#CloudFree: Does a Modern Photographer Need Adobe Software?

My New Photography and Video Software Lineup

I’m now the only photographer I know that is not using Adobe software. I just replaced my old copy of Photoshop with Affinity Photo, which is the best-known of the new league of PhotoShop competitors. I call it being #CloudFree. This is my story.

Why I Left Photoshop Behind

My copy of Adobe Photoshop CS5 (yes, CS5) just bit the dust. ​I updated my Macbook Pro’s macOS to Mojave and Photoshop started crashing over and over again. Every fix I tried failed, and I ​couldn’t stand looking at this screen even just one more time:

So I had four choices.

  1. Just keep on troubleshooting and hope I’d stumble on a cure
  2. Roll back to an older version of macOS and hope CS5 starts working again
  3. Start paying monthly fees for Photoshop CC
  4. Go Adobe-free, or as I’m calling it, #CloudFree

I took option #4, and for the first time in nine years, my photography and video workflow is 100% Adobe-free.

Why did I do it? Well, I’m cheap; I’m saving a TREMENDOUS amount of money. And part of me just wanted to roll the dice and see what happens with something completely new.

So I’m running the following software on my 2017 Macbook Pro:

  • Capture One Pro 12 Sony for Raw file processing and management
  • Apple Aperture for some older projects I haven’t yet transitioned to Capture One*
  • Affinity Photo for retouching/deeper edits
  • Apple Final Cut Pro X for video editing

Before we get started let me make one thing clear: this isn’t a mindless, sensationalist piece of clickbait. I’m not going to insult you by declaring that “Photoshop Is Dead” and that “Affinity Is the Second Coming.” As I’ll explain, Photoshop is not going anywhere, and Affinity is definitely not perfect.

Rather, I’m just explaining my personal path, which is not right for everyone. You can jump around the article here:

What Is the Adobe Creative Cloud?

Creative Cloud is not ​actually cloud-based software like Google Docs. It’s simply Adobe’s name for its family of subscription-based software applications. You pay a monthly fee to access one or all of Adobe’s apps like Photoshop or Lightroom, plus other features like cloud storage and a portfolio hosting website. Your software gets updated to the latest version as long as you’re still paying. As of March 22, 2019, individuals had four plans to choose from, ranging in price from $19.99 to $82.99 per month: (click the image for full size)

Students, teachers, educational institutions, and business have different options at different prices. You can see them all here.

If you cancel your membership, you lose access to the software, and your online storage allowance will be reduced. You do not lose access to any work files saved on your computer and/or storage devices. You can read more about what happens when you cancel here.

Why Adobe’s Creative Cloud Makes Sense for Some People

I can understand why Creative Cloud appeals to certain photographers and videographers. It’s got 20 apps covering everything from Raw processing/management (Lightroom) to photo editing (Photoshop) to video editing (Premiere Pro) to design (InDesign) and more. And they’re designed to work together, with many interface similarities. Many people want constant software updates and new features.

Others have very specific professional needs which only Adobe can fulfill. For example, some designers can’t live without InDesign. So to some people, $52.99 a month or $599.88 a year may be a bargain – or at least, a necessary cost of doing business.

Why the Creative Cloud Isn’t for Me Right Now

I value simplicity and performance over features. Whenever Adobe announces a fancy new capability like Dehaze, I just kind of shrug my shoulders because I know I’ll never use it.

Why would I pay $600 a year ($6,000 over 10 years) for bells and whistles I won’t use? My post-processing style is remarkably basic, so there’s no Adobe-specific feature keeping me locked in. And when I deliver photos to clients and subjects, they’re always in universal formats like JPG and TIF. It also helps that I’m shooting all my personal work in black & white. I find black and white processing to be much simpler and faster than color work.

​Essential Reading: Why I’m Only Shooting Black & White Portrait Now

I also really like Capture One Pro and Final Cut Pro X. They’re intuitive to use, and perform very well on my Macbook Pro.

Are We Giving Too Much Credit to Adobe Creative Cloud Critics?

