Serif Affinity Photo

      Photo Review 9.2

      In summary

      Affinity Photo provides most of Photoshop’s essential tools and features for a one-off fee, rather than an on-going subscription. Functions common to both programs include support for Layers and Curves adjustments, masking and blending, multiple colour spaces (including Greyscale, RGB, CMYK and LAB) plus ICC colour management and the ability to handle files with different bit depths.

      Affinity Photo’s big advantage is its end-to-end 32-bit workflow based on the native *.afphoto file format which preserves the full functionality of the software, keeping layers, masks and settings intact and re-adjustable the next time the file is opened. In this respect it has an advantage over most other editing software.

      Could Affinity Photo replace Photoshop in your workflow? That depends on your specific requirements. In some respects, Affinity Photo is better than Photoshop and more intuitive, although in others it can be perplexing.

      As is usual with powerful applications, it takes a while to really come to grips with everything this application can offer. In summary, Affinity Photo is excellent value for money.


      Full review

      Affinity Photo, from British software developer Serif, began as a raster graphics editor for MacOS and was first released in July 2015, followed in December, 2016 by Affinity Photo for Windows. The latest version, released in February 2020, adding support for Photoshop smart objects in PSD files and expanded plug-in compatibility with DxO’s Nik Collection of plugins. Unlike ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate, Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, Affinity Photo doesn’t include importing or organising tools. In that respect, it’s closer to Photoshop and Corel PaintShop Pro.

      The web page for Serif Affinity Photo.

      Who’s it For?
      Because it lacks highly-automated functions like file management, template-based and directed edits, pre-programmed ‘one-click’ effects and slideshow creation, Affinity Photo is unlikely to attract novice users. Instead, its target market is photo enthusiasts and professional photographers who might otherwise be Photoshop users but who don’t like Adobe’s subscription-based software plans.

      Affinity Photo provides most of Photoshop’s essential tools and features for a one-off fee, rather than an on-going subscription with rapidly mounting costs. Functions common to both programs include support for Layers and Curves adjustments, masking and blending, multiple colour spaces (including Greyscale, RGB, CMYK and LAB) plus ICC colour management and the ability to handle files with different bit depths.

      Affinity Photo’s big advantage is its end-to-end 32-bit workflow based on the native *.afphoto file format which preserves the full functionality of the software, keeping layers, masks and settings intact and re-adjustable the next time the file is opened. In this respect it has an advantage over most other editing software.

      Key Features

      Affinity Photo supports all the standard file formats (JPEG, TIFF, BMP, EPF, GIF, TGA, etc.) as well as HEIF and HEVC files, 12- and 16-bit CMYK TIFF files and Adobe’s PSD and PSB. The familiar view, move, crop, selection (lasso and quick select), fill, erase, dodge/burn, clone, pen, text and zoom in/out tools are provided. Users can also access batch processing to reduce the time they have to spend on repetitive edits when working with large collections of images.

      Most photo editing tools only work in raster formats. However, you can also create vector shapes in Affinity Photo with the pen and node tools or the shape tool. The workspace is similarly customisable. Users can select which items and panels to show via the View Studio menu (shown below).

      Most keyboard shortcuts are the same as you’d find in Photoshop and other professional editors. Like Photoshop, similar tools are often clustered within the same icon or keyboard shortcut to conserve space without making them difficult to find.

      For example, retouching tools like the Healing Brush, Patch blemish Removal and Inpainting brush (which is used for quickly eradicating unwanted objects) are grouped under the same Healing Brush icon (shown above) and within the same keyboard shortcut (in this case [J]).

      Brushes can be customised across a wide range of adjustable parameters, with the Dynamics tab (shown above), grouping most of them in a single adjustment panel. Adjustments are compatible with Wacom and Huion tablets and the Apple Pencil on the iPad versions of the software.

      You can import and use Photoshop brushes in Affinity Photo, although some settings and features aren’t supported. Sub-brushes are available to allow users to further customise brush nozzles.

      Affinity Photo’s layer-based editing process is similar to Photoshop’s but new layers are created automatically when a file is opened as well as for each major edit, as shown in the screen grab above. Four different types of layers can be created: Pixel layers for pixel-based editing, Vector layers for placing graphics and the standard Mask layers and Adjustment layers. Sublayers can also be created within a ‘parent’ layer for more complex operations.

      This graphic shows the adjustment tools provided in the Layers panel. (Source: Serif.)

      Each layer created is fully editable. Note that using a tool like the Paint Brush tool will ‘rasterise; or ‘bake in’ edits and transform it into a Pixel layer, which is retained when an image file is saved in the default *.afphoto file format.

