Affinity Photo Review

November 16, 2017 | Tim Coleman | Software | |

Introduction

Since Adobe moved into a subscription only service for its photo editing suite, we have seen some more cost effective alternatives available for one-off fees. We recently reviewed Picktorial 3 and here we have another, Serif Affinity Photo.

You’ll probably know Serif more for its Windows based editing software PhotoPlus X, but more recently Serif delved into Mac with Affinity Photo, creating what we think is a legitimate alternative to Adobe Photoshop. This is not beginner-level stuff, it’s a mightily competent editing suite.

What is particular impressive is that the software costs a bargain one-off fee under £50. There’s no subscription service, like with Adobe CC.

The encouraging signs for Affinity Photo continue. In a relative short space of time the software is now its sixth iteration. More recently the software has been developed for iPad and for Windows too. 

We are reviewing version 1.6.6 for Mac, which was launched in November 2017. In this latest version there are plenty of improvements and compatibility with the latest camera raw files.

For those that have bought an older version of Affinity Photo, the latest one comes free. Free upgrades were meant to be a plus point for subscription services, so kudos to Serif for looking after existing users at no extra cost. 

For more information and to purchase the software, which currently costs £48.99 if you don’t own it already, please visit the Serif website.

In addition, Serif offers a companion graphic design software called Affinity Designer, which also costs £48.99. Handily, both programs share the same file format.

At a Glance

•     Workspaces in five different ‘Personas'
•     Comprehensive raw image editing
•     £48.99 one-off fee, free upgrades
•     Available for Mac and Windows
•     Companion graphic design Affinity Designer software available too
•     Built-in support for Wacom pen tablets and others
•     Competitor to the full version of Adobe Photoshop CC

Key New Features

A full list of features, with the new ones highlighted in red, can be found on the Serif Affinity Photo website. Here are just a few of them:

•     New light UI option
•     New stroke stabiliser for all pencil and brush tools
•     New "Edit In" integration with Apple Photos (Affinity Photo only)
•     Metal 2 accelerated view optimised for macOS High Sierra
•     Improved view pan/zoom performance
•     Improved performance with large documents
•     New font chooser dropdown with recents, used fonts and favourites
•     New Glyph browser
•     Align to key items
•     Text frame vertical alignment options
•     Fit frame to text
•     Custom brush wet edges (Affinity Photo only)
•     Outlier stacking mode (Affinity Photo only)
•     Improved Photoshop Plugin support (Affinity Photo only)
•     Improved Live Filters performance (Affinity Photo only)
•     Many PDF export improvements including vector export of multi-stop gradients
•     360 image roll correction (Affinity Photo only)
•     Numerous bug fixes and other improvements

Installation

Affinity Photo v1.6 is available now for Mac OS X (10.7 or later) and Windows (7, 8 and 10). A minimum of 2GB RAM is recommended. 

The software can be purchased in Apple’s Mac App store via Serif's Affinity website

There is a free trial available. All you’ll need to do is enter your details on the product website and a link will be sent to you.

Installation is as simple as one could expect. The software is available in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese and Spanish.

Affinity Photo v1.6 is available to buy outright only and costs £48.99. Not a subscription service in sight and Serif makes the latest versions of the software available for free to existing Affinity Photo users. 

This review is based on the Mac version of Affinity Photo 1.6.6, using a MacBook Pro Retina (early 2015) with 16GB memory, 2.7GHz processor and Mac OS Sierra 10.12.3 operating system.

Ease of Use

The Workspace

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WD My Cloud Home

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The incredible value and one-off fee payment method of Affinity Photo is enough reason to persuade existing Adobe Photoshop CC users to try it out. 

Yet, too much effort to relearn a new software can be curtains from the off. If you’ve used Photoshop for years, the judgement hammer is ready to strike on any young pretenders, should the new software not be up to task or appear too alien. 

It therefore makes total sense that the workspace of Affinity Photo has been designed in a way that is really familiar to those already using Photoshop. You get the familiar grey background by default, a vertical toolbar on the left and control panels on the right. Those tools you use in Photoshop are generally found where you hope they will be in Affinity Photo.

