Review: Affinity Photo vs Photoshop

A worthy adversary to Adobe by Serif Software?

By Cambo in Hands-On Tests on Apr 4, 2022

When Adobe first announced in 2011 that Photoshop, and all of its Creative Suite applications, would go to cloud-based monthly subscriptions, I was upset, like many users. Having been a Photoshop user since about 1996, and having spent literally thousands on Adobe software over the years, I had developed a good little side business doing photography and graphics which augmented my work as a musician. I started using Photoshop when we were still scanning prints, slides, and negatives. I had grown very used to its cumbersome, arcane, buggy, and, at times, inane, user interface. It was pretty much the only game in town for a long time. In 2013, the fear became a reality, and Adobe stopped issuing standalone software for Photoshop.

I was OK for a while, in that I still had a fresh version of Creative Suite 6 that was still working, so I steadfastly refused to sign up. At the same time, however, Apple was gradually shifting to 64 bit architecture in all of their computers and software, and by about 2015-2016, CS6 no longer worked on my machine. CS6 was 32 bit; I was hooped. What was I going to do? Pay Adobe’s monthly subscription fee, which initially was truly outrageous? And to top things off, what about users like me who needed Illustrator and InDesign two or three times a year, but didn’t use it all the time? Was I going to have to get a subscription for all of this? It was far beyond my ability to pay, and it still is, as initially they were on an annual subscription paid monthly fee schedule, so occasional users like me were disadvantaged. I was really mad and frustrated with Adobe, and I remain so to this day. But then I heard about a wonderful little company in England called Serif, who were building a product called Affinity Photo. I thought I’d give it a try. My heroes!

Affinity Photo does everything that Photoshop in CS6 did as far as I can tell, with the notable exception of 3D, which I never used anyway. It actually does many things better, more conveniently, and certainly more logically than Photoshop ever did. They have completely revamped the interface and user experience of the product, retaining the stuff that worked and dumping a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t. They have done a wonderful job on this, IMHO. On top of that, they also have the equivalent of Illustrator and InDesign available, and their prices are extremely reasonable. I’ve now been using Affinity Photo since about 2016, and here is my review of it, as well as a comparison to my memories of the last version of the more mainstream but more expensive Photoshop.

Just to show you how expensive it is, here is Adobe's pricing scheme:

Photoshop alone:
  • Annual: $239.88 USD / $311.88 CAD prepaid year
  • Annual: $20.99 USD / $27.99 CAD paid monthly
  • Monthly: $31.49 USD/ $40.99 CAD month to month
‘Photographer’ Plan (Photoshop, Lightroom, and a very limited amount of Cloud storage): 
  • Annual: $119.88 USD / $155.88 CAD prepaid year
  • Annual: $9.99 USD / $12.99 CAD paid monthly
Creative Cloud All Apps
  • Annual: $599.88 USD / $791.88 CAD prepaid year
  • Annual: $52.99 USD / $69.99 CAD paid monthly
  • Monthly: $79.49 USD / $103.99 CAD month to month

So, in my case, for example, if I wanted an annual photography plan, $12.99 CAD x 12, plus three months of Illustrator because I needed it three times, $122.97 CAD, and the same for InDesign, $122.97 CAD (the cheapest way to get them), my total annual bill to Adobe would be $401.82 CAD (or $308.82 USD), and that's with ZERO extra Cloud storage. I could buy all three Affinity programs for $224.97 CAD ($164.97 USD) outright, a one-time purchase. If I'm lucky enough to catch them on sale, half that! Amazing! Thank you, Serif! 

