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Review: Affinity Photo, will it give Photoshop a run for its money?
Iain Anderson on Tue, August 18th 5 comments
There's not many serious competitors for Adobe Photoshop available. But Affinity Photo aims to change that. Iain Anderson finds out if Photoshop might be in danger of losing its crown.

Photoshop has long been the king of photo editing, on every platform. It’s deep, complex, 25 years old, and very powerful. Still, Adobe’s shift to subscription-only software a few years ago has annoyed a number of long-time users, and some of them have been looking for an alternative. Surprisingly, it looks like they finally have one: Affinity Photo

User Interface

In many ways, the Affinity Photo interface mirrors Photoshop’s. There are tools on the left, panels on the right, and a toolbar at the top. Shortcut keys select tools, and the same icons do more or less the same things in the same panels. The devil is of course in the details, and while not everything is the same, enough of the features are similar enough to “the Photoshop way” that you won’t be completely at sea. Old workflows will, by and large, work here.

This shouldn’t look too unfamiliar, except maybe that odd squirrel.

This shouldn’t look too unfamiliar, except maybe that odd squirrel.

 

Painting 

The Brush tool responds quickly, and in much the same way that it does in Photoshop. My Wacom tablet is supported, and the advanced brush features even allow different pressure curves to be attached to the various parameters like scale and scatter. Like many features, they’ve chosen to implement what 90% of the user base want, in a familiar way, and done a good job.

Lots of presets, custom brush support and no risk of overwriting your existing brushes are all good news.

Lots of presets, custom brush support and no risk of overwriting your existing brushes are all good news.

You can even load Photoshop’s custom brushes, which is a nice touch. (At time of writing, Control-Option-dragging to change brush size works, but is limited to 1024px. That’s due to be addressed in the next update.)

Layers

Yes, there are layers. Yes, they work in much the same way, but they’re probably going to confuse you at first, because they’re different, and more powerful than in Photoshop. Instead of eyes controlling layer visibility on the left, there are checkboxes on the right. Masks, instead of being simply attached to a layer, can be dragged directly to other layers, or indeed above them, to mask all layers below.

Many layers, a different look, but lots of power.

Many layers, a different look, but lots of power.

Multiple masks can even be applied to the same layer—just drag them there—and you can clip one layer to another in the same way. It works well, and burying extra layers of masks and clipped layers beneath a disclosure triangle, very much as if they’re in groups, is a worthwhile and clever move. 

Advanced Layer Tricks

Layers themselves can be shrunk down, then resized up much later—there’s no need to create Smart Objects to do the same trick, as the app converts between Pixel and Image layer types on the fly. Even better, “Live Filters” can be applied to layers, to groups of layers, or to all layers below them, just like adjustment layers can. It’s just what I’ve always wanted in Photoshop, but never quite had.

That’s a masked blur above everything, and a clarity filter on a single layer.

That’s a masked blur above everything, and a clarity filter on a single layer.

Just as in Photoshop, the best way to correct color is with Adjustment Layers, and they can actually be more powerful than in Photoshop. Simply dragging an adjustment layer onto another layer clips it to that layer, so it’s easier to limit the effects of your corrections. Shadow/Highlight works as an adjustment layer here, though it’s not as comprehensive as Photoshop’s equivalent. There’s no non-destructive Auto Levels here, either.

Yes, even alpha channel adjustments are possible in Curves.

Yes, even alpha channel adjustments are possible in Curves.

 

Selections and Masking

Regular marquee selections work fine, but to add to a selection you need to hold Control instead of Shift. The Magic Wand works, but be aware that to select across all layers at once, you’ll need to activate the Edit All Layers switch at the bottom left of the Layers panel. The Selection Brush tool works well, though neither of these tools include anti-aliased edges. Luckily, Refine Edge is very good, and does its best to decontaminate colors too.

The Refine Selection dialog lets you paint in, out, or edges for similar results to Photoshop.

The Refine Selection dialog lets you paint in, out, or edges for similar results to Photoshop. 

Retouching and Healing

There’s a Healing Brush, an Inpainting Brush Tool (essentially like the Spot Healing Brush) as well as a Blemish Removal Tool, a Clone Stamp, and a Patch Tool. The live previewing of these tools works really nicely—the healing tool shows a live brush preview of what you’ll be painting with it, for example.

Sure, I could have masked the squirrel better, but check out the live tint-adjusted preview of the Healing Brush!

Sure, I could have masked the squirrel better, but check out the live tint-adjusted preview of the Healing Brush!

 

Personas

Personas are different modes which you use to perform specific operations. The Photo Persona is where you’ll spend most of your time, and where the general purpose tools all live. In the Liquify Persona, the toolbars and panels change to support mesh-based warping, which is a little slower than Photoshop’s, but adds extra tools to the mix and does a decent job.

