Software


Hands-On Review of ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5

November 15, 2017

By Stan Sholik

© Stan Sholik/Logo Courtesy of ON1

The original image.

When ON1, Inc. released ON1 Photo RAW 2017, the company said there were important features that would be arriving in future updates. With Photo RAW 2017.5, those features are here.

(Update: Since we've published this review, ON1 has released a public beta for Photo RAW 2018. You can learn more about those features here.)

Available for both Mac and Windows computers, ON1 2017.5 functions as a standalone program and as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS6 and CC, Photoshop Elements 13, 14 or 15, Lightroom 5 and CC, and Apple Photos. The latest version is a free upgrade for users of ON1 2017. New users can purchase 2017.5 for $120 and users of earlier versions of ON1 can upgrade for $100. A single activation allows installation on up to five computers. There is also a subscription version, ON1 Plus Pro, available for $150 per year, which includes free upgrades as long as the membership is active along with other free stuff.

I used 2017.5 (version 11.5.1) primarily as a standalone program on both Mac and Windows computers.

The new Details pane in the Develop module includes both sharpening and noise reduction sliders.

What’s New

There are additions and revisions in three of the five Photo RAW modules: Browse, Develop and Effects. New to the Browse module is the ability to compare up to 15 images at one time. A checkbox allows you to lock the pan and zoom of all of the images so you can drag and magnify them all at once. The search function is improved with the addition of an Advanced search pane and you can now search using 16 criteria including camera model, ISO, focal length and keyword. While not actually a part of the Browser module, Lightroom users can migrate their entire catalog into ON1 2017.5. This is done from Lightroom, but the images, folder structure and metadata become available in ON1 as indexed folders.

When opening an image in the Develop module, ON1 2017.5 automatically applies a lens correction based on the EXIF metadata in the file.

A new Details pane is also available in the Develop module. It and the Lens Correction pane are always visible, as is the Tone & Color pane. The Details pane combines sharpening and noise reduction in a single pane (rather than separate panes, as in the earlier version of the program). Holding the Alt/Option key while applying noise reduction or sharpening changes the view to grayscale and makes the adjustment easier to see. Also new to Develop (and to Effects) is the clone stamp, previously only available in the Layers module.

The Effects module sees other significant changes as well. Most significant is the ability to stack presets without having the latest preset wipe out the changes from the previously chosen preset or adjustments. Preset management is improved with the ability to rename or hide preset categories, and to export your custom presets to share with friends or publish online. As a side note, the ON1 website (on1.com) has many presets available for free or at a low cost.

The final image after applying sharpening and noise reduction in the Develop module and stacking the HDR and Black and White effects in the Effects module.

User Friendliness

The updates in 2017.5 have little effect on this already user-friendly program. Having the clone stamp available in Develop and Effects is a welcome addition, as is having sharpening and noise reduction in the Develop module. ON1 Photo RAW 2017 should feel familiar to anyone with previous experience using any photo imaging software. For those not familiar with such programs, the large library of video tutorials on the ON1 website will get you up to speed quickly. These videos, along with an excellent help link, are also available from within Photo RAW 2017.5.

What We Liked

Overall, the new features worked as expected. The ability to compare up to 15 images in the Browse module is a big help when editing a large shoot with a lot of similar images of the same subject. Locking the pan and zoom makes it easy to compare sharpness, but the tool lacks any indication of zoom level so you never know the magnification of the images you are looking at.

The Advanced Search function works well and quickly, and the available categories should be enough to satisfy most users. Finally, the ability to add a preset without wiping out previous presets and adjustments i0s a welcome feature.

What We Didn’t Like

A few of my criticisms carry over from the original release of ON1 Photo RAW: I miss the ability to reset a slider by double-clicking it, particularly in the Develop module; there is no readout of the adjusted color temperature when using the white balance tool; the Skin Retouching effect hasn’t been updated so it still over-softens portraits; and there is no way to move images from your camera card to your computer from within the program.

I’m also confused about sharpening and noise reduction. If these two tools are so intimately connected that they deserve a single pane in the Develop module, why are they still separate in the Effects module? And why aren’t the different types of sharpening (and the ability to apply sharpening and noise reduction to specific areas of the image) carried over from the Effects module to the Details pane in Develop?

I don’t have a problem with lens corrections being applied automatically to an image when I open it in the Develop module—particularly when you can also manually adjust the parameters—but I can imagine some people will dislike this automation. My issue with the pane is that you cannot remove color fringing without having the lens correction active. I would prefer a means of turning off the automatic lens correction while still retaining the ability to tackle color fringing.

How It Compares

ON1 is clearly pivoting Photo RAW to be one of the top image-browsing and editing programs on the market. Adding in the ability to apply and edit effects, presets and layer them together further enhances the program. The competition, however, isn’t sitting still. Adobe continues to roll out improvements to its suite, and apps like Affinity are coming to Windows, presenting photographers with compelling alternatives.

Bottom Line

With ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5, you can avoid the Adobe subscription model, install the program on five Mac or Windows computers, and enjoy a wide range of editing adjustments in a clean, friendly interface.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer based in Santa Ana, CA.