Review: Adobe Photoshop CS5
Pros: Content-Aware Fill, new Refine Edge, and Mini Bridge are stand-out features; Puppet Warp will be great for many users; a huge number of tweaks, improvements, and additions.
Cons: Bridge still sluggish; installer won't migrate your old settings and preferences.
Rating: 90 out of 100
With the release of CS5, the twenty-year-old Photoshop has reached version 12. For a program this
old mature, a major upgrade doesn't usually bring huge changes. The CS5 interface is largely the same, and the fundamentals of the program are unchanged. That's good: Dramatic alterations in the everyday functions of a mission critical tool can really slow you down. But there are powerful new additions to Photoshop's toolset, and enough improvements to make this a compelling upgrade. No matter how you use Photoshop, you'll probably find something to love in CS5.
The full version of Photoshop CS5 costs $699; the upgrade is $199. It's also part of five Creative Suite packages. Note that this review does not address features that are only in the Extended version of Photoshop.
Easy Retouching and Improved Masking
Photoshop's CS5's Content Aware Fill feature has received a lot of press, and with good reason. It's a tool that will come in handy for for all Photoshop users. In fact, you may find that your retouching techniques change dramatically (read "get much easier") thanks to Content Aware Fill.
There's no one "Content Aware Fill" tool. Rather, it's a new technology you can apply through the Spot Healing Brush or Photoshop's well-worn Fill command. The Content Aware Fill algorithm tries (and usually succeeds) at filling an area with "correct" texture, meaning it looks like the content in that particular area is supposed to look (Figure 1). Note: Click on any figure to see a larger, higher-resolution version of the image.
Figure 1. I can easily remove this sign using Content Aware Fill. First, I select it with the Lasso, then I choose Edit > Fill (or hit Shift-F5) and tell the Fill dialog box to use Content Aware Fill. The results are every bit as good as I could do with the Rubber Stamp tool, but much easier to achieve.
If you regularly remove elements from an image with the Rubber Stamp, Healing Brush, or Patch tools, you may be able to replace all of those features with Content Aware Fill. Not only is it easier, but the results are much faster.
Next in line for "most useful" is a modification to Photoshop's Refine Edge command. Because all sorts of effects and adjustments require good masks, mask creation is one of the most important operations in Photoshop. It's also one of the most difficult.
One of the big problems with selections in Photoshop has always been that a selection's edge was uniform all the way around. You could feather the selection to create a smooth transition around the selected area, but many subjects -- especially people -- aren't uniformly hard around the edges. Typically, you need hard edges around skin and clothing, and soft edges around hair and fuzzy clothes. CS5 solves this problem with the a few additions to the Refine Edges dialog box, which Adobe added in CS4 to ease mask creation.
After making a selection using any of Photoshop's normal selection tools, you can invoke the Refine Edge dialog box to smooth, feather, and soften the edge. New to CS5, you can now grab a new Refine Radius tool and paint over the edges of the selection you want to improve. As you paint, Photoshop analyzes the underlying image and modifies that part of the selection. The resulting selection will have a combination of hard and soft edges (Figure 2). For hair, fuzzy textures bits, transparency, and other tough to select areas, this is a great tool.
Adobe pulled the Extract tool after Photoshop CS3, leaving the program without a built-in mask cutting tool. The new Refine Edge features are much better than the old Extract feature and compete well with third-party masking tools, such OnOne's MaskPro.
Photoshop has long had decent distortion tools, but while the Liquify tool is powerful, it's a little too freeform for some types of distortions. The new Puppet Warp tool lets you add a virtual skeleton to something in your image and then move the bones of the skeleton.
When you activate Puppet Warp, the current layer is mapped onto an editable mesh. You add pins to this mesh, then drag the pins to distort the mesh. As it distorts, your image is pulled along with it.
Puppet Warp's distortions happen in a mostly predictable, controllable manner. However, anything you want to warp must be isolated on its own layer. Happily, Content Aware Fill makes this process much easier than it used to be. For example, say I want to warp the horn of the water buffalo in Figure 3:
Figure 3. To warp this buffalo's left horn, I first select it using the Quick Selection tool, then cut it so I can paste the horn into its own layer. The problem is that after cutting, I have a big empty white space.