      The image above was edited, saved and closed, re-opened and adjusted again, saved and re-opened, demonstrating this advantage over Photoshop.

      This screen grab shows the layers created as the image was edited.

      Layers can be enlarged or reduced in size with no loss in quality and new layers can be added, while maintaining a full-resolution preview to ensure accurate editing. Vector and text tools can be used to add extra graphics and type to compositions, with both added as new layers, like the Text layer in Photoshop.

      Unlimited layer support is available for making advanced and complex image compositions and layers can be grouped, clipped, masked, and blended together. They can be used for processes like stitching panoramas, compositing HDR frames, focus stacking and creating collages.

      Users can set how a layer or adjustment layer should blend with the underlying layers via the Layers>Mask Layer control, which lets users ‘erase’ from the mask, paint on the mask or apply a gradient mask. Blending options are much the same as those found in Photoshop and real-time previews of the modes are provided as you mouse over them.

      Blending modes for combining layers

      Opacity adjustments, similar to those provided in Photoshop, are also available via a slider control, circled in red in the screen grab above as well as via keyboard shortcuts. The number keys 1 to 9 provide adjustments from 10% through to 90% opacity, with 0 re-setting opacity to 100%. Intermediate values are obtained by hitting two keys in quick succession, for example 3 plus 5 will select 35% opacity.

      Manual lens correction is available for removing vignetting and distortion and suppressing chromatic aberrations as well as colour fringing. Rotation and scaling sliders are also provided in the Lens adjustments menu.

      Lens corrections in the Develop Persona.

      Affinity Photo provides plenty of help for users, both through the built-in Help button on the top panel of the workspace and through tutorials that can be accessed via the dedicated Tutorials website.  A thriving online forum is available to address any other questions  and users of the software can share their work via Facebook and Twitter.

      Workspace Personas
      A key feature of Affinity Photo is its use of five ‘Personas’ which are separate workspaces dedicated to different tasks. Which Persona is used depends upon how an image is opened but all Personas have the same main toolbar along the top of the workspace (shown below).

      This toolbar provides a largely self-explanatory set of dropdown menus covering File, Edit, Text, Document, Layer, Select, Arrange, Filters, View, Window and Help.

      Affinity Photo’s five ‘Personas’ shown here circled in red.

      Below this toolbar, the workspace divides into the five ‘Personas’ – circled in red in the screen grab above – which are used for different operations. The Photo Persona handles normal editing functions and provides many of the same tools as Photoshop in a similarly-configured workspace.

      The Liquify Persona provides facilities for manipulating pixels, the Develop Persona is used for pixel-based editing and processing raw files, the Tone Mapping Persona is dedicated to HDR processing and the Export Persona enables users to export images. As with Photoshop, you can start using Affinity Photo by either drag-and-dropping an image onto the workspace or by selecting File>Open or creating a new document from scratch by selecting File>New.

      The Photo Persona workspace.

      If you drag a JPEG or raw file onto the workspace it will open in the Photo Persona, shown above. It opens a tool panel down the left side with 22 selectable icons covering tools for cropping, colour picking, selecting, cloning, healing, dodging, burning, blurring and filling. The right side panel also changes to show Adjustment, Layers, Effects, Styles and Stock dropdown menus with Navigator, Transform, History, Channels and 32-bit Preview menus below them.

      New document options in the Photo sub-menu.

      Clicking on File>New calls up a different screen that presents a range of choices (shown above), with the output document options (My Presets, Print, Press Ready, Photo, Web, Devices, Architectural) along the top and a choice between Presets and Templates (user-generated) down the left hand side. On the right hand side a pop-up window provides Layout choices that relate to the option selected.

      The Develop Persona (shown above) reduces the number of icons in the left side panel to focus upon pixel-based tools for working with image files (JPEG, TIFF or raw). The left side panel now contains only nine icons, covering operations such as View, Zoom, Red-Eye Removal, Blemish Removal, Overlay Paint, Overlay Erase, Overlay Gradient, Crop and White Balance.

      On the right hand side of the workspace is panel containing Histogram, Waveform, Metadata and Focus  dropdown menus with Basic, Lens, Details, Tones and Overlays below. The individual dropdown menus for this set of controls are shown below.

      The Liquify Persona provides warping tools for moving pixels in images. It starts by overlaying a grid mesh on the image and you can adjust the size of the mesh and the line colour to make it stand out against the image tones.

      The Liquify Persona workspace

      The grid lets you nudge specific areas with a brush, which is adjustable for size, hardness, opacity and speed. Tools down the left side of the workspace include Liquify Push Forward, Liquify Push Left, Liquify Twirl, Liquify Pinch, Liquify Punch, Liquify Turbulence and Liquify Reconstruct and a Clone Mesh tool for copying a warp and pasting it on another part of the image.
      Adjustments can range from very subtle to moderate, which means this workspace can be useful for retouching portraits. Applications include enlarging or reducing the size of facial features or body contours.

