Photographers know that their job doesn’t end when the shoot is over. Organizing and editing photos are as crucial to the photography process as capturing the actual images. 

Both ON1 Photo RAW and Adobe Lightroom are end-to-end photography editing software covering every aspect of photo management. You can store, organize, edit, and export your images from these software programs.

But can you capture one that’s better than the other? Let’s take a closer look at ON1 Photo RAW vs Lightroom to see if one comes out on top.

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Source: Pixabay

Two Different Edit Storage Systems

You can capture one of the most notable differences in ON1 vs Lightroom in how they store edits to images. Lightroom utilizes catalogs, whereas ON1 Photo RAW features a database.

At first, ON1 may be simpler to understand and use. However, its system is not as versatile or as secure as Lightroom’s catalogs.

Lightroom’s Catalog System

The Lightroom catalog is a single file that stores all changes made to an image. The catalog saves edits and other alterations, like keywords or ratings. This system uses non destructive photo editing, which means the original files are not affected by the edits you make.

For security, you can backup catalogs within the software. Remember that you have to import your photos first to use the catalog.

ON1 Photo RAW’s Database 
System

Unlike Lightroom, you do not have to import your images before you begin editing them. As soon as you open ON1 Photo RAW 2020, all of the photos on your hard drive will already appear in the software, ready to edit. Also different from Lightroom, the ON1 database is not a single file but a collection of them. 

Our ON1 Photo RAW review showed the software to be a non destructive editor, so the original photo files will not be touched. 

Unfortunately, this database is not capable of backing up within the ON1 software, so you will need to spend some time putting a safe backup system into place. ON1 recommends backing up to an external hard drive or cloud service. You will also want to enable ON1’s sidecar files, which we will discuss next.

Sidecar Files


You can use ON1 Photo RAW’s sidecar files to save your edits, which helps alleviate your reliance on the database. Luckily, these sidecar files don’t take up too much space and automatically enable in the newest version of ON1 Photo RAW. It’s nice to have these files available, but they do have flaws that you don’t find with Lightroom.

First, the sidecar files only save post-editing information, so they do not store data like presets and preferences, meaning that you may still lose work if there’s an issue.

Plus, you can capture one other weakness of sidecar files if you look at older photos. If you edited any photos without them enabled, ON1 would not automatically generate them for the previously edited images. You have to create them manually for each photo.

Accessing Editing History

Both programs offer the ability to access all of the edits made to your images. Lightroom calls theirs the History Panel, and it’s easily accessible from the Develop module. At the top of the list is your most recent edit.

In an ON1 Photo RAW 2019 review, they did not have a history panel. Luckily, ON1 often adds new features with each version of its software. ON1 Photo RAW 2020 added a History Pane that serves the same purpose, showing all of the adjustments you have made to your photo. 

These features are comparable, as both are simple to use and easy to understand.

How is Editing Different?

ON1 Photo RAW and Lightroom share similar editing screens, tools with the same names, and many of the same keyboard shortcuts. These similarities make switching from one software to the other a breeze.

Despite the likenesses in ON1 Photo Raw vs Lightroom, you can capture a few differences that deserve closer inspection.

Tools to Combine Images

Advanced techniques used to blend multiple images include panorama stitching, focus stacking, and HDR. All three are essential for experienced editors who want complete freedom over post-processing. These tools are particularly useful for product and landscape photography.

Impressively, ON1 Photo RAW 2020 has all three of these features, while Lightroom only has HDR and panorama stitching, so no focus stacking. Most photographers won’t need anything more than what Lightroom offers, but it’s still a bonus that ON1 provides all three.

Facial Editing


ON1 Photo RAW offers a unique tool called Faces, which automatically places a mask on faces in photos. This feature is beneficial for portrait photographers and allows you to easily complete retouches on faces. ON1 Photo RAW also has a midtones slider that works very well for image editing.

Lightroom vs On1 does not currently provide a specific face-editing tool. However, they have a People Recognition tool that uses faces to find people in your image catalog. ON1 Photo RAW doesn’t offer any similar search tools.

Working with Layers and Masks


Layers are another critical difference between these programs. They are useful for several reasons: they simplify the local adjustments process, and they allow for the blending of features from different images.

When you’re working on photo edits in Lightroom, you have to move back and forth between Lightroom and a program like Photoshop to add layers and masks to your images. However, ON1 Photo RAW allows you to create layers and masks within the same software, so there’s no need to toggle back and forth.

