It's already been a couple weeks since Serif announced the release of the Affinity Photo beta. I, along with literally thousands of others, have downloaded the program and started putting it through its paces, trying to fit it into my own personal workflow. In this little first impressions review I'll focus on Affinity Photo as a raw converter, a basic retouching platform, and put it up against the big dogs: Affinity versus Lightroom, and Affinity versus Photoshop.
Affinity is a pretty unique application that boasts some pretty powerful tools. Its raw converter seems to target apps like Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, its retouching ability goes toe-to-toe with Photoshop, and its creative effects may give apps like Alien Skin and Rad Lab a run for their money.
Affinity as a Raw Converter
Since raw conversion is where the process starts for us *ahem* non-jpg guys, it's a good place to start this article. I'll be totally honest, the idea of having my raw conversion and heavy-duty post all in one place is something that got me pretty excited. I love the idea of importing, doing all my color work, then taking care of any retouching issues all in one place rather than bouncing around from app to app.
I found, however, the raw converter in Affinity to be rather lackluster. It may be the result of an early build or just the difference in sophistication between Adobe's offerings and Serif's, but images imported into Lightroom 5 (CC) appear to have better color, sharpness, and more punch compared to the rather bland and flat files produced by Affinity as seen below.
Before: Raw file + default Lightroom adjustments | After: Raw file + default Affinity adjustments
Of course raw conversion goes beyond the default import settings, but starting place is an important consideration. Once inside Affinity's develop persona (think Lightroom develop module) things operate more-or-less like you'd expect them to. A panel on the right side allows for adjustment of basic white balance (no tint control), exposure, contrast, shadows and highlights, vibrancy (no saturation), as well as manual lens correction chromatic aberration adjustment, defringing, and other lens corrections.
Longtime users of Lightroom and ACR will likely feel slightly under-whelmed by the raw conversion options in Affinity, though I'm positive you can get the job done with it.
Affinity as a Basic Retouching Platform
Here's where Affinity really starts to compete. This program strikes me as having been set up for someone like myself: a basic skin retouching, fly-away removing, I'd-rather-be-shooting photographer. While I don't really see Affinity as real competition to Photoshop for a hardcore retoucher, I could possibly see it as an alternative for folks like me.
Affinity is designed with speed in mind. In addition to the normal tools you'd expect in a retouching platform such as the stamp tool and a pallet of robust healing brushes, Affinity boasts several unique little tweaks that can potentially really speed up the process. Under filters, you'll find a built-in frequency separation function that will set up the process for you (saving you a minute or two and/or not requiring an action), as well as a lighting modifier, and support for several plug-ins.
Please excuse the grain, the above portraits are shot on Cinestill 800T tungsten balanced 135 film, rated at 1600 ISO, and pushed in development.
I found the retouching process in Affinity to be intuitive and powerful enough to accomplish my needs. I'd love to see this app in the hands of a master retoucher.
Affinity versus Lightoom
No competition... yet. Lightroom's raw converter really blows this out of the water. So much so that I'm continuing to import to Lightroom, export a corrected image, then pull it into Affinity. While there wasn't much apparent difference between Affinity beta 1 and 2 in this category, I'm hopeful that further revisions will come closer to the competency of Adobe's Lightroom or ACR converter. Furthermore, Affinity does nothing in the way of cataloging and storing files like Lightroom does. It's not meant to. While I'd love to see it replace both Photoshop and Lightroom, I don't think that's in the cards.
Affinity versus Photoshop
This is where it gets interesting. For me, Affinity appears to have all I want in the way of basic retouching. In addition, it seems to have room for growth. This isn't an option I see retouching professionals going for, but it's definitely something I'd encourage people to check out. Even after a couple weeks using Affinity I've been able to come up with a decent little workflow. Its customizability, nifty little tricks, and Apple-esque interface make it a pretty tempting option for someone like myself.
It's still in beta. You have absolutely nothing to lose by giving it a try. You may find, like me, that it's enough for your personal retouching needs. If you own Lightroom outright, it may be a good Photoshop alternative once it's out of beta. If, however, you are a Creative Cloud customer like myself I'm not sure I'd want to cut out Photoshop just to use this software.
If you've found this tempting, you can try it out for yourself.
A Call to Action
Even if Affinity isn't for you, it's good for the industry, and here's why: While I love Adobe and their entire suite of products, it's dangerous for them to be the only game in town when it comes to photo post-production. Companies like Serif and products like Affinity Photo keep Adobe on their toes in the same way Fujifilm and Sony challenge heavyweights like Canon and Nikon. Competition is good for our industry. I want Adobe to fight for our business.
What do you think of the Affinity beta? Specifically, what have been your challenges, gripes, disappointments? Let me (and them) know in the comments below. We're in a rare position here. With the product only in beta, our feedback has the potential to really positively impact the product and make it into what we want.