Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do

When I first took up photography full-time in 2014, I became completely joined at the hip to Adobe’s photography-related products:  Lightroom and Photoshop.  For many years before then, we had just been casual acquaintances.  Over the years, we’ve settled into a very comfortable and predictable relationship.  We’ve grown older together, seen changes around us and tried to adapt as best we could.

But sometimes you grow apart as a result.  When Adobe first moved completely into a subscription model and last year announced its intention to move more into cloud and web-based image editing, I knew that we were on the skids and destined, someday, for a breakup.

Well, that day has come, sort of.  As of today, I’ve moved out of Lightroom, trading in its familiar interface for the new face of ON1 Photo Raw.

ON1A younger upstart, this company has been around since only 2005.  Founded by photographers for photographers, it took the needs and wants of its own employee-users and started to build out tools for all photographers.  There is no subscription plan for the software, with the pricing plan instead based on a new major release each year that you can purchase or skip.  They also do offer an optional premium account to provide access to free major releases, full training courses and photographer coaches who will help you with your specific needs.  But non-premium users also have a wealth of resources on their site and on YouTube to help get started.

My introduction to and growing familiarity with the ON1 Photo Raw product was very much like a budding courtship (if there is still such a thing today).  I went on a blind date, downloading the free trial late last year.  As I opened and used the software, I discovered that they had addressed many of my growing frustrations with Lightroom.  I started to smile again and to look forward to our next encounter.

First and foremost, the silly need to “import” photos into a catalogue that many find confusing in Lightroom is NOT part of ON1.  The only import offered in ON1 is the movement of photos from an external device to an internal hard drive – IF YOU WANT.  Photos can continue to reside wherever you have put them and they will automatically appear in the file manager for ON1.  There is a catalogue in ON1, but it is used exactly as it should be – to make searching and the creation of collections (or “albums” in ON1) easier.  If you move files around outside the software, those changes are immediately reflected inside the software (with the caveat below about sidecar files – so some care is still required).


Thumbnail and full size image previews are super fast – take note Adobe – with the ability to select from several default views.  All typical file types are supported, making the change from Lightroom, where I had converted most photos to .dng format, super easy.  There’s even a conversion tool provided to move seamlessly from Lightroom to ON1.

All edits are non-destructive, and ON1 stores these in 3 ways, so as to not affect your original image.  They are stored:

  • in a database on the computer, which is accessible only to that computer
  • optionally stored in proprietary ON1 sidecar files, so you can come back to where you left off using any computer with ON1 installed and your files available (love this!)
    • sidecar files along with a database provide a backup for your edits in case the software crashes and you lose the onboard database
    • sidecar files are stored alongside your image files, but may or may not be hidden from view (depending on your settings), so be careful if moving your images outside the software
  • in Adobe compliant sidecar files so that you can take those edits into any third party editor, including Adobe’s Photoshop

ON1 links seamlessly with cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.  More cloud services are coming.  There is also a mobile app to bring your cellphone images easily into the software, edit them on the desktop and return them to the mobile device (love this too!).

ON1 also goes much further than Lightroom, providing advanced editing, adjustments and layering capabilities similar to what would be found in Photoshop.  It stops short, though, of being a complex compositing and graphics design tool – it is a photo editor.  That’s just perfect for me.

Over the past couple of weeks, I cleaned up my Lightroom catalogue, removing duplicates and the many “rejected” images I had never deleted.  The more cleanup, the quicker the conversion.  Then, with bags packed, I pressed the button.  I did have some issues with the conversion, though, particularly around the transfer of metadata to ON1.  Data such as capture information, flags and colour labels and copyright did not make it over.  We’re still working on that problem.  I guess Lightroom just didn’t want to let me go.

Lightroom has been a great friend, giving my left brain a lot to be happy about.  I will have fond memories – hopefully the bad ones will fade over time.

