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Why I’m Dumping Adobe Photoshop & What I’m Using Now

Let me begin by saying that I love Photoshop. I started using it in college back in 1995, and I’ve gone through so many different versions of it that I can’t even remember most of them. At this point, the software’s functionality is mostly second nature to me; I know how to use it to get things done, and quickly.

And I’m dumping it.

The reason will be obvious to most of you: Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription plan. I don’t want to send money to Adobe every month for the rest of my life. It’s as simple as that.

I don’t want to send money to Adobe every month for the rest of my life. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve tolerated Adobe’s Photographer’s plan for the past few years for lack of better options, even though it’s been a pain. For weeks while I was traveling in Morocco and Croatia, my copy of Photoshop would claim that it was not registered and ask me to start a 7 day trial, just because I couldn’t connect to the internet regularly. So, I’d go through the hassle of going out and finding a wi-fi connection and signing in to Adobe, getting my account active again, only to have the same thing happen the next day.

Adobe Trapping Users in Cloud

But since Adobe’s announcement of the Creative Cloud subscription system, others have been developing alternatives, and some good ones are finally available.

Options for Replacing Lightroom & Photoshop

Replacing Lightroom is probably the easier part of the equation, although Lightroom 6 is still available for purchase from Adobe so it doesn’t necessarily need to be replaced. You can buy it and keep using it indefinitely [After the publication of this article, Adobe announced that they will stop updating Lightroom 6 and there will be no perpetual LR7]. That said, if you’re withdrawing support for Adobe because of their insistence on software rental otherwise, there are plenty of good options.

Currently, Capture One Pro 10 by Phase One is a great professional option, with arguably the best RAW conversion on the market as well as asset management. It is on the expensive side, though, at about $300 to purchase. If you shoot SONY, you get it for free.

A less expensive option is the new ON1 Photo RAW, which is a fast, full featured RAW converter and photo manager. I’ve been testing Photo RAW on my Surface Pro 4 for about three months, and I’ve generally been very happy with the results that it gives me1. Where ON1 really shines is its speed. It generates thumbnails and even opens very large raw files for editing almost instantly. Lightroom is slow on the best of days, but on my tablet with an external hard drive, it’s even slower. ON1 fixes that. The full version costs only $120.

Affinity Photo’s masking features are very sophisticated. Screenshot courtesy of Serif.

Replacing Photoshop has been a trickier proposition. Of course, GIMP has been around for years, but it simply doesn’t have the professional features and quality that I need (adjustment layers with layer masks were the biggest problem that last time I tried it). For the past year or two, Affinity Photo has been available for Mac, and it is a truly excellent, full-featured, professional photo editor. But it started out as a Mac-only program, so it was no use to me.

But now, Affinity Photo is available for both Mac AND PC, and unless you do some pretty specific types of work with Photoshop (3D graphics, medical imaging, forensic imaging, video editing), Affinity Photo will easily fit your needs as a serious photo editor.

It has a file browser and RAW converter. It has all of the tools that you need for professional retouching, including some really excellent liquefy and masking tools, and frequency separation with a single click. It has adjustment layers, a great collection of filters, actions, HDR editing, great text tools, photo stitching, image stacking (to increase focus depth or reduce noise), and it will open (and write to) your PSD files.

And it costs $49. Not $49 per month… $49, period.

Affinity Photo’s Workspace. Screenshot courtesy of Serif.

Affinity can also process RAW images, so if you’re used to using Adobe Camera RAW as your RAW processor, you can switch directly to Affinity. I personally like the combination of Capture One + Affnity Photo.


The color grading interface of the Davinci Resolve video editor.

But what if you use Photoshop for video editing? I did. In fact, I animated all of my Lens Comparison Videos in Photoshop.

There are at least three different professional, production-quality video editing programs that are available completely for free, and you can choose the one that best suits your needs. I’m a fan of BlackMagic’s Fusion 8, which is more of a graphics and effects processing engine than a standard video editor, but it meets my needs for creating YouTube videos. If you want a traditional video editor, then OpenShot is simple to work with, like Photoshop, and it’s layer based, so it may be more intuitive for Photoshop users. DaVinci Resolve is a more professionally oriented editor, with excellent color-grading capabilities.