Purchase, Free Trial and Installation

The Affinity Photo software is an unbelievable deal at $54.99 USD / $74.99 CAD. Likewise, the iPad version, which I also have, is a steal at $21.99 USD / $29.99 CAD. They offer free trials on each, and once or twice a year they are available on sale at half price. I believe I got mine for about 35 bucks CAD and the iPad version was $15 CAD or less. The last version of Adobe CS I bought was almost $2000.00 CAD; Photoshop alone was $800 or $900 Canadian. At first I was somewhat skeptical as to how good this software was actually going to be. Was it going to be like a free video game as opposed to Call of Duty or Forza Racing? Was everything going to be downsized, and pixelated, and very, very hokey? I must say I was completely wrong to be apprehensive about Serif software, and have been very pleasantly surprised. The downloads and installations went smoothly, as have all the updates since. As my operating system has changed and been updated by Apple, all of the Affinity products I purchased have continued to work flawlessly and have been updated seamlessly and on time.  With Photoshop and Creative suite, I found there were a lot of bugs and gaps and crashes along the way, this from a software giant! All of my Serif software has worked flawlessly since I acquired it. It is all absolutely top notch stuff and is as professional a product as I have ever used.


Affinity makes it as easy as possible with extensive learning and example videos available within the program, as well as on YouTube. Also, I would like to point out to Pentaxians that LinkedIn Learning (formerly the Lynda Learning Library), is a wonderful resource for everything, photographic and otherwise, which has top-tier systematic instruction on all the Serif Software, and is usually available for free through your local library. At least it is here in Canada. Check with your local public or college/university library and see if they offer this amazing service.

Opening and Importing

This software opens more files than Photoshop was ever capable of doing. A partial list includes:

  • RAW files from Pentax cameras, from the *ist D through to the K-70, K-1, K-3 III, and GR III.
  • RAW files from all of the big makes as far as I can tell. Also:
  • PNG
  • JPEG
  • GIF
  • Tiff
  • PDF
  • Sag
  • Esp
  • Exr
  • HDR
  • Tga
  • .psd (Photoshop)
  • .ai (Illustrator)
  • .ind (InDesign)

It will actually handle a multi-page PDF document and make it editable, both photographically and typographically. Astonishing! And I’ve opened files created as far back as 2003, and it  handles them all perfectly. What can I say? Fabulous. A 10 out of 10 rating from me

Interface - Personas

The Affinity interface itself is divided into five ‘personas’, which are active editing panels.

  1. Photo persona
  2. Liquify persona
  3. Develop persona
  4. Tone Mapping persona
  5. Export persona

You can find these in the top left hand corner of the program, and there are five icons.

Persona Icons

1) Photo Persona

Photo Persona

This interface has all you’d expect from a good Raw developing panel. It has basic exposure, contrast, clarity, saturation, and other adjustments. Then it gets into lens details and profiles, in which you can deal with chromatic aberration, distortions, fringing, vignettes and other artifacts. It then moves into sharpening details, luminance and noise, as well as colour curves, black and white and split toning. So there is a full slate of adjustments you will be familiar with if you’ve used raw editing in other programs. As for lens profiles, most of the current batch of Pentax lenses seem to be there, all of the Limiteds, both APS-C and full-frame, the exceptions being the most recently issued lenses, a few expensive and rare full-frame optics, and the big guns (250-600 zooms et al). Affinity seems to update these as necessary for their user base. I counted 41 recent or current Pentax lenses listed in the profiles section. These are chosen automatically, but can also be over-ridden manually. There are also a few old manual Takumars and such that I didn’t count in the 41, so that makes over fifty in total just in Pentax lenses. Of course, all the other major and minor lens manufacturers are there; many hundreds in total. And you can develop and save your own custom profiles, if you like. So they've got you covered for the most part. 

2) Liquefy Persona

Liquify Persona

In Photoshop, this is just a filter available in the regular pallet of tools, with a changeable contextual menu, but in Affinity Photo it is more extensive. There appears to be a lot more controls than there was in Photoshop, and there’s even an entire histogram area where you can get into the size, hardness, opacity etc. of the liquefying you are doing. You can pick Gaussian, or Linear, Sigmoid, Cosine or square, some of which I’ve heard of, some of which I’d prefer to forget (Cosine? I only remember that vaguely from high school math... Please no!).

