Does Photoshop have a serious rival at last?
Photoshop’s days are numbered
£39.99 Developer Serif Labs, affinity.serif.com Requires OS X 10.7 or higher
Serif is better known in the Windows world, for its range of low-cost, amateur-oriented alternatives to professional apps – but its Affinity series is very different, being built from the ground up for Macs. Photo is designed not for Photoshop wannabes, but as a direct rival to that app. At first sight it’s a lot like it, but with a row of ‘Personas’ that put it into different modes.
The Develop persona is equivalent to Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw dialog, with a full range of colour and tonal adjustments. On a Retina MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM, it took a second or so to redraw while panning a zoomed-in image. Black and white points can be set automatically, yet are changeable to extract the full dynamic range of your raw files. There are manual tools to remove chromatic aberration and lens distortion, but no equivalent to ACR’s camera calibration options for mimicking the camera’s own colour reproduction. Serif plans to crowdsource lens profiles. Like ACR, localised adjustments can be applied with gradient and brush tools.
The Export persona saves out in a range of formats, with adjustable parameters (such as JPEG quality) and presets. For web designers, it can split images into slices for export, based on layers and areas.
The Photo persona is the principal editing environment, while the others are designed for specific tasks. The app is serious in going toe-totoe with Photoshop at the high end. Most editing is carried out on RGB images, but Photo also offers an end-to-end CMYK workflow, and ‘soft proofing’ adjustment layers to non‑destructively tweak images for different output devices.
The app uses its own file format, yet can import and export Adobe’s PSD format. It also works with Photoshop-compatible plug-ins. For this to work, however, you need Photoshop or Elements and plug-ins installed already, though Serif says it’s talking to plug-in makers about direct support. In our tests, the Google Nik Collection plug-ins appeared to work, but MacPhun Intensify Pro stalled while loading and DxO FilmPack 5 caused Photo to quit unexpectedly. Plug-ins look like a work in progress right now.
There are no image cataloguing tools, but it there is a handy media browser, with shortcuts to favourite folders and the ability to read your Apple Photos and Aperture libraries.
If you’re familiar with Photoshop, it won’t take long to find your way around. You can add adjustments like Curves, Levels, and Black and White as non-destructive adjustment layers, and there’s a Merge button to flatten them as a permanent effect. Of course, you can also combine images in multi-layer montages, with similar selection tools to Photoshop. The Selection Brush works well for initial adjustments, and in the Refine Edges panel you can smooth, expand, feather and contract your selection and paint over human hair, trees and other irregular outlines.
The Liquify persona is just like Photoshop’s eponymous tool for pinching, pushing and twirling your image, but feels faster and more fluid. You can ‘freeze’ parts you want left alone, yet the maximum brush size of 1,024 pixels hardly seems enough for large-scale distortions.
Reducing a layer’s size in Photoshop permanently downsamples it, but Photo retains the full resolution
An interesting feature here is non‑destructive scaling. Downsizing a layer in Photoshop permanently downsamples it, but Photo retains the full resolution, so a layer’s size can be increased again later.
There are powerful retouching tools too, including a neat Inpainting Brush, reminiscent of Photoshop’s content-aware fill technology but applied simply by painting over an object you want to remove to have the space filled using nearby image data. It doesn’t work every time, but when it does it’s a simple instant fix. Where it doesn’t, you can always fall back on the regular Clone Tool.
Affinity Photo uses its own file format, but it can also import and export layered Photoshop files.
This before-and-after preview shows an adjustment’s effect, with a movable divide.