How it works
There’s no denying the power of plug-ins, which can bring enticing extras to programs like Photoshop and Lightroom. Indeed, ON1’s latest suite of imaging tools, which goes by the name of ON1 Photo 10, can still be used as plug-ins for Adobe’s popular programs. However, building on the success of ON1 PhotoSuite, the new Photo 10 package is designed to be a more coherent one-stop shop for all your imaging needs.
Taking its cue from Lightroom, organization takes centre-stage in ON1 Photo 10. As such, the Browse module is the starting point when you launch the app, or at least it is once you’ve dispensed with the Welcome screen. In fact, the opening screen is rather more welcoming than in many other high-end imaging programs or suites, as it includes access to a range of ‘overview videos’ that help you familiarise yourself with the system. There’s a video for each of the modules, plus several more online that you can access through the Help pull-down menu.
The Browse module gives thumbnail views of all your images, with options for creating albums and smart albums (collections made up of images held in different folders), favourites and watched folders. Filtering options include a colour-coding system, star ratings and liked/disliked images. It’s easy to add keywords and descriptions as metadata, while viewing EXIF information for your images. There are also options to search for images chronologically, and to include cloud storage with direct support for the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive.
Overall, the Browse module isn’t particularly fancy or exciting, but it carries out its duties competently. More importantly, it also gives direct access to the other main modules in the suite, via the File pull-down menu and a set of buttons on the right hand side.
Photo 10’s modular approach
Once you’ve found an image that you want to work on in the Browse module, you can select it and switch to one of the other main modules in the suite. These are Enhance, Effects and Portraits. There’s also a separate Layers module for carrying out more complex edits and, if you save your images as ‘smart photos’ in Photoshop PSD format, the layer system is preserved so you can come back and tweak things in the future. As well as sticking with ON1 Photo 10’s own modules, you can also send images directly to Photoshop, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements or other image editing programs, directly from the File pull-down menu. It’s nothing if not versatile, enabling you to keep your options as open as possible.
So-called ‘non-destructive’ image editing has always been popular, where edits are stored as a set of instructions within the program or an attached database, rather than being applied to images themselves. It does have its drawbacks, however, as you’re forced to keep on using the program or suite of programs with which you created your original edits. ON1 Photo 10 tackles the problem a different way. Each time you open an image for editing, it gives you the choice of working on the original, or of editing an automatically created copy. This gives you the flexibility of choosing on an image to image basis. On the other hand, if you always use one option or the other, you can select this in the program’s Preferences.
The first destination when editing images will often be the Enhance module. Here you can choose from a selection of preset enhancements and corrections. For example, the Enhancements menu includes several presets like Magic Landscape, Magic Portrait, High Contrast, HDR Look and Cool Night. Similarly, Corrections includes choices for Auto Levels, Auto Levels & Colours, Backlight.
What’s nice about the presets is that the positions of sliders for adjusting colour and tone parameters are clearly visible throughout, so you can tweak any of the settings rather than being forced to use regimented values. Further enhancement options include adjustments for vignetting, sharpening and noise reduction. Again, there’s a variety of presets on hand, which you can use as starting points before going on to make finer adjustments if required.
One thing that’s lacking in the Enhance module is direct support for cameras and lenses. Unlike in DxO OpticsPro 10, Phase One Capture One 9, and the raw editing components of many other current image editing programs, you therefore can’t fix problems like distortion, colour fringing and peripheral illumination.
Special Effects and portraits
For most, the biggest attraction in ON1 Photo 10 will be its Effects module. This makes the range of presets in the Enhance module look like slim pickings, and is comparatively bloated with far-reaching options. Main category headings include the likes of Architecture, Cinematic, Haze reducing, Landscape, People, Sports, Urban and Wedding, to name but a few. Each has a wealth of sub-category options to choose from (some more than others) with thumbnails giving a ready reckoning of the effects.
Many of the Effects presets have real wow factor and, as with enhancements, come complete with a raft of sliders for fine-tuning the treatments. The previously popular and very extensive Perfect Black & White plug-in now finds a home in the Effects module, complete with presets like Ansel in the Valley, Bogart Cool and Ingrid Warm.
It’s most likely that you’ll want to apply presets or tweaked effects to entire images, but there’s also a range of masking tools for selective adjustments of specific areas within images. The ‘refine mask’ tool works well here, for tracing around intricate edges of objects.
Another powerful element of the Effects module is its Filters system. Again, you can choose from a rich array of Filters, easily adding them to the main Effects and fine-tuning them for exactly the look you’re after. Similarly, the masking tools remain on hand for filtering of selective areas within images.
The complete range of Effects and Filters is powerful, flexible and easy to use. The only catch is that, despite a speed increase from the previous PhotoSuite 9.5 package, changes can still take a few seconds to preview on screen.
Another major module in the ON1 Photo 10 is ‘Portrait’. This contains a system for automatically searching out faces within an image, or you can select them manually, before going on to apply retouching and enhancements. In a similar but rather more basic way than in the popular PortraitPro Studio, you choose a face to work on and click to assign the centre of both eyes and the corners of the mouth. You can then go on to apply a typically wide range of preset enhancements, as well as making individual adjustments to ‘skin retouching’, ‘colour correction’ and ‘eyes & mouth’. Each of these sections has a set of sub-adjustments with their own sliders.
Quick and easy fixes are very accessible, and there’s scope for more finely-tuned enhancements. However, the Portraits module isn’t as far-reaching as PortraitPro 15 Studio, especially compared with the latter’s ‘sculpting’ abilities. Retouching also lacks some of the finer points of programs like Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.
Once you’ve worked your way through a number enhancements, effects and other fixes, the Layers module (which is really more like a sub-module) really comes into its own. Here you can add, delete, merge and blend layers to great effect. Indeed, the blending modes are very similar to those that are available in Photoshop.
Perfect Resize has been another popular app that’s found favour as a plug-in. It’s ideal for maintaining optimum quality when upsizing or downsizing images for screen or print applications. Like the Black & White effect, it hasn’t been dropped from ON1 Photo 10, but rather redirected to another area of the suite, this time to ‘Export’. It comes with a good range of options for image and print dimensions, image type, sharpening and file types. As such, it’s the last link in the chain, enabling ON1 Photo 10 to serve at every step of your complete workflow.
The complete set of tools in ON1 Photo 10 combines quick and easy edits based on a powerful range of preset enhancement, corrections, effects and filters, to good portrait retouching facilities and versatile export options. Its main strength is in its incredible array of effects, which combine a barrage of presets with fine-tuning possibilities. The layers system adds to the overall prowess of the package, going beyond what’s available in Lightroom, although Photoshop still has a significant lead in the elegance, sophistication and sheer power of its manual editing facilities. Even so ON1 Photo 10 is a smart all-rounder and is good value at the price.