Adobe Photoshop was released in 1988 and has become the most widely used digital image editing tool in the world. The program is so popular that its name has become a verb – and Photoshop is now the de facto standard for industry-leading professionals and amateurs alike.
Photoshop has also spawned a host of competitors, including Affinity Photo, a worthy alternative for anyone who wants a full-featured image editor without the expense of Photoshop. But is Affinity Photo now the superior choice? Or are you better off sticking with Adobe’s classic program?
In this article, I’m going to compare Photoshop and Affinity Photo. I’m going to give you the benefits and drawbacks of each program – and you’ll leave knowing which program is right for you.
Affinity Photo vs. Photoshop: overview
When considering Affinity Photo and Photoshop, it’s important to remember that there is no one single correct program for everyone. Both are highly capable photo editors, and either one will serve the needs of most photographers. They each have advantages and drawbacks, as well as very different pricing models, and both work well for many photographers.
So try not to think of this as a binary choice or even a competition. It’s not about which program is better, but which program suits your needs.
Before getting into the weeds of how these programs are different, it’s a good idea to take a look at how they are alike. This helps establish a sense of common ground, or perhaps a starting point, that will make the differences stand out.
Both Affinity Photo and Photoshop offer a layer-based workflow, meaning all edits are non-destructive and can be combined with other edits. Both include RAW converters, which allow you to open and manipulate the lossless file formats used by amateur and professional photographers around the world.
Affinity Photo and Photoshop both feature a dizzying array of tools to let you edit images any way you want. You can create detailed selections, use complex layer masking, warp and transform parts of your images, use dozens of filters and adjustments, go back to earlier edits with a history panel, insert and manipulate text…the list goes on.
Comparing the two programs, then, becomes less about looking at a bulleted list of features and more about value. Affinity is significantly cheaper with a one-time price of $50 USD. Adobe Photoshop is much more expensive and is available only as part of a Creative Cloud subscription, the cheapest of which is about $120/year. And while you certainly get a lot for that yearly fee, Affinity Photo is no slouch.
Affinity Photo doesn’t have the sheer quantity of features that Photoshop offers, but many of the tools in Photoshop aren’t used by a lot of amateur and semi-professional photographers, so it might not matter to you. For instance, Photoshop has tools for manipulating 3D objects and video, but if you just want to edit static 2D images, that probably isn’t important. Photoshop is also updated more frequently and has some interesting AI-based tools to alter faces and other image elements, but for some people, these aren’t worth the yearly fee.
Both programs follow a similar design language: tools on the left, options for customizing the selected tool on top, editing panels on the right, and a huge space in the middle of the screen for working on an image. Their tools share many core functions, as well. Both have tools for cropping, brushing, making selections, fixing blemishes, working with text and objects, and more.
The interface is not altogether dissimilar from Lightroom, Luminar, and other photography software. If you are new to Affinity Photo or Adobe Photoshop, it won’t take you long to figure out how to edit and where to find the tools and adjustments you need.
This has put Adobe in a bit of a tough spot – one that makes Affinity Photo seem quite attractive by comparison. Adobe must walk a fine line between catering to its professional customers, many of whom have been using Photoshop for years, and catering to new customers who find the growing feature set to be complicated and frustrating. Welcome screens, popups, tooltips, and other helpful hints stem the tide of confusion – but while these do help, it can still be difficult to locate the options you need to get your work done.
By contrast, the simplified nature of Affinity Photo seems downright pedestrian but remains quite powerful. Tools on the left are bright and colorful, and the adjustment panels on the right are a bit more streamlined for common use-case scenarios.
For example, adjusting the white balance is as simple as clicking the White Balance option and adjusting some sliders. In Photoshop there isn’t a White Balance option; you have to apply a Curves adjustment layer or use a filter to achieve the same effect.
