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Affinity releases a free (for now) Photoshop killer

By Marc Schenker Posted Feb. 10, 2015 Reading time: 4 minutes

Photoshop’s been the king of image editing for a long time now: 25 years, to be exact. That’s because it’s virtually ubiquitous in photo-editing circles, with its name even being turned into a verb for easy, colloquial reference. All this may be about to change, as one, prominent challenger is now trying to take market share away from the Adobe graphics editor: meet Affinity Photo.

The latest design tool from Serif, best known for its Affinity Designer tool, Affinity Photo is a Mac-only alternative to Adobe Photoshop. After the February 9 launch of Affinity Photo, it may turn out to be at least as well-received as Affinity Designer, maybe more so.

Releasing Affinity Photo as a free, beta version should help spread the word about it faster than usual, as will the fact that this app isn’t merely trying to be a dumbed-down alternative to Photoshop or just mimic its already well-known features. Serif isn’t shy about its intentions of taking Photoshop market share away from Adobe. In fact, the software maker is downright bold about what it says are several features of Affinity Photo that outclass Photoshop in every way. That’s a value proposition worth listening to, for sure.

 

Faster than Photoshop

Serif wants Affinity Photo to be a hit with as many people as possible. If it can at least duplicate the success of Affinity Designer, which has already been named the number two Mac app for 2014, it’ll be yet another victory for Serif in a short period of time.

According to Serif’s head of Affinity development, Tony Brightman, the company’s plan is for Affinity Photo to eventually be the go-to photo editor and creative work tool for everyone, but with a greater emphasis on professionals. Serif will also collect feedback from the public beta version to enhance the use of Affinity Photo for the professional environment. To that end, Brightman invites users to download this Mac-exclusive design tool and then sound off about their experiences with it on the company’s forums.

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One of the first things users should immediately notice is the tool’s speed. It is extremely fast. According to Ashley Hewson, Serif’s managing director, the reason Photoshop isn’t anywhere near as fast is its old-school, 25-year-old architecture. As a result of this old-school design, Adobe today is having a hard time adapting its software to leverage all of the possibilities found in modern-day computing tech. To be fair, Adobe — or anyone else — couldn’t have foreseen the stellar evolution in computer science when it released Photoshop 25 years ago.

Nonetheless, that has resulted in a distinct disadvantage, in Photoshop’s performance in today’s world.

 

Significant features

TechRadar was able to obtain a special preview of Affinity Photo and get a look at its much talked-about features before anyone else.

Surpassing ordinary amateur image editors, it features:

  • Support for CMYK color (a mainstay of the commercial print industry)
  • Raw processing
  • LAB color
  • 16-bit editing
  • 64-bit Photoshop plug-in compatibility
  • ICC color management

These are all key features to professional photographers, and we have it on good authority that the plug-in compatibility will be a really big deal going forward. As it stands, Serif says it’s currently in negotiations with big software vendors to secure support for Affinity Photo in plug-in installers.

While the way Affinity Photo looks on Mac screens is different than Photoshop, the way you use it is basically the same. In other words, if you’ve been using Photoshop, your learning curve on Affinity Photo should be next to none.

Some similarities include the use of:

  • Blur effects
  • Filters
  • Layer masks
  • “Adjustment layers”

Other features that are worth mentioning include Inpainting (think of it as Affinity Photo’s answer to Adobe’s content-aware fill feature) and a unique take on a Frequency Separation mode that’s meant to take away imperfections like scanning interference issues, blemishes and unattractive spots in images.

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Real-time editing is another strong selling point for this new graphic-design tool. This means that you don’t have to deal with any “apply” buttons, previews or waiting before you can see what a specific effect looks like after it’s been rendered. In other words, it does everything fast, which is a product of it being constructed on a new codebase. This empowers the software behind the app to capitalize on the newest hardware out there, making the increase in speed both obvious and enjoyable.

So-called “lossless” scaling left a good impression with early Affinity Photo users, too. This feature lets you downsize pixels, but without them being removed and lost perpetually. This stands in stark contrast to Photoshop, where pixels are lost permanently after a layer downsize.

Affinity Photo is compatible with Apple’s OSX Lion 10.7.5 and up, on Macs that have at least an Intel 64. There’s good news for the international audience: besides being available in English, the app also comes in French, German and Spanish.

 

Future plans

After the full version launches, you can buy it for approximately $49.99 from the App Store without any subscription costs and access to updates for free for the next two years.

Unfortunately, if you’re still a diehard PC user, you’re out of luck. Though the Serif development team is said to be committed to building a Windows version, there’s nothing set in stone. Reports indicate that you’ll probably have to wait a long time before being able to play around with Affinity Photo on a PC.

As we speak, the Serif team’s already busy at work on a third design app called Affinity Publisher, which will be an alternative to InDesign, Adobe’s desktop publishing software. It’s supposed to come out later this year, and, following that, the Serif team will switch gears to finally work on creating iOS versions of all of its Affinity apps.

Serif is moving several projects forward at the same time, all with the concentrated focus of cutting deeply into the huge market share that Adobe has in the photo-editing world. While Serif is certainly ambitious in its quest, it has an uphill climb as Photoshop has a 25-year head start on its new tool.

Whatever the result of this latest release, one thing is sure: competition breeds innovation, and the web design community can only benefit from more choice.

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