Affinity Photo Review 2017: Photoshop Has New Competition!
Powerful editing tools, but some aspects could be improved
An affordable purchase for a high-quality editor with great value
Ease of Use
Clean and uncluttered interface makes editing tasks easy, can be slow
Excellent support from Serif, but not much help elsewhere
What I like:
- Well-Designed Interface
- Powerful Image Editing Tools
- Excellent Drawing & Vector Tools
- GPU Acceleration
- Free Updates to Version 1
What I dislike:
- Slow RAW Editing
- Mobile App for iPad Only
Summary: Affinity Photo is a powerful and affordable image editor that has the potential to compete with Photoshop for many casual and professional users. It has a well-designed, customizable interface and performs most editing tasks rapidly thanks in part due to its hardware acceleration features. Drawing and painting options are also quite excellent, as are the vector drawing tools, which are also compatible with Affinity Designer.
Speed and responsiveness when working with RAW images could be improved, but this shouldn't be a big enough issue to deter most users. Affinity Photo is fairly new in terms of development, but the team behind it are constantly working on new features and bug fixes, ensuring that it could rapidly grow into the complete Photoshop alternative that many photographers are hoping for.
Why You Should Trust Me
Hi, my name is Thomas Boldt, and I've been working with image editors for many years in my career as a graphic designer and a professional photographer. My experience ranges from small open-source editors to industry-standard software suites, and that has given me a lot of perspective on what a good editor can accomplish - as well as how frustrating a poorly-designed one can be.
During my training as a graphic designer, we spent a fair amount of time both using these software packages as well as understanding the logic that went into the design of their user interfaces, and that also helps me to separate out the good programs from the bad. I'm always on the lookout for an up-and-coming program that can help improve my workflow, so I treat all my editor reviews as though I might consider using the program myself.
Disclaimer: Serif has given me no compensation or consideration for the writing of this review, and they have had no editorial input or control over the final results.
What Is Affinity Photo?
Affinity Photo is a relatively new image editor available for Windows and Mac. Originally designed exclusively for the macOS environment, Serif has been constantly developing the program over the course of 5 years and eventually released a Windows version as well.
Affinity Photo is often referred to by photographers as a Photoshop alternative, providing a full range of image editing and creation tools. It is designed for the professional user, but is not too complicated for the more casual user to benefit from - although it may take a bit of study to learn all the features.
Is Affinity Photo Free?
Affinity Photo is not free software, but you can get access to a free, unrestricted 10-day trial of the software on the Serif website. They require you to sign up for their email database in order to send you a download link for the trial, but as of this writing I haven't received any spam or unwanted emails as a result of signing up.
Once the trial is over, you can purchase a standalone copy of the software for $49.99 USD. After purchase, users are entitled to free updates for the version 1 release that they purchased. Since Affinity Photo 1.0 was released, there have been 5 updates that added an impressive range of new features, although free updates may end once version 2.0 is released.
Affinity Photo for iPad
One of the more interesting options for using Affinity Photo is the mobile version of the software they have created for the iPad. It allows you to use most of the editing features found in the full version of the software, turning your iPad into an on-screen drawing tablet.
Unfortunately, there is no similar version available for Android tablets, and Serif hasn't announced plans to develop one. The app requires an iPad Air 2, iPad 2017 or any of the iPad Pro variants, and is available on the App Store for $19.99 USD.
Affinity Photo Tutorials
Affinity is fairly new software, so most of the tutorials available have been created by Affinity themselves. There are very few books available about Affinity Photo, and none available in English on Amazon.com, but Affinity has created an extremely comprehensive set of video tutorials that explain all of the major features of the program.
- Affinity Photo's Vimeo Tutorial Channel
- Affinity Photo's Youtube Tutorial Channel (this should be all the same content as on Vimeo)
- Full list of available Affinity Photo video tutorials
- Lynda.com's Affinity Photo Essential Training
There are also quick links to video tutorials, sample images, and social media communities related to Affinity Photo in the startup splash screen that appears when the software is first loaded.
A Closer Look at Affinity Photo
Note: Affinity Photo is a large and complex program with a wide range of features, and we don't have room to look at them all in this review. To get a complete rundown of the features offered in Affinity Photo, you can view the full feature list here.
The screenshots in the following review were taken with the Windows version of the software, but the Mac version should be almost the same with only a few slight interface variations.
The user interface of Affinity Photo follows a very similar model to that used by Photoshop, but this is a good thing. It is clean, clear, and minimalist, allowing your working document to be the primary focus. Each element of the interface can be customized to allow you to create a layout that matches your specific needs, which is a huge help for anyone who wants to optimize their workflow.
