When it comes to imaging software, creating one program to seamlessly unify image management, RAW file development and retouching is something of a holy grail, with multiple developers pushing toward the goal. On1 is right at the forefront of this effort and with the release of Photo RAW 2017.5, they’ve taken a major step toward this prized unification.


On1 Photo RAW can work as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom or as a standalone application. You can purchase the full version for a one-time price of $100. A $150/year membership entitles you to free upgrades, priority tech support, private photo education, video courses and a few more extras.

Unlike Lightroom, On1 doesn’t use a catalogue-based approached to photo organizing. Instead, you’re working with your tried-and-true file tree. The software is also integrated with Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive so you can easily browse photos stored on those cloud services (provided you use them, of course). You can create an index of folders for quick retrieval. You can also create favorite folders and albums as well. You can make a “smart album” which essentially aggregates images from any indexed folder without actually moving them.

Like Lightroom, the software is divided into several different workspaces—notated by tabs on the right-hand side. There are tabs for browse, develop, effects, layers and resize. For editing, there’s a large collection of presets alongside other non-destructive tools. It also supports layered editing. Files can be exported as TIFFs, PNGs, JPEGs or PSDs.

A new comparison tool makes it easy to sample up to 15 images side-by-side at once.


Version 2017.5 represents a fairly significant upgrade. On1 has added a lens correction mode to import lens profiles to correct distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. Lenses are detected and corrections applied automatically but you can also go in and tweak the sliders yourself.

The clone stamp can now be applied non-destructively. Sharpening and noise reduction can be applied globally and are now located in the Details pane.

Organizationally, there’s an improved metadata search so you search by more than one criteria and refine the priority of each. It’s a more robust and elegant image search engine than what we’ve seen on most comparable programs.

There’s also compare mode that lets you compare up to 15 images at once—and pan and zoom in on them simultaneously.


On1 offers an extensive selection of preset effects plus ample tools to make your own detailed edits. The new lens profile tool performed well in our tests. It removed purple fringing from an image from a Canon 5D Mark IV about as well as Lightroom.

The noise reduction tool showed a clear preference for retaining detail, even at the expense of more noise. The same image processed similarly in Lightroom produced an image with less noise grain but fewer fine details.

We liked the assortment of non-destructive edits you can make and On1’s admirably straight-forward approach to adding layers.

Image browsing on our Mac (2.7Ghz, 16GB RAM) was fairly slow. An update toward the end of our testing period dramatically improved folder browsing, with thumbnails loading quickly. However, individual images still take several seconds to resolve into focus when you click on them. On1 tells us they’re readying additional updates to address performance issues.

Image editing, however, is quite speedy—as is image exporting.  Unfortunately you can’t work in the program while it’s exporting images, which can throw a monkey wrench into your workflow if you have a bunch of images to export.

The program was remarkably stable. In over 20 hours with the program we only experienced a single crash. One odd metadata quirk we spotted was that the software can’t display ISO values above 51,000—it either leaves the ISO field blank or displays an incorrect value (usually ISO 65535). We were unable to find those images when using the search function, despite their being an option to sort images above ISO 51,200.


On1 Photo RAW 2017 is an extremely capable software application that straddles the capabilities of Lightroom and Photoshop without the complexity and relatedly deep feature sets. It’s an extremely capable Lightroom alternative for image organization and RAW development.

ON1 PHOTO RAW 2017.5

PROS: Elegant user interface; nice selection of presets; layers and local editing options; robust search tools.
CONS: Image browsing can be sluggish; unable to work on images during export; incomplete metadata info on high ISO images.
PRICE: $100


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