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.
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 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.
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.