I could select the horn with the Quick Select tool, but then warping would warp the entire animal. Instead, I cut the selection and paste it into its own layer. This leaves an empty hole in the image, but a single Content Aware Fill command mostly solves the problem (Figure 4).
Now I can distort the horn using Puppet Warp without revealing an empty background (Figure 5).
Adobe's added some very smart options to Puppet Warp. As you cross warped segments over each other, you can specify different layers of depth, so that warped parts properly fall in front of or behind other sections. You can also change the tool so that sections change size as you move points, allowing you to create bulging and flexing effects.
If you have experience with 3D modeling software, it's important to note that Puppet Warp is not an inverse kinematic system. There's no parent/child hierarchy, so you might find yourself a little confused when you first use the feature. Pushing one point won't necessarily move the attached points in the way you're used to.
For art directors and other people who need to modify images to fit specific needs, Puppet Warp will be a great tool. Photographers might even find the occasional use for it, if they need to make precise geometric adjustments.
Camera Raw 6
Adobe made a number of important changes to Camera Raw, including some things Photoshop has needed for a while. At first glance you won't see anything different about the Camera Raw dialog box, but digging into the Detail tab reveals some new noise reduction controls. While previous versions simply had sliders for reducing luminance and chrominance noise, Camera Raw 6 adds Luminance Detail, Luminance Contrast, and Color Detail sliders to help you balance noise reduction and detail loss.
But while these sliders may look innocuous, Adobe has crammed very sophisticated noise-reduction technology into Camera Raw 6. Previous noise-reduction features felt more like token additions, but the new features are serious tools that rival the best third-party noise reduction add-ons.
Camera Raw 6's noise reduction is so good that it may open up more ISO options on your camera. Higher settings that were previously too noisy might prove usable when you process them with Camera Raw 6's noise reduction (Figure 6).
Camera Raw's Effects tab now has two major new features. First, a Grain simulator does a very good job of creating the look of real film grain. Whether you want to create an "old film look" or match a composited digital element with a piece of film, the Grain simulator offers good control and results.
Second, Adobe has reworked Post-Crop Vignetting. It no longer simply darkens corners, but gives you a few methods for adding a vignette. You can choose whether highlights or colors should get priority when applying the vignette effect. When using highlight priority for vignetting, you can also alter the brightness of the highlights, allowing you to create bright specular highlights that shine through the darkened areas. These controls provide a far more realistic simulation of how a vignette actually happens.
Camera Raw 6's superior noise reduction is the result of Adobe's re-writing of many core routines in Camera Raw. In addition to the improved noise removal, this new engine produces better overall image quality, including sharpness and color detail that can be superior to previous versions.
For many users, "Photoshop" means "Camera Raw," since they rarely go beyond the Camera Raw dialog box. In CS5, Adobe has served those users well.
Go to page 2 for info on "Improved HDR and Lens Correction," "New Brushes," "Refurbished Bridge," "The Little Things," and Ben's buying advice.
Improved HDR and Lens Correction
High Dynamic Range (HDR) images are made from a series of frames shot at different exposures, then combined into an image with a dynamic range that's broader than a single exposure. Photoshop has had an HDR feature for a while, but it's been underpowered and saddled with a difficult interface.
In CS4, Adobe added excellent alignment tools that made it easy to merge handheld images, but the tonal adjustment tools were still arcane. In CS5, Adobe has upgraded the HDR features and calls them "HDR Pro." While the editing tools are now easier to use -- and the program offers presets with preformulated HDR recipes -- the overall results are underwhelming.
The software still does an excellent job of merging, and results are definitely better than in CS4, but if you want the types of tone-mapped results you can achieve with software such as Photomatix, CS5's HDR Pro may not the answer. The overall latitude of exposure and toning control feels more limited and harder to control than in other products (Figure 7). Note: Click on any figure to see a larger, higher-resolution version of the image.