Overall, Affinity Photo is broken down into five modules they call 'personas' which are accessed in the top left and focused around particular tasks: Photo, Liquify, Develop, Tone Mapping and Export. This makes it possible to keep the interface as minimal as possible while still providing all the tools necessary for a full range of editing tasks.
The majority of the time, users will be on the Develop persona for working with RAW images or the Photo persona for general editing, drawing and painting. The Liquify persona is exclusively dedicated to Affinity's version of the Liquify/Mesh Warp tool, and Tone Mapping is primarily designed for creating and working with HDR images. The final persona, Export, is fairly self-explanatory, allowing you to output your finished masterpiece in a variety of different formats.
One of the more interesting aspects of Affinity Photo's user experience (related but slightly different from the user interface) is the Assistant tool. This allows you to customize the program's responses to certain events, as you can see in the image below.
I found most of the default settings to be quite useful, but it's nice to have the option to customize them if you prefer a different response, or you can simply disable the whole thing if you want to handle everything manually.
All too often I switch to paintbrushes using keyboard shortcuts and then forget to change the layer I'm working on, so I wouldn't want the 'Other brushes on vector layer' to automatically rasterize it but rather to remind me not to work so fast that I lose track of details! Little touches like this show how invested Serif is in providing a good user experience that incorporates user feedback, and other developers would be wise to take note.
For the most part, the RAW editing tools in Affinity Photo are excellent, covering all the controls and tools you would expect from a professional-grade RAW image editor.
The tools are simple to use and effective, and even include an image review option that I have never seen before in a photo editor, several 'Scope' styles of histogram which are more commonly found in video editing software. Despite watching and understanding the tutorial instructions about how the various scopes work, I'm not entirely sure why you would want to use them - but they're certainly interesting. I would imagine they are most helpful for creating composite images and ensuring the various elements match each other successfully, but I'll have to explore it more to find out.
Despite being generally effective, I have two issues with Affinity Photo's RAW handling. First and foremost, edits often take a surprisingly long time to apply. I'm reviewing the software on a fairly powerful computer using relatively low-resolution RAW images, but quickly adjusting settings sliders can result in several seconds of lag before the changes are implemented, especially when multiple adjustments have been made. Some of the more basic tools such as white balance adjustments work smoothly, but others seem to require a bit more optimization to be able to keep up with a rapid workflow. Even applying gradient masks for localized editing is a bit too slow to respond for making fine adjustments easily.
Secondly, there seems to be some confusion over how and when automatic lens correction profiles are applied. After checking the list of supported camera and lens combinations, my equipment should be supported, but I can find no evidence of any adjustments being applied. I'm not sure if this is due to the fact that the feature is new in the version 1.5 update, some UI issue that just doesn't allow me to preview/disable the corrections, or if they actually aren't being applied properly.
To their credit, the development team at Serif is constantly working on updating the program, having released 5 major free updates to the software since the initial version 1.0 release, so hopefully they'll get around to focusing a bit more on code optimization once the featureset has been fully expanded. Version 1.5 is the first version that's available for Windows, so it's not surprising that there are still some issues to be worked out.
General Image Editing
Despite the fact that the Affinity Photo website includes RAW editing at the top of their features list, it really performs best as a more general editor for image retouching. Fortunately for prospective users, none of the optimization issues from the RAW development phase seem to affect general photo editing, which is handled in the Photo persona.
All the tools that I worked with were quite responsive on a typically-sized image didn't show any delays in applying their effects, with the exception of the Liquify persona. I'm not exactly sure why Serif felt it was necessary to devote an entire persona/module to the Liquify tool, but it did show some definite lag when working with a large brush, although smaller brushes were perfectly responsive.
There are a number of other handy tools included in Affinity Photo for quickly accomplishing common photography tasks, such as panorama stitching, focus stacking and HDR merging (more on HDR in the next section).
Panorama stitching was simple, easy, and effective, and gave me an opportunity to test how well Affinity Photo handled large files. Despite my initial misgivings at the preview during the stitching process, the final product looks much more appealing, especially when cropped and combined with a tone-mapped layer and a bit more retouching. There was some definite editing lag when working on this image, but it is extremely large so it's not totally unreasonable to expect a bit of a slower response than you'd get working on a single photo.
Drawing & Painting
I'm not really very good as a freehand artist, but part of Affinity Photo is a surprisingly comprehensive array of brushes that can be used for digital painting. Serif has partnered with digital painting specialists DAUB to include quite a few sets of DAUB-designed brushes, and they're interesting enough to make me seriously considering getting out my drawing tablet and seeing what I can do.