ON1 also features blend modes like those you find in Photoshop, which means you have access to various special effect tools. If you like to blend HDRs manually, like many landscape photographers, you even have the ability to use a luminosity mask. With these features, ON1 Photo RAW saves you a bit of time in editing.

Working with Offline Images

If you find yourself working with offline files often, Lightroom is probably more useful software. It allows you to organize and sort offline photos, as well as add tags to them and other functions. You can even edit the image if you make a Smart Preview of the picture.

ON1 Photo RAW does not support the use of offline photos. If your image is offline, you won’t be able to do anything with it, not even view it as a thumbnail within the program.

Managing Your Images

Image management involves importing your photos and organizing them within the program. When we look at ON1 Photo RAW vs Lightroom in managing images, we find that these programs differ slightly. 

Importing Your Photos

When you use ON1 Photo RAW, you don’t have to wait for import, as all of your images are present when you open the software. All you have to do is view the Browse tab to get instant access to your pictures without waiting for photos to import. 

If you find that you need to import some images, the process is subtler with ON1 than Lightroom. There’s no pop-up dialog box that prompts you to download or a button on the interface. Instead, you have to use the File menu.

Even though Lightroom isn’t as instant as ON1, it’s probably slightly more flexible. You can use the pop-up window to start import or the button in the program. Either way, all you have to do is follow the prompts to initiate the process. Even though it takes longer, you have more options for modifying data during import and organizing your files.

camera connected to laptop

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Organizing Your Photos

Speaking of organization, ON1 Photo RAW can arrange images using tags, including keywords, color labels, and ratings, or by organizing them into folders. You can do many of these same functions with Lightroom, making the two programs very similar in this regard.

You can capture one difference in the names of the organizing methods. Lightroom calls its photo organization Collections, whereas ON1 Photo RAW calls them Albums. It’s such a minor distinction, especially since both programs give you great flexibility in organizing your images. 

Searching for Photos

Lightroom edges out ON1 Photo RAW when it comes to searching for photos. You can even capture one photo easily out of a huge catalog using the Filter Bar that efficiently finds the images you want based on tons of categories, including technical ones like aperture. 

ON1 Photo RAW uses a similar mechanism, but it takes a bit more work to create filters and adjust search options.

Viewing Your Photos 

Both programs offer several standard options for viewing your images. Neither stands out as better than the other when it comes to viewing your photos. Both have filmstrip and thumbnail options, as well as a comparison split-screen view. They give you access to a zoom tool.

Lightroom may have a couple more viewing options vs ON1 Photo RAW, but both provide photographers with more than they need for looking at their images.

Exporting Your Photos


Lightroom offers slightly more versatility than ON1 Photo RAW in exporting options. Both programs can export to several locations, including social media and computer folders. Lightroom gives you more choices for naming exported images. It also allows you to retain only the image’s copyright data when you export, a vital privacy feature. 

ON1 does have an intriguing Export in the Background function that permits you to continue using the software even during exporting, although you will have to wait longer for export to finish.

If you’re exporting to a printer, you will find that the programs are similar. Both provide standard printing tools, like preview, layout, and settings. To capture one useful feature in printing is Lightroom’s Book Module that lets you arrange a printing job on Lightroom that’s then printed by another company.

photo printer

Source: Pixabay

Innovative Features


Both programs have impressive collections of advanced features.

Dual Display 

Both ON1 Photo RAW and Lightroom allow for dual display. ON1 adds a second browser window where you can look at another copy of your photos. You can use Dual Mode for browsing and editing.

Lightroom also has a dual monitor mode that displays a second window where you can view your photo library. You can keep this window open no matter which module you are working in, including editing.

User Guides and Tutorials


Again, Lightroom probably edges out ON1 Photo RAW when it comes to user support. They have tons of video tutorials covering all aspects of their software, as well as a user guide, a blog and online community, and an extensive collection of written help pages.

ON1 Photo Raw also provides free tutorial videos online and a user guide, but their advanced tutorials cost extra. They have a blog, too, where you can find answers to many of the most common questions.

Third-Party Plugins


ON1 Photo RAW is a standalone program, but you can integrate plugins with it, too. It can pair with ON1’s other apps, like ON1 Resize, ON1 HDR, and ON1 Effects. These apps are also available plugins for Lightroom.

Overall, Lightroom has more third-party products, including plugins.