That said, HDR Pro does include an exceptional HDR utility in the form of ghost removal. If your HDR set includes moving content, such as blowing tree limbs or waving grass, those elements can be smeared and ghosty in the resulting image. HDR Pro does an excellent job of removing these problems. This feature alone makes HDR Pro a good tool to have.
CS5 also includes an HDR Toning feature that takes a single image and adjusts it to look like it has the same type of expanded dynamic range you get from a true, multi-shot HDR. Lacking any customization or fine tuning controls, the HDR Toning feature simply turns your image into an amped-up, fairly garish HDR-like concoction, but without much extra detail in the highlights or shadows (Figure 8). If you simply want to even out the exposure in a high-dynamic range scene, you'll be better served by learning to use a Levels Adjustment Layer and a mask.
The Photoshop Lens Correction filter is a workhorse tool for correcting vignettes, chromatic aberration, distortion, and perspective distortion. All of those controls are still in CS5, but now the automatic controls automatically correct images shot with specific lenses. Lens Correction determines the type of lens your image was shot with by reading the EXIF data stored with the image. It then draws upon a library of lens profiles to automatically apply the same adjustments you would have made using the old, manual Lens Correction filter. (Those old manual controls are still there, and they're identical to previous versions.)
Adobe now takes the Lens Correction filter so seriously that they've moved it to the Filter menu, rather than leaving it stuck in the Filter > Distort submenu. Unfortunately, they didn't move Camera Raw's great new vignetting features into Lens Correction. Instead, if you want to add a vignette outside of Camera Raw, you're stuck the same old vignette tool.
Whether you use the manual or auto Lens Correction, these tools are fantastic, everyday utilities that can often turn a photo from unusable to keeper.
Photoshop CS5 now has more realistic natural media brushes. The new Mixer Brush offers such natural media dynamics as brush loading, wet paint, and color that smears and blends realistically. When combined with the new bristle brushes, Photoshop's Mixer Brush lets you create very realistic painting effects. For people with a painting background, the ability to mix colors on the canvas will feel familiar and be welcome for times when you need to create realistic effects.
The Mixer Brush can also sample paint from underlying layers. So if you create an empty layer on top of a photo and brush into it, the Mixer Brush will sample the colors from the underlying photo and mix them together. The result is a painterly effect that's quite effective.
Making this effect takes time -- you're not going to quickly brush over a photo and get a painting. You need to be thoughtful and attentive about the way you brush strokes on -- following the lines of the photo -- and you'll probably need to regularly switch brushes to paint into the small corners of your image.
When the term "natural media" is thrown around, it's easy to think "It's just like Corel Painter." But while the Mixer Brush yields beautiful results, it's still a long way from the level of depth and control that Painter provides. The Mixer Brush doesn't let you specify paper types, and while it is tilt-sensitive, which allows for control of brush shape when using a stylus, it's not bearing-sensitive, and you can't customize the tilt/pressure/bearing effects the way you can in Painter.
Still, for the user who wants another look in their image editing arsenal, or for the designer who occasionally creates painterly looks, the new brushes will be a very handy option.
With CS4, Adobe dramatically revamped Bridge, the file browser that comes bundled with any Creative Suite product. By adding Collections and Smart Collections, Adobe turned Bridge from a simple browser to a full media cataloging and organization tool. The CS5 changes to Bridge are not so dramatic, but there are some new features.
The Output module now includes text or graphics watermarks and gives you thorough control of placement, scale, and opacity.
The Batch Rename feature now has new options, including string substitution, which tells Bridge to replace any instance of one string in a name with another. You can now save Batch Renames as presets, and you can export a CSV file that lists all of the before and after names that the feature processed, providing an easy way to double-check and review its renaming actions.
Perhaps the most significant change is the new Mini Bridge panel, which appears within Photoshop, itself. With Mini Bridge, you can view thumbnails of a folder's contents directly within Photoshop. Mini Bridge shows your Collections and Favorites and several of Bridge's viewing modes, including the ability to view full-screen slideshows of images. If you're working with Photoshop in its application frame, you can drop the Mini Bridge onto the bottom of the frame and have a scrolling thumbnail display directly beneath the images you're editing, a la Lightroom and Aperture (Figure 9).
