ON1 Photo RAW 2024 verdict
If you want a single, all-in-one, do-it-all photo organizer, editor and effects tool, look no further. ON1 Photo RAW 2024 is in a class of its own. Other programs might give you better cataloging tools, better raw processing or a wider range of effects, but never in one place like ON1 Photo RAW does. It can be confusing at times and there’s a lot to take in, but it repays the effort, especially with its effects filters and presets. It’s not expensive, you don’t have to get a subscription if you don’t want to and there’s even a free trial that gives you plenty of time to try it out before deciding.
+ It does everything!
+ Max edition includes plug-ins
+ Excellent effects filters and presets
+ Sky replacement, Portrait AI
+ AI masking
– Brilliance AI gives mixed results
– Workflow can be confusing
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 is perhaps the ultimate all-in-one photo editor. It can browse your photos and organize them into catalogs. It can process and enhance raw files alongside regular JPEGs and TIFFs. It can apply a myriad different special effects and presets. It uses AI extensively for masking, enhancements and subject recognition. It even offers Photoshop-style image layers, masks and blend modes. And all of this is wrapped up in a non-destructive workflow which means you can come back at any time and change anything.
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 is available in both Mac and PC versions. It runs as a standalone program but there is a Max version that includes its key technologies as plug-ins that you can use with Adobe Lightroom Classic, Photoshop and Capture One, for example.
You can buy ON1 Photo RAW 2024 and Photo RAW 2024 Max subscription-free, or you can get them as subscription packages which include cloud storage for the ON1 Photo RAW mobile app and all future updates.
This is probably the most comprehensive photo editor you can buy today, but how does it work and what are the results like?
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 new features
The new Max version is one of the key new features of ON1 Photo RAW 2024. Previously, ON1 had offered key components of Photo RAW separately and individual Pro plug-ins, such as ON1 Effects, ON1 Sky Swap AI, ON1 Portrait AI and others. The idea was that you could still use ON1’s image enhancements as tools within your existing workflow – from Lightroom, for example.
As of the 2024 version, all these separate plug-ins are rolled into the Max version alongside ON1 Photo RAW itself. If you are happy to use ON1 Photo RAW 2024 as your central image organizing and editing tool, you don’t need the Max edition. But if you want to use these tools from within Photoshop, Lightroom or Capture One, you will need the Max edition. (At the time of writing, the 2023 plug-ins are still being sold separately, but not 2024 versions.)
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 also brings a new Brilliance AI feature. This analyzes and enhances your image according to its subject matter and genre. It even uses subject recognition to identify different objects and zones and enhance them individually using local adjustments and masks. This happens automatically when you select the Brilliance AI option in the Develop panel.
ON1 has also revamped the Layers panel to show adjustments made to each layer and to make swapping layers quicker. This non-destructive layer support is one of Photo RAW’s many great features, though it does mean creating a new image file. You can now add text layers, too.
Photo RAW’s cataloguing and keywording options are improved too. You now have more control over how and when cataloged folders are scanned and the Keyword AI feature can now recognize more object types for improved automatic keywording.
AI makes one more appearance in the new Style Advisor tool. This uses scene and subject recognition AI to suggest preset effects for your images. The AI has been trained by the ON1 staff with their own editing styles and preferences, but there is also a tab for your own styles – though this needs to train using your own preset choices and edits before it can start making suggestions.
There are many new AI features in ON1 Photo RAW 2024, but underneath its basic operation, workflow and editing tools are much the same as previous versions, so anyone upgrading from earlier versions will find it all very familiar.
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 usability and workflow
Let’s start with image cataloguing and organizing, which are carried out in the left sidebar. ON1 Photo RAW 2024 has two approaches to image organizing and you can use both or either. The Browse tab does what it says and you can use this to browse your image folders ‘live’. You can even create Albums. The only downside is that you don’t get access to more advanced tools like Smart Albums. For this you need to identify folders to add to your catalog and ON1 Photo RAW can scan these (and keep scanning them at intervals for new files). It’s not as rigid as Lightroom’s Import process, which is good, but then ON1 Photo RAW 2024’s cataloguing tools are not really on the same level. I couldn’t get the Smart Albums feature to work even after adding folders to my catalog, so that’s going to need a little investigation.
The simplest way to edit photos is to double-click on them, and all the editing tools are then available in the right sidebar. These are split into a series of tabbed panels: Develop, Local, Effects, Sky, Portrait. There’s a Layers section above for when you want to make layered composites.
