When I first took up photography full-time in 2014, I became completely joined at the hip to Adobe’s photography-related products: Lightroom and Photoshop. For many years before then, we had just been casual acquaintances. Over the years, we’ve settled into a very comfortable and predictable relationship. We’ve grown older together, seen changes around us and tried to adapt as best we could.
But sometimes you grow apart as a result. When Adobe first moved completely into a subscription model and last year announced its intention to move more into cloud and web-based image editing, I knew that we were on the skids and destined, someday, for a breakup.
Well, that day has come, sort of. As of today, I’ve moved out of Lightroom, trading in its familiar interface for the new face of ON1 Photo Raw.
A younger upstart, this company has been around since only 2005. Founded by photographers for photographers, it took the needs and wants of its own employee-users and started to build out tools for all photographers. There is no subscription plan for the software, with the pricing plan instead based on a new major release each year that you can purchase or skip. They also do offer an optional premium account to provide access to free major releases, full training courses and photographer coaches who will help you with your specific needs. But non-premium users also have a wealth of resources on their site and on YouTube to help get started.
My introduction to and growing familiarity with the ON1 Photo Raw product was very much like a budding courtship (if there is still such a thing today). I went on a blind date, downloading the free trial late last year. As I opened and used the software, I discovered that they had addressed many of my growing frustrations with Lightroom. I started to smile again and to look forward to our next encounter.
First and foremost, the silly need to “import” photos into a catalogue that many find confusing in Lightroom is NOT part of ON1. The only import offered in ON1 is the movement of photos from an external device to an internal hard drive – IF YOU WANT. Photos can continue to reside wherever you have put them and they will automatically appear in the file manager for ON1. There is a catalogue in ON1, but it is used exactly as it should be – to make searching and the creation of collections (or “albums” in ON1) easier. If you move files around outside the software, those changes are immediately reflected inside the software (with the caveat below about sidecar files – so some care is still required).
Thumbnail and full size image previews are super fast – take note Adobe – with the ability to select from several default views. All typical file types are supported, making the change from Lightroom, where I had converted most photos to .dng format, super easy. There’s even a conversion tool provided to move seamlessly from Lightroom to ON1.
All edits are non-destructive, and ON1 stores these in 3 ways, so as to not affect your original image. They are stored:
- in a database on the computer, which is accessible only to that computer
- optionally stored in proprietary ON1 sidecar files, so you can come back to where you left off using any computer with ON1 installed and your files available (love this!)
- sidecar files along with a database provide a backup for your edits in case the software crashes and you lose the onboard database
- sidecar files are stored alongside your image files, but may or may not be hidden from view (depending on your settings), so be careful if moving your images outside the software
- in Adobe compliant sidecar files so that you can take those edits into any third party editor, including Adobe’s Photoshop
ON1 links seamlessly with cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. More cloud services are coming. There is also a mobile app to bring your cellphone images easily into the software, edit them on the desktop and return them to the mobile device (love this too!).
ON1 also goes much further than Lightroom, providing advanced editing, adjustments and layering capabilities similar to what would be found in Photoshop. It stops short, though, of being a complex compositing and graphics design tool – it is a photo editor. That’s just perfect for me.
Over the past couple of weeks, I cleaned up my Lightroom catalogue, removing duplicates and the many “rejected” images I had never deleted. The more cleanup, the quicker the conversion. Then, with bags packed, I pressed the button. I did have some issues with the conversion, though, particularly around the transfer of metadata to ON1. Data such as capture information, flags and colour labels and copyright did not make it over. We’re still working on that problem. I guess Lightroom just didn’t want to let me go.
Lightroom has been a great friend, giving my left brain a lot to be happy about. I will have fond memories – hopefully the bad ones will fade over time.
Unfortunately I’ll still be seeing my ex’s family for a while. While ON1 has marvelous editing tools, I haven’t quite learned how to do some of the specialized edits I apply to my architecture work. So, Photoshop is still “in the picture” for a little while longer
I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer one disclaimer. No software is perfect, and ON1 2018 is still evolving and growing. There will be some trials in this relationship, but we have had an open and honest communication so far, fuelled by an ON1 developer community that encourages input from its users. I talk to them all the time and they are the best matchmakers anybody could ever have. I’m looking forward to a long and happy marriage.