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News & Insight

Affinity Photo vs Pixelmator Pro | Which is Better for Photographers and Why?

By Justin Heyes on December 11th 2017

Now more than ever photographers, artist, and designers have more options when it comes to creating their work. Adobe’s Photoshop was the accepted standard for the industry, and to a certain point still is, but some photographers are beginning to realize that the subscription method is no longer a cost-effective solution.

Powerful alternatives are already on the market that can meet, if not exceed, the functionality of Photoshop, but the question is which one is right for you. Let’s take a look at two popular photo editors.

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Pixelmator Pro

Pixelmator is a graphic editor developed for macOS by two brothers from Lithuania, Saulius and Aidas Dailide. With a foundation built upon a combination of open source and macOS technologies, Pixelmator has grown with the OS over the last decade incorporating features as fast as Cupertino could release them.

Pixelmator Pro is definitely the ‘new’ kid on the block getting all the attention in the wake of the introduction of Affinity photo. Love it or hate the design, it is very similar to the latest macOs applications even behaving like Apple’s own Photos app – with your work front and center and the tools hiding away until you need them. This allows first time user to easily edit their photos without much of a learning curve.

Pixelmator Pro has support iCloud syncing, multiple tabs, special gestures for the Magic Trackpad (with Force Touch), and support for Apple’s new HEIF along with Google’s WebP format.

Metal 2 and Core Imaging allows Pixelmator to edit your photos with real-time effects without the need to render in a separate window. In fact, the new version uses a single-window user interface; a departure from the floating windows of the non-pro Pixelmator.

Strengths:

  • Machine Learning for automatic naming of layers, auto straighten images, and advanced repair tools
  • Deep integration with Metal 2, Core Image, and OpenGL for fast real-time editing
  • Small (if any) Learning Curve
  • Support for Mac features like Versions, Force-Touch, permanent undo, quick look
  • Always on ‘Raw Layers’ (similar to Photoshop Smart Layers)
  • Edit RAW Files before conversion

Weaknesses:

  • No Photoshop Plug-in support
  • No touchbar support (coming soon)
  • Limited Lens Correction Tools
  • Certain tools ‘Locked’ for RAW files
  • Certain tools are hidden within submenus
  • macOS High Sierra Only

Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo has made waves as the first Photoshop alternative that was competent enough to take on the post-processing Goliath. The parent company behind the Affinity, Serif LTD, has almost been in the software game as long as Adobe Systems, however, was it was not as ubiquitously known as Adobe.

Previously a Windows-based exclusive, Serif did not venture into the much beloved UNIX-based OS until Affinity. Affinity was engineered from the ground up to take advantage of core macOS technologies including Grand Central Dispatch, Core Graphics, OpenGL and Metal 2 hardware acceleration. Eventually, the award-winning program made its way to the Windows platform and other devices.

The UI is close enough to Photoshop that anyone remotely familiar with the post-processing giant can easily find their way around. Affinity has a very comparable feature set that resides within Photoshop, however, some features are not as polished as others. Photographers who rely on Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw their main RAW processor will see the ‘Develop Persona’ in Affinity limited in its ability.  Advanced Photoshop wizards may find that their scripts and action or favorite plugins have little or no compatibility with Affinity.

Some photographers would argue Photoshop being the more mature product that it would be vastly superior Affinity; many of which the jury is still out. However, one thing that could be unanimously agreed upon is Affinity’s innovation (over the last year alone), making any updates that Adobe made seem stagnant.

Strengths:

  • CMYK workflow
  • Native 360-Degree Image support
  • LUT support
  • Similar Look and Feel to Photoshop
  • Photoshop Plugin and Brush Support
  • Panorama Stitching
  • Touchbar support
  • Multi-OS support
  • Focus Stacking
  • Lens Correction Profiles
  • HDR Merge
  • Recordable Macros
  • Edit History saved within File
  • Performance Adjustments
  • Layers act like smart objects
  • Advanced Haze Removal Tool
  • Free Updates

Weaknesses:

  • Slight Learning Curve
  • Photoshop Plugin Support not 100%
  • Lens profiles not as well implemented as Adobe’s
  • Basic Raw Editor

There is no arguing that Photoshop is still the standard, but the gap between it and others is closing. One thing Photoshop has never done well is UX. The user interface of Photoshop isn’t something that’s necessarily natural, and thus those who begin with it are often lost. Pixelmator Pro is really capitalizing on that as it strives to make the experience much more akin to something the average Mac user will inherently understand, and to a large extent, they’ve succeeded.  It is integrated to a high extent with the Mac OS ecosystem, and that’s a great thing.

