Raw files are data rich. Their depth of tones and information allow photographers amazing amounts of post-processing creativity. While Adobe’s Camera Raw engine in Lightroom CC, Lightroom CC Classic, and in Photoshop/Bridge have been the 800-pound gorilla in the room of image making, new, non-subscription stand-alone solutions are appearing. Today, On1 premieres Photo Raw 2018. Download a free trial version here. Both Photo Raw and Lightroom prepare photographs for potential further editing and refinement in Photoshop.

On1’s Photo Raw is available for purchase, no subscription needed. Updates are free for the life of the version. Users own it forever.

Develop compared

Opening a Raw file in On1 Photo Raw is as straightforward as it is in Lightroom CC Classic. Browse to the image, click Develop. The adjustments are similar looking but different in use.

Background on brightness

Before I get into the differences between these two, highlight and shadow detail numbers must be introduced. Highlight details live in the range of 242 to 249 on the 0 (total black) to 255 (pure white) number scale in Photoshop. Lightroom uses percentages. Highlight details are between 95.1% to 97.5% on a 0% (total black) to 100% (pure white) scale in Lightroom. These are measured in the ProPhoto the native colorspace in Lightroom.

Exposure numbers compared in On1 Photo Raw and Lightroom


Photo Raw shows the highlight white patch on the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Photo read R:255, G:255, B:255 or pure white. Lightroom shows R:97% (247,) G:97% (247,) B:96.7% (246.) Photo Raw is about two-thirds of a stop brighter than Lightroom. The difference is not an issue. If I had been using Photo Raw with Canon’s EOS Utility to tether I’d have adjusted the exposure for the correct numbers with that raw converter.

White Balance/Color

Photo Raw balances the fourth patch on the colorimetrically neutral ColorChecker as 5368º K. Lightroom reads 5350º K. Practically these are the same.


Both processing engines have white and black clipping controls. Photo Raw tells the user hovering the cursor over the Whites slider to “Adjust the white point to increase the highlights.” Hovering the cursor over the Blacks slider tells the user to “Adjust the black point to increase the shadows.” Starting with the shadows does “increase” mean make them darker or lighter. Moving the Blacks slider to the left makes shadows darker. This is potentially a big problem once the photo is opened in Photoshop. No matter what raw converter is used, making shadows too dark is a problem. There is no way to successfully lighten shadows if they are blocked up no matter which converter is used. Shadows with detail want to be brighter than 25 in Photo Raw or 7% in Lightroom. Anything lower will be perceived as visual black. There is a way to set the white and black clipping as well as checking for overexposure and adjusting the Highlights slider. Unfortunately, it is not mentioned in the online manual.

Setting the White & Black point by adding the “J” key

The white and black clipping points are the brightest and darkest areas of importance in a photograph. Hold down the J key while adjusting the Whites and Blacks sliders to see where to set the clipping point. Red shows the brightest areas. Blue shows the darkest areas. The J key also provides feedback for the Exposure and Highlights sliders.


Photo Raw lets users put effects on layers. Change the original photo in Develop and the effects update to reflect those changes. These are really fun. They are a great way to explore an image and make it something that just can’t be easily done any other way. This feature is well worth the price by itself. Best of all, effects can be stacked and masked over each other. Anyone familiar with layer masks in Photoshop already knows how to use masks with Effects.

Effect variations with On1 Photo Raw 2018 by Kevin Ames ©2017

Thing I love about Photo Raw

  • Super fast browsing for one. Photo Raw uses the embedded jpeg preview to make it so. There is a setting for a more accurate preview at the cost of rendering new previews.
  • Versions. Photo Raw allows the creation of versions. They are stored in the photo’s sidecar file. Versions are similar to virtual copies in Lightroom.
  • HDR processing is really fast. While you might think the world doesn’t need another HDR converter, this one is look worthy. It’s fast too. Previews in 5 to 7 seconds for the most part.
  • Panoramas are still in beta in this release. It offers some interesting features.
  • Perfect Brush uses color to make very accurate masks quickly. Check this one out.

Things I’d like to see in Photo Raw 2018

  • Color Samplers Hey! I’d love to see them in Lightroom too.
  • Double click returns slider to the default position as they do in Lightroom.
  • Chromatic Aberration checkbox. I could not find any mention of this important lens correction tool in the online help document.

Learn more on Photofocus

The Photofocus team of authors are reviewing Photo Raw 2018 and will have articles on features published shortly.