Photoshop CS5 Beta: Lots of Refinements to Solid Program
At a Glance
Whenever a new version of an important program comes out, the need for it, depending on the changes, can run the spectrum--from it's-revolutionary, got-to-have-it-now to ho-hum, I-can-wait-for-the-next-revision. Adobe Photoshop CS5, the latest version that's sold both individually and as part of Adobe Creative Suite 5, falls between those two extremes ($699 for Standard stand-alone, $1299 for Creative Suite 5 Design Standard; upgrade pricing available).We reviewed a beta.
Photoshop is a mature program that is already an indispensable component of everyday business for photographers and graphics professionals. What sets Photoshop CS5 apart isn't any one killer app but dozens of refinements that will make users' lives easier, more efficient, and, potentially, more creative.
Interface: Everything Is Where It Should Be... Plus More
Photoshop CS5's interface remains comfortably familiar, though slightly changed--and more efficient to use. For instance, the revamped Workspace switcher is no longer buried in the Window drop-down menu. Instead, it is always immediately available at the top of the screen to the right of the Ribbon Bar. What's more, if you make changes to any Workspace (such as Photography) and then switch to another (such as Painting), when you return to Photography, those changes will be retained.
The most significant workflow improvement to the interface is the introduction of Mini-Bridge. Essentially, it's a palette (or panel) within Photoshop that's really a window onto Bridge, allowing full access to all your image files without having to leave Photoshop. As with the full Bridge, you can choose different display options, depending upon what information you need or want: Thumbnails, As Filmstrip, Details, or List. And as before, if you need the full functionality of Bridge, just click on the BR icon, either within the Mini-Bridge palette or at the top of the screen.
The other noticeable (albeit trivial) change to the interface is that the appearance of many of the toolbox icons is different. While the shapes remain the same (for instance, the Clone tool icon is still a rubber stamp), they're redrawn.
Advances in Camera RAW
One of Photoshop CS5's most important changes is in the new noise reduction algorithms in Camera RAW 6. It now has sliders for both Luminance and Color Noise. However, it wasn't fully implemented in the beta version we tested, so our judgment has to be based on demonstrations by Adobe, which made it look quite good.
If your creative instincts lean toward filmlike texturing, the new FX tab in Camera RAW will add grain or vignetting.
By the way, Camera RAW 6 and Lightroom 3 are now better coordinated, since they both use the same RAW conversion. This means that you'll no longer have conflicts and be forced to choose between the two. Camera Raw 6 will not be available for anyone who is using earlier Creative Suite software than CS5.
Photoshop's masking and selection tools are the workhorses of the program, because a high percentage of any creative session starts with drawing a good mask. That's why any improvements for easier, more precise selections are always welcome.
The Refine Edge selection dialog box has been redesigned to allow more accurate selections, especially of difficult textured edges, such as wooly clothes or flyaway hair. This isn't to say that creating such masks are now child's play, but with the Refine Radius and Erase Refinements brushes, along with Smart Radius analyzing the edges, the task of working on such difficult subjects isn't as grueling. In addition, the Color Decontaminant option helps remove excess background that you might have inadvertently included in your mask--though as with all such tools, your original picture must have some differentiation in color and contrast between the background and the subject.
Refine Edge will generally save time with such masks, but it is annoying that the dialog doesn't have Undo/Redo options--just Reset, which takes you back to your starting point, when all you might want to do is roll back a couple of brush strokes. When saving the mask, Refine Edge offers several useful options, such as Layer Mask, New Layer, New Layer with Layer Mask, New Document, or New Document with Layer Mask. Incidentally, Refine Edge works with Smart Objects, which means you can return to Camera RAW to re-edit the conversion parameters, while retaining all the work you did on the mask.
A Magic Eraser Tool
The new Content Aware Fill is like a magic eraser for extraneous elements you wish weren't in your photograph, such as telephone wires or the ex-boyfriend. Content Aware works with the Spot Healing Brush and is an option of the Fill tool. It fills a selected area with data from the surrounding area, so that the lighting, texture, and tonality fits. No, it isn't perfect in all circumstances; sometimes, you need to do bits of cleanup with the Clone tool. But, overall, it is an impressive time-saving feature.
Let's face it: Photoshop is more than just a workaday tool, it's a platform for pushing your creativity as far as you can. And CS5's latest add-ons for creativity make playing with your pictures even more of an adventure.
Adobe has boosted Photoshop's Paint Brushes (including the Clone tool) in customizability and responsiveness--especially with control over Bristles--bringing them a bit closer to the painterly functionality of Corel Painter. The new Mixer Brush interacts with the colors on the picture. You can choose to work with (virtual) wet or dry paints, and wet or dry canvas, and you can set whether (and how much) the brush loads (picks up) color from the canvas, and when the brush should remain clean (with no loading or removing of paint that was loaded).
Control over Bristle number, size, thickness, stiffness, and behavior provides a good variety of styling. While it takes practice to master color and paint loading, you may find this feature somewhat addictive to experiment with. Photoshop remains tightly integrated with Wacom tablets, so that it supports pressure sensitivity when painting with the Bristle and other brushes.
The new Puppet Warp is an entirely different kind of creative tool. It allows you to place control points on your image, as though you were tying puppet strings to it. Then you can push and pull the shape as you wish. It works best when the background doesn't get caught into the "strings." As such, before proceeding you'll need to select the object you want to reshape and paste it into its own layer.