Built-In Presets, Filters, and Effects

ON1 Photo RAW 2020 supports the ability to apply presets to one to one hundred photos at a time. It comes with 200 built-in presets, along with 30 filters and effects. On the other hand, Lightroom has fewer built-in presets, filters, and effects, but actually contains more of them if you include third-party options. 

Again, there’s no decisive winner. It depends more on what specific functions you need in your photo editing. 

Custom Color Profiles

Another important advanced feature that Lightroom supports and ON1 does not is custom color profiles. With Lightroom, you can use products like ColorChecker for total color management. However, ON1 Photo RAW does not support any of these products.

GPS Mapping Function


Both programs are capable of GPS mapping, or geotagging, using the coordinates of your RAW file to place the location where you took the photo on a map. For this function to work, your camera needs to have GPS mapping.

A downside to this function with ON1 is that it does not indicate which files have the necessary GPS information, while Lightroom does show an icon for the files that have coordinates.

Also, with ON1 Photo RAW 2020, you can only capture one location at a time, whereas Lightroom will show multiple locations on the map.

camera screen

Source: Unsplash

Soft Proofing and Retouching


Both programs have similar soft proofing and retouching capabilities. Each comes with plenty of retouching tools that are simple to use.

The soft proofing feature allows photographers to preview how an image will look when printed and then edit the photos to coordinate with particular output devices. Both programs have this tool, as well, and they are equally as useful.

Tool Differences

While the two programs share many similar tools, ON1 Photo RAW contains more of them than Lightroom. In particular, you get really functional cloning and healing tools with ON1, while Lightroom’s similar tools are more limiting.

Another of ON1 Photo RAW’s standout tools is the text tool that allows you to add text to your photos. Lightroom doesn’t have this function at all.

ON1’s Lightroom Migration Tool

ON1 Photo RAW 2020 provides a migration tool to transfer your images from Lightroom to ON1. This feature even migrates the edits you have made in Lightroom. It’s a unique tool that distinguishes ON1 from its competition. For example, Lightroom does not have a tool that can migrate photos from ON1 Photo RAW to its own catalogs.

Despite this feature’s creativity, keep in mind that your exact Lightroom edits may not transfer correctly, and you might find differences, especially in color and saturation.

Navigating the User Interface

Both programs have similar user interfaces. In fact, they are so similar in appearance that it’s incredibly easy to learn ON1 Photo RAW if you already know how to use Lightroom. They have modules for searching for images, editing them, and printing them. Each module has a collection of features and tools to optimize your work.

In comparing the two interfaces, you cannot capture one clear winner between Lightroom and ON1 Photo RAW since they are so comparable.

Functionality and Speed


Although neither software is the fastest available, ON1 Photo RAW has slight lagging issues in the photo editor. It also has more pop-ups during editing, which tends to slow down the process.

Both programs function very well, with only occasional crashing.

Program Cost


To purchase the newest version of ON1 Photo RAW, it costs $99.99 for a perpetual license. This price includes several of their add-on software, like ON1 Effects and HDR. You can take advantage of a 90-day money-back guarantee and any of several 30-day free trials for a variety of their programs, including ON1 Photo RAW.

Lightroom doesn’t offer a perpetual license, and you must pay either monthly or annually. Their most popular plan includes Lightroom and Photoshop, plus other apps, for $52.99 per month. They have two other plans beginning at $9.99 per month for basic Lightroom without Photoshop. You can start with a 7-day free trial anytime.

Final Comparison

ON1 Photo RAW 2020 and Lightroom have simple user interfaces, methods of storing edits, a way to view past edits, and comparable editing tools. They share similar image management techniques, too, especially in organizing, viewing, and exporting your photos. They each have several innovative features, including dual display.

Despite these similarities, these programs differ in several ways, as well. Lightroom’s edit storage system, photo search mechanisms, ability to work with offline images, the number of third-party plugins, support for custom color profiles, and superior GPS mapping help it stand out. It also runs faster with less lagging.

This ON1 Photo RAW review demonstrates its superior capacity to allow work with layers and masks, several advanced blending tools, special facial editing, unique migration feature, and built-in presets, filters, and effects. The ability to purchase a perpetual license is another bonus.

In the end, both ON1 Photo RAW and Lightroom do their job very well. It’s challenging to capture one clear winner from these two programs because they both offer many advantages. Frankly, you can’t go wrong with either one for high-quality photo management.