This theme is prevalent throughout any comparison of Affinity Photo vs. Adobe Photoshop. Affinity Photo has a fresh, modern take on the interface elements that Photoshop invented. If you prefer a cleaner, simpler layout, then Affinity Photo might be the best option for you, but if you crave raw power and a slew of options, you might be better off with Photoshop.
It is worth noting that Affinity Photo also has a few tricks up its sleeve that Photoshop can’t yet match. Namely, speed: Adobe Photoshop is built on decades-old legacy code that makes some simple operations confoundingly slow. Tools like Liquify and even simple transformations are much snappier in Affinity Photo, and while Photoshop has made some great strides in recent years, there’s no denying that aspects of the program still feel slow and outdated.
While both Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop have a huge number of editing tools, each program is at its best when you learn to use those tools to accomplish your work with minimal effort. Photoshop has a bit of an edge here if you want to make complicated, in-depth edits, but Affinity Photo is no slouch either.
For example, most of the items in Photoshop’s toolbar have sub-options with different variations on the same tool. There are three selection tools: Marquee, Lasso, and the Magic Wand. And each of those has its own subset of tools.
From a workflow perspective, this bevy of options can be invaluable. You can get in, make your selections, and get on with your editing. And in that regard, Photoshop gets the nod over Affinity Photo. Once you learn all the options at your disposal and get familiar with the myriad keyboard shortcuts, Photoshop can dramatically cut your editing time. But getting to that point can take a lot of learning and a lot of patience, so some might prefer the relative simplicity – and fewer options – of Affinity Photo.
Both programs have all the standard adjustments you would expect: Brightness/Contrast, Exposure, Invert, and many others. These are applied using layers, and the layers can be blended using virtually the same sets of blend modes, including Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Difference, Exclusion, Subtract, and so on. Layers can be moved up and down and combined in both programs, and both give you access to dozens of effects that can be applied, as well.
If you are thinking of transitioning away from Photoshop, there is one important thing to note:
While Affinity Photo does replicate many of the common keystrokes and shortcuts used in Photoshop, they’re not 1:1. You might find yourself pressing familiar keys and using shortcut commands out of habit only to realize that nothing happens, or worse, something happens that you didn’t intend. It can make the transition a bit rocky but might be worth it if it saves you time or money in the long run.
When you work with image editors, compatibility can be an issue. Photoshop’s PSD file format is the gold standard – but not necessarily because it’s the best, and certainly not because it’s the most efficient in terms of file size. Rather, after more than 30 years in this business, Photoshop’s PSDs have simply become the most widely used. PSD files are nondestructive, meaning they contain all the layers, history steps, adjustments, effects, and other elements of an image as it’s being edited.
Affinity Photo has a similar non-destructive file format, AFPHOTO. But as you might expect, it is not well known; it’s simply too new compared to the PSD format. While Affinity Photo can open PSD files and also export its own files in PSD format, Adobe Photoshop can’t do anything with AFPHOTO files. This can end up becoming a time-consuming hassle if you use Affinity Photo but find yourself collaborating or sharing files with Adobe Photoshop users (or vice versa).
It’s currently Adobe’s playground, and we have to play by their rules for the time being. Adobe doesn’t need to spend time and money making Photoshop compatible with Affinity Photo files, but Affinity needs to work with PSD files if it is to be relevant in the image-editing space. The old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” comes to mind.
So if you go with Affinity Photo because you like the price or appreciate its tools and features, just know your documents won’t always play nice with Photoshop.
Learning any new tool takes time and effort, and this is doubly true for image editors. There are so many options and features in both Affinity Photo and Photoshop; it’s enough to make you want to give up and go with the one-click simplicity of a program like Luminar. Especially if you’re new to digital photography.
When considering Affinity Photo vs. Photoshop, it’s important to take this into account and make sure you have access to the knowledge and training you need to get your editing done. While Photoshop has too many features to count, it also has over three decades of support behind it. The internet is jam-packed with every kind of Photoshop tutorial you can imagine: websites, forums, social media groups, YouTube tutorials, podcasts, classes, lectures, and Adobe’s own help files and rich knowledge base.
