Maybe the Only Photo Processing Software You’ll Ever Need: We Review ON1 Photo Raw 2023

ON1 Photo Raw 2023's is reaching a point where we don't need other apps to process our photos. It indeed addressed some of our most significant developing and editing annoyances.

There are various bugbears that a lot of photographers have in common when it comes to software. The first is the number of programs we need to get the desired results. On my computer, besides Lightroom, Photoshop, and various Nik, and Topaz apps, I have a plethora of other tools that I sometimes call upon. That's before I even mention the Photoshop plugins. That results in a time-consuming, complex workflow requiring multiple programs to sort your photos and achieve the desired results. Secondly, there is the cost of buying and updating all these programs.

The latest iteration of ON1 brings all the functionality of these into one program. Furthermore, it's a fast program, taking a fraction of a moment to swap between modules. I wrote a full review of the last version of ON1 Photo Raw in a previous article, so I won't repeat myself here by reviewing the full functionality. I will only briefly mention that it is much cheaper than Adobe's offerings, does as good or a better job in many areas of image processing, and is available to buy outright (a perpetual license) and a subscription. Additionally, I know this is subjective, but I like the results of its raw processing far more than other raw development tools I try.

ON1's Photo Catalog is a superb tool. It's fast and reliable, with all the cataloging functionalities found in other apps. Akin to a combination of Lightroom and Bridge, you can create albums within the Browse module, similar to Lightroom's Collections. In fact, you can import your Lightroom collections and development settings into ON1, as well as the raw adjustments. You can also use it as a file browser.

The Browse module has a new helpful feature. Now it has what ON1 calls Keyword AI. It looks at the image and automatically suggests keywords, saving time on typing or thinking up what keywords you should use.

On images I tried, it identified the subjects quickly and precisely, although it could not differentiate between a sunrise and a sunset; some humans struggle with that despite knowing that I live on the east coast. It also suggested a few incorrect keywords, but I didn't select those for use. Over time, as ON1 feeds more images to the AI engine, this will become even more efficient.

ON1 was years ahead of Adobe with accurate edge detection for masking, and their rival is only just catching up; ON1's "Perfect Brush" is far superior to Lightroom's "Edge Detect." But now, ON1 Photo Raw 2023 has surged ahead again, and its masking is far superior to anything else available on the market. It also uses AI technology to speed up more of the editing process.

The software claims to remove the "tedious methods of masking, layering, brushing or adjusting." A click of the sky and the Super Select AI tool and that area is selected; a click of a person, and they are chosen instead. It seemed to work well. Only once or twice, with some unusual shots of a type that the AI had not yet learned, was the selection not perfect. However, that is rare and easily fixed by tweaking the mask with an additional click.

The AI selection function is good but not yet 100% flawless in its application. For example, when I selected areas of the sea of a long exposure shot, it missed patches, but that sort of thing will improve over time as the system learns. Saying that, it still performs far better than the other automatic selection tools I've used. Where it didn't identify selections correctly the first time, any omission was fixed even more quickly than carrying out mask selection from scratch using the fabulous Perfect Brush.

I anticipate the AI will improve as time passes, and it learns from more images that the people at ON1 install into it; ON1 doesn't use your data, although I would be happy to share mine. Nevertheless, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Affinity don't touch this function.

Any selected part of a photo is easily adjusted by applying pre-set adjustment layers to it with a right mouse click. Hovering over the new "Adaptive Presets" gives a preview of all the adjustments that can be applied, which can be further modified after selection. That really speeds up the workflow.

Image enhancement also has a range of AI functionality, including upscaling, noise reduction, and sharpening, and a new recovery of out-of-focus areas in a Tack Sharp AI tool. I put this to the test, and it worked well with the photos I tried, although the default values were too strong for me, so I needed to reduce those manually.

The NoNoise and Tack Sharp AI functions are found under the Noise and Sharpening panel of the Develop module. This very high ISO telephoto shot of distant geese shot on a misty evening pushed the software to its limits. The default adjustments need tweeking to find the best resuls.