By default, images open in the Develop panel. This is where you optimize and process RAW files but it’s also used for JPEG and TIFF images too. It’s here that you’ll find the new Brilliance AI tool. You can also make local adjustments using ON1 Photo RAW 2024’s masking tools in the Local panel alongside. For example, you can use a graduated mask to tone down a bright sky or one of ON1 Photo RAW’s AI mask subject types to mask specific objects or ‘Regions’.
The next tab along is Effects, which I feel is the heart of ON1 Photo RAW 2024’s appeal, but also a source of potential confusion. ON1 Photo RAW does come with a large catalog of effects presets which you can browse in the Presets tab in the left sidebar – there are 100 new ones in ON1 Photo RAW 2024.
These presets are varied and inspiring and a single click will apply any one of them to your photo. They use different combinations of filters and settings in the Effects panel, and you can use this panel to view and edit the settings, add or remove filters and build your own image ‘looks’.
What’s confusing is that there is a great deal of overlap between the adjustments in the Develop panel and those in the Effects panel. You can think of the Develop panel as being like a ‘pre-processing’ stage, especially for RAW files, but it still feels like there are two ways of doing things and it’s not always clear which to choose. Each filter can have its own mask, for example, so there’s crossover with the Local tab too.
The Sky and Portrait tabs access ON1’s Sky Swap AI and Portrait AI modules. These are both very good. The sky swap masking isn’t perhaps as good as that in Photoshop or Luminar but does add reflections to water and does look convincing as long as you don’t try to push the adjustments too far.
The Portrait AI is equally effective, automatically identifying different facial features for individual enhancement. If that’s what you’re into, Portrait AI does a great job.
ON1 Photo RAW 2024’s layers are not quite in the same league as Photoshop or Affinity Photo, but easily good enough for photo montages and multiple exposures, especially in conjunction with ON1 Photo RAW’s decent masking tools.
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 results
On the whole, ON1 Photo RAW 2024 delivers very good results. I really rate its effects filters and presets, and regularly use these in plug-in form even if I’m not working within ON1 Photo RAW itself. It has some competition in the form of DxO’s Nik Collection, but for its scope, inventiveness and editing controls, I think ON1 Photo RAW 2024 runs it a close second.
I’m less convinced about the new Brilliance AI feature. Sometimes it does a really good job, but sometimes it can deliver a rather thin-looking faux-HDR effect, at least to my eyes. It’s clever that it separates out different regions for enhancement but it does mean that if you don’t quite like the result you do have to do a little digging around to figure out what to change. On the whole, I’d rather stick with basic auto adjustments as used in Adobe Lightroom or Capture One.
ON1’s AI masking tech can recognize a whole range of subjects and it’s available both for global ‘Develop’ editing and for individual filters. Good as it is, though, it’s not the best I’ve seen, as the masking can sometimes be patchy and unpredictable and perhaps a little soft around the edges.
The RAW processing is good, and the inclusion of ON1 Resize AI and NoNoise AI mean you can create big enlargements and reduce noise intelligently without the need for extra plug-ins or Extensions. You might get better results in other programs, but you have to weigh up what you’re getting for your money. And ON1 Photo RAW 2024 gives you a lot for your money.
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 verdict
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 is certainly the most comprehensive all in one photo organizer, editor and effects tool on the market. It’s also much more modern, efficient and appealing than Windows-only rivals like ACDSee (though that does have a Mac version) and Corel PaintShop Pro.
If you only want to buy one piece of software, and especially if you don’t want a regular subscription, this is probably the best choice there is. The only think to keep in mind is that other programs may do individual things better. Lightroom or Capture One will be better at cataloguing and RAW processing, Photoshop and Affinity Photo will be better at more advanced layering and compositing, and the DxO Nik Collection will offer a wider range of image effects.
But as a single do-it all image editing package, ON1 Photo RAW 2024 is simply unbeatable. If you try it, you might well decide you don’t need all the other fancy features in its rivals. And even if you do, you can still use the ON1 plug-ins in the Mac version alongside your regular software.
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ON1 Photo RAW 2024: $99.99 ($79.99 Black Friday price)
ON1 Photo RAW 2024 Max (includes plug-ins): $199.99 ($149.99 Black Friday price)
ON1 Photo RAW subscriptions/cloud storage: Check ON1 website
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