I’ve recently discovered a free video editor that works even better for me: it’s called HitFilm Express (a paid Pro version is also available). It has a more intuitive interface for those of us that are familiar with a layer-based workflow and timeline, and it has the power to produce serious visual effects and animation. It’s worth checking out, if you shoot video.

Why Now?

Some of you may be wondering why I’m still bothering with an article like this, years after the advent of the Creative Cloud. Many people have come to terms with it at this point. You may wonder whether I’m just cranky because it’s April 18th and I just paid my taxes, and giving up any more money than necessary seems especially difficult today. Yes, that’s true. But that’s not all.

I bought Affinity Photo nearly five months ago, just as it was first released for Windows, because the Creative Cloud model still bothered me. I’d been continuously looking for a replacement ever since CC was introduced, and Affinity Photo was the first real contender.

And then it took me a few months to get used to Affinity, and decide whether it was something that could truly replace Photoshop for me. It took some time, but I’m satisfied now that it’s just as good or better than Photoshop for all of my needs… except video editing and animation. It wasn’t until I finally figured out that I could use BlackMagic Fusion to fill that role that I became convinced that I could finally kick Adobe to the curb.

Questions? Comments?

As always, I’m interested to hear about your experiences with these products. I’ll do what I can to answer questions, though I’m not as familiar with some of these as I was with Adobe products. If you have suggestions for software not mentioned above, also feel free to let me know.

  1. The initial release had problems with highlight recovery when processing RAW images, but that was fixed with and update, and additional updates have made it even better
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  • I know I’m not a professional and have never used Photoshop – only Photoshop Elements (started with version 3 and am using version 14 right now) I broke down about a year ago and bought Lightroom – the last standalone version. Not using it much because Elements is just so easy. What really gets me is that Google had Picasa3 that worked for amateurs – and it was extremely easy – I’d input to Picasa, do my straightening there and later on kept using it for cropping, minor text words, minor other changes that I can also do in Elements – but it just always made me wonder why Elements couldn’t do editing as easy as Picasa did – and now they did away with that. I use my Elements now for 95% of my editing – and am perfectly happy with it – but now it won’t let me work on the RAW files of the D7500 I purchased recently. But guess what – my old Picasa is still on my computer and I can download RAW in it and then export them to a file and it changes them to JPEG. So, now I’ll just take pictures in JPEG and say the heck with learning better editing until I read from “you guys” that there is something available that is as easy as Elements! Just ranting, but it is aggravating that things that have been easy now get more complicated!

  • I started using Photoshop in 1992 I think version 2.5 had just been released. Mac IIci, my first big job took a month, I read 4-5 books waiting for the steps to process. Final file was I think 66 megs. I had Adobe Pagemaker: a soul crusher. I cried when I first used Quark-it was so simple. Pagemaker used to crash like Adobe products now continually crash on my 2016 MacBook Pro (but that’s Apple’s fault). Lightroom won’t open Nikon D850 NEF files. NO WHERE did it say this when I was researching the camera. It’s been how many months? Oh you can use the DNG converter…. I guess this is the final Adobe kiss off. Join the monthly shake-down or get lost. Illustrator which I use all the time, has not fixed any of the chronic annoyances that have been there for years, that everyone using it complains about. So why on earth would I want to pay them a monthly fee for the rest of my life for software they never improve? (Navigating through Lightroom to find the DNG file is like I’m on some other computer. ) I’m with you. I was going to buy an iPod Pro and just wanted to know how well Lightroom Mobile was going to work on it….. (along the way I learned that the files it can open, it chops down to 3megs. So if you really miss what iPhoto did to your camera images……Maybe Flash wasn’t a mistake but Adobe’s vision for the future.

    • Agreed. I used Adobe Pagemaker in the early/mid 1990s in my high-school journalism class. As a photographer, I didn’t have to deal with it much, luckily, and I was happy to see Quark supplant it by the end of the 1990s. I rarely use Lightroom anyway, so using ACR to open D850 files has been no problem for me, but it must be awful for those of you who have to change their workflow completely.

