Will Affinity Photo 2 Take a Chomp out of Adobe's Apple? We Review This Editing Software

Will Affinity Photo 2 Take a Chomp out of Adobe's Apple? We Review This Editing Software

At first glance, Affinity Photo 2 doesn’t seem that different from the previous software version. However, as you delve more deeply into it, you’ll find a host of valuable improvements since the last release of this versatile photo editor. It’s affordable too.

I’m hyper-critical of raw development tools, as that’s where most of my work is carried out. I’ll have to start by admitting that I was not a fan of the first version of Affinity Photo. That was mainly because an annoying glitch ruined my raw developments. I am pleased that this has been addressed with Affinity Photo 2, and after hours of fun trying out the features, I found it stable and running smoothly on the computers I tried it on. It's not without a couple of shortcomings, but what software isn't?

The different functions of the software are split between what Affinity calls “Personas.” The one I spent the most time in was Develop.

Using the Develop Persona

The most important thing to me about any software is the results, and the Develop Persona does deliver. That's thanks to the Serif Raw Engine. I opened the same raw file in both Affinity Photo and Lightroom (LR), and the initial results in Affinity were far closer to the image on the rear screen of my camera, which I have set to closely match what my eyes see. This is good news, as it means less image development and editing time. Furthermore, images shot at higher ISOs were much cleaner with Affinity than LR, even if I reduced Lightroom’s sharpening down to zero.

Regarding sharpening, most raw developers find it hard to compete with AI-based noise reduction software, such as Topaz Denoise AI and ON1 No Noise AI. The noise reduction from the Serif Raw Engine is pretty good, far better than Lightroom’s. Even at higher ISOs, opening photos into external noise reduction programs was unnecessary. Furthermore, increasing the noise reduction didn’t leave the image looking as muddy as it does with some competition.



The above image was shot at a high ISO with noise control turned off in the camera. The photo was underexposed and brightened in development to accentuate the noise. Each is a 100% crop, and the sharpening and all noise sliders are reduced to zero, as opposed to the default values. If you look at the back of the lapwing in the middle, Affinity, on the left, handles the noise far better than Lightroom does. Increasing noise reduction in both resulted in a muddier-looking image using Lightroom.

The adjustment sliders are gentle in their response compared to LR. That might take a little getting used to if you are an Adobe user and must pussyfoot with the presence sliders. With Affinity Photo, it means you don’t have to be so scared of over-adjusting the settings, as is so easy to do in ACR or LR. Affinity’s adjustments are more precise. For example, I could push the clarity slider up to 50% on some images, and they didn’t look over-processed. With Lightroom, I would usually barely touch that. There was one exception. The contrast slider in Affinity is very sensitive and needs a lighter touch than in Lightroom.

The layout of the basic adjustment sliders doesn’t seem that intuitive to me. One would expect the Shadows and Highlights adjustments to sit alongside the other tonal adjustments, i.e. Exposure, Brightness, and Black point. Alas, you must scroll down that panel and find them in a separate section further down. Another slightly bizarre feature is that you cannot minimize those sections without turning those adjustments off, as you can with Solo mode in LR. This means a lot of scrolling up and down that panel when moving between adjustments.

The Photo Persona (Editing an Image)

When you have finished developing your image, you click the Develop button on the top left of the window, and then your image opens in the Photo Persona. Here, the user interface has changed from V1, but the changes are mostly cosmetic. I say mostly because there are some new tools added. Nevertheless, users of the first version or Photoshop will not feel lost at this point.

Many photo editors are similar and based upon the layout of Photoshop. Affinity is no different, with various tools on the left of the screen with their settings in the top bar. The layers-based adjustments are on the right. I won’t go through all the tools individually because most editors have similar functions, and like others, Affinity Photo has layers and the ability to apply blending modes and layer masks.

The software has other tricks up its sleeve, too, including panorama stitching, Plus HDR, Focus, and Astrophotography Stacking. There are also Liquify and Tone Mapping Personas.