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The main difference between Photoshop’s single workspace is that Affinity Photo uses ‘Personas’, each with their own workspace. These personas are found in the top left and include Photo, Liquify, Develop, Tone Mapping and Export personas. 

Select a different Persona and its range of editing tools appears within the workspace. Chances are you’ll spend most the time in Photo and Develop Personas. 

Support for new cameras and lenses is added regularly and Affinity Photo works with most files types, including Photoshop PSD files (with full layer support) and rapidly improving Plugin support. To process these raw files properly, the Develop Persona is your first port of call. 

We like how the Develop and Photo Personas sit side by side, providing both raw image adjustments and more complex editing tools. 

All in all the workspace is comprehensive yet relatively straight forward to navigate. It did not take us long to find our way around, while knowing there is plenty more to explore. 

Develop Persona

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WD My Cloud Home

WD My Cloud Home

Develop Persona features all the exposure adjustments and lens corrections we’d expect in the Basic, Lens, Details, Tones and Overlays panels. Exposure, Vibrance, Shadow & Highlights, Defringe, Sharpening. It’s all there and more. 

For quicker editing it is possible to save a set of edits into a profile and then apply the profile by a single selection. 

To keep any exposure adjusments in check, there is a clipped highlights/ shadows and tones function that overlays any tonal blowouts onto the image. In addition, the histogram is available, alongside any EXIF data which also includes a location map, if that information is available.

There are instant previews of any edits made - on the whole there is no hanging around. We love the options of split screen and mirror screen to show the before and after effect of edits.

Where you may have to wait is on first opening a new Persona - typically there is a good 15-30 seconds waiting time until some edits become available, from which point there are no lags. 

Photo Persona

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WD My Cloud Home

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WD My Cloud Home

More complex editing can then be made through the Photo Persona workspace. 

By default, edits to a picture are made non-destructively through adjustment layers. Each layer can be selected, deselected and deleted individually or consequently locked as a group for further edits. We think this is a more intuitive method than going back through edits using the history panel. 

The picture being edited is called a ‘Pixel’ layer and it is theoretically possible to have limitless Pixel layers on the go simultaneously. There are the usual Blending modes available for Pixel layers. 

We had good fun with Serif's 'dirk-wustenhagen-fine-art-texture-collection’ textures pack that includes 99 JPEG images, experimenting with the various Blending Modes to overlay the textures on various pictures. 

The left-hand-side vertical tool bar contains many editing tools familiar to Photoshop, such as selection, dodge, burn, clone and heal brushes. Select the Text tool and a wide array of options are available for overlaying text.

Within the top toolbar are automatic adjustment buttons for levels, contrast, colour and white balance. We can’t think of much that Photoshop can do that isn’t in the Affinity Photo arsenal.

Liquify & Tone Mapping Personas

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Liquify is a powerful tool where you can stretch and warp the image using any one of a number of warp styles. A grid is overlaid to show the form of the warp that has been applied. Tone Mapping is essentially a HDR tool with plenty of presets to choose from to apply directly to the image. 

Effective as they are, the Liquify and Tone Mapping Personas are more niche so it's likely you’ll spend less time using these tools. 

Other Edits

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Edits don’t end with image retouching. You’ve got complex Panorama, Stack, HDR Merge and Focus Stack modes. Perspective distortion is available in dual plane, meaning it is possible to correct two sides of an object like a building in the same picture. It’s all very similar to Photoshop.

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WD My Cloud Home

We also checked out three of Serif’s optional preset bundles; ‘Uplift Epic Skies Overlays, 'Macro Pack' and ‘ Dirk Wustenhagen Fine Art Texture Collection. The latter contains 99 JPEG images that have different textures, while the other two feature filters that can be applied with the click of a button. 

These optional bundles provide one click edits that open up Affinity Photo for more beginner-level exploits, as well as more complex editing in layers.

Export Persona

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With an image edited to taste, it is time to select the Export Persona. There are a lot of options here, with support for 8-bit and 16-bit colour depth. 

When exporting a single image, ‘Slices’ can export multiple versions of the same file simultaneously, with independent control over file renaming and image dimensions. There is a wide choice of file types to export too.

