Sneak Peek - ON1 Photo RAW 2020 / by John Clark

The Browse Module of ON1 Photo Raw 2020 showing some of the new features you’ll notice when installing for the first time

Recently I’ve had an opportunity to spend some time with a Beta version of the soon-to-be-released ON1 Photo RAW 2020 software. 

And my verdict is… So far, I’m liking what I see! While the ON1 development team is quite small (especially compared to the Adobe Lightroom team they are primarily targeting with this program) they continue to make big strides forward with each version of the program since it first came out in 2017.

Under the hood PR 2020 adds several new features, quite a few small tweaks, and a variety of related adjustments made, just as you would expect with any software major version update.

First, let’s address the speed of the program, one area that most people ask about first. I’m using an aging 2014 MacBook Pro laptop (running MacOS Mojave 10.14.6 as of this writing) with 8mb RAM and it seems reasonably quick to me. It’s not instantaneous when changing modules (for example, between Browse and Develop), but things get quicker once the photos are cached. Using an Olympus M43 body also means my RAW file sizes are considerably smaller (16-20mb) than those cameras generating 40-50mb files, which also helps the speed.

Bottom line is that your mileage may vary, at least in terms of performance. There are so many variables affecting the program speed (ranging from your computer specs and drivers right through the size of your RAW images). For some users PR 2020 will be snappy, while others may still complain that it takes “a few seconds” to complete a task. But speed is a primary concern with the ON1 programming team and one they work hard to continually improve. 

Now on to the exciting new additions! There are quite a few new goodies, so here are just some that caught my attention.

In the Develop panel, sharp eyes will spot a new “AI Match” button at the top of the sliders. In a nutshell, what this does is pull the embedded JPG image that is baked into a RAW file and automatically tweak the settings to come close to matching that image. If you ever looked at the back of the camera and liked that image while out in the field, then basically the software will attempt to recreate that look from your RAW file (which normally has considerably less color and contrast). ON1 says that if your camera allows shooting different styles (such as monochrome, Pop Art, Soft Focus or the myriad of others) the AI Match button will apply those settings to the RAW file (with my Olympus body they are only applied to the JPG when shooting in RAW+JPG).

So far, honestly I would say that this button is hit and miss with my images. There are many times when I don’t notice much difference, and others when it really does a nice job on a base image but I have not yet tried it with the in-camera styles mentioned above. It’s one that you might want try out first, but be ready to hit Command-Z (or Ctrl-Z on a PC) to quickly undo if you don’t like the adjustments. Another minor complaint is that “AI Match” is actually quite confusing nomenclature; perhaps it should be renamed to something like “Camera Match” or “JPG Match” before the final release to avoid some confusion. Like with our next topic, the “Auto” button in Develop…

Editing in process, showing the new “AI Match” button near the top of the Tone & Color module

The “regular” Auto button in the Develop area (the one that has been there since Day 1) has also been enhanced and ON1 says that they now use AI to power the changes it automatically makes to an image (they say in development they ran thousands of photos through the system to help train the AI on how to improve the auto toning process). And, I must say it seems like it does work much better than before, and really does a good “one click” job of giving a solid starting point for developing your images. 

In fact, I rarely used the Auto button before (preferring to make my own manual adjustments) but I might save some time and try this as a starting point moving forward with my own processing. And, if I was in charge, I think this is the button that should have AI in the name!

Snow in the desert? Yes, it really did snow this year, but when I was out shooting the flakes had stopped. Fortunately, with the new Weather Effect itit takes just a couple of clicks to add them back in.

There are a couple of new Effects added, and one will probably cause some people to label it a gimmick, though I can see a use. The new “Weather” Effect allows you to quickly add atmospheric conditions such as rain, snow or fog to your image. Of course, to make this look natural you’ll need to have realistic conditions at the time of the shooting, and I recommend a light touch when it comes to opacity or you risk turning your photo into “fake” territory. 

On the other hand, the new “Sun Flare” filter will be invaluable to a great many photographers, including myself. It allows you to add a variety of new sun-based effects, such as a sun star, flare or bokeh. This will be sure to be a hit with the Instagram crowd who tends to toss in that bright yellow sun flare in the corner, but like with the “Weather” effect mentioned above I recommend a deft touch to create a natural look and not push your image into comic book levels. You’ll also want to make note of the actual light direction on the images and position the effect accordingly for a natural look! 

The new Print Module showing quick, one-click creation of contact sheets

Those who frequently print their photos will really appreciate the new Print Module, and the ability to quickly build out multiple prints on a single sheet (for example: one 8x10, two 5x7s, four 4x5s). You can also create custom print templates, as well as automatically build a contact sheet for those professionals needing to help clients quickly see and choose their favorites from a session.  

PR 2020 also includes a brand new map view. You can see your image locations pinned on a map if they include the GPS data in the metadata, or easily search and add a location to manually pin your shots. 

When activated, the Focus Overlay adds green highlighting to the areas of the image that are sharply in focus, handy for determine the best images among portraits, macro and other subjects where determining the best focal point is critical

Another handy new feature is the Focus Overlay, also added for the first time. This adds a green overlay on the image showing the area(s) in focus, much like the Peaking function for those cameras that have offer that feature while in the field. For many photographers this will be a quick way to choose the best shot between multiple images with very close differences between focus points. 

Finally, a great many photographers enjoy using Presets for quick, one-click processing. PR 2020 not only includes a batch of new presets mimicking the hot photo processing trends of the moment, but for the first time you can actually fade them down and choose an opacity level from zero to 100 percent. 

There are quite a few other additions and changes that I won’t cover here, but this gives you a quick overview of a handful that initially caught my attention. PR 2020 is scheduled to officially drop sometime in October, 2019 so expect some additional tweaks to be made by the ON1 development team as they work hard to put on the finishing touches before the official TBD launch date.

Interested in learning more? You can see what they have to say about the new version over at ON1.com and even download a fully-functional Beta version of PR 2020 to try out for yourself and your workflow.