Tone Mapping Persona

For those considering upgrading from V1, the new version allows you to develop raw files non-destructively and choose to embed them into a document file or link them externally. The new Live Masks feature updates masks automatically based on the underlying image's properties. Masks can also be easily created to follow the hue of the object in the picture. Band-pass allows the creation of a mask focused around edges within an image, which is particularly useful for those who work on different frequency layers. There are luminosity range masks too, and combining layer masks has become available too. Live Mesh Warp allows you to wrap text or images around 3D objects in a photo. The brushes have been improved too. 

Buying Options of Affinity Photo 2

Affinity Photo 2 usually costs $69.99 for macOS and Windows and $19.99 for the iPad. However, at the time of writing, they were reduced to $40.99 and $11.99. The Universal V2 license that includes the other two Affinity programs, Designer 2 and Publisher 2, is currently $99.99, down from $169.99. All the software is available with a generous 30-day free trial; many other trials have been reduced to 14 days.

When running different test photos through the software and trying out different development settings and editing tools, for the most part, they ran as smoothly as LR/PS.

What I Like About Affinity Photo and What Can Be Improved

I liked using Affinity Photo V2. It’s super developing and editing software, giving great results at a very reasonable price, especially now when there is a 40% off sale at the time of writing. Additionally, you buy a perpetual license as opposed to a subscription. At this time when we are all tightening our belts, that will be a big incentive for a lot of photographers who want to save money.

Is that cheapness enough to entice someone to buy Serif Affinity over other editing tools? Yes, because it is great value. It is feature-packed and undercuts many of the other programs out there. For example, Adobe Photoshop Elements costs far more and has fewer features, especially for raw editing. The Photography Package from Adobe is not as good a comparator because it includes both Photoshop and Lightroom, whereas Affinity Photo is a replacement for Photoshop only. V1 was around for a long time, and its dedicated users enjoyed multiple upgrades without having to pay every month, and one can expect this to be available for a long time yet.

The Export Persona.

The lack of Digital Asset Management (DAM) is where Affinity Photo falls short. Its main competitors (Lightroom, ON1, Capture 1, DxO Photolab, Photoshop Elements, ACDSee, and Paintshop Pro) all have DAM modules of some form, whereas Affinity Photo has none. Consequently, one would have to rely on browsing or using third-party DAM software. The good news for those wanting to save money by migrating away from Adobe's subscription is that the library in Lightroom is retained, and it is possible to go from there to third-party editors, albeit via the file explorer.

I am a fan of plain English. One bugbear of mine in photography generally is the lack of nomenclature standardization across different brands. Affinity calls its modules “Personas.” That probably comes second only to Canon’s ridiculous “AI Servo AF” for continuous autofocus in the daft name awards. I know businesses want to stand out and be different from their competition, but photographers like standardization. It seems a small thing, but not calling them modules is an unnecessary accessibility barrier.

The layout of the Affinity Photo is good, and it feels familiar if you have used other editing software. It works well too. I really like the results of the raw editing. Nothing is perfect, and there are a couple of areas where it could be better. Firstly, as I mentioned above, there is a lack of solo mode in the Develop Persona, so one cannot hide raw development settings without switching them off. Secondly, the placement order of the tonal adjustments doesn’t make as much sense as other programs I’ve used, but I can get used to that.

But those are minor complaints, and we reviewers could pick holes in any software. As an editor, it is feature packed and a viable alternative to Photoshop for many photographers.

The full specifications of the software are available if you click here.

At the same time as publishing Photo 2, Affinity also released Designer 2, vector graphics software, and Publisher 2 for page layout and design. I’ll be reviewing those in the near future.

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22 Comments
Alex Cooke's picture

I really like Affinity. I've had it on my iPad for several years now. It's a great editing program, and the pricing is a breath of fresh air in the face of the ever-burgeoning world of subscription software.

Chris Miller's picture

Agreed. I have Photo and Design for iPad and macOS - have for years - and use them frequently (albeit more on my iPad). While I appreciate the upgrade and look forward to using the V2 Apps (and trying Publisher!), I would have paid the $99 just to support Affinity!

