ON1 Photo RAW 2023 verdict
ON1 Photo RAW 2023 is an all-in-one photo organiser, editor and effects tool that is probably the closest thing there is to a program that does absolutely everything, even supporting image layers and composites. ON1 Photo RAW 2023 brings a host of new AI features which center around automatic subject recognition and masking, AI sharpening and noise reduction and even AI keyword suggestions. This program’s scope and ambitions are impressive, though the AI doesn’t always work perfectly and ON1 Photo RAW 2023 can sometimes feel sluggish.
+ All-in-one tool that genuinely does everything
+ Layers included in non-destructive workflow
+ Good Portrait AI results
+ Mostly successful AI masking
+ Excellent Effects and Presets
– Cataloguing and browsing not especially sophisticated
– Mobile sync options need a subscription
– Small interface text and some feature duplication
What is ON1 Photo RAW?
ON1 Photo RAW 2023 is a program that covers the whole photographic workflow from the start, right to the end.
It has browsing and cataloguing tools for organising and searching your photos, it has non-destructive editing tools for raw processing, image effects and even layered image composites, and an extensive library preset of one-click effects for kickstarting your creativity. The 2023 version also introduces powerful AI features for subject masking and ‘Adaptive Presets’.
• See also: Best image editing software – what to look for, how to choose
ON1 does offer an online cloud sync service in a couple of different storage tiers and synchronisation with the ON1 mobile app and the ability to sync presets and other ON1 assets like brushes and textures. For this, though, you need to choose one of ON1’s subscription packages, not a standalone one-off license payment.
- ON1 Photo RAW 2023 review
- More ON1 Photo RAW articles
- ON1 Photo RAW download page
- Best image editing software guide
ON1 Photo RAW key features
Let’s start with the organising tools. ON1 Photo RAW 2023 offers two ways of managing your images – via its Catalogs or a simple Browse window. With the Catalog tab you tell ON1 Photo RAW which folders you want to catalog and it will cache them in the background as you work. The Browse panel is simpler. You can use this to look at the contents of any of your folders without adding them to the Catalog. However, to get the full benefit of ON1 Photo RAW’s image filtering, searching and Smart Albums, you need the Catalog.
With Catalogs, ON1 Photo RAW 2023 offers a Smart Album feature which brings together images with matching shooting information, keywords, ratings or other properties you choose. You can ‘nest’ regular Albums in an organisational hierarchy, which is useful, but you don’t seem to be able to do this with Smart Albums, which is a shame.
Now on to photo editing, and one of the key points about ON1 Photo RAW 2023 is that its adjustments are ‘non-destructive’. This means that it doesn’t change your original photos, but stores your adjustments as processing ‘metadata’ (or processing instructions) alongside your photos. Inside ON1 Photo RAW it looks as if your images have been edited, but to produce an image with those processing changes permanently applied you have to export a new, processed image.
The other advantage of non-destructive editing is that you can create ‘Versions’ (virtual copies) in ON1 Photo RAW that don’t produce duplicated image files on your computer. Instead, each virtual copy is the same original image but shown with different processing adjustments. You can produce finished, processed images by exporting these virtual copies.
The ability to work on RAW files seamlessly feels like the modern way to work, and while ON1 Photo RAW 2022 isn’t perhaps right up there with the best RAW processing tools, it is still pretty good, and it now incorporates ON1 NoNoise AI for smoother results at high ISO settings, plus ON1’s new Tack Sharp AI feature for counteracting camera or lens blur.
As well as offering HDR and panorama merge features, ON1 Photo RAW goes a whole step further than rival non-destructive browsing/editing tools to allow composite, multi-layer images, still handled internally (no need for an external editor) and still non-destructive. In this respect it goes far beyond Lightroom, Lightroom Classic and Capture One, which need external editors for layers or indeed many other kinds of photo effects.
What’s new in ON1 Photo RAW 2023
One of the key new features in ON1 Photo RAW 2023 is Super Select AI. Like many software publishers, ON1 is now using AI for intelligent subject recognition and masking – in this case a ‘semantic segmentation engine’ – which segments an image into different regions which you can then mouseover and select with a single click. what Super Select AI does is group related objects rather than you having to make a whole series of individual selections. It will also select ‘individual instances’, however, in other words single objects.
