Affinity Photo vs Photoshop 2021: which should you choose?

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In this article, we will dig into which advanced photo editor, you should choose: Photoshop vs Affinity Photo in 2021. We will look at the image editing software apps head to head.

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 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.

What are the Main Differences at a Glance Between Affinity Photo vs. Photoshop CC:

Affinity Photo

  • 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:

  • 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 it costs you $20.

How much does Photoshop CC Cost?

Photoshop is subscription-based and comes with Lightroom at a monthly subscription fee of $9.99, which is the cheapest option. The subscription also includes Lightroom. 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 Adobe Photoshop vs Affinity Photo Battle

Affinity Photo is probably the photo editing software 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 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, 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 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 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?

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. In my experience, if you are already familiar with Photoshop, then you won’t have a steep learning curve.

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 on 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 are accessible through buttons at the top bar.

The personas are: Photo persona, Liquify persona (image manipulation), Develop persona, Tone Mapping persona, and Export persona.

Affinity Photo Persona Buttons

The different personas group related features together and only shows them when you need them. 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 of each image into a single image with all the layers. While most image library apps can read tiff and other file formats, not many of them can read the .afphoto file format.

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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.

If you just adjust your workflow and duplicate the active layer before using the plugin, you will feel barely feel a difference.

Choosing Nik Collection from the menu in Affinity Photo

Photoshop Actions vs Affinity Photo Macros

Affinity Photo Macros vs Photoshop Actions

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.

There are still some limitations to what you can record as macros (in Affinity Photo v. 1.6.7), 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.

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 a bit different 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 exposures. You can also use blend ranges to limit 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.

Use blend ranges to control how a layer or adjustment layer blends with the underlying layers. As you can see above the blend range options for a saturation adjustment layer. The highlights are not affected by the saturation adjustment layer when the curve point for the highlights/whites is pulled down to 0% at the far right.

At least for landscape photographers using blend ranges instead of luminosity masks, is one of the major changes in the workflow to get used to. However you can still use luminosity masks, by using the approach, I teach in the advanced video course.

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 (Scrool to 1:20 min).

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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 doesn’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.

If you don’t want to spend that much, On1 Photo RAW is a good alternative. It plays well together with Affinity Photo, and 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 tools in Photoshop based on artificial intelligence (AI), but also some that make the difference between a photographer and a creative painter very blurred. For instance, the sky replacement filter can help you create beautiful photos, by getting that perfect sunset, but it also makes the image fake, if you weren’t the one that captured it. Otherwise, you are just another digital artist and not a photographer, in my opinion.

Besides the 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 kinds 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. Adobe has become the industry standard in many workplaces.

Are you willing to switch away from these as well? Do you also work with graphic design? Have you thought about how Affinity Designer vs Adobe Illustrator compares if you use InDesign? 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 software 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.

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. Photoshop Elements is more in the ballpark of Pixelmator for instance, if you are looking for an alternative for Photoshop Elements.

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 in Affinity Photo is terrible. Macros are a great help in Affinity Photo, and you can do a lot of things with them, but not everything is supported. 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. A few of the few video courses available for Affinity Photo are available here on Photography-RAW. Serif also offers a workbook for Affinity Photo, however, our tutorials and video courses on Affinity Photo already cover most of the content in the 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 of 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 in Affinity Photo yet.
  • If you use smart objects a lot in your workflow, you might find it more difficult to adapt to a little different workflow.

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 photo 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.
  • It 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 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. You can revert to any undo stages no matter where in the editing process you are.
  • It 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 of Affinity Photo lets you work on native files (.psd). If you regularly work on several devices, Affinity Photo is a great choice. 
Photoshop vs Affinity Photo

Affinity vs Photoshop: 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 of 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.

Follow this link for a free trial for Affinity Photo. Alternatively, you can get a free trial of Photoshop here.

What’s your experience of using Affinity Photo vs Photoshop – pros, and cons? What do you think: Is Affinity as good as Photoshop?

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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