3) Develop Persona

develop Persona

This persona is the one people are most familiar with in Photoshop. In Affinity it also comes with a regular set of moveable tools in a moveable little pallet, each tool with contextual menus that change. You can have rulers on the borders or not, and you can adjust them in pixels, inches, centimetres, or whatever else you want to have them in. There are adjustable margins and guides, fonts and paint brushes, and healing brushes…all the stuff you’ve come to expect. It is a very extensive tool set, is completely customizable, and I haven’t found anything in there that is hindering me or is lacking in any way from my days with the more expensive Adobe. Every tool and function I was accustomed to is there, and most of them have been improved in some way. In particular, the layers pallet has been improved greatly, and the way of layers work, as well as the way masks work within layers. I won’t go into great detail here now as it would really require an article for each, but I could write extensively on these improved functions. In short, I actually prefer the way they work in Affinity Photo. I was very familiar with Photoshop, so indeed it has been a bit of a learning curve, but learning at any age is what keeps us fresh, young and alive, so I enjoy the challenge. I find this persona more logical than before, so it's a good thing. If you’re not growing, you’re dying; I much prefer the former!

4) Tone Mapping Persona

Tone Mapping Persons

This is a whole panel unto itself, and it provides a huge variety of adjustments for those who use tone mapping and overlays extensively. Included are presets for natural, detailed, cool, high contrast Black and White, and Dramatic tonal adjustments, as well as a fully-customizable panel where you can develop your own and memorize them as a preset. This would be great for things such as batch processing and the like. Below I have cropped and edited the above image, just captured on my iPhone 12 Pro, with a Dramatic tone map added as a multiplication layer, adjusted to 35% opacity.

Iona Lake Pano 

5) Export Persona

Export Persona

As the name implies, this is for final cropping, transforming and making adjustments one final time before you save your image in whatever output format you are aiming for. When a file is still active, you should save it in the Affinity Photo file type (.afphoto) for future editing or reversals of processes. Once you need to export it to something else, there’s a large variety of output formats; for example:

  • PNG
  • JPEG
  • GIF
  • Tiff
  • Psd
  • PDF
  • Sag
  • Esp
  • Exr
  • HDR
  • Tga

Also within the export bar there are presets for everything from low to highest quality resampling algorithms (two of which I’ve only ever seen in Affinity Photo - Lanczos 3 separable and non-separable; here is the Wikipedia page on this down-sampling algorithm), the quality and percentages, and the size, either in pixels, inches, millimetres, or whatever is your preference.

Common Editing

Once you’ve opened a RAW file or a .dng, editing proceeds pretty much as it always has. Your own personal workflow can still be your own; you do your initial adjustments in the RAW panel and then move on, after which you can add as many or as few layers as you need to. You can crop, expand, adjust lighting, brighten the shadows, bring highlights down, do selections, change colours in select areas, use healing tools and brushes, use masks and transparencies, add text, watermarks, logos, import and place composites, add tonal presets, change layer functions and transparency, and pretty much everything you would ever do in Photoshop. I can’t actually see any difference in my workflow as a photographer in this program. The other thing, of course, is that I can do my editing anywhere, with or without Internet access. I know that’s not always a big deal these days, but occasionally it can be. Affinity Photo allows you to work absolutely anywhere because you own the program, and it’s installed on the machine that you’re working on, just like the good old days. Yay!

Layers Palette

This has been extensively revamped here in Affinity Photo, and I love all the stuff it does. It makes a lot of things much more convenient, too many to really list here. But here are a few examples:

Scaling of layers: It’s all right in front of you on the screen, you can resize, crop, adjust, rotate, all without going into complex sub-menus and arcane tool icons with multiple functions and ever-changing contextual menus. Very convenient, and it’s completely non-destructive. If you resize an object, all of the original pixels are still there, unlike in Photoshop. Well done Affinity! 10/10 on this one also.

