In this article, we will dig into which advanced image editor, you should choose: Photoshop vs Affinity Photo in 2021. It is not a direct head to head comparison of the two applications though. We will look more at what you would miss if you were to chose Affinity Photo instead of Photoshop. I think this is where most photographers are. Can we manage with having “just” Affinity Photo, and not Photoshop?
Most of the questions I get as a photographer is about post-processing, even from non-photographers. The first question I often hear is: You use Photoshop, right?
Many are surprised, when I answer, well yes and no. I use Photoshop and Lightroom for an In-house Photographer job I have, next to running Photography-RAW. I use Capture One Pro 20 and Affinity Photo, Nik Collection for my landscape and nature photography, plus for private images. That is also why I can create and suggest Photoshop Actions to Photoshop users and macros to Affinity Photo users. I use both quite a lot.
What are the Main Differences at a Glance Between Affinity Photo vs. Photoshop:
- Affinity Photo is a low one-time payment (of $49.99)
- Resize with the move tool
- Saves undo history even after closing
- Live brush preview
- Workspace divided into personas, which is slightly more user-friendly
- Photoshop is subscription-based
- Faster with big files
- More 3rd party plugins available
- Scripting possible
- Photoshop actions more capable than Affinity Macros
- Comes bundled with Lightroom
- More tools in the Creative Cloud Suite than in Affinity’s “Suite”.
Let us begin by looking at the price difference and whether they can justify the difference in price
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How much does Affinity Photo Cost?
You can get Affinity Photo from the Mac App Store / Microsoft Store in Windows 10, or you can download it directly from Serif’s website for a one-time price of $49.99.
If you also want the iPad version of Affinity Photo is costs you $20.
How much does Photoshop CC Cost?
Photoshop is subscription-based and comes with Lightroom at a monthly price of $9.99, which is the cheapest option. If you just want Photoshop as a Creative Cloud subscription the price changes to $20.99. In the 2021 version of Photoshop, the iPad version is included in the monthly subscription.
As you can see the price difference is quite huge.
For comparison, if you were to buy both Affinity Photo for Mac + iPad you would look at a total price of $69.99. I bought Affinity Photo from version 1.5, and three years later, I haven’t been asked to pay for any upgrades.
One year of subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan would be approx. $120. Two years of subscription would be $240 and three years would be $360.
Over three years’ time, you would pay roughly $290 for the extra features in Photoshop plus Lightroom. I actually don’t mind paying a subscription for an app, but then I would prefer to choose the app myself. For instance, I think that Capture One has a lot of advantages over Lightroom.
The Photoshop vs Affinity Photo Battle
Affinity Photo is probably the photo editor that comes closest to being able to battle Photoshop in terms of functionality.
I have been using it for over 2½ years now, and to cut things short I don’t look back with longing to the Photoshop days. That is not to say that Affinity Photo is better than Photoshop.
To be honest, Affinity Photo lacks a few features, but most of these features are not even used by the majority of Photoshop users. So from that perspective, it is more than capable of replacing Photoshop.
Often, photographers refer to the 5% features that Affinity Photo lacks, as a reason for not trying it. But for most photographers, it can do 95% of what they could ever wish for in an advanced image editor. And on some points even better than Photoshop, and at a fraction of the price.
Many both enthusiast photographers and even professional photographers don’t use the full features available in Photoshop. Instead, they rely on the same basic workflow or “recipe” that they have found to work for them for processing most of
They will stick to this “recipe” or workflow for 95% of their images.
So what it all comes down to is whether you can build a solid photo editing workflow in Affinity Photo, that gives reliable results. Let us look at some of the areas where Affinity Photo is different from Photoshop and where it can take a little getting used to when going from Photoshop to Affinity Photo.
Differences in Workflow: Photoshop vs Affinity Photo
The main questions when switching from using Photoshop to an alternative, like Affinity Photo, are:
How will this affect my photo editing workflow? Do I have to start from scratch and learn everything again? Where are the differences? Will editing my images become faster or slower?
To answer the last question first. I don’t think that anybody uses Photoshop for a fast workflow. They use it because it is an extremely powerful photo editor. This is the same for Affinity Photo. Your workflow will not become faster, and it will not get slower either. However, you get a very powerful photo editor, just like Photoshop.
