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