Transform Panel: It not only shows the size, but also the angle by which it has been rotated, making it easy to resize on any axis, as well as returning it to its original size and place. Brilliant! Yes, you can do that in Photoshop, but it is multiple mouse clicks going through icons and some contextual menus…very confusing unless you’ve been using it for 20 years like I have. Affinity makes it easy for new users, and it just makes more sense for experienced users.

You can paint, smudge, add text, and do many many other functions on top of the layer without rendering it down, and because of the extensive undo ability of Affinity Photo (infinite!), you can basically go back to when you first placed the layer. Also, even that menu system is very easy to navigate, and you can move backwards or forwards easily and non-destructively as many times as needed. Wonderful!


In Photoshop, if you use a filter, and you exceed the number of undos available, you’re done. There is no way of going back. Yes, you can choose to use filters as a layer, in which case you can go back and change the filters strength later on. But why would you ever need the former, when the latter is available? A mystery to me, once filter layers became available, that was the only way I would ever use them. So in Affinity Photo, all the filters behave as layers, they are non-destructive, and remain editable long after the fact. And the list of filters is extensive; they include:

  • Blur
  • Sharpen
  • Distort
  • Noise
  • Colors
  • Lighting
  • Shadows/Highlights

There are of course many sub-menus within each of these; for example in the blur filter, you have the following options;

  • Gaussian blur
  • Box blur
  • Median blur
  • Bilateral blur
  • Motion blur
  • Radial blur
  • Lens blur
  • Depth of field blur
  • Field blur
  • Diffuse glow
  • Maximum blur
  • Minimum blur

Some of these are familiar to old guys like me, but some of them I have never seen before. I haven’t used them all yet, but if I do need them, they are there. I took a quick look at one I was unfamiliar with, bilateral blur. I can tell this would be absolutely wonderful for a skin softening layer when doing portraits of sensitive subjects. Again, because this is a live filter, I can go back and readjust it even if I have five other layers or a mask on top of it. I don’t have to commit myself at this point. This can remain an artistic choice that I can adjust as my work progresses. This provides an incredible amount of control from Affinity Photo. Once more, I can’t help but refer back to the price of this software: this is an amazing bargain, even if you pay full price.

As an example of the power of this software, here's a few before and afters:

Image A
Image B
Image A
Image B

This is actually an 'After' and a 'Before'...

Wilmer's Bass After

1849 Villaume Bass


Wilmer balancing the bass

That bass was worth a fortune: there was no way I was tying it up with fishing line! As you can see, Affinity Photo did an amazing job of producing a polished and professional-looking final image from this humble original! The background and shadows were all added, and all the 'distracting elements' were edited out. Much thanks to the very good-humoured Mr. Wilmer Fawcett, a wonderful and now-retired bassist from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, for allowing me to embarrass him like this! He was arranging the sale of this wonderful instrument as he wanted it to be played and enjoyed still by some lucky musician and their audience for generations to come.

And just some examples of finished images:

Bridge at Amarante, PortugalBridge at Amarante, Portugal

Francois HouleM. Francois Houle


Saving and Exporting

Again, extensive, and with all the aforementioned file types and extensions available. It outdoes Photoshop by a country mile, in my opinion.

Conclusion and Samples

So as you can probably tell, all of my initial apprehension over the fact that this was a CA$75 program up against a program that I had spent literally thousands of dollars on has been completely dispelled by the quality, complexity, streamlined user-interface and sophistication of Affinity Photo. It is indeed a worthy alternative to Photoshop; I wholeheartedly recommend it for anybody interested in switching over, and also to anybody just starting out. It is much more logical and much less confusing than the age-old program is now. Price-wise, well… what can I say? If you like spending lots and lots of money, you know what to do. Also, I would just like to say that Serif has two other programs available, Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher, which are their answers to Illustrator and InDesign. I haven’t dug into them yet, but I will, they are all the same price, available for computers and iPads, and to purchase the whole trio outright costs about what you would spend on Photoshop, with a little bit of Cloud storage, for only year. Amazing! Kudos to Serif software, and I thank them very much for putting out these wonderful applications.