The logic behind Affinity Photo is just the same as Photoshop, however, you might have to look for a few things in other places, even though 95% of the features and menu items will be in the same spot in the top menu.
The right side panels are also very much like those you find in Photoshop. You have the layers panel, history panel, adjustments panel, and all the other things you already know from Photoshop. Working with masks and selections is also almost the same.
The adjustment panel in Affinity Photo takes up a bit more of the user interface in the right side, but many of the adjustment layers you can add are the same as in Photoshop and with similar options for each adjustment layer.
Affinity Photo’s User Interface Is Divided Into Workspaces
One of the differences you will notice is that Affinity Photo is divided into personas or workspaces, that is accessible through buttons at the top bar.
The difference personas group related features together and only shows it when you need it. For instance, the export and slicing features are only visible from the Export persona, and not when you are just editing an image.
This makes the interface slightly less cluttered and a little more user friendly than Photoshop.
Photoshop also has workspaces, but from a normal user’s point of view, you don’t often switch between them as part of your standard workflow in Photoshop.
When first opening a RAW image, the app will open up in the Develop persona. This is equivalent to Adobe Camera Raw.
Just like working in Adobe Camera Raw, keep your edits in the Develop Persona to basic exposure corrections and for preparing your Raw file for further enhancements.
When you press the Develop button you are taken to the Photo persona, which is where you will do most of the enhancements like adding adjustment layers, working with advanced selections and applying filters.
Integrating Affinity Photo With Other Apps
Integration with image library applications like Lightroom, Luminar, Capture One Pro or ON1 Photo RAW is quite easy. For instance, in Lightroom just select the image you want to edit, right-click and select Edit In… and select Affinity Photo. Just like you would if you wanted to take your image to Photoshop.
There are a few issues to be aware of for Lightroom users. You cannot open multiple images as layers in Affinity Photo. If you need to open multiple images as layers you need to do this manually, by opening all of the images and copy the layers each image into a single image with all the layers.
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Using Affinity Photo With Your Photoshop Plugins
There’s a big chance that you can continue to use most of the Photoshop plugins you own as Affinity Photo supports Photoshop plugins. Older plugins like Nik Collection Plugins can only be installed by using a workaround, but it is doable. The new version of Nik Collection from DXO supports Affinity Photo.
Once installed most plugins work without issues, but with the difference that you apply the plugin effect to the active layer, and not to a new layer, as you might be used to in Photoshop. At least this is the case with Nik Collection plugins.
If you just adjust your workflow and duplicate the active layer before using the plugin, you will feel barely feel a difference.
Photoshop Actions vs Affinity Photo Macros
I often get the question: “Can I create Affinity Photo actions?” If you are used to using Photoshop actions in your workflow you will be happy to know that Affinity Photo also supports saving a series of steps into a workflow.
In Affinity Photo, this is called macros instead of actions. However, you cannot import your existing photoshop actions into Affinity Photo.
You have to build your own macros or get some of the free macros or the few paid macro packages available.
There are still some limitations to what you can record as macros (in Affinity Photo v. 1.9), but still a valuable feature in Affinity Photo for many photographers.
Affinity Photo Focus Stacking and Panorama Stitching Could Be Improved
From a macro photographer’s viewpoint, focus stacking could be improved, as it is not quite up to speed. For instance, Affinity Photo doesn’t show the layer masks and which part from each layer was used to create the focus stack. You can edit the stack and remove ghosting from the focus stack using the stamp tool in combination with the source panel, but only to a certain point. When you close and reopen the image, the source panel is empty, so you cannot finish blending but only work on the resulting output layer. So you have to finish the blending in one process or keep Affinity Photo open until you are finished.
The panorama feature suffers from the same failure to show a layer mask of which part of each image layer was used to create the panorama, so you can add finishing touches to the panorama stitching yourself. You have to do this in the stitching process and cannot edit it after you applied the Panorama stitch to a pixel layer.
I must admit though that the initial panorama results that Affinity Photo outputs, is often much better than the results I got from Photoshop.
