Overview of the New Affinity Photo Editing Software


In early February, software company Serif announced the free beta version of Affinity Photo, a Mac-only photo editing program said to rival the likes of other editing tools, including the standards for creative professionals, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. In this article, I’ll walk through the public beta version of Affinity Photo and describe some pros and cons to using this new software.

Affinity Photo Basics

Affinity Photo editing software for MacAt the moment, Affinity Photo beta is available as a free online download and is compatible with Apple OSX Lion 10.7.5, and up. Some key features that move Affinity up in the ranks include support for CMYK color, RAW file processing, 16-bit editing, 64-bit Photoshop plug-in compatibility, ICC color management, and LAB color. A few other noteworthy tools include Affinity Photo’s Inpainting feature, which is essentially the equivalent of Adobe content-aware fill, and real-time editing that will apply edits instantly without the need to render a preview.

It’s uncertain when Affinity Photo’s full version will launch, but when it does it will be available for purchase in the Mac App Store for about $49.99. A Windows/PC version of the app is said to be in works, but again no solid timeline is available.

Pro: Speed and reliability

The first feature of the tool that really stood out was its speed and reliability. Affinity Photo is extremely fast and it never once crashed during the seven times I used it, which is impressive for a beta version. The tool’s speed is accredited to it being built on an entirely new and modern codebase, unlike Adobe Photoshop, which recently celebrated its 25 year anniversary and thus has been built on architecture that is also a couple decades old.

Con: Default RAW file conversion

One of the most striking differences that I immediately noticed was the default adjustment that Affinity Photo made to my RAW image when I first imported it. While these defaults could likely be adjusted to taste, I was surprised at how drastically Affinity altered my image when all I did was import it.

Affinity Photo editing software for Mac

Pro: Easy access to basic photo editing tools

The interface, and ease of use, is where Affinity Photo really shines. Despite being a longtime Photoshop user, I’ll admit that its layout can be overly complicated, presenting too many tools that are beyond the scope of basic photo edits. While Affinity’s interface definitely borrows some features from Photoshop, its basic layout is relatively straightforward and easy to understand without requiring a ton of customization. The top bar below the menu shows all of the basic details of your photo (file format, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc.), which is something that seemed rather hidden and hard to find in Photoshop.

Basic editing tools are presented in the right hand panel under the histogram, the tools are nicely labeled, and easy to adjust with sliders. There is also a History tab that, in the same way that Photoshop does, keeps track of every edit, making it easy to track and reverse any changes. Hardcore photo retouchers might find these editing tools to be lacking, but for beginners or photographers in need of basic edits, these tools will get the job done in a straightforward manner.

Affinity Photo editing software for Mac

As a photographer who shoots almost exclusively in RAW, I’ve grown accustomed to the seamless integration of Camera RAW with Photoshop and Lightroom’s smooth handling of RAW image conversion. The way that Affinity handles RAW editing took a bit of troubleshooting, but was straightforward when all was understood.

Initial RAW Editing Tools

When you first open a RAW file into Affinity, there are distinctly fewer editing options and adjustments to choose from. The Basic tab offers easy access to make basic adjustments to white balance, exposure, contrast, shadows and highlights, clarity, vibrance, and black points. What was curiously missing from this panel were saturation and tint control. The Lens tab offers adjustments for lens correction, chromatic aberration reduction, vignettes, and defringing. The Details tab allows for detail refinement, noise reduction, and noise addition. The Tones tab is where you can adjust curves, split toning, and black and white image conversion. In this mode, the left hand panel also has a vertical tool bar reminiscent of Photoshop’s, but when editing RAW files, it is noticeably much sparser containing just 10 tools versus the 20+ tools in Photoshop.

Unlocking the Full Editing Menu

In order to unleash Affinity Photo’s full set of editing tools, it’s essential to click the small Develop button in the upper left hand corner of the RAW image editing window. This will transform Affinity’s interface dramatically to more closely resemble that of Photoshop. If you work exclusively with JPGs, this step will automatically be done for you upon the uploading of the JPG image, but this is an extra step when working with RAW files that to me was not so intuitive.

Affinity Photo editing software for Mac

Within the full Affinity Photo interface, you no longer get the image EXIF data in the menu bar, but instead a full row of icons that offer shortcuts to quick edit features such as auto white balance, contrast, and color. There are also several icons on the right that describe different personas such as Liquify, Develop and Macro Persona. A couple of these were not yet available in thw beta version, but clicking on the Liquify Persona offered just about the same editing tools and capabilities that Photoshop’s liquify feature does. For the sake of demonstration, the below image shows off the use of Affinity’s Liquify Twirl Tool, which was intuitive and easy to use.

Affinity Photo editing software for Mac

Affinity Photo editing software for Mac

Note that the left hand tool bar is significantly longer offering; paint brushes, clone tools, dodging and burning, text overlays, and much more. The right hand editing tool panel is also laid out differently with tabs including Adjustment, Layers, Effects, and Styles. Want to add a Gaussian blur or 3D effect to your image? Just head over to the Effects tab and check the box next to the desired effect, and it is instantly applied as opposed to hunting around menus or creating an action as you would do in Photoshop.

