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Categorized | Articles, Gear, Jason DiMichele

Gear — ON1 Photo RAW 2017 (full review)

Review by Jason DiMichele

For years, the photographic industry was inundated with the RAW vs. JPG argument. Most photographers now agree that shooting RAW will get the best quality from your camera. However, just because you shoot RAW doesn’t guarantee great results, as both your technique and the RAW conversion software are paramount to the quality of the end result. ON1’s Photo RAW 2017 is a newcomer to the RAW conversion game. Let’s see if it’s a winner!


ON1 has a lengthy history in the industry. Over the years they’ve built a great reputation for their effects plugins. With Photo RAW 2017 ($119.99 USD from www.on1.com), they’ve upped their game and developed a RAW engine that works on both the Mac and PC. ON1 Photo RAW can be purchased directly from ON1, and you’ll only pay once for the current version, as it’s not a subscription-based product. There’s also a free 30-day trial to fully explore and test the application. ON1 Photo RAW 2017 operates as both a standalone application, and a plugin to Photoshop and Lightroom.

The Photo RAW interface will take some time to get used to. Some of the buttons and options aren’t necessarily where you would expect them to be. Unlike many applications these days, the ON1 Photo RAW application preferences are kept to a minimum. This keeps the application configuration less intimidating, but perhaps at the expense of more advanced features. ON1 has included a very useful help system in Photo RAW, and the company has plenty of excellent training videos and tutorials available.

Photo RAW does not use a cataloging system, but is an all-in-one photo organizer/browser, photo editor, RAW processor and effects application. It supports cloud integration for photo storage, and can transfer photos to your iOS devices with the Photo Via feature. The browser is very quick and renders your image previews blazingly fast. Photo RAW not only supports RAW files, but also JPG, TIF, PSD, PSB, PNG and DNG. There are masking features, as well as support for non-destructive editing with the use of sidecar files. The non-destructive sidecar feature is disabled by default, however I would suggest enabling it for maximum flexibility.

Photo RAW includes five main modules, including Browse, Develop, Effects, Layers and Resize. The module names are self-explanatory, and ON1 does a decent job throughout most of the application to keep things simple.

In the Develop module, there are three panels (Tone & Colour, Details and Lens Correction) available all the time. Other panels (B&W, Colour Adjustment, Curves, Glow, Skin Retouching, Split Tone, Transform and Vignette) are only available when adding them with the Show More section. To remove the effects of these additional panels, you click on the trashcan icon on the panel.

I found a couple of issues when configuring the Files section of the application preferences. The first is that the Photo RAW Layers feature only supports the Photoshop PSD file format, and not TIFF (JPG doesn’t support layers). I don’t understand why the TIFF format isn’t supported. This is inconvenient for those not using the PSD format in their workflow, as there are many reasons to use TIFF instead. In addition, Photo RAW automatically saves a PSD file in the AdobeRGB colour space when using the Layers feature. This is a problem for those who want to remain editing in the larger ProPhoto RGB colour space.

However, the bigger issue involves configuring the JPG file options. The fact that you can select 16-bit for a JPG doesn’t make sense since JPG files can only be 8-bit. When selecting the colour space, you’re able to choose ProPhoto RGB. This is definitely something you don’t want to do. ProPhoto RGB should only be used with 16-bit files since it’s too easy to cause colour havoc with an 8-bit file.

At the time I submitted this review, ON1 announced Photo RAW 2018, which adds features such as HDR, pano stitching, an updated user interface and various enhancements. There’s a good chance the Photo RAW 2018 update will address some of the issues I found with the Photo RAW 2017 version, because ON1 is very responsive to their customers and takes their products seriously.

In my opinion, there are a few elements and options in Photo RAW 2017 that don’t make sense. However, the RAW conversion, image browsing and effect processing is fast and excellent quality, which is the primary focus for this type of application. I suggest that you keep ON1’s Photo RAW on your radar (especially with Photo RAW 2018 around the corner) as a contender for organizing, converting RAW images and editing your images, especially if you’re not heavily invested in another product.

To read more of this not-to-miss issue please pick up the Winter 2018 issue today online or at your local newsstand. To never miss an issue you can subscribe here

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