Just a few days ago Serif, the company behind the illustrator competitor affinity designer, launched the first public beta of Affinity Photo. A direct competitor to Adobe’s Photoshop. With Affinity Designer, the company set some really high expectations so I was expecting to be blown away with Photo. And I must say I wasn’t dissapointed! So far I’ve only played a couple of hours with it so I will only give a brief summary of my experience with it.
So far the program is shaping up quite well! The first thing Affinity Photo gets right is the level of difficulty. It does that by taking advantage of the fact that users are already familiar with Photoshop. Affinity Photo keeps most of Photoshop’s shortcuts and workflows the same. Even without knowing the icons or knowing exactly where each thing is, I immediately felt at home. Without exaggeration you can start creating, in a matter of seconds! And to me, that is just plain awesome!
The company is also doing a great job keeping the interface consistent between apps. If you have used Affinity Designer, you can immediately start playing with Affinity Photo. Which is something really important from a user experience perspective. The company is being really smart here and I’m sure the In Design competitor they’re planning for next year will do the same.
There’s nothing better than having a suite of programs that share the same underlying logic and navigation. Something that Adobe is trying to do right now but still has a lot of room to grow. Adobe’s programs were developed separately from each other and it shows. Back in the days people were using just one specific program which basically forced Adobe to maintain different workflows on their programs for similar actions.
But that doesn’t mean Affinity is not without faults. One of my main issues is how you position and dock palettes. The initial interface is quite different from Photoshop’s so I wanted to adjust it more to what I’m used to. And this is where things started getting a little bit weird. I started un-tabbing palettes and moving them around. What I’ve noticed then was that positioning a palette on a new place gives you a confusing preview. Have a look at the image below.
The blue highlight tries to tell you that the tab I’m moving (transform tab) is going to be placed on top of the navigator and histogram. Since though the highlight also covers the navigator and histogram tabs it’s not immediately obvious what is about to happen. A less confusing preview would be what is pictured on the right of the same image.
The other part that adds to the confusion is how the system previews moving tabs to a new place and adding tabs to an already existing window.
When moving a tab to a new position you have a preview of where the tab will be placed. On the other hand when you move a tab in to an already existing window instead of getting a preview of where the tab will be placed, the tab automatically snaps in to position. To add to this there’s also another strange behaviour or bug. While moving a tab in and out of a panel the mouse pointer slowly moves out of the original position of where the tab was grabbed. As a result at some point you will lose sight of what you’re actually moving. Combine that with the snapping of the tabs in to place and you have a really strong mix of confusion!
Another small thing is the fact that you cannot have fixed heights for all tabs in a panel. The height jumps every time you switch a tab in order to show the entirety of the tab. Even though the idea here is good, in reality, it’s just plain annoying since you don’t always need the maximum height for a tab. The exception to this rule are the effects, adjustments, and layer tabs which are scrollable. But even if you want to make these larger you cannot! The height is fixed! (Or at least I couldn’t find a way to change it)
Another thing I found a little bit strange is how you access your colours. It took me quite a while to find a way to just see what my colour is and to actually change it! I was expecting something similar to Photoshop with a foreground and background colour chip on the left hand side toolbar. But there’s nothing there. From what I’ve gathered the only way to change a colour is with the colour tab on the right hand side. Which introduces a few problems. For one you can’t quickly switch between two colours and the other most important part? You have to have a big portion of your screen dedicated just for selecting a colour. Which could easily be prevented by using the colour chips on the left toolbar and by a HUD element like in Photoshop. There you can choose a colour without travelling to a specific area on the screen. Wherever your pointer is you can just hold down a few keys and a HUD element pops up with your colour palette.
From what I’ve noticed the application tends to give you the information on windows that are not close to your artwork. In most of the cases all the dialogs for adjusting things, are located to right side of the screen. You can move the windows around but their default position is not enabling you to do the changes while having your eyes on the artwork at the same time. You first make the changes and then switch your view to the artwork to see what happens.
There are also some other small things like not having the ability to close all documents at the same time. Usually cmd+alt+w closes all windows in other programs. In Affinity Photo that doesn’t happen. You need to close each and every one individually.
Another annoyance that probably is a bug is in the snapping system. Even though it works really well in some cases it’s a little bit flaky. For example while I had the “UI design” snapping option activated and all other options inside it enabled I couldn’t snap objects to their boundaries. I had to switch to another snapping menu to make it work. Even though the same options were enabled. But I’m sure these bugs will slowly be ironed out. Let’s not forget this is the first beta!
Apart from those things though Affinity Photo does a lot of things right. For example how the vector tools work nicely along with the pixel art. The application also seems quite fast overall. Of course I didn’t stress it with multiple layers and heavy files but it looks like it can maintain a consistent speed overall.
The tools in most of the cases work like you expect and also have some nice real time previews. In general even though I concentrated mostly on the negative parts I was overly impressed by the app. It looks like Affinity Photo will shape up to be a good competitor for Photoshop. And that makes me incredibly happy!
If you own a mac go straight to affinity’s website and download the beta! I have a feeling Affinity will have a bright future ahead!