You can download a trial and purchase it on Affinity's website, or purchase at B&H to support Pentax Forums

Addressing the elephant in the room

Adobe and I go back a long way. I started on Photoshop in about 1996, and I had already been on Aldus’s Pagemaker for about a year. Aldus’s Pagemaker eventually became Adobe PageMaker, which gradually morphed into InDesign. My first version of Photoshop was about 2.3 as I remember (I don’t mean CS 2.3, I mean PHOTOSHOP 2.3. CS1 didn’t come out until Photoshop 6 or so), and I bought all the updates, spending hundreds of dollars each time. I remember when they brought out Photoshop 4, which was the first one with layers (I thought at the time, ‘What would you need that for? What a stupid thing!’ Now, of course, some of my images have up to 60 adjustment and compositing layers, so the benefits of layers is well-proven). Then CS1, CS2, then 3, then I skipped a few, then the final CS6. Photoshop, like all of Adobe’s software, is pretty much the industry standard, but what most of us object to is their aggressive pricing with age old customers like myself who built their business in the first place.

They now call Photoshop a service. A service to me is like the old photo labs, where you take your exposed film in and they magically turn it into perfectly exposed and brilliantly coloured prints, or slides, or whatever. That’s a service. You drop it off, you don’t do a thing, you pay the money, and you get a wonderful product in return. You don’t do the work yourself. That was what you did in darkrooms; you could rent them, of course, but they weren’t ‘services', either; they were places to work, with tools in them. Photoshop is not a service; if I open up a picture in Photoshop, absolutely nothing happens. Nothing. I have to do it all myself, with the tools available in the place called Photoshop. They even call it the ‘Tools’ Palette! And my final artwork and photographs are only as good as my skills are in the editing software, in using the tools they provide. Photoshop is a tool. And what Adobe does now, basically, is rent you the tools.

Now if I go and rent a chainsaw for two days, and then return it and don’t use it again for six months, the tool rental store doesn’t charge me for the six months where I am not using that tool. And yet, somehow, Adobe has managed to convince us that this is a fair and equitable model. So if I need Illustrator, for example, three times a year, I have to rent it from them for an entire year, and pay them even for the months when I never, ever touch it, or pay a hefty single month charge. This is excessive, in my opinion. They have become an industry standard and used that position too aggressively, judging that many users will pay the high prices for the name brand software. And sure enough, people accept it; record profits for Adobe last year.

Well, I am not accepting it, and I am not alone. There are alternatives now, very viable alternatives, like the one I have reviewed here. I must admit, I did, during Covid, get a subscription to Photoshop ‘in the cloud’, thinking I had missed out on something. I expected it to be absolutely wonderful now, five years later, as in magnitudes better and faster and more convenient than what I used before or what I was using now. What I actually discovered was the complete and total opposite. I find it very cumbersome and awkward now. It is not at all what it used to be, and I am constantly being barraged with not so subtle hints to buy more cloud storage. The whole procedure is very unwieldy if you don’t purchase more storage, and Photoshop constantly tries to save things there, which results in ‘exceeding storage’ warnings and having to redirect images elsewhere, and all of that. It always seems to default to cloud storage just to remind you to purchase more! Anyway, I am still annoyed with Adobe; I’ve signed up for a year, and I have to pay them even though I’m not using this program anymore, otherwise I will be ‘fined’ to get out of the contract (for tools I’m not using). I feel deceived and mistreated by them. In my mind, it is an overly assertive business practice, to say the least. Not at all how you should treat customers of 25+ years. And as it is now, it is not something I’m going to support ever again. My last words on them.

To paraphrase Buzz Lightyear; "Onwards to Affinity!"

Purchase Affinity Photo from B&H

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