What’s more, since so many people use Photoshop, it’s not hard to find someone who can help you. Most friends, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances who use Photoshop will be happy to show you a few tricks or help you learn how to use the program.
This is hardly the case with Affinity Photo. Affinity has its own set of video tutorials, as well as sample images you can import and experiment with to learn the basics. But while these are a good place to start, they’re just not at the same level as what you’ll find in Photoshop.
Tutorials will improve as more people use Affinity. But until then, you might find yourself frustrated when you can’t figure out more advanced features and aren’t able to find the help you need.
Editing and the cloud
As photo editing moves away from the desktop and into the cloud, it’s important that your tools can keep up with your workflow (and that you can adapt them as needed). Many photographers today want to edit images on tablets or even phones and have their pictures available whenever and wherever they want.
Thankfully, both Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop are up to the task, but they approach it in different ways.
Affinity Photo has an iPad app, available for a very reasonable fee, that mimics most of the functionality of the desktop version. It can’t do things like batch export, but it reads AFPHOTO files, and edits on the iPad are also available on the desktop version.
However, Affinity does not have a cloud-based infrastructure to support file syncing and storage. This means you have to transfer your images manually or sync them to a service like iCloud – then you must make sure all your files are properly synced again after you edit, lest you lose some of your changes.
Photoshop handles this differently, and it’s all due to the subscription fee you pay to use the program. Since every Photoshop plan comes with some degree of cloud storage from Adobe, it’s possible to have a cloud-based workflow where everything is stored remotely. This means you can load all your PSD files and other assets into your Adobe Creative Cloud storage, edit your images on desktop or mobile, and everything is automatically synced in real time.
Neither one of these approaches is necessarily better, but it’s important to determine which you prefer. Affinity Photo’s one-time pricing structure means it can’t support the ongoing costs of cloud servers for its customers. But if you already pay for cloud storage through another platform, then you might prefer Affinity’s approach.
On the other hand, Photoshop’s method is great for a lot of people, especially those who want a cloud-based workflow.
Affinity vs Photoshop: Which editing program is right for you?
At some point, you have to stop reading and just make a decision. There are definitely some good reasons to go with Affinity Photo, and there are some advantages to Photoshop. Here’s my advice if you’re on the fence and not sure which one is right for you:
Get Affinity Photo if you want an inexpensive, full-featured photo-editing program. While it doesn’t have decades of history in the photography community, it has an extensive list of features and workflow tools to suit the needs of almost anyone. Certainly, it’ll handle everything a casual or hobbyist photographer requires, and if you aren’t actively earning money with your images, then a one-time fee of $50 makes Affinity the better choice.
Subscribe to Photoshop if you want a mile-wide set of features developed over several decades, as well as an endless supply of websites, articles, videos, books, and entire courses to help you learn how to use them. There are also many plugins you can get to extend the functionality of the core application; that way, you can tailor Photoshop’s capabilities to your needs. In terms of sheer product ecosystem, Photoshop is the clear winner.
While some have accused Adobe of resting on their laurels now that they have a steady stream of subscription income, that’s not really a fair criticism when it comes to their flagship product, Photoshop. Photoshop continues to add new options for demanding professionals while making the onboarding process easier for beginners. Adobe has also been incorporating artificial intelligence tricks such as allowing you to age (or de-age) human faces, alter smiles, and even change the direction that people are looking.
The heart of the Affinity vs. Photoshop debate comes down to a simple question: What do you want to do to your photos? By identifying your needs first and then looking for a solution, you can be sure that the program you choose will more closely align with your requirements. It might be Affinity, it might be Photoshop, or it could even be something else.
Both Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop have free trials, and I recommend going that route before spending any money or getting too invested in one particular application. Download both products, try them, and see what you think. Then you can decide the Affinity Photo vs. Photoshop question for yourself.
Now over to you:
Have you used Affinity Photo and Photoshop? Which program did you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!