What I Like About ON1 Photo Raw 2023 and What Could Be Improved

ON1 Photo Raw 2023 suits every level of photographer. The beginner can use single-click adjustments, whereas the expert can develop the image from there with as much control as one has adjusting layers in Photoshop. It is a boon for those who want to speed up their workflow. ON1 Photo Raw gives me far better results than Lightroom. Additionally, it quickly leaps back and forth between the Develop and other modules, far faster than going from Lightroom to Photoshop and back again. Applying layer adjustments is more intuitive than Photoshop too.

It's stable software as well. Even on my older machine, it worked perfectly without slowing.

The new functionality speeds up the workflow further, negating the need for separate plugins such as Topaz Denoise and Sharpen AI.

There were a few minor glitches with the first release, as there often are with new, complex software. But an update has just addressed those. Also, the default settings for Denoise and Tack Sharp AI are a little too strong for my taste. But then again, so too are Adobe Camera Raw/Lightroom's, which give inferior noise reduction and sharpening.

The following before and after image was out of focus, and there was a lot of motion blur. The Tack Sharp AI feature makes unusable photos usable.

For someone starting in photography or wanting to move away from the Adobe suite, ON1 Photo Raw is an obvious choice. For those who, like me, are inundated with multiple apps and a varied and complex workflow, it's perfect.

I began by stating that maybe ON1 Photo Raw 2023 can be the only software you will ever need; it is. Its workflow differs from other apps and takes a little learning from scratch. But it is fast and covers all the functionality I ever want. It is by far the most complete image-processing software I've come across. As always, I have used some extreme examples to test this software, and it has coped well at recovering otherwise failed images. In the real world, the images won't be so severely blurred or grainy, so the results are far better. I can thoroughly recommend ON Photo Raw 2023 as the most comprehensive and effective tool out there.

Of course, it won't be the only software on my computer because I'll be putting others through their paces for you, but it is impressive, and if I were to rely on one program, this would be it.

The video at the top from ON1 shows how some of the new features work.

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25 Comments
STEVEN WEBB's picture

It crashed every time when I tried to open Canon R5 files in its Edit module whether they were RAW or jpegs, so I requested a refund and was able to get my money back since I had signed up early for it. On1 2023 did not crash when I tried editing other files though like from an R6, a Fujifilm XT3, a Panasonic GH3, an iphone, or even a scanned image. On1 2022 works fine with my R5 files. So I won't be upgrading to any new On1 versions.

Besides the issue with the R5 files it really bogs down after adding certain filters and adjustments to the point where the masking brush won't even move when you try to drag it with a mouse. If you drag the brush then pause and keep holding down the mouse button the brush will suddenly jump to the position after several seconds and apply the effect to whatever was in its path, so you have to hope you dragged the mouse accurately. If you turn off most of your adjustments then the brush tool will work pretty good, but then you have to go back and turn on all the other effects again to see the result.

Maybe it's all my fault though and I just need to spend about $10k on a new computer because a 6 core Intel i7 cpu, an Nvidia Quadro P4000, and 64GB of RAM aren't enough. But wat a minute: programs like Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Capture One 2022, DxO Photolab 6, the Nik Collection, Affinity Photo, Luminar AI, and Portrait Pro all work just fine on my computer. Huh, I wonder what it could be.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I built my computer about 8 years ago. General specs in the comment below. I haven't seen any of the problems you are getting with ON1, though I find Lightroom causes me all sorts of headaches with eating resources and the computer grinds to a halt. Affinity makes a real mess of raw files on my system, they suddenly lose contrast and luminosity halfway through adjusting.

I guess these programs are so complex and there are so may variations of PC that it is inevitable that different systems may or may not work well with different apps.

Brian Hood's picture

Steven Webb: I have had the exact same problems as you have had with ON1. I don't know that's comforting, but you are not alone. The program is slow, clunky, and stops responding at the slightest command. For example, just this morning, I simply clicked on a cataloged folder and my screen went gray and stopped responding for several minutes. I eventually had to kill the program and start over. This happens frequently, but 2023 is worse than previous versions. I could not even install the downloaded .exe file directly without help from ON1. Next, the installed .exe file would not run and I needed further assistance.

I thought the problem was my old PC so last year I had a new one built with over the top capability (similar to Steve Webb's specs) that far exceeds ON1 requirements and the program still will not work. I have run the program on four different PC's with the same crashing issues so the problem is crystal clear, yet ON1 will do nothing about it.