While all these changes are welcome, it's still hard not to feel like Adobe has turned its attention away from Bridge. The program is unstable -- I get at least one or two crashes a day on each of my Bridge-running machines. It's a little pokey, performance-wise, and trying to scroll while the program is in the middle of building thumbnails is an exercise in frustration. While the Filter menu contains filters for whether a Camera Raw file has been edited or cropped, there's no way to perform more refined searches for an an image that might have been edited or altered in particular ways.
And then there's the Output panel. An entire new tab that sits next to Filters and Collections, the Output panel offers the promise of one-click exporting for mail, Web images, and any other output templates you care to load. However, the Output panel doesn't work. I don't just mean that it's buggy, or has some quirks; it's completely devoid of any controls or functionality. It's a bit of a mystery how Bridge could make it all the way to release with this big of a hole in it.
Don't get me wrong, Bridge is still my workflow tool of choice, but it's lacking a lot of features that other workflow tools provide.
The Little Things
These major upgrades come with lots of other additions and improvements. Here are some I found more notable:
* The Crop tool now has composition guides.
* The new heads-up color pickers are an easy way to select colors when using the Eyedropper or Brush.
* The app now saves workspace changes on the fly as you alter panel and palette positions.
* It's simpler to change brush sizes: Control/option-click (control-alt-click on Windows) and drag left/right to change brush size and up/down to change edge hardness.
* The Ruler tool now includes a Straighten button on its Control bar. When clicked, Photoshop automatically straightens and crops your image, using the last Ruler line that you defined.
The list goes on and on. (The Photoshop teams calls them "Just Do It" fixes and released a PDF listing them all.) My personal favorite, and the CS5 feature that will save me the most time, is that when you choose Save on a 16-bit image, JPEG is a save option. Photoshop is now smart enough to convert to 8-bit, change color modes, and so on, all by itself.
My Buying Advice
Should you upgrade to CS5? Yes. If you're a photographer who shoots raw images, the upgrade is worth it just for the latest version of Camera Raw. Users of all types will benefit from Content Aware Fill, and designers will probably find great utility in Puppet Warp. Add in workflow changes, various tweaks, and Bridge additions, and you've got an excellent upgrade.
But allow me a moment to gripe. Adobe added incredible new technology to the program; for example, Content Aware Fill is truly amazing. But why are some other simple things missing? Why doesn't the installer ask me if I want to import my Photoshop keyboard shortcuts, Actions, and other preferences? Why isn't there a facility for migrating Collections, Favorites, and Keywords from Bridge CS4? (By the way, here's how to migrate your Bridge data manually.) It probably says something about my character that if I were in charge of the CS5 upgrade, this type of work would be my first priority, long before the amazing stuff that's so difficult to engineer.
During this review process, I've had to think very critically about Photoshop. When considering how the large Photosop user base might like to work, or what features you might like to have, it's impossible to escape the fact that Photoshop has an old-fashioned, document-based approach to work. Compared to Lightroom's and Aperture's less-modal workflows and their non-destructive editing, Photoshop's 1990 sensibility is conspicuous.
Adobe has done a great job of shoehorning features such as Mini Bridge into Photoshop to give it more of a workflow-tool-like feel. And Adjustment Layers and Camera Raw provide a lot of non-destructive editing, but in this day and age, with 20 years of upgrades, why is cropping still a destructive feature? Or, for that matter, sharpening or sizing?
But even while asking myself these questions, I couldn't ignore the fact that while I have copies of Lightroom and Aperture (just as I've had Live Picture, Photo Mechanic, and dozens of Photoshop competitors that have come along in the last twenty years), I won't give up Photoshop/Bridge/Camera Raw for any of them. So yes, Photoshop is showing its age, and it's not a fully "modern" approach to image editing. But it's still the best tool out there, by a long shot.