ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 Is Here and You Should Check It Out

The good people over at ON1 have released a significant upgrade to ON1 Photo RAW 2017.  The update is free to existing users and available at a discounted announcement price to new users.

When ON1 Photo RAW 2017 was first released, the real big deal was not that it was a powerful set of plugins to Lightroom and Photoshop, which it is, but that it can run completely independently of Lightroom and Photoshop including RAW decoding.  For some users, particularly those uncomfortable with subscriptions, or not needing to get the full depth and breadth of Photoshop, and not requiring or wanting the digital asset management capability of Lightroom, ON1 Photo RAW 2017 was a completely viable and solid answer.

That bit of perceived heresy was the first indicator that there is a market for solutions that work with Adobe products, and a market for solutions that didn't require the presence of Adobe products.

When you look at ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5, it's not a marginal update, it's truly an incremental upgrade with brand new features and functionality.  You download the software and on first launch you either create or login to your existing ON1 account.  This performs the license validation and also checks for new information.  Online validation is pretty standard, and just like the Adobe products, once validated, you do not always need to have a live Internet connection.

When you launch ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 you get the potentially familiar ON1 user interface.  While it has been tweaked, it has a familiar look and feel to prior ON1 products and opens in the default BROWSE mode.  On the left side top is a list of your available local storage as well as links to Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.  Apple iCloud is not a listed service.  There are also icons to allow you to view by computer, pictures folder, favourites, attached drives, cloud services and albums

Where Lightroom uses Collections, ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 is more like the old Aperture in that in uses the term Albums to refer to virtual collections.  Your photos don't move around, the album knows where they are stored.  Albums are available in the left hand panel.  Below that are search tools including filters and a recent file listing.  If you don't want to see the panel you can hide it and you can get context sensitive help. 

The second tab in the left panel is the PRESETS tab.  If you click it from browse mode, you will see a panel listing of all the different preset groups.  A click on a group, drills in to show you all the presets in a group.  It would be hard to be much simpler.

Once you select an image from BROWSE, you get the option to view it in a grid, full screen (like Lightroom's loupe view), full screen with a filmstrip or compare a couple of images.  The left panels ensure that a Lightroom user who knows even partially Lightroom's Library mode is going to be moving fast.  What does not exist is any kind of import or catalogue function.  Lover's of Lightroom's Digital Asset Management (DAM) capability will likely use ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 as a plugin, but I know lots of people who find Lightroom's Library system to be challenging and only ever ADD their existing folder structure to Lightroom's catalogue.

On the right side is a panel very similar to the Library panel in Lightroom, but without the import stuff.  You will see your Navigation, Histogram and file info over here as well as the ability to add keywords, and other metadata as well as leverage the EXIF and IPTC information that is already in the file.

Regular Lightroom users will notice one big difference.  Images load fast.  Very fast indeed, even large RAW files.

Instead of selecting modules across the top of the screen, you select them from the right side.  In addition to BROWSE, there are DEVELOP, EFFECTS, LAYERS and RESIZE.  For former ON1 customers, you would recognize these names as formerly standalone products linked together.  Now they are all one, pun vaguely intended.

When in DEVELOP, all the preset groups appear on the left side, and a click on any of them exposes the options in the category.  Most have usable names, but there are preset sets created by ON1 selected photographers, and their names are typically weird having meaning only to the creator.  The best preset to start with for Lightroom users is in the Develop Workspaces group and is called Like Adobe Lightroom.  And it is.  Learning curve equals flat line.  Could not be simpler.

Also in DEVELOP are tools, over on the left side, including Cropping, Adjustment Brush, Gradient, Perfect Eraser (kind of like Content Aware Delete), Healing, Cloning and View

Moving to EFFECTS you get the same solutions as you would have seen in Perfect Effects in the pastand not completely dissimilar to what you might find in the now demised Nik Color Efex Pro 4.  To see the options, click the Effects tab at the top left.  Effects are grouped by type and clicking an Effect shows the different options.  I found most of them a bit heavy handed in my own testing on JPEGs but decent on RAWs.  Some are hokey, most are useful.  The film emulations are a decent start but the Fujifilm looks aren't as good as Fuji's own in camera options, and the fact that Kodachrome 64 and Kodachrome 25 don't appear is a let down for me.

I will share that because Develop Presets and Effects filters are both available in the Effects module, that you have to use some caution that you do not load the same thing several times.  Filters go on in a stack as can presets, but it is important to remember that ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 also has layers, so you can create individual layers for each effect if you wish, just as you might with adjustment layers in Photoshop.  Regular Lightroom users will find the addition of Layers something to work on.

The next module is in fact called LAYERS.  In this module, you have very Photoshop like tools, including masking.  ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 uses an offering called the Masking Bug and it takes a bit of training to get used to but does a decent job.  The Quick Mask while named like the Adobe tool is completely different and those who hate masking are going to love it.  There are also other selection tools, erase tools, healing and cloning tools.  I would not say that the healing tools are as rich as Photoshops, but they are far more consistent than the healing brush in Lightroom.

The final module is called RESIZE and for years, this has been my go to tool when I need to resize an image.  Photoshop does a great job, but I still think that RESIZE is better.  It started out as Genuine Fractals and was then renamed Perfect Resize.  I've used it so many times on such originally small images to be able to get good prints out of phone pictures that I cannot speak highly enough of it.  I recently coached a client through using it to improve the look of his final prints.  He was doing something quite impressive.  He had a shot of an Indy car and he separated it into five vertical sections with the intent to print each section 24 inches wide and 36 inches tall.  Each would be framed and they would hang close together.  He's done this before and it looks spectacular.  This was the first time each section would be this huge, and even though he was working with a file from a Nikon D810, he didn't have the native resolution necessary to make the panels as good as he wanted.  He ran each panel through RESIZE choosing his output size.  RESIZE chugged for a short while and then produced the print ready file at the 300ppi he desired.  Each panel file was just under 2GB, where the original file from the D810 was about 80MB. 

If you don't want to buy ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5, you can buy just Perfect Resize for $70 or so, so get the full package for the $120 approximately that it is selling for new during the launch window.  If you owned an earlier ON1 product, upgrades are available at a special price.

Impressed yet?  You should be.  Now let's dive into the new stuff in the latest release.

In 2017.5, ON1 redid the Details pane, putting sharpening and noise reduction side by side where they should be since they are in regular opposition to each other.

The company has also combined the formerly separate Compare and Survey modes into a single tool that allows you to compare up to 15 images at once, narrowing down to your favourites smoothly and easily.  For photographers who shoot in high speed burst, this is awesome.

The clone stamp has always been available in the Layers module, but now it is also available in both the DEVELOP and EFFECTS modules and functions in a non-destructive manner.  Yay!

Search has been improved and offers more options for searching using metadata and better inclusion and exclusion controls, super useful if you have a lot of photos in a location.

In the older version of Perfect Effects, you could stack presets without having to do a new layer.  That went away but is now back in OPR 2017.5There's even a keyboard shortcut to do it, just hold down Alt/Option when clicking on the preset to be added to the stack and it is done.

There is a new Lens Correction pane, that uses a database of corrections for a variety of lenses and cameras.

If some of these options sound familiar they should.  ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 can be both an amazing set of plugins to Lightroom and Photoshop but some users may choose to use it instead of Lightroom and Photoshop.  Personal choice based on needs and use cases is a darn good thing.

One new function that won't sound familiar is the Lightroom Migration Assistant.  For those who are still on Lightroom 4, 5, or 6 and not a CC member, and who don't want to be, this tool helps you migrate all your Lightroom work into ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5  For those that need it, it's a pretty incredible tool

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