Additionally, if you want to use vectors as masks or to create illustrations, the Photo persona includes an excellent set of vector drawing tools. This is (at least in part) because of Serif's other major piece of software, Affinity Designer, which is a vector-based illustration and layout program. This gives them some good experience with how to make vector drawing effective, and it shows when using their tools.
The Tone Mapping persona is an interesting addition to the program, allowing users to work with true 32-bit HDR (high dynamic range) images combined from several bracketed source images or to create an HDR-like effect from a single image.
The initial loading of the Tone Mapping persona can take a bit of time, but it can produce some interesting results very quickly even from a single image. I'm not personally a big fan of the typical HDR look, as they often seem excessively over-processed, but in certain circumstances it can be effective. (For those of you curious about HDR, you may be interested in reading our reviews on Aurora HDR and Photomatix Pro, two of the most popular HDR imaging programs in the market.)
For some reason I don't understand, working with masks in this persona is not as simple as it could or should be. It's easy enough to work with a brush to mask out specific areas to apply localized effects, and it's easy enough to apply a gradient to an image to emulate the effect of a graduated filter. Yet gradient masks and brush masks are treated like separate entities, and you can't edit a gradient mask with a brush. For example, if you want to correct the sky only to bring out interesting details in clouds but there is an object in the foreground that intersects with the horizon, the gradient mask would be applied to it as well as there's no way to remove it from the masked area.
The Reasons Behind My Ratings
Overall, Affinity Photo is an excellent image editor with all the tools you'd expect from a professional-grade program. It's not all perfect, however, as RAW import and development could be optimized to improve responsiveness and large file handling could also benefit from the same optimization. If you regularly work with very high-resolution images, you may want to test out a few using the trial before making a purchase to ensure that it will be able to meet your requirements.
One of the most appealing aspects of Affinity Photo is how affordable it is. At just $49.99 USD for a standalone one-time purchase, it provides an impressive amount of value for your dollar. Users who purchase during the version 1.0+ release window will get any future updates made to version 1 for free, which provides even better value as Serif is still in the process of developing new features. The latest update to version 1.5 added a huge range of new features, so it's not unreasonable to expect that there will be many more coming before version 2.0 is released.
Ease of Use: 4.5/5
In general, Affinity Photo is quite easy to use once you get used to the general interface layout. The interface is clean and uncluttered which makes editing easy, and it can be customized to meet your particular needs. The customizable Assistant tool also provides an impressive degree of control over how the how the program responds to your input, and other developers would do well to implement something similar in their programs.
Serif has provided an excellent and extremely comprehensive range of video tutorials about how to use the software, and there is an active forum and social media community of users who seem quite happy to help other users. Perhaps because Affinity is still relatively new, there isn't a great deal of tutorial or other supporting information available from third-party sources.
I never found it necessary to do so, but if you need to get in touch with Serif's technical support, it appears that the forum is the only option. While I appreciate the value of crowd-sourced help, it would be nice to have a more direct connection to support staff via a ticket system.
Affinity Photo Alternatives
Adobe Photoshop (Windows/Mac)
Photoshop is the undisputed leader of the image editing world, but it's had a much longer development cycle than Affinity Photo. If you're looking for a professional-quality image editor that has an even more comprehensive feature set than Affinity Photo, Photoshop is an excellent choice. It has a huge amount of tutorial and support resources to help you learn, although it's possible that you'll never learn every secret it has to offer. Available as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription package with Lightroom for $9.99 USD per month.
Adobe Photoshop Elements (Windows/Mac)
Photoshop Elements is the younger cousin of the full version of Photoshop, aimed at more casual users who still want powerful image editing options. For most typical image editing purposes, Photoshop Elements will do the job. It's more expensive than Affinity Photo at $99.99 USD for a one-time perpetual license, or you can upgrade from a previous version for $79.99.
Corel PaintShop (Windows)
PaintShop is another competitor for Photoshop's image editing crown, although geared towards more casual users. It's not quite as well-developed as either Photoshop or Affinity Photo, but it does have some excellent digital painting and image creation options. The Pro version is available for $79.99 USD, and the Ultimate bundle is available for $99.99. Read our full review of PaintShop Pro here.
Affinity Photo is a powerful image editing application that provides an excellent balance of professional-level features and affordability. High-end photographers may not be entirely satisfied with its RAW handling and rendering, but for most users it will be able to handle all of their image editing needs. It's not quite ready for the title of 'Photoshop killer' that some photographers have given it, but it's a very promising program with a great development team dedicated to producing a quality alternative.