Affinity Photo vs Photoshop, which should you choose?

In this article, we will dig into the which advanced photo editor, you should choose: Photoshop vs Affinity Photo. It is not a direct head to head comparing of the two applications though. We will look more on what you would miss if you were to switch from Photoshop to Affinity Photo. 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 12 and Affinity Photo, Nik Collection for my landscape and nature photography, plus for private photos. 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.

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 Affinity Photo for over 1½ 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 for replacing Photoshop.

Often, photographers refer to the 5% features that Affinity Photo lacks, as a reason for not trying it. But for most photographers, Affinity Photo can do 95% of what they could ever wish for in an advanced photo 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 their images. And often it is not that complex.

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.

Affinity Photo vs Photoshop
Affinity Photo vs Photoshop: The user interface is 95% identical, so you will quickly learn the robes with with 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 photo editing 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 as in photoshop

Adjustment Layer Panel in Affinity Photo

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.

Affinity Photo Persona Buttons

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, Affinity Photo will open up in the Develop persona. This is equivalent to Adobe Camera Raw.

Develop persona equals 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.

Affinity Photo integrates well with other digital asset management  apps

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.

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

Affinity Photo Macros vs Photoshop 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. 1.6.7), even though it is 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, but only outputs the resulting layer. So you cannot easily finish the blend yourself.

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.

Panorama stitching in Affinity Photo

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 Photoshops Blend-if feature but on steroids. It is extremely powerful, but you still need to get used to working with it.

Affinity Photo uses blend ranges instead of the traditional difficult luminosity masks in Photoshop

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.

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?

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Hey I’m Peter. I’m the owner and editor of Photography-RAW. I make sure that you get the best articles about photography. Personally, I prefer to shoot landscape, nature and macro photography. I hope you enjoy the site 🙂
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Hey I’m Peter. I’m the owner and editor of Photography-RAW. I make sure that you get the best articles about photography. Personally, I prefer to shoot landscape, nature and macro photography. I hope you enjoy the site 🙂
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5 thoughts on “Affinity Photo vs Photoshop, which should you choose?”

  1. My own “journey” was from Apple’s Aperture into Capture One Pro. Initially I was using the free Capture One that came with my Sony but paid for the upgrade. Then, I got stung because a new version came out and the upgrade price was the same as an annual subscription to Photoshop.
    Capture One lacks much compared to other products – for example you can’t put a border round a print.
    Then I noticed Affinity and decided to give that a try. Yes, it’s substantially cheaper than either alternative and it does all that I’ve wanted to do in the last six months, however ….
    There’s a marked lack in support material – Serif have a number of videos, several independent people post material but it’s nothing compared to what’s available for Adobe. Serif have published a Workbook and much as I like that it’s just one English language publication.
    Overall I’m pretty pleased with the combination I have – Fast RAW Viewer, Capture One and Affinity but I’m left with the feeling that sooner or later I’ll want to make the jump to Photoshop and perhaps I’m wasting my time now trying to lear Affinity.

    • Hi Jeff,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
      It is true that there are not as many videos and tutorials about using Affinity Photo. On the other hand, there are almost too many tutorials about Photoshop. Sometimes it confuses more than it benefits to have a very wide choice of tutorials.

      In my opinion, what matters is to get the basic editing workflow right. However, because of the tutorials available it can be diffucult to find out what it is exactly you need to learn to process an image from start to finish (from importing it until making it ready for print). This is what I teach in the video course available here in the website.

      If you watch/read the individual videos/articles on the web, it will not benefit much, no matter whether it is for Photoshop or Affinity Photo, if it is not placed into a workflow context.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting, always appreciated.

  2. I’ve spent much more time learning Affinity Photo than PS and it’s proved easier to find a way round different tasks. With Lightroom being my main editing format, the need to complete a workflow always requires extra help and so far AF has gelled effectively. The problems I’ve encountered have only been solved through the generosity of the members of the Affinity Forum. Of the many questions needing an answer this has been the only place offering sufficient feedback to stop me giving up. Recently I set about teaching myself composing skills and AF proved effective and less complicated than PS however, with my next project of digging deeper into B&W editing, the lack of luminosity masking is proving challenging. Despite the issues mentioned I have no plans to move away from AF and Serif are to be praised for offering a non subscription, excellent alternative to the unreasonable, costly and ongoing monthly fee; they have needed a challenger for a long time.

  3. Hi Peter,

    I’ve been working with Affinity for a while and have found it excellent for more in-depth re-touching. Frequency separation world really well and Affinity in-painting brush tool is awesome.

    I’m frustrated that Nik layers are essentially locked after use in Affinity… There is no way to apply them as live filters. In PS if you make the base image a Smart object, the Nik layers can be re-opened and Adjusted. This flexibility is huge for me and a feature that Serif really need to address.

  4. Lack of competition leads to arrogance. And greed.
    • Price – Photoshop charging on time interval basis is based on corporate greed. This is founded upon Adobe’s confidence that it is invincible. Likewise, Kodak once upon a time felt it was invincible in the world of photographic film manufacture. What happened to Kodak has some lessons for Adobe.
    • Pirate versions of Photoshop CC – Is Adobe even aware that out there in the real world, there are copies of pirated Photoshop CC that have been cracked and used, without the users having to pay a cent to Adobe? If Adobe had not resorted to scalping its customers every month, some of those pirate copy users may have been happy to buy a one-time payment of Photoshop (which Adobe used to do a long time ago).
    • Terribly User Unfriendly – With each iteration Adobe Photoshop gets more unfriendly and mind numbing complex to use. It is the outcome of low quality programming, that does not respect the customer.

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