As you would expect, most edits in Affinity Photo are non-destructive. When you select an adjustment type, a new adjustment layer is created for it; even if you decide not to use it, removing unused items in the Layers panel is easy enough.

The exceptions are when you switch personas, such as working in the Liquify persona or the Develop persona, where the changes are burned into the currently-selected pixel layer. Filters, too, change a layer’s pixels, so in both cases you’ll want to duplicate a layer before editing it.

Adding several Live Filters will slow down the live rendering performance

Some filters, however, can remain non-destructive by converting them to Live Filter layers. A Live Filter appears nested within the pixel layer to which you applied the filter, and can be edited, hidden, or otherwise treated like an adjustment layer. The tradeoff is that adding several Live Filters will slow down the live rendering performance. I added five Live Filters to a layer to test this, and making subsequent edits did lag significantly.

Speaking of layer support, that’s one of the main reasons to turn to a tool such as Affinity Photo versus other apps that primarily make adjustments to the entire image. You can stack and group layers, change their blend modes and opacities, and otherwise have a lot of flexibility.

The editing controls stay nicely out of the way.

A few common tasks are in unexpected places; for example, I wanted to invert the painting I’d done on an adjustment layer (so the effect would apply only where I’d used the Brush tool), and to do that I needed to switch to the Channels studio, select the layer name, tap the ellipses (…), and choose invert. In general, though, Affinity Photo’s layers are robust and work well for adjustments, as well as building compositions from multiple image sources.

As another example of going beyond the editing basics, Affinity Photo can merge multiple photos to create HDR (high dynamic range), panorama, and focus-stacked images. Those features usually require separate dedicated apps, so it’s nice to have them in one place.

The Affinity Photo file format is proprietary to Serif’s family of applications, which means you can export an .afphoto project with all layers and edits intact using the Files architecture (such as to iCloud Drive or Dropbox), and open it in the desktop version of Affinity Photo on your computer. When you save it, you can opt to include the edit history, too.

Using Affinity Photo for iPad makes me feel like I’m getting away with something extra

Affinity Photo also includes extensive options for exporting photos, from multiple file formats (including Photoshop .psd files, although Affinity Photo features like Live Filters don’t translate cleanly to Photoshop).

I mostly used Affinity Photo on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro (early 2017), and except for when I loaded up the Live Filters on a layer, I didn’t see any performance hiccups. I was able to focus on working on images, not wonder if I was taxing the system. I also used it on a 9.7-inch iPad Pro (2016) without complaint.

An Affinity for Portable Power

Call me jaded after using all sorts of apps on iPads since the original model, but using Affinity Photo for iPad makes me feel like I’m getting away with something extra. Serif hasn’t tried to hobble the app in the name of performance or simplicity for a mobile device, but rather crammed in as many features as possible. And I especially appreciate that they did it while also putting a mobile, touch interface at the forefront of the design process.

Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Broad range of professional-level editing tools
  • Good selection features
  • Most adjustments are non-destructive
  • $20 price, no subscription or in-app purchase
  • Native .afphoto files can be edited on iPad or in Affinity Photo desktop versions
  • Some controls are in unexpected places
  • Applying multiple Live Filters can impede performance

Who it's good for:

  • Photographers who want pro-level editing tools on the iPad.

Who it's not so good for:

  • Photographers who need to trade .psd formatted files with others who use Photoshop.