UK developer Serif has been busy creating a number of Mac, Windows, and now iOS applications that challenge Adobe’s stranglehold on the imaging industry. Newest of these is Affinity Photo for the iPad. As newer iPads become more powerful – starting with the Air 2 and moving into the present with two Pro models – iOS app developers are taking notice. There have been a number of graphic and design apps available for iOS for some time, including Adobe Photoshop Express (PS Express), but none is as full-featured as Affinity Photo. There is very little compromise between the desktop version and the iPad version, making is the most sophisticated iOS application currently on the market.
Affinity Photo starts with an elegant user interface, that’s broken down into five “personas”. These are essentially workspaces and include Photo, Selections, Liquify, Develop, and Tone Mapping. Various tools, specific to each persona, populate the left edge of the screen. So in Photo, that’s where you’ll find crop, move, brush tools and more. The right edge displays a series of “Studios”. These often contain a set of tools, like layer management, adjustment filters, channel control, text, and so on. There’s everything there that we’ve come to expect from an advanced desktop graphics application. Naturally, if you own an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, then you can further take advantage of Serif’s support for the pressure-sensitivity of that input device.
Best of all, response is very fluid. For example, the Liquify persona offers an image mesh that you can drag around to bend or deform an image. There’s virtually no lag while doing this. Some changes require rasterization before moving on. In the case of Liquify, changes are non-destructive, until you exit that persona. Then you are asked whether or not to commit to those changes. If you commit, then the distortion you’ve done in that persona is rendered to the image inside of the Photo app.
When working with photography, you’ll do your work either in the Develop or the Tone Mapping persona. As you would expect, Develop includes the standard photo enhancement tools, including color, red-eye, and lens distortion correction. There’s also detail enhancement, noise reduction, and a blemish removal tool. Tone mapping is more exotic. While intended for work with high dynamic range images, you can use these tools to create very stylized enhancement effects on non-HDR images, too.
All of this is great, but how do you get in and out of the iPad? That’s one of Affinity Photo’s best features. Like most iOS apps, you can bring in files from various cloud services like Dropbox. But being a photography application, you can also import any native iPad images from other applications, like the native Apple Photos. Therefore, if you snap a photo with your iPad camera, it’s available to Affinity Photo for enhancement. When you “save a copy” of the document, the processed file is saved to iCloud in its native .afphoto file format. These images can be accessed from iCloud on a regular Mac desktop or laptop computer. So if you also have the desktop (macOS) version of Affinity Photo, it will read the native file format, preserving all of the layer and effects information within that file. In addition, you can export a version from the iPad in a wide range of graphic formats, including Photoshop.
Affinity Photo includes sophisticated color management tools that aren’t commonly available in an iOS photo/graphics application. Exports may be saved in various color profiles. In addition, you can set various default color profiles and convert a document’s profile, such as from RGB to CMYK. While having histograms available for image analysis isn’t unusual, Affinity Photo also includes tools like waveform displays and a vectorscope, which are familiar to video-centric users.
Serif has made it very easy to get up and running for new users. At the launch screen, you have access to an interactive introduction, an extensive list of help topics, and tutorials. You can also access a series of complex sample images. When you pick one of these, it’s downloaded to your iPad where you can dive in and deconstruct or modify it to your heart’s content. Lastly, all personas include a question mark icon in the lower right corner. Touch and hold the icon and it will display the labels for all of the tools in that persona. Thus, it’s very easy to switch over if you come from a Photoshop-centric background.
Affinity Photo is a great example of what the newest iPads are capable of. Easy interchange between the iOS and macOS versions are the icing on the cake, enabling the iPad to be part of a designer’s arsenal and not simply a media consumption device.
©2017 Oliver Peters