Chris Miller's picture

Agreed. I have Photo and Design for iPad and macOS - have for years - and use them frequently (albeit more on my iPad). While I appreciate the upgrade and look forward to using the V2 Apps (and trying Publisher!), I would have paid the $99 just to support Affinity!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I was using Affinity Photo for the longest time. But, there were a handful of plugins I needed that only ran on Photoshop. And, couple that with PS's subject selection. I ended up go over to the dark side.

If AP's macro recording on this new version is similar to the previous version, it's crude and limiting. Macros can't be recorded to run a plugin. And, can't easily record adding layers and adjustments to a group. I found a workaround, but, it was cumbersome.

With that said, I would easily recommend AP if one doesn't need subject selection (and other "AI" stuff), plugins designed for PS, and robust macro (Actions) recording.

Edit: Maybe AP will continue this model: even though their v2 is out, they still sent out updates (minor; bugs) for their v1 instead of making you upgrade to v2. Looking at you, Capture One. :)

Ed C's picture

Where they and others can take a big bite right now, IMO is Capture One Pro. They have just emailed all their perpetual license users with a slap in the face and are ripe for the picking. Offer perpetual with upgrade pricing and they are automatically doing something that many Capture One Pro users are having yanked from them. I am a huge Capture One fan because it fits my workflow. I can change my workflow and will give any competitor the benefit of the doubt over them at this point.

Jan Steinman's picture

Affinity 2 is my "daily driver." I really appreciate "perpetual licences," because I may go a long time without using a tool, and I'm unwilling to pay for it each month if I don't use it for six months.

Another nice thing is that it appears quite lightweight in its hardware use. I would like to love ON1, but I get tired of waiting for it to do stuff! Affinity is right there with me; it doesn't slow me down, even on my thirteen-year-old (but heavily upgraded) Mac Pro 4,1.

A number of the tools have niceties that Photoshop lacks. As for a DAM, I'm using Excire Foto, which does a great job on automatic keywording. I *hate* keywording my images! I have a hard time maintaining consistency.

So, with these two, they do everything I ever used in PS/LR.

Rhonald Rose's picture

I never used Photoshop, or Lightroom much. I came to Darktable + GIMP on Linux to Capture One Pro + Affinity Photo (Designer is another one I use). My primary use for Affinity Photo is panorama stitching and a few image tweaks. Affinity Photo's Pano stitching is way better than Capture One's, but their focus stacking is adequate compared to Helicon Focus.

I don't see moving away from Affinity Photo anytime soon. It's a good piece of software for it's price.

Eric Segarra's picture

Love the upgrade and have been using it a lot more these days. Sure, Adobe has been at this a lot longer and has some advantages when it comes to 3rd party plugin integration and overall capabilities, but I keep asking myself whether this really matters for most folks. Affinity has definitely taken a great leap with the latest upgrade, and when used with the free Adobe Bridge as an asset management (yes, I know it is not a database like LR), it fits the bill for just about everything I do. Now, if Adobe chose to come out with a PRO version of Lightroom that can stand on its own, that would be another story. But to decouple it from their Photoshop cash cow may be too much to ask from Adobe. Affinity Photo, if it keeps improving, may be the great alternative to this.

Jan Onderwater's picture

I used to have PS, until, despite adobe claiming it was 64 bit, it didn't work anymore when Apple went to 64 bit. So I now had a paid license I could not use. I refuse the subscription model by adobe, which is daylight robbery for an amateur photographer like me. So I Changed to Affinity, that is not only great, its a lot faster too.

Michael Dougherty's picture

Adobe is taking a chomp out of its own apple. For me the 2 most critical feature of PS are Content Aware and the Shake Reduction filter. (Makes a $500 lens as sharp as a $2,000 lens but isn't technically a sharpening filter.) Unfortunately, Adobe just removed it from its latest update. Obviously, I didn't update.

Mike Ditz's picture

I just wish that PS and Affinity would modernize the user interface.
Photoshop came out 30 years ago it needs a huge makeover. Too bad Affinity followed PS footprints.