      The Tone Mapping Persona.

      The Tone Mapping Persona, shown above, takes range of tones and remaps them to a smaller range that most displays and other devices can accurately reproduce. It contains a number of presets that appear on the left hand side within the Presets panel plus sliders for manual tonal adjustments to the right of the main workspace. These can be used to create user-generated presets.

      Some of the special effects that can be created with tone-mapped images using the Photo Persona.

      Clicking on the Apply tab takes you back to the Photo Persona, which makes a wide range of adjustment tools available, including special effects like Gaussian blur, Outer/Inner Shadow, Outline and 3D simulation. Exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, vibrance and white balance adjustments are also available as well as curves, highlight/shadow adjustments and detail refinement. It can be used for HDR processing when 32-bit images are loaded as well as for monochrome conversion, as shown below.

      Monochrome conversion with the Tone Mapping Persona

      The Export Persona combines a selection of tools for creating ‘slices’ (an Affinity Photo feature) and layers as well as exporting formats for edited images. Slices are export areas which are selected to output from your document, while layers represent precursors for selecting artboards, layers, groups or objects from which slices can be created.

      The Export Persona workspace

      The Export dialog provides settings for selecting and/or adjusting the format for your exported file, which can be PNG, JPEG, GIF, TIFF, PSD, PDF, SVG, EPS, EXR or HDR.

      Users can also set predefined export options for the selected file format from the pop-up menu or define an area covering an object with or without its background.

      Users can opt to Save Affinity Layers when exporting TIFF files and, depending on the image format, the export dialog will offer an Estimated File Size for the exported image. By default, files are saved in *.afphoto and they can be saved from any Persona at any time.  These files can be easily identified in image collections by the tag in the lower right corner of the thumbnail (shown above). They can only be re-opened in Affinity Photo.

      Exported files that have been edited in Affinity Photo and saved in the native file format.

      Affinity Photo supports a standard colour management workflow and includes the ability to recognise and use ICC profiles that have been stored on your computer. For photographers who prefer to use the Adobe RGB profile when capturing images, it will be honoured by default when the file is opened or placed in an existing document.

      ICC profiles can be selected from the list in your computer when edited images are output to a printer or other device.

      Users can also opt to convert the embedded profile to the current working colour space or export the file without an embedded profile. Default colour profiles can be chosen from RGB, CMYK, Greyscale or LAB in the Affinity Photo>Preferences (Color option) sub-menu.

      One of the more interesting tools is the Lighting function in the Filters dropdown menu, which will be particularly attractive for portrait photographers. The screen grab below shows how it can be used to direct additional illumination onto a subject and make subtle changes to the colour of the light.

      Users can supplement a single light source with additional light sources, which can be configured and positioned independently. The program offers a choice between spot, point and directional source types and the effects can be applied as a non-destructive, live filter, which can be accessed via the Layer menu, from the New Live Filter Layer category.

      Adding a lighting effect as a New Live Filter Layer. Note the split screen view that lets users compare before and after effects from editing adjustments.

      The filters menu is also where you’ll find the sharpening tools (which include Clarity and Unsharp Masking adjustments), Shadows/Highlights adjustments and Haze Removal. Plugins are also found here and the applications supports most Photoshop plugins as well as the new version of Nik Collection from DxO.

      Affinity Photo’s Macros function is roughly equivalent to Photoshop’s Actions, although it’s not compatible so you can’t import existing Photoshop actions into Affinity Photo. Users can build their own Macros in a similar way to recording Actions in Photoshop and there are a few free Macros and paid-for Macro packages available.

      Compared with Photoshop
      Like Photoshop, Affinity Photo is fast to use and provides live previews as parameters are adjusted. But it goes a step further than Photoshop by providing live previews for all brush controls, which aren’t universal in Photoshop.

      Like Photoshop, Affinity Photo provides a customisable user interface, shown above, which is accessed via Edit> Preferences. But Photoshop provides more choices of background styles, Affinity Photo has only two: Dark (the default) or Light.

      Photoshop also makes selections easier through a single, pop-up menu, whereas Affinity Photo provides eight sub-menu buttons covering General, Colour, Performance, User Interface, Tools, Keyboard Shortcuts, Photoshop Plugins and Miscellaneous parameters, which are a bit more complex to navigate. Refining selections also requires a separate dialog box.