Luminosity Masks vs. Blend Ranges
Another feature that you might miss, if you are used to working in Photoshop, is the lack of ability to use luminosity masks in Affinity Photo. Well, you can actually create luminosity masks, but it is even more complicated than in Photoshop, where it is also a quite complex process. So if you prefer manual exposure blending over the more automatic HDR merge feature in Affinity Photo, you need to change your workflow a bit.
Instead of using luminosity masks, Affinity Photo relies on using blend ranges for blending images and limiting adjustment layers to only affect pixels with a particular luminosity value.
Blend ranges are like Photoshop’s Blend-if feature but on steroids. It is extremely powerful, but you still need to get used to working with it.
By using blend ranges you can set how a layer or adjustment layer should blend with the underlying layers. In the above example, you can see the blend range options for a saturation adjustment layer. The highlights will not be affected by the saturation adjustment layer, because the curve point that controls the highlights/whites is pulled down to 0% blending at the far right.
At least for landscape photographers using blend ranges instead of luminosity masks, is one of the major changes in workflow to get used to.
Can you use Photoshop Brushes in Affinity Photo?
Yes, you can import and use Photoshop brushes in Affinity Photo. There are a few settings and features that are not available with brushes in Affinity Photo, but it is possible to import both your own brushes or professional brushes that you bought online. In the video below, you can see how to import brushes (1:20 mins. into the video), and get a short explanation on some missing brush features in Affinity Photo.
Can you open Photoshop files (.PSD) in Affinity Photo?
You can both open .psd files in Affinity Photo. You can also choose to save your work in .psd. This is quite useful, if you need to send your files to a colleague or a friend who doesn’t have Affinity Photo. Photoshop doens’t know how to read Affinity Photo’s .afphoto files.
What Is The Best Photo Library Manager to Use with Affinity Photo?
This is where it gets really tough because there are a dozen of opinions about what’s best. I guess since, you have made it this far, you are not completely happy with the Lightroom/Photoshop bundle. If you don’t mind a pricy subscription the best RAW developer with library management built-in is probably Capture One Pro. Capture One is made with professionals in mind, both in terms of functionality and its price. If you don’t want to spend that much, On1 Photo RAW is a good alternative. It plays well together with Affinity Photo, Nik Collection. I used it for half a year before settling on Capture One.
New Photoshop 2021 features
The newest version of Photoshop includes some really cool features based on artificial intelligence (AI), but also some that makes the difference between a photographer and a creative painter very blurred. For instance the sky replacement filter, can help you create beautiful images, by getting that perfect sunset, but it also makes the image fake, if you weren’t the one that captured it. If you are doing sky replacements, at least, in my opinion, you should use a better-exposed sky, but from the same location, and with the same framing, otherwise, you are just another digital artist and not a photographer.
Besides sky replacement filter, Photoshop 2021 also includes neural filters, for skin smoothening, smart portraits, and colorizing. Furthermore, you can save some time on blurring background, or completely removing background from images using the new Quick actions in Photoshop. These are quite useful in many situations, if you need them. Affinity Photo doesn’t yet have these kind of artificial intelligence features, so it seems like Photoshop is definitely ahead with these new features.
Serif Vs Adobe
The choice between using Affinity Photo is often linked to which other apps from Adobe you might be using. Are you willing to switch away from these as well? Have you thought about how Affinity Designer vs Adobe Illustrator compares if you use Illustrator? And what about Affinity Publisher vs Adobe InDesign, if you make multi-page publications?
The Affinity Suite currently these three different app types and has true seamless integration between Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher. So the complete trio might enable you to switch to Affinity from Adobe and save even more money than the cost of Photoshop if you are able to skip multiple pricey subscriptions from Adobe. But it depends on your needs.
If you also require an app for video editing like Adobe Premiere, you should know that Serif currently doesn’t have such an offer. You might be able to switch to DaVinci Resolve (which is free by the way, unless you do video editing in teams). However, as you take a look at which programs you depend on in relation to Photoshop, you might find that breaking up with Adobe is harder than just considering switching away from Photoshop.
Why Not Compare Affinity Photo vs Photoshop Elements 2021?
Photoshop Elements is a much-simplified version of Photoshop, and to a degree that I don’t believe it should be compared to Affinity Photo.