Unfortunately I’ll still be seeing my ex’s family for a while.  While ON1 has marvelous editing tools, I haven’t quite learned how to do some of the specialized edits I apply to my architecture work.  So, Photoshop is still “in the picture” for a little while longer

I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer one disclaimer.  No software is perfect, and ON1 2018 is still evolving and growing.  There will be some trials in this relationship, but we have had an open and honest communication so far, fuelled by an ON1 developer community that encourages input from its users.  I talk to them all the time and they are the best matchmakers anybody could ever have.  I’m looking forward to a long and happy marriage.

4 thoughts on “Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do

  1. It’s Apr 30/18 and I today cancelled my Adobe Photography Plan and severed all ties with Adobe. I’ve discovered that ON1 Photo Raw combined with Affinity Photo (neither of which is a subscription service) replicate all of the functions I had with Adobe. They also improve these functions immensely with modern, logically designed tools. Thanks for everything, Adobe. Farewell.


  2. A bit of a postscript: the issues I was having with migrating to ON1 turned out to be because of corrupt entries in the Lightroom catalogue. So, ON1’s design philosophy of not putting all your chickens in one basket for metadata and edits makes incredible sense to me now. All my capture data turned out to be intact, but corrupt entries prevented the transfer of picks, ratings, colour-tags and keywords. Luckily, I too had a backup plan and can recreate the information over time, but not huge effort. Timing the migration near the end of the competition season also means that I can fully use ON1 for new projects and go back to closed projects when I have a hour or two.

    And the latest releases this week from Adobe further slowed, not improved, the performance of Lightroom for me, so this chapter is definitely about to close.

    Lastly, I’ve gotten a lot of comments from friends and colleagues on the move – it’s interesting to see how passionate and devoted some users are to their particular solutions. More power to them.


  3. Thank you, Nina, for this interesting post. Please update us as you make the migration to ON1.

    Every so often a paradigm shifts and photographers find themselves trying to choose the direction their photographic journey will take them. Adobe products are considered professional and if you are making money, they would like a piece of the action. Subscriptions are just the next phase to make revenues predictable in a changing economy; a key to providing tools that advance the art.

    I have been paying Adobe to use their products since Ps v2.5. Either through original licenses or version upgrade costs (usually $129 USD every 12 to 16 months), this is how Adobe continues to provide high-quality products. I believe that content creation is going mobile and the Creative Cloud products will be the tools of choice for the next generation of creatives. The subscription model is positioned for the changing nature of employment.

    For the serious amateur or hobbyist, subscriptions seem like an additional cost but I would caution; Adobe competitors must create an income stream to stay viable and you may find yourself paying upgrade fees in the future. I regularly upgrade other photography tools, cameras, lenses, and computers; I see subscriptions for my darkroom as part of the same process.

    While I don’t profit from my art, the basic photography package of Lightroom and Photoshop will still represent an excellent value to me, even after their price increase later this month.

    We make an investment by learning the digital tools we use. I might suggest that where and how we maintain our digital images is an administrative workflow issue that should be examined separately from image manipulation and creative tools.

    If a photographer’s workflow for ingesting, sorting, and storing images is solid using Adobe products (Lightroom or Bridge), then maybe a hybrid approach separating creative and administrative tasks is an option. I use ON1 creative tools as a plug-in to Photoshop. This could be an option for photographers to explore ON1 before deciding to abandon Adobe products altogether. It scared me when you lost your capture information; I hope you have the backups!

    Additionally; I use Affinity Designer. This program blends both Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop; it allows both vector and pixel-based layers to coexist in the same file. It is like using the Photoshop pen tool and shape layers with brushes. It has a one-time license fee.

    It’s like the kid that won’t move out; you love them, but they keep costing you money.


    1. Thanks, Richard. All good points. I don’t mind paying a fee, even a subscription fee, for value in return, but increasing performance issues with Lightroom and paying for capability I don’t need with Photoshop really pushed me over the edge. I also strongly agree with considering administrative needs as separate from creative needs. Right now, I need to get the administrative back on track and then go from there. And if the next generation wants to work exclusively with mobile products, more power to them. I used to be the one interested in “bleeding edge” products. It’s kind of weird seeing myself turn into one of the “old farts” who think the old ways are the good ways. But here I am and we’ll see what happens.


Comments are closed.