Jacob H.'s picture

Some of our editors have been using AP1 as a PS replacement for a while. Much to their satisfaction. For raw dev we use either Capture One (C1) or Phocus depending the camera used. AP1 was used for retouch work mostly, though C1 is getting really good at that too. We've experimented with AP2 for raw dev as well, but find C1 still a bit better. When you don't want/need a full-fledge raw dev/editor + DAM (like LR/PS or C1) you can do really well with AP2 combined with e.g. Photo Mechanic (used by many pros) or ApolloOne (mac-only).

PS imo needs a huge make-over. Not only the UI, but also the engine. It's sub-optimal on M1 and M2 macs and after a few days working the memory leaks starts building up, causing the sw to crash unexpectedly. It usually requires a restart then. Compared to PS, AP1 (and now AP2) are nibble and work like a breeze. However, as for features and availability of experienced editors, PS is still 'King'.

Greg Edwards's picture

Whilst the features that are present and the price is very competitive, there's a few things that put me off switching from lightroom/photoshop.

The lack of DAM and having to save your work to its unified file format (akin to a PSD) makes Affinity Photo more like photoshop+ACR than lightroom. I know some people don't mind working like this, but personally, I like the way lightroom simply writes metadata to the catalog (and/or xmp file).

Syncing between devices doesn't look as straightforward as other platforms. It appears to be a largely manual process, partially hampered by the above file format - although a DAM could possibly solve this. I do however appreciate you can use third party cloud storage.

Presets. Yeah, I know. Yawn. But I'm rather fond of the collection of Mastin Labs presets I've acquired and use them for a lot of my personal photography and I don't particularly reslish trying to reverse engineer them from lightroom.

Jan Steinman's picture

And these new-fangled electric cars don't have buggy-whip holders!

Seriously, if your old familiar work-flow is all built around Adobe products, then sure, Affinity is not for you.

Mike Ditz's picture

What are you using for DAM? Right now I bounce between C1 PS and LR. Not the most elegant workflow lol

Jan Steinman's picture

I'm using Excire Foto. It does an outstanding job of AI-based automatic keywording… I HATE manual keywording!

It also has other great AI-based features, such as "find photos like this one," or "find photos with this face in them," or simply "find duplicates."

It's a bit slow on my thirteen-year-old Mac Pro, but it's worth waiting for.

I've been playing with a demo of Peakto (Mac-only), but it is a read-only DAM.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Hi Jan, I've not tried Excire Photo. It's a shame I didn't see this earlier because I have an article scheduled that looks at the alternatives to Lightroom. I'll give it a try and write it up in the New Year. Thanks for highlighting it.

Jan Steinman's picture

Be sure to include the "Analytics" plugin, currently an extra-cost add on.

It does stuff like draws charts and graphs based on your metadata, which you can then query by clicking on the graphical elements. Pretty nice to do a couple clicks and find out what my most-used lens that had the keyword "Dark" in it, for example.

Greg Edwards's picture

Hey, I’m not an old stick in the mud who hates change, I embrace new technology whenever and wherever I can. Considering this article is questioning whether Affinity competes favourably with Adobe's offerings, I’m merely pointing out the features I’d like to see implemented into this excellent alternative that would make me consider switching from the perpetual wallet siphoning adobe subscription.

Karen Crawford's picture

I have a question, which to much more seasoned/professional photographers, may seem to have a very obvious answer, but I'm not able to figure it out. I've been working in Affinity 2 the last few days, on some photos which I took in JPG format, however, the program will not allow me to save them to my files as JPG's. They either are forced to go to an Affinity file, pre-created by the program, and are DSC's or I can export them as PNG's. I looked at a You Tube video that supposedly offered the solution, but my copy of the Affinity 2 did not have JPG as an option, like it did in the video. Can anyone help me out with this, please? Thanks in advance!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

There should be a dropdown box at the top of the Export dialog.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Just dawned on me you stated you're editing JPG. Couldn't you just do Ctrl-S (or File | Save).