About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Affinity Photo - First Impressions

Affinity Photo - First Impressions

If you haven't come across it before, Affinity Photo is a Photoshop competitor from Serif labs, the same people who brought us the excellent Affinity Designer (an illustrator competitor). The software got a lot of attention when it was launched, and Apple named it the best Mac App of 2015. With this quick first look, I'm going to talk about my general impressions of using it, and I'm not going to go too in-depth, butI'll follow this up in a little while with a full review.

I realise that I'm a little late with this post, as Affinity Photo's been out for a while now, but I wanted to share some first impressions anyway. I had actually been using the software during the beta, but then it went off my radar for various reasons and I'm only getting back to it now.

First of all, Affinity Photo is a beautiful application. It has a lovely modern and clean design, and in my opinion looks much nicer than the current version of Photoshop. It's also pretty powerful. While it doesn't do everything Photoshop does, it does a lot, and what it does it does very well.

It has a full compliment of layers, channels and effects, all in an interface that should be familiar to Photoshop users, so it's easy to pick up. It has support for 8 or 16bit colour in both RGB, CMYK and Lab (and greyscale). It has some really nice touches of its own on some of these features. It has lots of live filters, which are non destructive filters, much like the smart filters in Photoshop. But you can do some neat tricks with them, by changing the stacking order. For example, if you parent one to a layer, it just affects that layer, but put it at the top of a stack and it affects the whole stack.

It has a nice brush engine too, and works well with a tablet for fine retouching. It features a healing brush and patch tool, as well as a dedicated blemish removal tool (spot removal) and a red eye removal brush, as well as the full compliment of standard tools, such as clone stamp, marque, crop etc. It even has panorama merging built in, and it also includes six extensions for Apple Photos.

Affinity Photo - Apple Photos Extension

Affinity Photo also features what Serif call "Personas". These are basically like modules, which change the whole interface to a dedicated workspace for the task at hand. There are 4 personas currently in Affinity Photo, the standard interface, a develop persona, a liquify persona, and an export persona. Of these, the develop persona is particularly interesting.

The develop persona is effectively Adobe camera raw, in Affinity's own style. As far as I can see it offers about 80% of what camera raw does, including gradient and brushed based selective adjustments. It has full raw support and works pretty well with most raw files. You have the option of using their own raw converter or Apple's (core Image) one. It does lack a couple of key features here, for example, lens distortion is included, but it doesn't seem to be profile based, but instead requires manual configuration. It's not perfect, but considering it's a first generation product, it's pretty impressive.

As for the quality of the raw conversion, that's a subjective matter. My first impressions are that it's not bad. I need to spend more time with it to properly evaluate it. It seems to do a good job with Fuji x-Trans files too, and doesn't have the detail issues that Adobe's conversions have.

There are some key features missing from the Application though. In particular it lacks any kind of automation. There's no macro recording feature and it doesn't even have automator support.

There are two things that really impress me about Affinity Photo though. The first is the speed. It's a very fast application. Some things are nearly instantaneous. The application launches in a fraction of the time it takes photoshop to launch. Some of the live filters are blazingly fast. Switching personas is instant. Sometimes, I have to do a double take to make sure I actually pressed the button. Occasionally there are some lags, but I'm using it on a 2012 Mac Pro, which is getting on a bit, to be fair.

Affinity Photo - Export Persona

The second thing is the level of completeness of the software. As I said at the start, it doesn't have everything Photoshop has, but it has a lot. And, considering it's still in its version 1 cycle, the level of sophistication is very impressive. They've managed to catch up on decades of Photoshop development right out of the gate. While there's still a lot to go, they're about 70% there on the first version. It really is impressive. I can see why Apple awarded it best Mac App.

I hope to spend some quality time with it over the next few weeks, and use it for actual projects to see how I get on, and I'll try and put together a more comprehensive in-depth review. In the meantime, they have a demo version you can try. The full application is Mac only (sorry Windows users) and is available now on the Mac App store for €49.99

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