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Billed as the most significant Photoshop update in years, and coming on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the release of Photoshop 1.0, expectations are high for the star pupil of the CS5 roster, and in the last couple of months, we’ve had the chance to put the program through the paces. Here’s a quick look at the standout additions:
- Content Aware Fill is the most innovative new goodie, based on some seriously cool technology that Adobe has whipped up in their labs. Early demonstration videos posted by Adobe scientists on YouTube show some mind-bending examples of how this magical mojo automatically fills in the holes left when removing things from complex backgrounds, the kind of retouching that challenges all but the most capable pixel jockeys. In testing this feature, we frankly found it to be a little more hit-and-miss than Adobe would have you believe – it takes some practice to get the hang of how to best use it (hints: feather your selection after lassoing the item to be removed, and try using the Content Aware option in the Spot Healing tool, which lets you gradually “build up” the Content-Aware effect by painting it on, one swipe at a time). Be warned that images hit with this wonder will likely require some manual touch up and finishing touch up; as long as you temper your expectations and spend the time experimenting with Content Aware Fill and Spot Healing, you’ll end up adoring this new hammer.
- While it’s not quite new – having been birthed in Adobe’s After Effects – the Puppet Warp tool is nothing short of astounding, delivering unparalleled distortion abilities that go far, far beyond what the name implies. Besides letting you apply incredibly elaborate image stretching in a totally controllable fashion, you can use Puppet Warp to help fix problematic images: watch the second half of this video, where Adobe’s Senior Creative Director, Russell Brown, demonstrates some of the cooler applications of Puppet Warp. Spend ten minutes with this marvel, and you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
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- If you’ve always liked the hyper-realistic look achieved by HDR photography, you’ll definitely appreciate the new HDR Toning image adjustment tool, designed to give you the “look” of HDR without having multiple locked exposures of a scene. In order to do its stuff, it temporarily converts 8 bit-per-channel images to 32-bit-per-channel, so you won’t be able to run it on an image with layers, and the results are a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s a whole new palette of effects that don’t require any special preparation when shooting, unlike the real deal.
- Advanced imaging often involves blending images together, and one of the most important aspects of compositing involves the accuracy and detail of an object’s edge pixels. The newly added Smart Radius power of the Refine Edge dialog lets you preserve fine edge details – such as hair and fur, two things that have long plagued retouchers and digital artists. It’s a subtle, but totally rad addition to the compositing toolbox.
- Digital photographers will get one look at the new noise reduction and sharpening power of the updated Camera Raw plugin, and decide that this enough of a justification to upgrade (especially if they don’t have the latest Lightroom, which sports the same noise reduction code). Riddle us this, Adobe - why weren’t these wonders implemented directly inside of Photoshop?
- If you’re one of those folks who sports a “you’ll pry my Wacom tablet from my cold, dead hands” bumper sticker on your ride, you’ll get a real kick out of the Mixer Brush, which brings Painter-level color blending and natural media finesse to Photoshop’s already potent painting tool palette. With full control over brush bristles, paint loading and brush wetness, you’ll achieve more realistic painterly effects, banishing those smelly analog oil paints and camel hair brushes to the basement.
- Have a Mac Pro tower loaded with gobs of RAM? You can finally boot up a full 64-bit Photoshop, which will really impact the productivity of commercial artists working with big image documents, loaded down with layers and Smart filters/objects. If, on the other hand, you’re primarily processing web-based images and consumer digital camera snapshots on a MacBook, this is a whole lot less exciting, but than again, if this is you, Photoshop Elements is more likely your style.
- If you’re rolling with Photoshop CS5 Extended, you’ll probably have mixed feelings about Repoussé, a new 3D toy which lets you pop out extruded type effects, as well as shear, twist and other wacky extrusion flavors that can be applied to image layers. The problem? This would have been pretty cool in say, 1998, when flying logos were all the rage, but in today’s jaded media world, the 3D widgets that emerge from your Repoussé experimentation are not likely to impress anyone in the commercial graphics world. It’s cute, but it's not worth the extra $300 price tag for Extended.
- There are all sorts of tweaks and improvements that made us smile, including the ability to change the opacity of multiple layers simultaneously (which could be achieved in earlier versions by putting layers in a Group, and adjusting the opacity of the overall group, a workaround which is no longer necessary), and the Mini Bridge window (which made us wistfully remember when the File Browser wasn’t a standalone application called Bridge), along with the ability to create custom lens distortion correction files (about as nerdy as it gets in Photoshop Land).
Overall, we tend to agree that this is a truly great upgrade, with stuff you literally can’t find in any other software – and for those who would complain about the price, a handful of jobs with Content Aware Fill might change your mind about the value proposition. With Photoshop CS5, you definitely get what you paid for, with some change left to spare. Look for the full review in an upcoming issue of Mac|Life and on MacLife.com.