It would be similar to comparing Photoshop vs Photoshop Elements. Photoshop Elements is more lightweight and comes with more guided edits, and is a photo editing app for users who want their photo editing to be simple, fast, and easy. Photoshop Elements users usually don’t require the same level of control as you get from advanced photo editing software.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is more in the ballpark of Pixelmator for instance if you are looking for an alternative for Photoshop Elements. So if you are looking for a photo editing app that emphasizes guided editing, and simple editing, you might look at Photoshop Elements instead. Especially if you don’t need all the advanced features you get with either Affinity Photo or Photoshop.
Why you might not be ready to switch from Photoshop to Affinity Photo
- You can do more with Photoshop actions than you can with Affinity Photo macros. It is not that the macros feature is terrible. Macros are a great help in Affinity Photo, and you can do a lot of things with them. But the macro tool doesn’t support all the things that you can do in Affinity Photo. This means that you cannot records every step of a technique you might want to put into a macro to automate your workflow. In Photoshop a lot more, if not all features of Photoshop can be recorded into actions. When it comes to automating Photoshop vs. Affinity Photo, Photoshop is still a clear winner.
- While Affinity Photo is quite capable and fast, there are times where it lags in terms of speed. Especially for high-demanding photo editing tasks, it shows a bit of slowness compared to Photoshop.
- There are a lot more tutorials and video courses available for Photoshop than there are tutorials for Affinity Photo. However, you can discuss if you need 100 tutorials or videos teaching you how to dodge and burn. There are excellent resources available for Affinity Photo, and maybe it is enough for you. One of the few video courses available for Affinity Photo is available here on Photography-RAW. Serif also offers a workbook for Affinity Photo, however, our tutorials and video courses already cover most of the content in the Affinity Photo book.
- You might not be ready to switch away from your other design tools, which are part of the Creative Cloud. Even though Affinity Designer can replace Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Publisher tries to replace Adobe InDesign, these apps are newer and might not have the functionality you need. Furthermore, the Adobe Creative Cloud Full package includes a lot for apps, like Dreamweaver, or Premiere PRO, that you might still need.
- There are more Photoshop plugins available and custom panels that you can use to extend PS. Scripting is also not available yet.
Reasons why you would want to go for Affinity Photo
- One of the primary reasons for choosing Affinity Photo vs. Photoshop is that you get almost the same for a lot less.
- Most image editing tools only work in raster formats. However, you can also create vector shapes in Affinity Photo by using the pen/node tools or the shape tool.
- Affinity Photo has a live brush preview. This allows you to see the effect of brush strokes before you apply them. This is very useful for photographers. Especially when creating masks or dodge and burning using the brush tool.
- You can resize your image with the Move tool in Affinity Photo. In Photoshop, you need to use Resize Image from the menu. Using the move tool to resize is both flexible and more intuitive.
- It saves your undo history even after you close the image. It saves the undo history with the image. This means that you can revert to any undo stages no matter where in the editing process you are.
- Affinity Photo works on both Desktop and iPad (even though you have to buy a separate license for the iPad version). There is a Photoshop version for iPad, but it is not nearly as good and doesn’t include all the things you can do in Photoshop. The iPad version lets you work on native files (.psd). If you regularly work on several devices, Affinity Photo is a great choice.
Photoshop vs Affinity Photo: Is it worth the switch?
Despite these few lacks that might be crucial to some photographers, Affinity Photo is more than capable of taking over for the editing needs for the majority of Photoshop users.
If you are like most photographers you will edit 80% of your images directly in applications like Lightroom or similar, and will only edit a few of your images in Photoshop.
From what I hear from other photographers, it is not actually a matter of whether they are attached to Photoshop. They would love a similar and cheaper alternative that could give them the same professionally looking results.
However, they haven’t found a qualified alternative to Lightroom yet. And since Photoshop and Lightroom are bundled together into a single subscription, it doesn’t make sense for them to switch from Photoshop to something else. Instead, many photographers stick to their pricey subscription with Adobe.
I wonder if this will change when more and more photographers begin the explore the growing number of capable image management applications in the market, like On1 Photo RAW, Luminar and Capture One.
Coupled with Affinity Photo for your more advanced image editing needs, you might soon be ready to loosen yourself from the grip of Adobe.
What’s your experience of using Affinity Photo vs Photoshop?