ON1 has announced ON1 Photo RAW 2018, the next version of its all-in-one photo cataloguing, enhancement and effects program. Some of the new features really close the gap to Lightroom and other high-end editing tools, and you get the added power of Photo RAW’s effects and layers, so Photo RAW 2018 does look like a pretty compelling proposition.

You can find out for yourself by trying out the public beta, which has been released ahead of the main launch at the end of October

Important: Keep in mind that this is a pre-release build and not the official ON1 Photo RAW 2018. It has bugs in it that are still being fixed and could crash or do other bad things. Only use it for testing and evaluation, not for your main work. Be sure to back-up your existing photos and sidecar files before installing the beta.

The first change users will notice is the interface, which now has longer and more accurate sliders in the tools panel and a new orange ‘accent’ colour for highlighted items – though you can in fact choose the colour you want.

Most photo editing workflows start with image organising, and here ON1 has added ‘Versions’ – an extremely useful tool in any program with non-destructive tools. It means you can create multiple versions of the same photo to try out different effects, but without actually creating any new files. Instead, each version shows the same original file but with different ‘virtual’ adjustments applied.

You can already do this in Lightroom, Capture One Pro and DxO Optics Pro, so it’s a very useful step forward for ON1 Photo RAW – and it goes on to close the gap on Lightroom in another way, by adding in-built HDR and panorama merge tools.

HDR images can be created from a series of bracketed exposures, and you can switch different brackets on and off even after the image has been merged to see which are having an effect and which are redundant. ON1 claims the new HDR tool is seven times faster than rival programs. It creates a 32-bit linear image file which you can adjust with two tool panels – Tone & Color and HDRL Look. These adjustments are non-destructive, so you can come back and revisit them at any time in the future.

If you work on layered images, composites and cutouts, you’ll also appreciate the enhancements made to the masking tools. These include new global mask editing tools for adjusting the mask Density (strength) and Feather (softness) values, and Blur and Chisel tools make it easier to refine mask edges around tricky outlines.

There are other improvements, such as the addition of levels adjustments for luminosity masks – useful for masking areas of a specific color or brightness without complex selections, a Paint with Color Brush tool ideally suited to subtle cosmetic retouching, and an update to the ON1 for Mobile feature that now lets you synchronise images from your smart device back to your desktop library.

ON1 Photo RAW 2018 Browse

ON1 Photo RAW 2018 brings virtual copies to its Browse mode, one of many improvements in the new version.

The final version of ON1 Photo RAW 2018 won’t arrive until the end of October, but many of the new features have already been previewed on the ON1 website, and there will be a free public beta version available for download from Friday October 6th October.