As for batch processing, we couldn’t find an option for batch renaming which is a tad disappointing. Also, while it is possible to set the width or length in pixels for the batch, there doesn’t appear to be an option for longest dimension in pixels, which would cater for batches that contain both landscape and portrait format images. 

All in all, the whole process from image import to export is fluent. 

Performance

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WD My Cloud Home

WD My Cloud Home

Serif uses the familiar phrase 'built from the ground up for Mac’ in describing Affinity Photo. The pay off is that the software should demonstrate speed and power in its editing. Affinity Photo does not disappoint.

Viewing image detail and previewing edits should happen instantly. Here, there is just a fractional lag after changing exposure values and the like - but in general you’ll see the effect straight away. The same can be said for the layers panel, where the effects of an edit can be switched on and off. 

Our experience is consistent whether working on a single or multiple layer image. As already mentioned, these previews can be viewed alongside the original image in a split or mirror screen. 

Another fractional lag is when moving around an image when displayed at 100%. It’s fractional, but it’s there. The only truly notable lags we experienced were when switching between personas and when making the first edit in a new persona - for example applying chromatic aberrations corrections in the Develop persona. 

Without side by side tests, we can’t comment on how much quicker v1.6 is compared to previous versions. What we can say is that Affinity Photo v1.6 does its side of the job very well and lets you concentrate on your part, the creative editing. 

After all, there is little more annoying for the creative juices than being sat at a computer waiting for image edits to load. 

And what of the editing experience then?

Firstly, Affinity Photo is like Photoshop in that it is designed to work on a single image. It is not designed for large editing workflows. A Batch Job is available, but this only really covers exporting rather than raw image editing. The option that you do have for quick edits is applying presets. 

If we narrow the experience down to a single image, then the tools in Affinity Photo 1.6 on the whole work perfectly well. We have been able to make edits to images that look great.  

There are one or two limitations to editing that could prove problematic. The Exposure slider is limited to ±2EV adjustments which is a shame - if you need more extreme exposure changes then this is not the software to use. 

Some of the basic raw image editing tools could do with small improvements. Take fringing corrections which is limited to a single hue (Photoshop’s raw editor has dual hue manual control). We tried the tool on an image of a dark night starry sky where complex fringing around the stars can be seen in multiple colours. A single hue adjustment cannot remove all fringing in such an image so you have to choose which fringing colour is most displeasing and remove that one (with an auto option to remove the complementary hue). 

Tools that work really well include the Inpainting Brush which is found in the Healing Brush. It removes objects using intelligent content awareness and the results great. 

We won’t go into every tool because you’ll be reading the review all day. In general, we must say that we have been getting good results from the raw editing control panels. We say try the software out for yourself. 

Before and After Examples

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Conclusion

For what Serif Affinity Photo can do, its one-off RRP of £48.99 is an absolute steal. That’s less than half the price of a year’s subscription to Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Lightroom CC. You get free upgrades too. 

Don’t let that low cost fool you - it does not reflect the ability and versatility of Affinity Photo 1.6. It features compatibility with virtually all image file types (including Photoshop PSD files), offers a broad range of editing tools and is quick to boot.

Speed is a true test of editing software - no one likes hanging around waiting for an edit to appear on screen or a set of tools to load. With our operating system used for this test, the software performed very well. 

Our only negative experiences have been a fractional lag moving around a 100% zoomed image and one or two lengthier lags when switching Personas. 

There are a few limitations to editing, most notably the exposure adjustment and one or two raw image edits like lens corrections. Otherwise, we have been able to make some great looking edits.

What Affinity Photo is not, is a cataloguing software. It will not replace Adobe Lightroom/ Adobe Bridge CC. This is a direct competitor to Adobe Photoshop and it really does give the industry standard a run for its money (at a fraction of the price).

Would we use Affinity Photo as our primary editing tool in the future? It’s a close call. Asides from one or two improvements, we would need to see Serif launch a photo cataloguing software to accompany Affinity Photo. This is perhaps the missing link for Serif taking a bigger bite out of Adobe’s lion share.

The highest praise we can give Affinity Photo is that we’ve been considering it as our primary editing tool. Take that, Adobe.

4.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4.5
Features 4
Ease-of-use 4.5
Value for money 5