Affinity Photo: Tom's Mac Software Pick

High-Performance Photo Editing Without the High-Performance Price

Affinity Photo
Courtesy of Serif, Ltd.

Affinity Photo is a brand-new photo editing application from Serif, maker of the popular Affinity Designer illustration app for the Mac. Affinity Photo may be new, but it was in development for five years, and had an extensive public beta before its official release in early July of 2015.

Affinity Photo has been called a Photoshop killer. It provides many of the features and capabilities that photographers and others who edit images would normally turn to Photoshop for. These tasks can now be performed in Affinity Photo, both more quickly and at a far lower cost.


  • Incredibly fast.
  • All views and adjustments are live; there's no waiting on rendering, even with complex filters.
  • Complete RAW processing.
  • PSD import and export.
  • Camera lens corrections.
  • Live filter layers.
  • Easy-to-use controls for masks and channels.
  • Built-in frequency separation processing.


  • Media browsing limited.
  • Some cryptic error messages.
  • 1.x release includes a few minor bugs.

I’ve been using Affinity Photo for a few weeks now; actually a month or two if you include the time when the app was available as a beta. I’ve been using it to work with the RAW images from my camera, and have been impressed with its RAW processing capabilities.

Develop Persona

The Develop persona, one of three personas that indicate specific modes that Affinity Photo is operating in, is used for making adjustments to images. The Develop persona is used for any image type, including camera RAW, as well as common image formats, such as JPEG, PNG, PSD, GIF, TIFF, EPS, and SVG. You'll find all the usual tools here, including exposure, white point, black point, brightness, white balance, shadows, highlights; you get the idea.

You can also make lens corrections, including adjusting for chromatic aberration, defringing, and lens vignette. Serif plans to allow crowdsourcing of lens correction profiles that will be available to Affinity Photo users, but it will take some time before you'll be able to automatically apply all lens correction parameters.

When not working with RAW images, Affinity Photo provides a very complete set of image manipulation tools that let you work with one-click application of presets, or sets of sliders for making your own custom adjustments. For instance, when working with levels, I can apply presets shown as three thumbnails representing a default, darker, or lighter setting. Or, if these aren't to my liking, I can use the levels graph and adjust the black level, white level, and gamma directly, using three sliders.

The same basic method works with all of the adjustment options, allowing you to make a quick and easy change using thumbnails, and a more precise adjustment, if needed.

One problem I ran into with this method of setting adjustments was that the mere act of opening an adjustment option applied the default settings for that adjustment to the image, forcing me to use the undo function to revert. If you don't, for example, intend to convert an image to black and white, don’t open the Black & White adjustment option.

Liquify Persona

If you've used the liquify tools in Photoshop, you'll feel right at home with the Liquify persona. Using different tools and brushes, you can freeze, thaw, twirl, and push elements of an image, as you see fit. You can also prevent the Liquify tools from affecting key areas of your photo, essentially mapping them off from the effects of the tools, giving you a bit more freedom to explore.

Export Persona

Affinity Photo uses its own proprietary file format for saving images, so when you’re ready to share an image you've worked on with others, you'll likely make use of the Export persona.

The Export persona allows you to create presets for the many image file types supported by Affinity Photo. You can then apply one of the presets, and quickly share a photo as a PNG, JPEG, TIFF, or other common format.

You can also use the Export persona to split images into slices, based on areas or layers you define. Slices can be used for many image requirements, from simple web design needs to custom color processing operations.

Switching Between Personas

Small icons representing each persona are located on the left-hand side of the top pane. Switching between personas is usually as simple as clicking its associated icon, but not always. Affinity Photo has some setting requirements for leaving one persona or entering another. For instance, if you're in the Develop persona and have made changes, you have to commit to the changes or cancel them before you can leave the persona. Likewise, to enter the Develop persona, you may have to select an editable layer just to gain access. The problem is, the warning messages aren't that helpful. For instance, when leaving the Develop persona, I frequently see the following message:

Develop Persona

Please either commit or cancel the develop operation before switching to another persona.

OK      Develop

The OK button appears to commit you to any changes made during Develop, while the Develop button appears to just drop you back into the persona you were attempting to leave. I think a more straightforward approach would be to have buttons for committing, canceling, or returning to the persona. The OK button doesn't have a clear function.

Likewise, I’ve been told that in order to enter the Develop environment, I have to have an RGB pixel layer selected. That’s fine, but why isn’t the app showing me the layer pane and letting me make such a selection? Instead, I have to dig through various panes to find the layers pane.

Final Thoughts

I think Affinity Photo has a lot going for it, and it really could be a fabulous replacement for Photoshop, especially for those of us who don't like subscription-based software.

Affinity Photo has a single, low price, with no monthly fees to worry about. I’ve already stopped using Photoshop for many of my routine imaging tasks, and as I learn more about using Affinity Photo, Photoshop may become superfluous.

However, before that occurs, Serif needs to create a few updates to fix some small issues, ranging from interface quirks to features that don’t seem to work, at least not as I think they should.

Affinity Photo is a very impressive image editing app, one that could be very disruptive to the Mac photo editing marketplace. Only time will tell.

Affinity Photo is $49.99. A 10-day trial is available.