Revisiting Affinity Photo After a Few Years Away: Is It Ready for Prime Time?

Revisiting Affinity Photo After a Few Years Away: Is It Ready for Prime Time?

I’ve been exploring alternative workflows to Adobe Photoshop ever since the company forced a subscription model on its users several years ago. For all its bugginess and performance problems, I keep coming back to it, because it still spits out the highest quality images for my purposes. But some of the competition is nipping at its heels.

There have been some misfires in these experiments. I tried to make Canon’s Digital Photo Professional part of my workflow for a bit, and while it was great with Canon cameras, that was about it. I tried Capture One, and the interface was too different for me to feel thoroughly comfortable. But there was always one piece of software I’ve used on and off again for years that has always been so close to being there: Affinity Photo.

As far as interface goes, it’s about as close to Photoshop you can get without copyright infringement, which creates a built-in level of understanding right off the bat. This has always been the case. What’s held me back over the years has been raw conversion that hasn’t quite been up to par with Adobe Camera Raw.

Recently, my MacBook Pro suffered the dreaded flex cable issue that caused the screen to go dead, and so, I was forced to revive my 2011 MacBook Air for duty. Since I was out of Adobe Creative Cloud licenses for my computers, I decided to again give Affinity Photo another go with a family photoshoot. With Adobe Photoshop, I’ve always been happy with the level of detail and color I would get from Adobe Camera Raw. I haven’t always been able to do that with earlier iterations of Affinity Photo. Determined, I sat down again and armed myself by watching a sizable chunk of Serif’s video tutorials on the software. My, what a difference a few years makes: I was able to get more pleasing color right out of the box in Affinity, and while detail is just a hair less clear than Photoshop (literally) the difference is only apparent if you’re pixel-peeping to the extreme. Can you tell which software produced which photo?

For the record, this photo was shot with a Nikon D750, and so, raw conversion might differ depending on what camera’s files are being converted. In this instance, the photo on the left (Photo A) was done in Adobe Photoshop and the right is Affinity Photo (Photo B).

Worth Another Look?

As a backup computer, this is a super-budget editing setup, but with Affinity Photo, I’m able to cull my photos using Adobe’s (still-free) Bridge and then edit individual photos in the non-Adobe software, all for $50, paid only once. With the ability to even install my Nik Software plugins in Affinity, for the first time, it feels like I’m not giving up anything by going without the Creative Cloud. While it’s now a pretty good solution for raw photo editing, on a pixel-level editing of JPEG files, Affinity definitely fits the bill, and so, if you’re looking for a viable solution to editing photos that doesn’t sacrifice quality, it might be time to give Affinity Photo another look.

Do you use other software to forgo Adobe’s subscription service? Leave your thoughts about what you’re using in the comments below.

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30 Comments

Lee Christiansen's picture

I'd love to stop giving Adobe my money.

I need three things from Affinity, (or have these been included / fixed now?)

1) Adjustment layers need to switch on/off from the adjustment panel, not the layers panel.
2) Masks in the layers panel need to show the actual area being masked
3) Stability in the arrangement of the app on screen. (Used to forget how I'd set the layout of panels etc).

There's more to things than just feature sets for some of us. It is the little things that make a huge difference in speed of workflow. I can live with having to adapt, but I need my speed.

Before I could switch, I would need Affinity to work with DNG profiles. And the last time I tried Affinity Photo, the lack of detail in RAW rendering was unusable. I hope they've fixed that. If Affinity could work with Adobe Camera Raw, we would have a choice between two different RAW engines.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Same, it's why I shelved it for the last few years when working with raw files. It's much better now - very, very close to ACR (though I still give Adobe the slight edge).

I really tried to like Affinity Photo but it drove me to dig even deeper into Capture One Pro. The utterly useless browser (That they said they were working on almost 3 years ago) and the horrible RAW converter left me no other choice for my work.

One can only hope they make it truly better at some point.

Rk K's picture

Once they come out with a Lightroom alternative, sure.