So, with Pixelmator Pro, that gap has closed for artists, but for photographers, there are quite a few tools still missing that could make it a bonafide Photoshop alternative. The original Pixelmator was a stopgap for those who wanted something more than Apple provided out of the box, but didn’t want to fully invest into Adobe. Its more advanced features are hidden within submenus and a toolbar will have many season pros steering clear.

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Pixelmator is still not as fleshed out as Affinity Photo is, and its feature set appears less professional than Affinity Photo’s. While the two boast Photoshop’s pixel-bending abilities and non-destructive editing and with layers, Affinity Photo is more flexible to the current photo editing environment, and more conducive to a professional workflow.

Its PSD import and export support is absolutely appreciated for those of us who work with both Affinity and Photoshop, and those who have moved entirely to Affinity after years with Photoshop and have their PSD files still and would want to work on them.

Affinity offers a more Photoshop-like experience, thought Photoshop remains one-part of a two-part system,  tethered to Lightroom for $10/month. For the entry of $50 Affinity does seem like the better option if you are looking to cut the subscription costs and don’t necessarily need a cataloging system – though it should be said that Affinity will have an asset manager sometime down the road, and given how well Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo work together, it’s likely to be much the same or better.

Pixelmator on the other hand,  will debut at the price point of $59, the price will then will rise to the “intended” $99 when new features are added via updates.

It warrants saying at this point too, that while Pixelmator is rightfully pushing the angle of its Mac integration, keep in mind Affinity Photo is also well integrated, and of course Affinity Photo has the iPad version which is near-as-makes-no-difference the full application but on mobile – combined with iOS 11 and Apple’s ‘FILES’ Affinity’s duality brings a whole new dimension to your photo editing wherever you are.

At this time Pixelmator Pro is newer, and we can just wait to see how it develops.

About

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Chris Duzynski

    Hello: I have numerous Photoshop docs that I use as a basis for much of my corporate ID (stationery, promo’s etc.) Will Affinity allow me to open these docs and print from some? I use C1Pro sessions for my raw materials, so no conflicts there!

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  2. jason berge

    I agree with most of the commenters here. AP is the heir apparent to PS. they are also developing a much wider “ecosystem” with the upcoming “Catalogue” product intended to compete with LR and the “Publish” product they are teasing as a competitor to InDesign. Exciting times.

    With regard to the current “weak” raw persona and no catalogue as such, the way I use it is in conjunction with C1pro as my raw developer (I use sessions, one per “job”, seems to work well, and then use the “round trip” methodology within C1pro which takes everything I have done to the file, exports it and opens it in the editor of my choice, I do what I need, save and close, and the image is then placed in the session next to the raw file, very neat and organised.

    Cheers,

    Jason Berge.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I think that’s pretty much how I would recommend doing it also. It’s probably important for some to not rely on it for accurate raw processing, but to work on an image after that stage. Cheers Jason

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  3. Oberonia Omnia

    In some respect AP is better than PS. Been using PS 3-CS5.5extended, now on AP for a good year and very happy. Non-destructive scaling, the keyboard-pen-drag adjusting of brush size and hardness, WAY better stacking (Zerene still better), multiple output formats in the macros,  to name just a few. Unless you do much 3D, AP can handle most things. For RAW use DxO anyway. To call PS the “accepted standard” is passé.

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  4. Ian Goss

    Lots of typos.

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  5. Eduardo Villagrana

    So you DO like Affinity Photo better because it has almost everything Photoshop has–right?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Oh we, as a team, are absolutely pro Affinity Photo, but the comparison was warranted with Pixelmator’s new efforts. Honestly, we haven’t even covered Pixelmator before because it’s not even on our radar of the software pieces to take seriously. There are, for us, Photoshop, Capture One, LR, Affinity Photo.  

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  6. Jackson Pollock

    Quite fair but I think you missed one point which is an important weakness speaking of “pro” workflows. Pixelmator works on macs with Metal enabled hardware only, regardless you have High Sierra or not.

    Lots of users out there have older machines, professionals in particular tend to stick with a reliable and solid system for years. Affinity is so far much more “pro friendly” and better integrated.

    It runs smoothly on my MBPR mid2012 and iMac 27 early2010, together with its companion, Affinity Designer.  Pixelmator Pro doesn’t even launch…

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Jackson, we agree that Affinity is much more suited for the pro, which is why many of us on staff have integrated it into our own workflows over the past year or so. 

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