This AI subject recognition and masking tech is used in another new feature – AI Adaptive Presets. These are organised into a handful of categories by subject type, such as portrait or landscape, say, and use subject recognition and effects in combination, saving you a step, in other words. You no longer have to use the AI masking tools before you add an effect because the Adaptive Preset already knows what subject type to look for.
The AI masking turns up a third time in the Mask AI feature, where you create a mask directly in ON1 filters. You can still create masks manually, but there’s a new set of radio buttons for masking specific subject types automatically.
There’s also ON1’s new Tack Sharp AI feature, which lives in the same panel as the NoNoise AI feature and it’s possible to apply both at once – smart thinking from ON1, given that noise and sharpening adjustments are typically applied and balanced at the same time.
And there’s more. ON1’s new Keyword AI feature promises to take some of the pain out of manual keywording by automatically identifying subjects and genres and offering keywords you can add or decline, a new Content Aware Crop tool for extending an image canvas and filling it with detail taken from the rest of the image, new Color Fringe Reduction and improved Sky Swap AI.
Design and interface
There is a narrow vertical strip of buttons down the right-hand side of the screen for Browse and Edit modes and, below that, for Layers, Pano, HDR and Focus stacking and a new Timelapse feature. Down at the bottom of the panel are output options which include Resize, Print, Share and Export.
When you click on Edit mode, the other options disappear, but the Edit panel itself has five tabbed panels: Develop, Effects, Sky, Portrait and Local.
The Develop tab is used principally for RAW file enhancements and local adjustments, though it can also be used for routine enhancements to colour, tone, sharpening and more for JPEG and TIFF images. You can also apply lens corrections (ON1 Photo RAW will automatically recognise and correct most lenses) and there’s a very useful Transform pane for fixing converging verticals and other perspective issues.
Alongside is the Effects panel, where you can apply Photo RAW’s extensive list of effects filters. These don’t just include special effects, but more enhancements and adjustments beyond those in the Develop panel. These filters are an integral part of ON1 Photo RAW 2020’s impressive capabilities. Its wide array of preset image effects uses combinations of these filters that you can inspect and change if you need to.
There is a dedicated Portrait AI panel, too. It goes way beyond simple skin-softening, with an automatic face-recognition system that picks out and separates faces in a shot so that you can edit them individually. Skin softening is easy thanks to the automatic face masking (you can modify the mask manually if you need to) and eyes and mouths can be enhanced using simple and adjustable marquee tools. This kind of automatic feature-recognition is found in Luminar AI, too, and it certainly makes portrait enhancements quicker and easier.
Also new in the 2023 version is the ability to view filter presets in the left sidebar. Very often you don’t want to apply a whole preset, which is typically a bunch of filters used together, but a single filter, especially when you’re working with selections. Now you can select a filter and view a range of presets for that filter as thumbnails.
Lastly, there is a Local tab, for selective masking and adjustments. Each of the ON1 effects filters can have an attached mask too, as can any layers you add – three ways to mask image adjustments does seem like a couple too many, but there is some logic to it.
Quality of results
ON1 Photo RAW 2023’s library of preset image effects is surely one of its most important assets. These are organised into categories to help users find exactly the kind of effect they want.
Within each category, each preset is previewed on a thumbnail version of the image you’re editing, and if you see one you like you can apply it with a single click. And if it’s not quite right, that’s fine, because each one is made up of a series of effects, each with its own adjustments, which you can edit directly in the Edit panels.
The new AI masking tools are very effective, with the right kind of subject. If you use the Super Select AI tool, different regions/subjects in the scene are highlighted as you move the mouse around and you simply click an area to make a mask. These can look pretty crude, but what you’re seeing is simply quick placeholder – the actual AI mask generated has a good deal more finesse, though is not always perfect. The AI masking is a fine idea for precise, clearly defined outlines, but very often you’ll want more subtle masks and transitions, so the regular brush and gradient masking tools will prove useful here.
I had mixed results with the AI masking. With some subjects and treatments it was really effective, but with others I got better results with my usual manual masking approach.