The squirrel wasn’t angry or crazy enough, but liquify helped.

The Develop Persona is something like Adobe Camera Raw, and though it doesn’t do everything that ACR does, it’s fast and effective for many purposes. Lastly, the Export Persona offers many formats to slice up your image and export it in different sizes.

Unique Features

Frequency Separation is an advanced technique for retouching, but it takes several steps (or an Action) in Photoshop. It’s been implemented here in one hit, which makes life much easier. Also, the toolbar is completely customizable but not yet with customizable shortcuts (coming soon).

Stack that tool panel with as many things as you like.

A few smaller features have sneaked in there too, including some noise-related filters, a handy “Erase White Paper” filter, and a set of “Managers” which control exactly how various features work. Oh, and over 1000 undos by default, all with a simple Command-Z.

Missing Features

  • In general, most features are present, and they’re largely bug free. However, you may experience a crash or two with this first public release, and a few features simply haven’t been implemented yet.
  • It would be great if zooming and screen display worked exactly the way Photoshop does today—that scrubby zoom is hard to give up.>
  • I can’t find a way to hide the edges of a selection, which is driving me slightly insane.
  • There’s a lingering issue with the Photoshop layered file export, in that FCP X doesn’t see its layers. Photoshop can, though, and saving back from Photoshop produces a file that FCP X can correctly interpret.
  • I can’t say I’m a 100% fan of the windowed mode (here or in Photoshop) but the alternate “separated” mode has some issues with full screen support and overlapping/edgeless panels.
  • Actions and a few other features aren’t currently implemented, but are coming soon.

Retina Scaling Issues

The developers have made the decision to show images at the size they’d appear on a non-Retina display, meaning that you have to work at 50% to see your image using native pixels. However, if you work at 50% of normal size, there’s a slight performance hit, meaning there’s a visible redraw after each pause as the full-resolution image fills in.

You don’t have to release the mouse for the update, but it can be a distraction, and it’s avoidable. If you switch a Retina iMac to its native resolution of 5120x2880, then Affinity Photo shows no redraw delay at 100%. (You can Option-click on “Scaled” in System Preferences > Displays to access this.) With luck, this will be tackled in a future update.

Using the top resolution here is faster than using the regular Retina resolution, but it shouldn’t be.

Using the top resolution here is faster than using the regular Retina resolution, but it shouldn’t be.

Worth noting: the current version of Photoshop doesn’t work properly at this “native” resolution, though that’s less of an issue as it always uses native pixels for artwork, like most other apps in Creative Cloud as well as FCP X and Motion. 

Conclusion

It’s remarkable how attached we can become to our tools. Photoshop has been a vital part of my toolkit since the mid-90s, and its workflows and shortcut keys are embedded deep in my brain. As a professional retoucher, I’d spend entire days working in Photoshop, and yet here’s a nearly-viable alternative for $50?

Adobe make great software, but no app has ever really challenged Photoshop. This does. Given that Affinity already make an app like Illustrator and are planning an app like InDesign for 2016, I think Adobe have something to become seriously worried about. While many users will want to stay with Creative Cloud for a variety of reasons, if you’re against subscription and only need Photoshop, you now have options.

Assuming the minor niggles and bugs are fixed, I could happily use Affinity Photo instead of Photoshop, and that’s a pleasant shock. It’s very impressive—and not a little surprising—that it’s as good as it is. Affinity Photo is an extremely competent program, welcome competition in the design space, and a reminder that the only constant in this industry is change. Recommended.

Price: $49.99 USD / £39.99 GBP

Web: https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/photo/

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Comments (5)

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  • Wizizya
    Will MPV be doing any courses on this and affinity designer? in the future
    • 5 years ago
    • By: Wizizya
    Reply
  • Dubtrack
    Yeah, please give some MPV courses on this and Affinity Designer:)
    • 3 years ago
    • By: Dubtrack
  • Iain Anderson
    Author here — not sure, but I'll ask. If you're interested, please let macProVideo know: http://www.macprovideo.com/about/contact
    • 5 years ago
    • By: Iain Anderson
    Reply
  • JLaw
    As a long time Photoshop user its always nice to see competitive software at a very affordable price. Keep Adobe on their toes and drive the quality of the software available. Great article
    • 5 years ago
    • By: JLaw
    Reply
  • claude67
    Hello, this post is in fact good and I have learned lot of things from it concerning blogging. thanks. For hobbyist stuff, Affinity is perfectly fine. But if you're looking toward a career in design, you need to know Adobe. I have a XP-Pen Star G640 drawing tablet and Affinity Photo . Works for me . AF may not have all the features of Photoshop, but it's close. The UI is more intuitive and the workflow is far more seamless. Also not a huge fan of Adobe's subscription model.
    • 1 month ago
    • By: claude67
    Reply
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