Looking forward to the Lightroom alternative and a Chromebook friendly option

I use Capture One Pro for raw processing and to manage my photo archive. I am very happy using Capture One instead of Lightroom. Currently I use Photoshop for heavier editing, but am now looking once again at Affinity Photo for that. One reason is that Affinity Photo also has a complete iPad app and the recently released Photoshop for iPad is missing an amazing number of features.

Martin Leblanc's picture

Love Lightroom, hate the company and the business model, so, for two years now I've been looking for a replacement. Bought C1 simply on recommendations, a mistake, hate the crop function, highlight recovery and denoise is sub par to anything else on the market, and the interface is a clusterfuck. ACDSee? Why is cropping destructive? Then I tried Exposure x5, liked it but then ran into a problem where rendered jpeg don't look anything like what's on my screen when editing?? Dxo can't load Fuji files. On1 and Luminar are way too buggy for my taste. So...I'm still looking.

And the new HDR section in CO1 works even more bad. Now that they have copied black and whiite points from LR without understanding the purpose. They don't have the tool to properly set white and blackpoint as LR has. So you just move the sliders without knowing when it's right. The highlight section does nearly nothing in comparison to LR. And just because the now have visible handles in the crop tool they think it's OK for a major update. To make a long story short, the workflow in CO1 is a nightmare even though in 12.0 the image quallity was way better than LR. I don't see this any longer in 20.0. I hate it to have bought 20.0 early. Major release with minor improvements. Just to make some christmas cash.

Martin Leblanc's picture

You are saying shadow and highlight recovery is even worst in the new C1 version? My oh my, I didn't think it was possible to do worst :) I mean, the highlight "recovery" tool in version 12 just give the white in the image an ugly chalky grey look without recovering any details whatsoever...
Most say IQ is better in C1 than LR, but I have the opposite opinion; then again, I shoot sport and action, so for me it's Crop->Shadow&Highlight recovery->denoise->export, and C1 is extremely bad for most of that :D

Philip Ng's picture

I bought Affinity Photo on Black Friday, hoping to install it onto a new PC I'm building soon, but I'll probably still primarily be a PS user.

Kevin Harding's picture

I'm very happy with ON1 on a Mac (started using it about 6 months ago) bar some issues with the clone tool it's been great, and they gave me a deal I couldn't refuse on upgrading to 2020 when I contacted them directly (I'd only had 2019 for 3 months). I also still use Luminar 3 which is also very good for many things.

I had Affinity in 2017 and lapsed using it. However it is far and away the best software on my iPad (superb for on the go editing during travel when you don't want the hassle of a laptop) and that has encouraged me to another look at the Desktop version now I have a better handle on it I'll look out for a great January deal to give their 2020 version a try.

Stuart Carver's picture

I use Capture One Pro and Affinity together, i dont know any different so Affinity is fine for me if i need to retouch anything.

I shoot film so the differences in raw conversion don't bother me. I've been using Affinity Photo for over a year now as part of my workflow. Scan film in Epson scan and edit in Affinity.

I hav come across some differences or gotchas when comparing it to Photoshop but it offers all the controls and features I'd need to get my work done efficiently.

Maybe I haven't found this yet but I wish there was a way to generate a Contact Sheet for printing. Adobe apps have this as an option in the menu. I've had to make a template myself but this is a minor complaint.

How unfortunate that Epson Scan doesn't work with Catalina, turning my V500 Photo into an electronic corpse.

Marc Perino's picture

Have you tried Vuescan ? It can work with hundreds of scanners. Even vintage ones.
I bought it 4 or 5 years ago and it gets updated very often. No update fees. And you can tweak the hell out of it.

I tested Epson scan, vuescan, and silverfast. I was able to get the best neutral high quality scan from Epson scan in a reasonable timeframe. The controls in all of them are horrid from a UX perspective but silverfast was the worst offender and cost the most.

I do want to dive into Vuescan again in the future but my v550 is working well with Epson scan in Windows 7.

(Don't worry, I know it's EOL at the end of the month but this PC is off the grid and only has access to my local NAS. I wish my motherboard from 2008 was compatible with Windows 10)

Marc Perino's picture

My comment was directed to Nicolas because he wrote that he had trouble with Catalina.