High Dynamic Range
Responding to the growing interest in high dynamic range (HDR) images, and to the fact that some of the better photo printers are now able to output their heightened tonality, Photoshop CS5 offers features called HDR-Pro and HDR Toning.
While CS4 had HDR capabilities, CS5's HDR-Pro offers enhanced options and new algorithms. The various controls--such as a Curve tool and sliders for adjusting Vibrance, Saturation, Exposure, Detail, and more--provide more precise, highly creative control over the dynamics, so you can create very personalized results, from the subtle to the dramatic. The auto deghosting works well at removing artifacts caused by slight differences among the merged photos, such as a tree branch that might have rustled. You can choose which of your original images is to be used as the defining reference to resolve visual conflicts, such as a cloud that might have changed shape between frames. Find a style that you'll want to use again? You can save the settings as a custom preset.
One of the problems with HDR is that it requires that you have a series of nearly identical photos, taken at various exposures. The new HDR Toning in CS5 allows you to emulate HDR, using a single image. The controls are quite similar to HDR-Pro, and the tool provides a high degree of creative potential. Unfortunately, though HDR Toning is an Adjustment, it isn't part of the Adjustment Layer architecture; the effect works only on a single-layer image and will merge down into the original image.
Better Lens Corrections
The Lens Correction filter now includes both automated and custom tools. The new Automatic Lens Correction will correct geometric distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting, based on the established profile of the lens (which is recognized by the software from the metadata in the image file). If your lens doesn't have an established profile (or if you disagree with how the profile interprets your particular lens), you can create your own with the free Adobe Lens Profile Creator (downloadable from labs.adobe.com). The calibration chart that you'll need to photograph in order to use the profile creator is a printable PDF that's also available at labs.adobe.com. Of course, you can also adjust the Lens Correction filter using the dialog box's custom tools.
Lots of Little Tweaks
A number of small improvements are sprinkled throughout Photoshop CS5; some are quite useful time-savers, though not exactly earth-shaking. One of our favorites is that you can now define new Layer Effects defaults, based on your own preferences. For instance, you can specify how you usually like your layer shadows to be defined. The Crop tool has a grid overlay that can be set to nine squares (for a classic Rule of Thirds composition). And--a feature we've been asking for, for years--when you do a Save As, you can set the default to always go to the last folder where you saved a file, so that we no longer have to constantly navigate to the same folder over and over again, with each Save As.
If you're an old Photoshop hand, some changes, especially those to the Zoom tool, may take some getting used to. Now, when you drag the Zoom tool diagonally across your image, it doesn't define a rectangular section of your picture to which you want to zoom. Instead, dragging the zoom across your image will zoom in or out of the image, depending on the direction you move your cursor. Fortunately, this behavior can be turned off by unchecking the Scrubby Zoom option in the Ribbon Bar.
Photoshop Extended Boosts 3D
As with previous versions, Photoshop CS5 comes in Standard and Extended packages. The primary purposes for Photoshop Extended are for measured technical drawing and 3D. (However, we recommend a vector program such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW for most technical drawing projects.) In CS5, PS Extended includes the new Repousse dialog box, which gives far more control over how 2D artwork and text are extruded into 3D. Extended has also improved the level of realism it can impart to 3D, using different texture, image-based lights, shadow generation, and improved raytracing. While Photoshop can't compete with a full 3D-modeling program, Photoshop CS5 Extended offers just enough control to generate very decent quality 3D models that can then be used in Photoshop layouts and on the Web.
Worth the Upgrade?
Photoshop CS5 has lots of little tweaks, enhancements, and improvements that add up to smoother workflow, greater convenience, and more creative potential for those who use Photoshop day in and day out. If you're still using CS3, combining the advances of CS4 with CS5 makes upgrading an easy decision. If you are currently using CS4, moving up to CS5 could save you some time and effort--especially if your regular tasks include masking and cloning. If you are into painting, the new Mixer Brush may be enough to make the upgrade worthwhile. And if you do a lot of low-light photography, in which noise is a problem, the fact that Camera RAW 6 won't be available to CS4 users is very compelling. However, moving from CS4 to CS5 it isn't one of those mandatory, can't-avoid-it decisions for other Photoshop users who are satisfied with their current workflow and toolset.
As usual, Photoshop and the rest of Creative Suite 5 are available in a somewhat confusing array of packages. But when you stop to read what each contains, it becomes a clear issue of deciding just what programs you need (or want) and which ones you don't.
You can buy Photoshop CS5 Standard or Extended as stand-alone applications, for $699 or $999, respectively. Upgrades from Adobe Photoshop CS2, CS3, or CS4 Standard, or from Adobe Photoshop CS3 or CS4 Extended, to Photoshop CS5 Standard is $199; upgrading to Photoshop CS5 Efor Extendextended is $349. From Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, 6.0, or 8.0 (Mac OS) or Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, 7.0, or 8.0 (Microsoft Windows) to Photoshop CS5 Standard is $599, and to Extended, it's $899.
If you use at least two Adobe programs, it may be more economical to get one of the Creative Suite box sets. Adobe Photoshop CS5 is available as a component of Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Standard ($1299). Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended is available as a component of Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Premium ($1899), Adobe Creative Suite 5 Web Premium ($1799), Adobe Creative Suite 5 Production Premium ($1699), or Adobe Creative Suite 5 Master Collection ($2599).