      So, I’ve switched to Affinity Photo, but since my subscription to Photoshop automatically renewed before I realized, I’ve kept it for another year, and still use it when I need to do something complicated. Change is a process, I guess :-)

      • Thanks for responding so quick. Couple of questions.
        1. Stitching panoramas. Does Affinity do this? (The option is often hold onto to that old copy of Photoshop. I think I have CS 5)
        2. The reason I got the D850 and ran into the NEF problem is I’ll be traveling soon and wanted to see if the iPad Pro might work as a bridge between camera or SD card reader and an external hard drive (which I’m having trouble getting a clear answer to….) Along this path I learned that LightRoom Mobile chops down the file size… and the RAW thing… the real question is Should I just give up photography?
        3. It would really be great to find out what other pros are doing that works. Most videos are not gestalt, Affinity Pro sounds good, but most of the videos I’ve seen just jammer on about ‘the brushes’. Everything seems backwards. Instead of this is how I make my photos, it’s ‘look at this feature.’ Steve Perry is pretty cool because as a wildlife photographer, he tells how he sets up his camera and the techniques he uses for that work, and it’s far more useful even to someone doing completely different work then a list of features and a hipster-Apple-video. Your list of non-Adobe software fits this better philosophy. For 20 years now when I use and think about Nisus Writer Pro I have a happy moment thinking ‘it’s not Word.’
        In the mid 90s when computers were wonky and Photoshop would crash for no reason, I got more deeply into my darkroom. There was no problem that I couldn’t figure out and fix. Then computers got better, and now they’re getting worse. The monopolies are the cause of this. Back in the day they were slow and unreliable, now their sneaky and untrustworthy.

        • Hi Will,

          Yes, Affinity stitches panoramas. There’s really nothing that a photographer would want to do that Affinity can’t, that I’ve found (but, as I mention above, Affinity doesn’t do 3D graphics or video).

          I don’t have an iPad, so I can’t answer that question for you. When I was traveling in Europe and Africa last year, I carried a Surface Pro, which worked perfectly for me (it runs Windows). However, these days I just carry a WD MyPassport Wireless Pro. The 2TB one was cheap (I reviewed it here).

          One of the things that I’ve noticed over the past 5 years or so is that “what the pros do” is becoming a lot less standardized. Lots of people are using alternative software, they’re switching away from Canon and Nikon, and they’re getting away with it.

          I stopped doing sofware-related videos about 5 years ago when I moved away from Florida and it seemed that there was a glut of Photoshop and LR videos. You’re right, though… there’s a dearth of videos out there that are actually good. Affinity does have a ton of “how-to” videos on their site, though, if you need to get an idea of how things work with it.

          – Matthew

  • Years ago I replaced Mac, Adobe, Quark w/ All things Corel & Windows. In early 2017 I replaced MS W7, Corel w/ Linux & all Open Source. BTW I went w/ Fedora Design Suite which caters to Photographers & Designers. It works great for me, even my old Wacom Tablet was found ;)

    I’m using Inkscape, sK1, GIMP, Krita, Scribus, Bluefish (Code Editor).
    I like RawTherapee over DarkTable a little better, however GIMP/Krita just works me because I’ve been using longer over the years.
    BTW all the software is cross-platform, except for DarkTable (Linux Only). Give them a try for a few weeks you might fall in love all over again ;)

    I don’t miss all the User Profiling & Spying Microsoft does, which is wrong on so many levels. BTW Apple does the same thing w/ the Cloud which is a buzz-word for ‘someone else’s computer’.

    What I love about Linux & Open Source, if you don’t like something change it to your liking & share it w/ others ;}
    Now that’s freedom software.

    Windows 10 never touched my PC & I’m proud of that 8}

    • Several years ago, I went to a dual-boot system with Ubuntu, hoping that I could make the switch from Windows completely, but I never found a set of programs that would work for me. GIMP was the closest thing as a Photoshop replacement, but it was seriously deficient when it came to non-destructive filter layers with masks, which is a big part of how I work. I don’t know if it’s gotten any better since then… it’s been at least 5 years since I tried it. I also had trouble with color management.

