Affinity Photo 2 verdict
Affinity Photo 2 is not a huge leap forward from version 1 for photographers, but more a major refresh and rebranding for Affinity. It remains an extremely powerful professional Photoshop rival at an exceptionally low price (though not as low as it was). Its tone mapping is superb, its Develop persona (RAW processing) can now be applied non-destructively and its central Photo personal is hugely powerful. If you thought Photoshop was technical, though, well, get ready.
+Tone Mapping, focus stacking, panorama merging
+Now with non-destructive RAW processing
+Incredible value for money
+Professional features and capabilities
-No browsing or cataloguing tools
-No preset effects or inspiration
-Technical and prone to jargon
Affinity Photo 2 is one of a trio of professional creative applications under the Affinity brand, which also includes Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher. They can all be used individually but have been designed to work together too, and have recently been updated across the board and relaunched as Version 2.
- I have written a separate Affinity Photo 2 review in Amateur Photographer if you want to check that one out.
Essentially, the three Affinity applications are rivals to Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, but without the Adobe subscription. And although all three have had a slight price increase, they are still dramatically cheaper to buy/own than their Adobe rivals. What’s more, at the time of writing, Affinity is continuing a 40% off introductory offer which means Affinity Photo 2 is just $40.99/ £35.99 to buy.
There is also an Affiinity Photo for iPad edition, which I reviewed some time back, which is remarkably powerful for a tablet app and feels more ‘finished’ than Photoshop for iPad.
Perhaps the most important thing to note about Affinity Photo is that it’s just like Photoshop – and lacks all the things that Photoshop lacks. It is an extremely powerful photo editor that matches Photoshop feature-for-feature and even beats it in many areas.
But it also lacks any kind of browsing or cataloguing tools, and there are none across the whole Affinity suite, not even something as basic as Adobe Bridge.
It’s also not designed for instant effects and ‘looks’. There is no library of presets and no means of creating your own. Like Photoshop, this is software designed for people who know what they want to do and don’t need any ideas from their software.
Affinity Photo 2 does have some notable power features. One is a set of tone mapping tools which are much better at realistic or hyper-real HDR effects than Photoshop’s. Another is its Live Filters, which can be added non-destructively as layers and manipulated live on the image.
It has an excellent inpainting brush for object removal, powerful selection and masking tools and both natural brush media tools and vector drawing and type layers too. It’s a multi-discipline crossover tool for artists, designers and illustrators, not just photographers, in exactly the same way that Photoshop is.
Usability and interface
Affinity Photo is organised into a series of different ‘Personas’ according to what you want to do and the tools you need. They might just sound like different workspaces but there’s a bit more to them than that.
The Photo Persona is the first, and it’s the place where you do all your regular editing work with layers, selections, masks, retouching, filters and more.
If you’re working with RAW images, however, these have to go through the Develop Persona first. This is the Affinity equivalent of Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, except that it’s built in and not a separate application. Up until now, this was a one-way process, but with Affinity Photo 2 it’s now possible to add ‘developed’ RAW images as a non-destructive layer in the Photo Persona, so you can go back later to make ‘live’ changes.
The Tone Mapping Persona is more specialized. This is where you work if you use Affinity Photo’s HDR merge tool, but you can also use it to tone map single RAW images.
The Liquify Personal is even more specialized. How often will you need this? For many photographers, probably never. The Export Persona, meanwhile, is a workspace for managing all your export formats and options – Affinity Photo uses its own proprietary file format, so you will need to export images for other programs to use.
The Photo Persona is where photographers will spend most of their time, and this is organized very much like Photoshop, with a narrow vertical toolbar down the left side of the screen, a context-sensitive settings bar across the top and customisable, stackable control palettes on the right side.
It’s all perfectly logical, though Affinity does tend to use its own jargon and new users will have to spend a little time figuring out its systems and how tools are organized. It’s not really a program for beginners.
The results, however, are excellent. The Develop Persona does a great job with RAW files, and there is everything here that you find in Adobe Camera RAW, including lens corrections, local adjustments (‘Overlays’), perspective controls and an extremely effective Detail Refinement option which delivers extra clarity in fine detail without any sharpening artefacts that I can see.
The Tone Mapping Persona is really good at both natural-looking HDR composites and wilder special effects. Here at least Affinity Photo 2 does offer some presets to give you inspiration and get you started.
The layering, selection, masking and filter tools in the main Photo Persona are excellent too. Anything you can do in Photoshop, you can do here. I particularly like that you can create your own adjustment presets for adjustment layers, which then appear as thumbnails in the adjustment panel for single-click application.
Affinity Photo 2 does not have the AI gizmos of Photoshop, such as Neural Filters or the AI-driven sky and subject detection that Adobe is perfecting. It’s very much an old-school ‘manual’ photo editor, but perhaps there will be plenty of photographers who are glad of that.
Affinity Photo 2 verdict
Affinity Photo 2 is not a massive upgrade over the old version in terms of features, but there is enough that’s new to tempt existing users into upgrading, especially with the 40% off launch offer. This price is also available to new users, which makes Affinity Photo 2 an absolute steal – it’s about the cheapest photo editor on the market and one of the most powerful.
But to repeat a warning given above, this is not a program for beginners. It’s for photographers (and designers) who already know their way around an image-editor and know what they are trying to achieve.