It takes a powerful incentive to make people want to change their habits–especially photographers. We invest a lot of time, money, and effort to learn to use a tool, so when something new comes along it has to be significantly better for us to reinvest in mastering it. Well, ON1’s new Photo RAW may be good enough to entice me to cut the cord with Lightroom.

I visited ON1’s offices to get a clearer picture of what’s happening with their new Photo RAW. First of all, Photo RAW will replace ON1 Photo 10; there won’t be ON1 Photo 11, there’ll just be Photo RAW. Here’s a link to the page with all the features, but let me tell you what impressed me as a current Lightroom user.

Many Users is No Problem

If you own two computers, you’ve probably tried some series of hacks to let you use one Lightroom catalog on both computers. Big studios hate that they can’t have multiple people using the same catalog at once in Lightroom. It just doesn’t work that way.

Well, Photo RAW is structured differently so that when you make edits and metadata changes they are written to a sidecar file that stays with the picture file instead of staying in the catalog itself, as Lightroom does. That means you can work with that file anytime on any computer and Photo RAW will read it and write updates without issue. That’s really cool and makes it much more usable.

Totally Non-Destructive

Photo RAW will include only non-destructive tools. Previously, if you switched modules in ON1 Photo, it would hard write the changes made to that point, and you’d have to redo them if you wanted to process the image differently. The new method will make each module’s tools re-editable anytime. Ok, that’s kinda like Lightroom’s palettes and adjustment tools are re-editable. The difference is, Photo RAW has so many more tools to use and they are all non-destructive. These are all the palettes and settings that will be in the develop module, not to mention all the other modules ON1 Photo already has. Look at that Black and White palette–it’s got the color filters built right in, and I use those all the time.

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Effects, Portrait Retouching, and Layers, too

It’ll have layers (which people have wished for in Lightroom for ages) and all the selection tools and blend modes like Photoshop, plus the excellent effects modules and smart portrait retouching ON1 is known for, and they all work together without baking the changes along the way. With Lightroom, I have to send the picture to Photoshop, which creates a new file, and once I save it from Photoshop the changes are baked in and I have to start over again to see the photo with different effects. By contrast, Photo RAW’s all-in-one-place tools are going to be liberating to use; it only creates a new file for resizing and working in layers.

Don’t worry, Photo RAW will still function as a plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop. You won’t have to choose to give up Adobe’s tools to get the benefits and unique tools found in ON1.

My Concerns

I had a few concerns about Photo RAW, things that would keep me from switching at the most basic level. For starters, I use plugins with Lightroom and Photoshop, like the Nik suite, Photomatix, and Perfectly Clear, and if these don’t work, I can’t switch. Well, I’m assured that Nik already works, and most other plugins should work just fine, too.

What about camera profiles? Lightroom lets me click a drop down menu and choose from all the styles built into the camera (like Faithful, Landscape, Standard, etc) and my picture suddenly looks just like it did on my camera. Good news: Photo RAW will not only have profiles for Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Fuji like Lightroom does, but it will also include profiles for all the other brands, like Lumix. I’ve really missed having these, so I’m looking forward to that.

What about collections and organization tools? Yes, it’s got all those things, including smart collection-style albums.

Is Photo RAW fast enough to keep up with my workflow? Time is money! Great news: Photo RAW will be lightning fast. ON1 does something fundamentally different and it zips along. ON1 Photo’s current version is already well known for its super fast browse speeds, and the demo of Photo RAW I saw with full res photos on a high res screen was remarkably fast. Even processor-heavy actions were completed instantaneously. Faster is always better, and this promises to race right along.

There are only 2 things I see that it’s missing for my work. First is a text tool, which I use infrequently, and I’ve still got Photoshop for those few times I need text and other tools like are filling my needs really well, too. In fact, I prefer using PicMonkey over Photoshop to add text.

The other thing I use all the time is Smugmug’s interface which helps me organize my website albums and publish without creating extra files on my own computer. Hopefully, ON1 will add support for Smugmug and other publishing services very soon.

You Can Help

Photo RAW is scheduled to be released this Fall, and there will be several public betas this summer. That means you can help test the software and make important suggestions for improvement. Head over to the Photo RAW page and sign up to get updates and be notified when you can help.


With its non-destructive workflow, extra tools, and lightning fast speeds, I’m excited to see if ON1’s Photo RAW doesn’t provide a smoother workflow for me. It’ll have all the tools I need to keep me organized and finish my photos to perfection, and I suspect it’ll be a good solution for you too, and may even be worth switching and investing time for mastery. I’ll keep you updated.