The Sky Swap AI feature is all right, but only if you choose a replacement sky that’s sympathetic to the original and don’t expect too much finesse around finely detailed edges (or any finesse, really). Luminar still leads the field here, notably with the effectiveness of its AI masking, while ON1 Photo RAW 2023 can leave ‘glow’ effects from soft mask edges around foreground objects, and doesn’t do fine edge masking at all well – though ON1 is constantly evolving its AI technology.
• Read more: ON1 Photo RAW 2022 Sky Swap AI: is it any good?
ON1 Photo RAW 2023’s RAW processing looks pretty good, and whereas before it didn’t seem to completely remove tricky examples of color fringing/chromatic aberration, the new color fringing tool definitely helps here.
The Transform tools at the bottom of the Develop panel are great for fixing converging verticals and other perspective issues, but there are no Lightroom style ‘auto’ corrections, and no option to auto-crop the corrected image, so you’ll have to crop it manually or use the Scale slider to get rid of any wedges ad the sides, top or bottom.
ON1 Photo RAW 2023’s preset effects are very good. It might be priced for a mid-range audience, but it has the capabilities and potential to impress experts and professional image makers too. The presets are on a par with those in Exposure X7 and the DxO Nik Collection.
The Portrait AI tools are rather good too. You can accept or modify the default skin smoothing adjustments and apply subtle but effective tweaks to eyes, eyebrows, lips and teeth. The eye enhancements are particularly striking – though it might be easy to push them just that little bit too far.
It might take a while for new users to work out where everything is and how it works in ON1 Photo RAW 2023, but the results it offers are really very good. Its presets are striking and varied, its editing and effects tools are good and while its masking and cataloguing tools are a step down from those in Lightroom or Photoshop, for example, they are more than adequate for most needs. ON1 Photo RAW isn’t just an all-purpose image editor, its an effective creative tool that can feed your imagination too.
ON1 Photo RAW 2023 verdict
ON1 Photo RAW has always been big on value, features and spectacle, but it does lack finesse here and there. The interface is still a little busy and complicated, and the interface font sizes are pretty small. The 2023 version does even more than before, thanks to its AI advances, but that also means there’s more to learn and understand.
It is worth the effort. ON1’s continued refinement of its Effects filters and the way they’re presented make you realise these are important creative tools that deserve to be taken seriously, and while not every filter is equally useful, or equally convincing, that’s true of any software.
ON1 Photo RAW 2023 is a pretty substantial upgrade from the 2022 edition, but mostly with respect to its new AI masking, keywording, noise reduction and sharpening technologies. For old-school editing styles, it’s pretty much as before – though it was already good, so that’s fine.
Other programs have their strengths – Exposure X for its analog effects, DxO PhotoLab for its sublime RAW conversions, Capture One Pro for its quality and editing workflow and so on – but no other program offers this range of capabilities at such a reasonable price.
However, either my quad-core iMac is getting slower on ON1 Photo RAW is. It’s now slow, exactly, but thumbnail building in the browse mode and editing changes often feel a bit laggy.
The ON1 cloud service and subscription model are a tough call too, given that the subscription is not a whole lot cheaper than Adobe’s. ON1 has always made a great play of its subscription-free software, but its marketing is driving more and more towards subscription services, so it’s on pretty thin ice here.
For those who object to the whole subscription principle, the standalone ‘perpetual’ (non-subscription) ON1 Photo RAW 2023 purchase looks by far the best option – but bear in mind that if you want to stay up to date with the latest version, that will mean an annual upgrade fee, whereas subscribers get updates free.
- ON1 Photo RAW 2023 review
- More ON1 Photo RAW articles
- ON1 Photo RAW download page
- Best image editing software guide
ON1 software – Save 20%
Trial versions available
ON1 Photo RAW 2023: $99.99
ON1 Photo RAW subscription (200GB): $7.99/month
ON1 Photo RAW subscription (1TB): $15.99/month
ON1 Effects plug-ins: $69.99
ON1 Resize AI 2023: $99.99
ON1 Professional Plugin Bundle: $149.99
• Save 20% at the checkout with this discount code: LAPON120
(only via the link below)