Affinity Photo editing software for Mac

Closing Thoughts

It’s not often that a platform emerges to go head-on with Adobe, but so far Affinity Photo is setting itself up as a professional-grade app. While there are many high level features for advanced photo editing, there are also lots of basic photo editing tools that are intuitively positioned, making Affinity much more approachable for beginning or amateur photographers.

Whatever the fate of Affinity Photo, the fact that companies like Serif are working on platforms to advance the process of photo editing adds healthy competition to an industry that has long been dominated by big players like Adobe and will hopefully give photographers more options in the future.

Have you tested out Affinity beta yet? If so, what are your thoughts about what works well, and what could be improved?

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Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

  • definitely a step up from apple’s new photo app ..

    maybe head to head against pixelmator?

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  • Peter

    I tried it, and it seems very promising so far. For a below-version-one software, it has an extremely impressive set of features and it is surprisingly stable (while early betas crashed quite a bit, I haven’t had a single crash in the last few weeks, even with larger files).

    At this stage, several features are still limited and not fully developed (Levels cannot be applied to individual RGB channels yet, only to luminance so far for example).

    But there are other features that are much better than their counterparts in Photoshop already (the Inpainting tools suffer from less bleeding than PS’s “Content Aware” tools, Mesh Warp has an arbitrary number of subdivision compared to the fixed 3 in Photoshop, “Blend If” can be controlled much more intuitively using curves, the “Affine Transform” filter has more options than Phostohop’s “Offset”, same for “Perlin Noise” compared to “Clouds” in PS, scaling and transforming layers is non-destructive by default, a Waveform scope, which comes from the video world and makes things like editing seamless textures much easier, built-in Frequency Separation option, and so on). Some features, like non-destructive effects without the clumsy “Smart Object” concept, are apparently already in development, and the developers seem to listen and react to feedback and fix bugs very quickly.

    What I am currently missing the most is direct editing of layer masks (done in Photoshop using Alt+Click on the layer mask thumbnail), as well as some more work done to the adjustment layers (gray point picker for curves, alpha channel support in Curves, individual RGBA channels in Levels etc.), as well as Photoshop’s “hold down Option in Levels/Curves to show areas that clip” feature. Another glaring omission is the lack of an “Info” panel with precise color readouts, which is indispensable for professional work. However, I’m sure these features will slowly trickle in in later betas.

    I haven’t tried the raw converter much, but that’s mostly because I didn’t find the results too convincing for the files I tried. I think the application’s strength is primarily as an actual photoshop-type image editor.

    In all fairness, Adobe Camera Raw isn’t exactly the greatest raw converter either in terms of image quality, so most advanced users will probably be using something like Capture One anyway, sending TIFF files to Photoshop or Affinity Photo. AP can also be set up as an external editor in Lightroom for those that really want to use the Adobe converter. In both cases the external raw converter does the raw conversion, thus bypassing the one built into AP, so that’s no big deal for me.

    Overall, I think Affinity Photo already is a very professional tool that will only get better in the future. While it has a few weaknesses still (and unfortunately copied some from Photoshop’s, like the inaccessibility of a layer’s built-in transparency channel), it already outdoes Photoshop in several respects with some fresh and smart ideas. I’m sure the final version, even though a 1.0, will be a viable Photoshop alternative already, even for most professionals.

    There also seems to be a Windows version planned, as well as a fully featured iPad version. I’m particularly looking forward to the latter, especially since Adobe’s Photoshop Touch was quite the disappointment, with half-cooked features, questionable stability an a lack of updates, which is especially ridiculous with apps like Procreate out there showing what is really possible in a mobile app.

    For those considering Affinity Photo versus Pixelmator: Pixelmator is pretty much a hobbyist app in comparison. If Affinity Photo was Photoshop, Pixelmator would be something like Photoshop Elements. Pixelmator may still be a great solution for someone looking for an affordable app that is fast with smaller image files, less complex to learn, and the realtime Core Image effects are also nice and interactive, but overall, AP is a much more professional tool, contrary to what the price point suggests. $50 is almost too much of a bargain to be true for a software of this caliber.

  • davisdbrown101

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  • Christophe Devos

    I am very interested in this new editting software! Affinity Photo Basic or Pro will they be in the french version?

  • Hugh Mobley

    A lot of us need the Windows version!


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  • Maybe this will be a good replacement for (Apple’s) Aperture photo editor. I’m gonna give it a try.

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  • ffff

  • donna31

    It’s nice, I tried it once, but no comparisment to software like Photoshop or Paintshop. For example, in Paintshop, it takes like two steps http://www.paintshoppro.com/en/pages/cool-photo-effects/ to achieve excellent effects, while in Affinity it’s much more complicated.
    Just my opinion

  • christy latham

    Image editing encompasses the processes of altering images, whether they are digital photographes, traditional photochemical photographs, or illustrations.
    You can use Best Photo Editing Apps on Mac and make changes in your pictures.

  • Its really nice application for editing pictures and it have amazing tools.

  • Michael C. Smith

    I have been using it for a while very happy, primarily use for restoring old photographs my post production software is still Light-room 6. i will switch to Affinity if i am ever forced to use Light-room CC the subscription version. I expect that Affinity will be here for a while. Adobe really need some competition.

  • This guide is really helpful for me and this is one of the best photo editing software

  • Dan8

    At Adobe prices and the fact that Adobe is moving to take away your standalone app, this is a breath of fresh air and the support is excellent.

  • Thanks for the overview of this great tools.

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