      I love the idea of open source, in theory. In practice, I’m a photographer, and I already spend enough of my time doing business-related nonsense that I don’t want to do… developing software would just be a bigger distraction from what I already have too many distractions. It’s perfect for people who love coding as much as they love photography, though.

      That said, I’m also using Inkscape and Scribus :-)

      – Matthew

  • Hi Matthew,
    thanks for the article.

    I’m thinking to replacing my CC subscription too.

    I’m not sure about Affinity, in the trial version there isn’t a tool similar to bridge to browse images prior their development. I’m right?

    I prefer a single app to manage files, catalog, develop RAW and final retouch. Do you think Affinity can do this? Or what about Corel?


    • Hi Emilio,

      Right now, Affinity doesn’t have a file browser like Bridge. However, Adobe Bridge is a free program, so you can actually continue using it with Affinity, if you want… though it’s not as integrated as Bridge and Photoshop. Affinity claimed (a couple of years ago) that they were developing a counterpart to Bridge for their own system, but it hasn’t been released yet, and I haven’t heard a peep about it in at least a year.

      ON1 is a good option for browsing and raw processing, but not for final retouching. So, if you are set on doing everything in a single program, there isn’t an option as good as photoshop yet.

      • Thanks again. Obviously there isn’t an option as good as Photoshop, anyway I’m evaluating the all-in-one solution proposed by ACDSee.
        In a single app it’s possible to manage, develop RAW files, edit the image using layers and external plug-in like NIK.
        ACD also has a database with my Fuji cameras and lenses (X-T1, X-T2, 23 f/2, 50 f/2, 18-135)
        The only issue at the moment: it’s not possible to import RAW using custom camera color profile, can be important using different cameras at a time.

        • I really like ACDSee for media management, and although I haven’t used their RAW processing very extensively, it seemed fine to me when I did. I couldn’t live with their image editing, though, even with layers… since it’s still just parametric editing, not pixel-based. It’s especially important for me since I do so much graphics work in Affinity or Photoshop, with text editing. (edit: Now that I’ve taken another look at it, I see that it’s more powerful than I realize. Might be worth giving it another shot…although I’m pretty happy with Affinity)

    • I have had a problem with Lightroom being slow, regardless of my computer. I haven’t really had these issues with Photoshop. I do go into the settings and set a reasonable level of memory usage and a fast scratch disk, and I don’t go crazy with the number of history states, either. On my Surface, I’ve had a lot of problems with Photoshop and GPU acceleration, and it’s slower than my workstation of course. But I’m generally working with files that are no larger than 24 megapixels to start with; with bigger files, it could certainly be much worse.

  • One of the things that allows my studio to function is the seamless integration between Lightroom’s organization and Photoshop’s editing. Is there a file management software that runs in concert with Affinity?

    • Hi Terri,
      If you like Lightroom, you can continue using it with Affinity, and it will integrate the same way as Photoshop (just set Affinity as your default editor). If you’re ready to give up LR, then yes, Capture One or ON1 Photo RAW will do the same job as Lightroom for management and global editing, and will integrate with Affinity for the heavy lifting of editing.
      – Matthew

  • I’ve actually been contemplating switching from Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom as well, but have struggled to find the time to properly learn a new editing software. Capture One in particular sounds great, but has such a steep learning curve. I’m curious about plugins, actions, and presets–these are the main reasons why it’s ultra tough to move away from Adobe. Have you found them to be comparable in Affinity?

    • Hi Suzi,
      Affinity supports Photoshop plugins, so you should be able to move your favorites directly over. It’s so similar to Photoshop that learning Affinity is pretty simple if you understand Photoshop already. There’s no way to import Photoshop actions, but you can create actions (but not scripts) in the Macro persona of Affinity. As for presets, like the VSCO presets… again, I don’t think you’ll be able to use the exact same ones, but there are others available, and you can create your own. I don’t really use presets, so I can’t offer much help there.
      – Matthew

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