Both in-person and online, I’ve noticed more and more creatives grumbling about the performance of Adobe products, especially Premiere Pro and Lightroom. Filmmaker Philip Bloom posted this on Facebook on February 7, 2018:

Another high profile photographer & video producer, Vincent Laforet, said this:

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Adobe Premiere Pro results in these tests … well, you’ve got to realize that all of these pieces of software improve upon one-another with leaps and bounds… and given the amount of friends I have at Adobe I’m simply going to say that as of this moment: their photo and video apps are on the valley side of the equation … not the peak.

Meanwhile, what are people Googling about Lightroom? Lightroom is slow, lagging, not responding, crashing, etc.:

​When researching this article, I was concerned that I was giving too much weight to the critics. Because here’s a big problem with trying to judge public sentiment on something like software: nobody goes on Facebook to ​announces things are just fine. ​When’s the last time someone just randomly announced, “Lightroom is running ​just fine today!”

They mostly come out to complain. And since Adobe is the 800-pound gorilla in the software jungle, it’s going to get the lion’s share of complaints. Out of curiosity, I ran a very unscientific Facebook poll (yes, I know it’s a small sample size, etc.) asking this question:

Are you satisfied with the performance of Adobe Creative Cloud software like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro?

Here were the results:

75 people said yes.

20 said they were somewhere in between.

And just 8 said no.

That’s pretty damn good. You have to imagine some people are suffering from user error or person-specific issues like an old computer.

Again, while this isn’t a scientifically valid poll, I was shocked it was so positive, especially since people love to complain online! You could even argue that the question was skewed negative! So, it’s entirely possible that we are paying too much attention to complaints about of Adobe software. And to be fair, Affinity Photo also gets its share of negative reviews on Apple’s App store. Some users do complain about software bugs and performance issues. There’s no such thing as software that everybody loves.

How I Spend Almost No Money on Photo and Video Software, and How That Plays Into My Decision

Let’s talk about cost. Again, let’s acknowledge that for some people, particularly pros who specifically need Adobe software, $600 a year may be a bargain. But I couldn’t imagine shelling that much out for software since I’m paying next to nothing for software I love right now.

Here’s a list of my photography and video software purchases over the past 5 years:

  • May 21, 2015 – Apple Final Cut Pro X: $299.99
  • March 28, 2015 – Capture One Pro Upgrade: $30
  • August 26, 2016 – Capture One Pro Sony 10: $50
  • January 27, 2018 – Capture One Pro Sony 11 Upgrade: $62
  • March 10, 2019 – Capture One Pro Sony 12 Upgrade: $54
  • March 17, 2019: Serif Affinity Photo: $49.99

That’s a total of $545.98 — less than the cost of one year of the Adobe Creative Cloud. And Final Cut Pro X and Affinity Photo are one-time purchases. I don’t have to pay for future updates. You may be wondering why my Capture One upgrades are so inexpensive. It’s because I use the Sony version of Capture One Pro, meaning the only Raw files it can process are Sony ones. (JPG, PNG, TIF, and PSD files are fully supported). Plus, Phase One (the maker of Capture One) runs sales every so often, which lowers the price even further.

My Initial Reaction to Affinity Photo

Some Photography bloggers and YouTubers do two things I dislike:

  1. Rushing to make product recommendations without any actual real testing (a huge problem on YouTube)
  2. Switching to new gear/software and pretending everything is absolutely perfect

So I’m intentionally not recommending Affinity Photo, I’m simply giving you my first impression. Affinity Photo is fairly intuitive to use if you have a basic working knowledge of Photoshop.

As you can see, Affinity modeled the Photoshop user interface closely, with tools on the left and layers on the right:

Popular Photoshop features like healing brush, clone stamp, layers, actions (called macros in Affinity), masks, etc. work pretty much as you’d expect. You can even use some Photoshop plugins with Affinity. It took me a few minutes of Googling to learn how to round-trip files with Capture One Pro, and then I was off to the races. It’s easy. Just right click an image in Capture One, hover over ‘Edit With,’ and click on Affinity Photo.