I have been trying to give ON1 my business since 2020. None of the versions 2020-2023 worked and each year I got a refund. I simply refuse to rent my software so Adobe is out until they change their business model. ON1 has potential but it is not ready for prime time. I have experienced crashing and sluggish issues since I started using it in 2020. Each year, ON1 puts out a new program with more bells and whistles, yet fails to fix basic performance issues that seem to snowball and get worse each year. I am only four days into my 2023 trial and the program is completely unusable so I uninstalled it and went back to 2022. Obviously, I will not be paying for the 2023 version, so ON1 has lost a customer. They do not care. I have told ON1 repeatedly that I would be willing to pay more for less features for a program that just works without hassle (like Lightroom).

I have contacted ON1 personnel and asked for help but they are not interested in customer service and after a couple back and forth emails, they always punt, acting like I am the problem. I contacted Stevie, Cody, and most recently a new name Whitney. Whitney was particularly condescending. She sarcastically thanked me for unloading my frustrations and told me that she was done with me (my tone and comments were similar to this posting, matter of fact but not disrespectful). This was the final straw for me. For a company with only 12 employees, that is trying to compete with Adobe, one would think customer service would be on the forefront. I would be open to trying ON1 one again in the future, but until they fix this bug riddled program it is off to Luminar or Capture One for me. Until then, I do not see how ON1 can survive with such an inferior product. It is a shame because this program has huge potential if managed properly.

Does anyone know of a good DAM program? I can process photos in Affinity so all I really need is a file manager.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Hi Brian, thanks for signing up to comment on both my ON1 reviews. The other one you commented on is an older article from over a year ago. It's best not to copy and paste the same comment onto two articles as it could be mistaken for spamming and trolling.

It must be frustrating for you. Personally, I am not experiencing the issues you are with ON1, but I have had very similar problems in the past with Lightroom and the previous version of Affinity, though not the new one. I think that when there are complex programs and you are trying to make them compatible with an uncountable combination of various versions of operating systems, loaded on different hardware, and all with different apps, and handling different software types, that can all interact and become incompatible with one another, inevitably there will be times when things go wrong. Sadly, in this case, it is you that is adversely affected.

There are plenty of programs out there with asset management. Lightroom, you have ruled out because of the subscription model.

You could try :

ACDSee
Luminar 3
DxO PhotoLab 2
PhaseOne Capture One Pro
Photo Mechanic

Each has different functionality, and some use a subscription model.

Brian Hood's picture

Thanks for the advice Ivor. I appreciate it. I posted to ON1's site and they took it down, further demonstrating their lack of customer service skills. I am not particularly tech savvy but I am not clueless either. I hear what you are saying but I do not understand why this program will not work on four of my computers. One would think one of them would naturally be set up to work. I do not understand why ON1 cannot code their program to fix this. I see many forums with people with the same problem yet not so for Lightroom.

It is doubly frustrating because it appears Adobe has a monopoly of sorts. There is no real, good competition to Adobe at this point. I honestly think ON1 has that potential, but the bugs need to be fixed and management replaced with a staff that cares about its customers.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I think this conversation jinxed me. Yesterday I was getting the same symptoms with Lightroom Classic. When that happens, it usually means I need to update my drivers with Driver Easy, which picks up updates that Windows doesn't.

Brian Hood's picture

Thanks for the driver suggestion. That was something new that I had not tried. Unfortunately, ON1 still stops responding and crashes.

Until someone proves to me otherwise, I am convinced the ON1 program is the problem. Even if it were my system, then ON1 should be willing and able to help me get it configured correctly and not punt and ghost me.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Not every bit of software works for everyone. It works for me and I like the results of the raw engine, although that is subjective. I've had issues with different apps over the years. I hope you find one of the many other alternatives useful.

Ivor Rackham's picture

No, we (by law) declare paid promos and I actually have never written one. On my relatively old system with an AMD A10, and 32GB of DDR3 RAM it's lightning fast, so maybe you have a system issue.

Michael Coren's picture

Thank you for that detailed review of ON1 Photo Raw 2023.

I've used ON1 Photo Raw for more than two years, but I recently switched back to Lightoom. Here's why:

1. Exporting to a reduced size JPEG in ON1 PhotoRaw is terrible! Even with their new export engine in 2022.5, I've tried all of the different settings and was not happy with the results. Resize AI seems more intended for making images larger not smaller, and any time I try to reduce the image size I get all sorts of artifacts in grass, foliage, and even animal fur. The only way I found that really gave decent results was to export a full-size TIFF from ON1, then open, reduce, and export a JPEG in GIMP. That's a terrible workflow!