      Refining selections with Affinity Photo

      Aside from its use of different, ‘Personas’, the logic behind Affinity Photo is much the same as for Photoshop, although Photoshop provides a separate workspace for working in Adobe Camera Raw. Affinity Photo does some things quite differently from Photoshop.

      While both programs let you straightening images with the cropping tool, only Photoshop provides manual rotation via its File>Transform function.  The only manual rotational tools in Affinity Photo rotate images by large 90-degree or 180-degree increments (shown above).

      Resizing (shown above) is done with the Document tool, which provides a number of options, including Resize Document and Resize Canvas. Clicking on either opens a box containing options for adjusting both dimensions and resolution, which is similar to the selections provided in Photoshop.

      In Photoshop, layers must be converted to Smart Objects before they can be resized non-destructively. In Affinity Photo layers can be resized with no loss in quality without losing image data.

      Affinity Photo also differs from Photoshop when using luminosity masks for exposure blending because its blend ranges limit adjustment layers to pixels with a particular luminosity value. Creating luminosity masks is also a more complex process than it is in Photoshop; you’re better off using blend ranges and manually setting how a layer should blend with the underlying layers..

      During an edit, Affinity Photo will save the undo history (including thumbnails and date/time data) with the image and retain it even after the image has been closed. This enables users to revert to any undo stages at any point in the editing process. In contrast, Photoshop only saves layers when you save as a PSD file. TIFFs open in Photoshop as if they’re flattened image files, even when they contain Layers.

      Affinity Photo includes a seamless AutoSave while images are being worked on to protect edits against unexpected shutdowns. But it doesn’t show the layer masks and which part from each layer is used in the compositing process so Photoshop is more polished when it comes to multi-image compositing, both for panorama merging and focus stacking.

      Both applications support raw file editing, Affinity Photo via an integrated raw editor and Photoshop via the Adobe Camera Raw plugin. Affinity Photo’s GPU-accelerated raw file development starts as soon as a file is opened in the Develop persona. It appears to support a wide range of proprietary raw file formats, including Canon’s CR3.RAW and RAF.RAW files from the latest Fujifilm cameras.

      We found the preset level of sharpening in Affinity Photo was much gentler than it is in Adobe Camera Raw. But, that said, manual adjustment of sharpness is available in both applications so it depends which style you prefer.

      The HDR merge function in Affinity Photo is easy to use and quite effective but the resulting images have an obvious HDR ‘look’ when you start with JPEG files (shown above). It is possible produce more natural-looking images with raw files or carefully processed bracketed shots in other file formats.

      Finally, while there are things Affinity Photo can do that are different from, or better than similar operations offered in Photoshop, only Photoshop supports 3D printing, animation, video editing and a video timeline and scripting. Both applications are, essentially, image editors; if you’re looking for more than that – file management or video editing, for example – neither will meet your needs.


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      Hardware: Intel 64-bit Core 2 Duo or better; DirectX 10-compatible Graphics Cards and above for Windows
      Systems compatibility: Microsoft Windows 7 (SP1) or higher; Mac OS Versions. 10.9 or higher
      Display support: 1280 x 768 display resolution; Supports regular, retina, and expanded gamut DCI-P3 displays plus professional colour spaces and profiles
      Disk space requirement: 1 GB of available hard disk space
      Minimum RAM:  2 GB RAM (6 GB RAM or more recommended); 512 MB Video RAM (VRAM)
      Supported image formats: Native: *.afphoto; Open: PSD, PSB, DNG, EPS, GIF, HEIF, JPEG, J2K, JP2, JPEG-XR/JXR, PDF,  PNG, SVG, TGA,  TIFF, WEBP, Open EXR, Radiance HDR, Adobe Illustrator AI, Adobe FreeHand (versions 10 & MX), Affinity Designer native file (for desktop only), Affinity Publisher native file (includes page navigation), with depth map (as separate layer); Export: Affinity template, Adobe Photoshop PSD, EPS, Open EXR, GIF, Radiance HDR, JPEG, PDF, PNG, SVG, TGA, TIFF
      Raw support
      : Extensive raw file support for cameras from all major manufacturers
      Plug-in support: Use 64-bit Adobe Photoshop compatible plug-ins including DxO Nik Collection 2.5 plugins, LAB plugin support
      Computer interface
      : Internet connection and access to online services are necessary for downloading the software plus registration and activation
      Batch processing: Yes
      Mobile device support: iOS; Windows: Optimised for Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book: pen, dial and touchscreen interfaces for Wacom (and other WinTab devices)

      Distributor: Serif (Europe) Ltd.



      RRP: AU$79.99 for Windows or MacOS; $30.99 for iPad

      • Features: 9.0
      • Ease of Use: 8.9