But I agree with you: The UI from Vuescan is 90s like. I dont know the Epson Scan and Silverfast UIs. I have a canan Scanner and their software is horrible too.

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

What kind of motherboard from 2008 do You have ?

I run Windows 10 and Windows Server 2012/16 on Motherboards from 2004 and even a few older (Iwill - dual socket 604)...

None of the Motherboards are "supported", but I have no problems and all drivers are installed and running...

Just curious to why you can't get your winows 10 to run on a 2008 mb...

I have an XFX nforce 750i with a Core 2 Quad 9650. It turns out I had bad ram modules and was causing instability during windows 10 installation. I replaced them and now running Windows 10.

I've also made the switch over to Vuescan and love it. After giving it another chance I discovered a few things I had missed during my initial trial. My workflow has drastically been improved and the quality of the scans, especially Fujifilm stock,has increased.

I run windows at home so I haven't run into that issue but good to know.

I've had Affinity since it's first release, but it sits largely unused. I find it much less "intuitive" than PS. Since my needs have lessoned over the years, I make do with Photoshop Elements for most things and top off with an older copy of Lightroom when needed.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I shelved it for a while for that reason as well, but they have a bunch of tutorial videos on their website now and the trainer they have on them is very good. Worth a look, once I did that it all made much more sense.

Kevin Harding's picture

Also for the iPad version - I hope they introduce this in the desktop version - there is a ? bottom right. Hold that down and every tool on the desktop now has a description of its use. Change the tool set and the descriptions for the new set change too.

Wonderful for when you are looking for a tool and don't want to go through each and every one to find the one you're looking for.

I’m not a professional photographer, but need to use graphic, photo, video editing software from time-to-time for my business. Sometimes once every 6 months, sometimes all day for 3 weeks straight. It varies.

Adobe’s subscription model is $59/mo to get the bundle, and Affinity is $150 for their 3 products. In a five-year period, trying to justify spending $3,540 vs. $150 (10-years: $7,080 vs. $150), Adobe better be offering me a whole lot more, which I believe they do not.

Affinity has some missing elements that one cannot do in the 3 products, but they do work extremely well together and they achieve everything that I need to do. They are constantly updating their software and even working on new products that will cost $50/pop, which will make them more and more attractive to the professional. So if you're a professional photographer / artist and need the $708/yr write-off, I understand the the justification - like me with paint and my company. But if you're a casual user and felt left out from the Adobe model when they decided to go to subscription-based, then Affinity is absolutely a great alternative. Throw in DaVinci Resolve for video editing, which is Blackmagic's FREE software, you’re pretty much in capable hands.

Adobe is missing the boat for the casual / professional-when-needed user and anybody wanting to get into the graphics world. Affinity, in time, will surely win out a good portion of the market along with other third party open source companies.

On top of all that Affinity performs better on newer hardware because they take advantage of lower clock speeds at a greater amount of threads. I've AMDs hardware and GPU power is taken advantage of versus Intel being favoured.

I too work for a newspaper :)
Before you begin to edit any photo one needs Digital Asset Management - DAM. It's how we manage our photos!
So, Serif, where is your DAM??? For literally years you have promised but are a no show with delivery; disappointing to say the least. Yes, speed of workflow is so important to some of us. Affinity Photo itself is very decent, has great potential, and has come a long way! Great comparison picture between PS and Affinity; the background in Affinity, photo B comes off a little loud and distracting; the PS picture overall is a little pale, in my opinion. Nice comparison shot and article!

Wasim Ahmad's picture

It's true, there isn't good DAM. You can use Photo Mechanic (Journalists unite!) or Bridge and have it open into Affinity, but you can't auto create contact sheets or batch process files, which is a real negative.

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

Just buy a real DAM solution, like Daminion, Fotostation Pro, IMatch or one of the many really good Open Source Free Desktop or Enterprice solutions out there...

I have used it a few times but have gone back to Lt Room and Photoshop.