2. Canon's R series mirrorless cameras allow the use of compressed RAW files (CRAW), which save significant space and have no discernible image quality difference from full RAW files (so say numerous web comparisons). A support representative from ON1 told me in June of this year that they have "no current plans" to support CRAW, although he did direct me to a web site where I could submit ideas to be "voted on by the community". So if I want to move to a CRAW-based workflow, ON1 can't help me.

3. The vast majority of the advanced training material for ON1 is provided by ON1. They have some free basic material on their web site, and there's some floating around on the web, but most of the really good ON1 training material is only available through an additional subscription service called ON1 Plus. I subscribed to ON1 Plus for a time, but even then I found it very difficult to search and find information about what I needed (as opposed to the newest feature that ON1 was promoting). Lightroom, on the other hand, being the "industry standard", has a great deal of third party training material, whether it's books, online videos, in-person classes at local camera stores, or the annual "Lightroom Virtual Summit". In the 2-1/2 months since I switched back to Lightroom, I've learned to do more with it than I learned in 2-1/2 years I used ON1.

The one feature of ON1 Photo Raw that I miss is NoNoise AI, which does a really good job of reducing noise and sharpening. For Lightroom, that sort of function is only available through third-party plugins like ON1 NoNoise AI or Topaz.

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's interesting, Michael, thank you. I haven't faced the same issues with downsizing an image at all as you have, but I will try to replicate the results and come back to you, and ON1, if I can reproduce the error. What pixel dimension were you moving from and to?

Most of ON1's development is carried out on demand through the community. It's quite a different approach from other software. They see what people want and apply it. I am sure as CRAW grows in popularity, support will be included.

I always found that the best way to search for topics in the ON1 Plus videos was just to Google them. The results come up, but you need a subscription to access them. I do the same with many other sites if I am looking for something specific, including Fstoppers!

Personally, I really dislike the raw development results of Lightroom, especially the default over-sharpening and the muddy noise reduction. The algorithm for adjusting blacks and whites is not great either. But it does do a much better job with Canon raw files than it does with my cameras.

Tom Reichner's picture

.

The most important aspect of any software, or any product, for that matter, is how much non-affiliated 3rd party support is available for its use. With editing software, that means how many different people are making detailed, step-by-step tutorials available for free on YouTube for a given editing program.

I will never be able to figure anything out for myself - my brain just doesn't work that way. And I suck at following written instructions for anything because I have a weakness that keeps me from being able to maintain focus and concentration for more than a few seconds. So I rely completely on tutorials and in-person help when it comes to learning how to use editing software.

I know that I can find an enormous number of tutorials on YouTube for using Photoshop and Lightroom. I can also find a good number of tutorial videos showing how to use Topaz denoise and sharpen software. And many of the photographers I know in person use Photoshop and Lightroom and Topaz, so they help me with in-person help sessions. I mean, practically everybody knows PS and Lightroom and Topaz, so that makes learning those programs very practical.

I may go thru 5 or 6 or 10 or 12 tutorials for the same thing before one person's way of teaching just "jives" with my way of learning. So that is why just one good tutorial for any given task is not enough. I need to know that there are so so so so many tutorials on the same thing that I will actually find one that I can understand and follow without having to focus and concentrate too much.

I'm now off to search YouTube now to see just how many tutorials there are on this On1 software. If there is just as much content about it as there is about Photoshop, then I will seriously consider getting it.

.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I guess we all have our different priorities. Third-party support is important to some, though not all. There are a fair few videos out there for ON1. Not as many as there will be for Adobe, but far more than I have time to watch.

Interesting to hear that you have to go through so many tutorials. I similarly have met the same issue. I've concluded that if you pay for learning the quality and quantity of information is usually, not always, better than free content. Generally, the delivery is better too.

Tom Reichner's picture

What helps me even more (far more) than tutorials is in-person 1-on-1 help.

