renders photos the same as the camera's internal raw processing engine does. Other than the manufacturer's provided software, when applicable, none of them really do. So choosing LR in and of itself is a decision to use LRs default set of instructions, as opposed to Capture1, DxO, On 1, etc. The information contained in a raw file doesn't look anything like what one would expect until a significant amount of processing is done just to open it on your screen. It HAS to be processed in order to look like anything other than a dark blob of monochromatic pixels.

Yes, that's fairly obvious and, I thought, didn't need explaining because our readers are intelligent enough to understand what was meant in the comment without me being pedantic.

You might be surprised by how many folks think what they see on their screen is the "straight out of camera unaltered raw file." It's not that they're unintelligent, it's they've been grossly misinformed by supposed 'experts' who refer to what they see on their screen when they first open a raw image file as THE "unaltered" or "unadjusted" raw file.

Yes, technically it is absolutely correct. Does it make much difference to the vast majority if they know how it works? Probably not.

It makes a difference because they think any other equally valid interpretation of the raw data is somehow "stretching" and reducing image quality by altering the "straight out of camera" raw file. So they're afraid to change the default settings to anything else because it then won't be the "original" raw image.

I have both Lightroom and ON1, before Lightroom 6 I prefered ON1 because it is like a combination of Photoshop and Lightroom. What I do not like is it is non distructive,so when I do not like a photo I have to delete from ON1 then go find the file and also delete it there, where as lightroom will do it for me. And now with the cloud only monthly subscription with Lightroom I think I will go with ON1 and up date my version. I do not want to keep paying for something and never own it, I do not want to rent I want to own.

Hi Daniel, If you mark the files as rejected (X on the keyboard as you would with Lightroom), apply a filter to show all the rejected photos, you can then select them all and delete them (Delete on the keyboard.) This works both from the cataloged folders and the Albums.

I find this program problematic at best. I find it hard to believe no one else does. Tech support is not helpful

Thanks for signing up to make that comment. My experience with ON1 has been the exact opposite. With every piece of software, there will always be a few who will not get on with it because of an incompatibility with their system or because the workflow doesn't suit them as much as another. Fortunately, there are plenty of choices out there.

Agreed. I am walking on eggshells when I use it. Lightroom has its quirks but stability is not one of them. I have ran ON1 on both Mac and PC with the same results. I just hope the latest version is finally more stable.

There appear to be (sometimes major) differences in the size of objects in the comparison photo's. This is likely due to forgetting to disable the automatic lens correction in ON1.

I didn't forget. The comparison were all at default values. Thank-you for signing up to comment.

Nice to see that ON1 has finally on par with Lightroom from a feature/results standpoint. However the one area I am still finding an issue with is stability. I gave up on ON1 more than once since the 2019 version because the program crashed way more often than Lightroom. I decided to give the 2023 version another chance but once again it crashed. This time it was when synchronizing with my mobile app. And it was a bad one in that I could not get the program to startup. Tech support could not help me either. I asked for a refund back in November, but now am trying the latest version once again. Fingers crossed that it is more stable.

Hi Jim, thanks for signing up to join in the discussion. I think every piece of software I mention, someone either comments or messages me with an issue they are having with stability. I''ve had huge problems recently with Lightroom just grinding to a halt. I thought it was fixed, but alas no. I've had to force stop it three times this afternoon already.

As systems get more complex and with the enormous number of combinations of apps we have, it is inevitable that of the hundreds of thousands of users, someone will have a problem. I hope you get it sorted.

I have not used Lightroom but I agree with David Wood that there are stability issues (on Windows 10/11) that should not be there. I have considered trialing Lightroom/Photoshop because of this, I choose On1 because it's perpetual license option.
For me support has always been helpful (in particular Stevie) as much as they can, in the end they can only pass on issues to the developers.
Maybe the next update should be focusing on stability rather than functionality, the stability issues to me seem to relate to the database side which cause the most crashes for me.
A shame you did not mention which camera profiles you have been using for the test. They can make a big difference.

ON1 makes a fantastic product, hands down. To be fair, I’ve given them a small bit of criticism over the years, but I’ve given them far more accolades. It took me a while to learn their product(s), but now, I can’t imagine not having Photo Raw in my toolbox. I can do almost everything in Photo Raw. The very few things I can’t do seem to be with my own working knowledge of the product… I have trouble removing flash from eyeglasses, and making layer copies of image areas and duplicating the copied layers… I just find that another software seems easier in these two areas… but I’m learning. They have fully met their photography customers with their products. I designed my new image processing machine solely for ON1, and the two work very well together. Kudos to ON1!

I just discovered On1 offers an Android version. It requires that you sign in it to use, and it is rather stripped down, especially so if don't subscribe to the On1 CloudSync service. But it IS there! That is much more than many photo software publishers can say.

The comparison should rather be ON1 Photo RAW versus Adobe Photography Plan, since you can hardly buy Lightroom as a stand-alone program. The Adobe Photography Plan comprises Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Premiere Rush and a couple of other little programs. When given the choice between ON1 and Adobe Photography Plan, I'd choose Adobe any day of the week.

BTW: Sky replacement, as offered in ON1 and Skylum Luminar hasn't got anything to do with photography, that's computational lying disguised as photography. The same applies to Adobe's Firefly AI features.