Is Serif Affinity Photo a Credible Alternative to Photoshop?

Serif Affinity Photo in the Photo Persona (normal edit workspace).

Serif Affinity Photo in the Photo Persona (normal edit workspace).

I was intrigued recently to see the announcement from ‘Serif’ of the launch of their new product Affinity Photo. It is being marketed as direct competition to Adobe Photoshop, which is a pretty bold claim! I did look at one of the beta releases about six months ago, which looked interesting, but like all beta releases it was a bit buggy. I have used Adobe products for the last twelve years, but as a lecturer was dismayed when they adopted the subscription model. Whilst I can afford it, it is an extra cost for students, who face ever increasing financial burdens.

The introductory price for Affinity Photo is £29.99 – 20% off until 23rd July (normally £39.99). That is a one off flat fee, with free upgrades. This compares to the student deal on Photoshop and Lightroom, which is £8.99 a month. So over the course of their studies (3 years) an undergraduate student will pay £323.64. So if the program is any good, it will be a substantial saving!

It should be mentioned, that Affinity Photo is only available for Mac users and downloadable from the Apple Store. There isn’t currently a Windows version. With the cheap introductory price, I decided I had nothing to loose and downloaded it.

Before we look at the product, lets have a look at what we want from photo editing software. There are two main processes; optimisation and the manipulation of images. As a photojournalist my main aim is to tweak an image, so that it faithfully represents what I saw. Ethics dictate that this is about fine-tuning, nothing more. On the other hand commercial photographers may want to carry out major changes, such as swapping backgrounds or even combining elements from multiple images. The test for this software is if it can fulfil both of these tasks.

Serif Affinity Photo in Develop mode (click to enlarge)

Serif Affinity Photo in Develop mode (click to enlarge)

After launching, the program will look very familiar to Photoshop users, with tools down the left hand side and panels on the right. There are a number of workspaces (called Personas). When launching a Raw image the ‘Develop’ Persona opens. This gives you all the tools you need to optimise your picture. When you have finished you can then edit as normal in the ‘Photo’ Persona. A nice feature is that you can also open any other format in the ‘Develop’ persona (like opening a .jpeg in Adobe RAW from Bridge). One Persona that did confuse me was ‘Export’. I thought this would be where you simply save images, it is actually for exporting sliced images for the internet. The normal place to save images is where you would expect file/export.

The program opens and exports in a variety of formats, including RAW and Photoshop PSD files. It handles colour spaces from RGB to LAB and even CMYK. All of the usual editing features are available, changes are non destructive and in real time. A neat twist is that filters can be applied to a layer or added as a separate layer. Whilst sometimes workflows are a little different than in Photoshop, I haven’t found anything I can’t do in Affinity Photo.

Pros:
• Price and non-subscription licence
• Opens PSD files, plus all the standards you’d expect including PNG, JPG, TIFF, EPS, PDF, and SVG.
• Pan and zoom at 60fps with live previews, live tools and real-time editing.
• Speed, as it is built for Mac it takes full advantage of the latest OS X technologies including OpenGL, Grand Central Dispatch and Core Graphics.
• For a full list of features check out: https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/photo/full-feature-list/

Cons:
• Basic image browser
• Little bit of a learning curve for experienced Photoshop users. Things are sometimes in different places.
• Only available for Mac users (Update: a Beta for Windows is now available April 2016).

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 18.06.17So the big question is, is this a professional program that is suitable for photography students or commercial photographers? Many professional photographers, would never consider moving from Adobe products. They have grown up with them and it has to be faced that they are the industry standard. It’s a great integrated suite, that is powerful and works well. So does Affinity Photo offer a credible alternative? Well I am surprised to say it, but I think the answer is yes! It’s a fresh interface and fun to use. With the workflows that I use, I haven’t found anything I can’t do in Affinity Photo, that I can do in Photoshop. Sometimes the process is a little different, but the end results are similar. It should also be remembered that this is only version 1, so other features will be added over time. I have used it a lot over the past few days and it has been 100% reliable.

There is one caveat: the Adobe subscription also includes Lightroom, which is an incredibly powerful DAM (digital asset management) tool. It allows you to catalogue, keyword, sort and batch edit images. Affinity Photo does not do this, so if you need these features you will need to find an alternative or buy a copy of Lightroom (which is still available as a stand alone program at £103). Even if you buy Lightroom to accompany Affinity Photo, over three years your costs will be £143 compared to the Adobe subscription of £323.64. Serif already produce an alternative to Adobe Illustrator, called Affinity Designer and are working on an alternative to Indesign. It would be great if they also turn their attention to Lightroom.

Just be aware: throughout the program image resolution is referred to as dpi, this is incorrect, as most of you will know it should be ppi. dpi is a measurement of print resolution. This is a fundamental error that needs to be addressed. 

Ethics statement: Saw it online. Bought it – at that price why not!

2 thoughts on “Is Serif Affinity Photo a Credible Alternative to Photoshop?

  1. Hi Martin, I saw this today in the App store. I’m constantly on the edge of going for the Lightroom/Photoshop CC to replace my ageing Photoshop CS3 – maybe this partnered with Lightroom is the way to go. Thanks.

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