Then select your Edit Recipe in Capture One Pro. Select the PSD format and click ‘Edit Variants’:

The image will open in Affinity Pro, and you can edit to our heart’s content. After you save your file and exit out of Affinity Pro, you’ll find your PSD file in your Capture One catalog. Affinity Photo has some nifty tricks up its sleeve, like a built-in frequency separation filter and a Tone Mapping ‘Persona.’

Affinity uses the term ‘Persona’ to denote each usage modes, of which there are five:

  1. Photo: for photo editing
  2. Liquify: for, um, liquifying
  3. Develop: raw image processing, similar to Adobe Camera Raw
  4. Tone mapping: high dynamic range (HDR) image processing
  5. Export: outputting images in various formats

Affinity Photo is lightning fast on my Macbook Pro. Everything from adjusting sliders to zooming in/out to applying effects is instant, though some filters have a small delay in applying. It’s way snappier than Photoshop CS5 was. And in my short time using it, I haven’t had a single crash.

However, Affinity isn’t perfect. The Patch tool is confusing to use, and the PSD file exports required for round-tripping with Capture One are just enormous — about three times bigger than files in Affinity’s native .afphoto format. I would love it if Capture One could work natively with the .afphoto files.

And to some extent, I wish Serif had taken more risks with Affinity Photo to make it more different from Photoshop — the way Apple reimagined video editing with Final Cut Pro X. By virtue of being new, there aren’t a lot of Affinity-focused instructional materials out there (though you actually can learn from Photoshop tutorials since there are so many identical functions).

I’m sure I’ll discover more annoyances as time goes on. But overall, I’m enjoying Affinity Photo so far, and it seems like a viable alternative to Photoshop. I’m going to work with Affinity for at least the next three months before giving a final review and verdict. There is a chance I’ll end up back with Photoshop, but at $49.99 for a permanent license, I couldn’t not give Affinity Photo a real test drive.

Why Affinity Photo Is NOT a Photoshop Killer

Lazy writers often say things like “product XYZ is a Photoshop/Lightroom killer.” Here’s the reality. First, many people LIKE Adobe software. And second, switching software has real costs in terms of time and aggravation. Not everyone can turn on a dime — especially if multiple Adobe products are key to a person’s business. This is why Photoshop will still be around 20 years from now. Affinity Photo is pretty good. But aside from price, there’s no real killer feature that sets it apart.

And hell, if Adobe was in danger, they wouldn’t be cranking out $9 billion in revenue with a stock price that looks like this:

It was easy for me to move off Adobe because I’m flying solo with a very simple workflow. But what if I had 10 Photoshop plugins and 40 actions I couldn’t live without?

What if I needed AfterEffects or another Adobe program to meet specific client demands? Or if I didn’t have the time to get up to speed on something new, and rebuild my entire workflow? I couldn’t just drop Adobe to save a few hundred bucks a year.

Does a Modern Photographer Need Adobe Software?

No. Some people absolutely, positively need Adobe products. But not all of us do, and companies like Phase One, DaVinci, and Luminar are producing great alternatives to Adobe’s mainstays.

So for now, I’m going #CloudFree. And I suspect more photographers and videographers will join me as they weigh the costs and benefits of the Creative Cloud. I’m not saying I’ll never go back to Adobe, but I’ll need a damn good reason to do so.

Why Adobe Lovers Should Be Happy About the Competition

If you’re a hardcore Lightroom/Photoshop/Premiere fan, you should smile when you read articles like this. You should cheer for companies like Serif (maker of Affinity Photo), Davinci, ON1, Luminar, and ACDSee.


Because it means better software for you.

The more competition there is, the more pressure there is for Adobe to step up its game.

3 Simple Questions for You:

I’ll end this article by asking you:

  1. What photo and video software are you using?
  2. How do you feel about Adobe software?
  3. Do you think Adobe gets too much or too much hate?

Let me know in the comments! I’ll integrate some of your answers into the article – so let me know what you think!

This is an exclusively granted syndicated blog post from OnPortraits.