Pho­to­shop CC vs. Pho­to­shop El­e­ments vs. Affin­ity Photo


Any­one edit­ing pho­tos in free apps will soon hit the lim­its of their cho­sen pro­gram—un­less that pro­gram hap­pens to be GIMP—and will be look­ing to move on to some­thing with more power, more free­dom, and more toys to play with. Soft­ware gi­ant Adobe has tra­di­tion­ally held all the cards, its Pho­to­shop El­e­ments and Pho­to­shop cov­er­ing the range from ca­sual to pro­fes­sional use. But a new chal­lenger en­tered the arena last year, with Serif’s rea­son­ably priced Affin­ity Photo mak­ing the jump from Mac to Win­dows. So, which is best?


Im­age Ma­nip­u­la­tion

They’re all re­ally, re­ally good for this. Se­ri­ously. It’s what they’re made to do. We couldn’t get an M2 SSD be­tween them, so tightly are they clus­tered around the “re­ally good” end of the scale. If pressed, we’d say we like the Adobe way of work­ing, es­pe­cially the be­hav­ior of the Crop tool, over Serif’s. But that could be 20 years of pro­fes­sional use talk­ing. So, let’s talk about pric­ing. Pho­to­shop CC is part of Adobe’s no­to­ri­ous sub­scrip­tion pric­ing model, which puts some peo­ple off. How­ever, the Pho­tog­ra­pher’s Bun­dle nets you Pho­to­shop and the raw im­age de­vel­op­ment/or­ga­ni­za­tion app Light­room, for $20 a month—looked at like that, maybe it’s not so ex­pen­sive. El­e­ments and Affin­ity are buy-once apps, and while El­e­ments gets an­nual up­grades, which may ex­tract ex­tra cash from you if you’re de­ter­mined to al­ways have the lat­est ver­sion, Affin­ity has been re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar free patches and up­dates since its launch, with no ver­sion 2.0 on the hori­zon. If you’re plan­ning to process im­ages for print, be aware that El­e­ments is the only app here that can’t con­vert to the CMYK color model. Other than this, it’s got 90 per­cent of Pho­to­shop’s power.

Win­ner: Pho­to­shop CC


Raw Im­age Files

Se­ri­ous cam­eras shoot raw files. And so do a lot of com­pacts, cell phones, and ac­tion cams. A raw file is the un­al­tered data from the sen­sor, writ­ten straight to a cam­era’s mem­ory card, by­pass­ing the ex­pen­sive pro­cess­ing cir­cuitry. Your PC then pro­cesses it, with you tak­ing full con­trol. Adobe Cam­era Raw is the pro­cess­ing in­ter­face you’ll find in Pho­to­shop CC—it even has its own app, Light­room—and it’s richly fea­tured and kept right up to date with the lat­est cam­era re­leases. There’s a cut-down ver­sion of it in Pho­to­shop El­e­ments, which keeps the most im­por­tant tools, and dis­penses with those that it’s merely nice to have. Affin­ity Photo ded­i­cates an en­tire “Per­sona”—its term for ded­i­cated modes of op­er­a­tion that change its whole look and in­ter­face—to raw pro­cess­ing, and its tabbed in­ter­face means that you can work on a raw file in one tab and a JPEG in an­other, if that’s your thing. Affin­ity’s raw pro­ces­sor re­ceived a large up­grade in the 1.5 re­lease of the soft­ware, and is now much more on a par with Pho­to­shop’s, even though the two com­pa­nies some­times call the same ad­just­ment a dif­fer­ent name.

Win­ner: Affin­ity Photo



All three apps han­dle vec­tor text us­ing the fonts in­stalled on your PC, and have tool pal­ettes ded­i­cated to the ma­nip­u­la­tion of those let­ters and num­bers, very much like those you would find in a page lay­out ap­pli­ca­tion. Raster im­age ed­i­tors aren’t the best choice for set­ting lots of small text, but it’s nice to know the op­tion is there. Affin­ity splits its text tool into two, with sin­gle lines of Art Text that can be styled as you choose, or con­tainer frames filled with para­graphs of closely set body text. Font pre­views are in­stant, and there’s a live spellchecker, too. The Adobe apps have one Type tool, but it works the same way as Serif’s. Click to get a line of text, style it up, and select its size, or drag out a box with the same tool to fill with smaller type. You can select an­tialias­ing op­tions to pre­vent jagged edges, and all text is placed on its own layer, open­ing it up to the full range of layer ef­fects—although you may need to ras­ter­ize it first. One thing Pho­to­shop has that Affin­ity doesn’t is the abil­ity to place text along a path, lead­ing to curved head­lines or lo­gos that run in cir­cles. Serif’s vec­tor graph­ics app, Affin­ity De­signer, does have this ca­pa­bil­ity, how­ever. Win­ner:




There is re­ally only one vi­able choice if you’re se­ri­ous about 3D, and that’s Pho­to­shop CC. The other apps can cre­ate 3D text ef­fects, or be used to paint tex­tures, or im­port them from pho­tos, but Pho­to­shop has a ded­i­cated 3D workspace that en­ables you to cre­ate 3D ex­tru­sions from 2D art­work, or use pre-set shapes to build a 3D mesh, build­ing up to nine dif­fer­ent tex­ture map types to de­fine its sur­face. It’s not as pow­er­ful, nor as in­tu­itive, as a ded­i­cated 3D ap­pli­ca­tion would be, and it also re­lies on you own­ing such a pro­gram in or­der to di­rectly edit the poly­gons of any com­plex 3D meshes you may have im­ported us­ing sev­eral com­mon 3D for­mats—AE, OBJ, 3DS, U3D, and KMZ. You can, how­ever, view your meshes in a va­ri­ety of ren­der modes, scale and ro­tate, cast lights upon them, and im­port sev­eral meshes into one scene. Flat 2D lay­ers can be wrapped around a 3D ob­ject, and a depth map can be gen­er­ated from a grayscale im­age. Fi­nally, you can ren­der and ex­port your cre­ation as com­mon 3D file types—how­ever, if your scene is quite com­plex, you’ll have to wait while your PC chews through all the data.

Win­ner: Pho­to­shop CC


Web Graph­ics

Some might say that any pro­gram that can ex­port a trans­par­ent PNG file can be used to cre­ate web graph­ics, but there are ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits to us­ing a photo ed­i­tor. This is one area where full-strength Pho­to­shop might not be the best op­tion, be­cause you’re work­ing in largely low-res workspaces, and not us­ing too many clever tools. Adobe re­cently up­dated Pho­to­shop CC’s an­cient “Save for Web” ex­port panel, which was based on code from the even older Adobe ImageReady, and shuf­fled it off to Legacy sta­tus. The new “Ex­port” menu sup­ports Pho­to­shop’s lat­est fea­tures, and while “Save for Web” is still in there, the new method should be faster. El­e­ments keeps the “Save for Web” dia­log, giv­ing you the op­tions to com­press and dither your graph­ics to get the ab­so­lute small­est file size at the best qual­ity, and show­ing you pre­views of what the fi­nal re­sult will look like. Affin­ity, as is of­ten the case, ded­i­cates a whole Per­sona to ex­port­ing im­ages, chang­ing the look of the app to bring the tools you need right to your fin­ger­tips. There are pre­sets you can use, or you can set your own op­tions to get some­thing that works for you. Win­ner:


Affin­ity Photo comes with loads of YouTube­based tu­to­ri­als, but can be baf­fling at first.

Pho­to­shop El­e­ments has modes for new­bies and talks you through the edit­ing process.

Pho­to­shop CC is a gray, aus­tere-look­ing pro­gram that doesn’t hold your hand.

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