If I'm going to Wenatchee (or Denver, or Missoula, or Philly, or basically anywhere that has a population) for something not photography related, but will have a little extra time, I can text a friend and say, "hey, I'm going to be in your town later today ... if I stop by, could you show me how to do layers?" If they are familiar with the software that I need help with, that works great! If they are not familiar with the software, then it won't work at all. So, if just as many people know On1 as those who know Photoshop, then I will be able to get help just as easily as I can now with PS .... and that would be great!

That is how I've gotten almost all of the help that I've gotten with Photoshop. One on one help from friends in various places as I travel about. Video tutorials are ok, but more of a last resort when I need to know how to do something NOW and can't wait until I'm in a town with folks I know.

David Purton's picture

I'll stick with CS6, Photosuite, Imagenomics and Nik software, thanks!

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's useful. If they work for you and give the results you like, that's all that matters, David. Thanks for commenting and letting us know.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Gave it quick try.

1. It does feel laggy compared to others (C1, LR), especially when manually masking. With that said, I'm thinking the premise is you don't need to manual mask, or not need to do as often.

2. I do love the adaptive masking. Damn, I wish C1 had that. I'd use it to batch mask subject and background separately.

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's cool to hear, Eddie. I used to get a lag with the Perfect Brush, but not since upgrading my RAM and graphics card a year or so ago. I think that a lot of features will migrate to other software in time as they notice what they are missing out on, just as they do with cameras.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

C1 is too slow to adapt. However, ON1's adaptive masking gave me the idea to create an action in Photoshop using curves and subject selection. Voila!

john brustrom's picture

I have been using ON1 for almost all of my post processing projects since PhotoRaw 2021. The ONLY reason why I have Lightroom is because I take a lot of panoramic images and PhotoRaw cannot stitch more than two horizontal images together. Many of my images are three or more vertical and horizontal shots. I queried ON1 and they replied that they do not support mosaic panoramic shots. So I’ll continue to use Lightroom grudgingly for this reason. Otherwise I’m a firm advocate of ON1.

Olli P.'s picture

I'm afraid I have to politely disagree with that review. 2023's predecssor wasn't exactly a speed demon, but Photo RAW 2023 is just awfully slow, the AI masking tools - which were the prime reason for me to pay for the upgrade! - don't work as promised at all, and compared to Lightroom and Photoshop, ON1 makes working cumbersome and the results leaving a lot to be desired.

I'm very unhappy with my purchase and wish I hadn't bought the software. Well, since I have always learned from my mistakes, I won't acquire another version of ON1.

David Price's picture

So far my copy of Photo Raw 2023 has not crashed. In fact it runs very well indeed. It most certainly is not slow.

I can confirm almost all of the comments that were made by Ivor Rackham. ON1 has always been very good with masking tools, and Photo Raw 2023 does not disapoint.

Not only is Photo Raw a one stop shop, as it seems to be able to do almost everything that you really need photo processing software to do. But, it also takes non destructive editing to new heights.

Also, my copies of Photo Raw are running on an AMD A12 APU powered lap top, with integrated graphics, and only 16 GB of RAM.

David Price's picture

I forgot to mention, the masses of good quality ON1/Photo Raw training videos that are on the Plus Website. Which over the years have been very helpful, and every image that I submit to camera club has to be downsized to match the Club Projector, and the Resize AI module produces consistently good results.

John Mahan's picture

Haven’t had any of the buggy or slow problems others have had, using a 2013 Mac Pro with Zeon 6 core processor and 64 gig RAM. Not denying other’s experiences & problems, they’re just not a reliable indicator of what everyone should expect. Both ON1 2022.5 & 2023 have been solid and @ least as speedy as other editors on my machine. This review mirrors my experience very accurately.

Olli P.'s picture

"Not denying other’s experiences & problems, they’re just not a reliable indicator of what everyone should expect."

The opposite is also true: The good experience that some users have had aren't a reliable indicator of what all users should expect. And while I certainly don't have a high-end machine, but a plain vanilla i5 (8th generation), 16 GB RAM, Quadro P400 (2 GB VRAM) and 256 GB SSD, Adobe's software runs quite smoothly on it and the speed of ON1 Photo RAW 2022 was still acceptable, whereas ON1 Photo RAW 2023 takes an agonizing amount of time when processing Nikon RAW files. And I'm not talking about 36 or 45 MP files, just 12, 16, 20.9 and 24 MP NEF.