By Dustin Sklavos
Adobe Photoshop CS5 is the latest version of arguably the world's most popular pro image editor. Does the new Photoshop justify the very pricey upgrade from CS4? We break it down in this review.
If Adobe is the United Federation of Planets, then it's probably reasonable to say that Photoshop is the U.S.S. Enterprise. It's their flagship product, the one that they will consistently be best known for, and the one with the weakest competition. You can say Flash is going to be outmoded by HTML 5 (if people could agree on a standard) or that you can use Final Cut Pro instead of Premiere Pro, or you can even opt for Motion instead of After Effects...but what are you going to use instead of Photoshop? The GIMP? And major advances in Adobe's Creative Suite tend to appear in Photoshop first, as was the case with the 64-bit version of Photoshop in CS4.
Of course there's still one competitor handling a design space Photoshop hasn't traditionally owned: Corel, with Painter. For digital painting, Corel has remained nigh unbeatable, while Photoshop has continued to dominate the field right in its title: photography work.
That may very well change with Photoshop CS5, which raises the bar yet again. For the purposes of this review I conscripted an illustrator friend of mine to play with some of the new features of Photoshop CS5, and after spending a week with it he concluded it was definitely a worthy upgrade to CS4.
It's difficult to really get into everything that's changed with CS5, but I'll try to be concise and focus on the big changes.
HERE'S MY HOLODECK: CONTENT-AWARE FILL
A few months ago, a video debuted on YouTube by Adobe which highlighted a feature they called Content-Aware Fill. The video circulated the internet fairly rapidly, and my experience in showing it to multiple people ranged from "holy crap, that's amazing" to "SORCERERS!" It was an impressive demonstration, but a healthy amount of skepticism was necessary. When presenting a new feature, most companies try to present it in the best possible light -- whether it works or not.
Now with Photoshop CS5 in front of me, I can tell you it works a heck of a lot better than I thought it would. So what is it? It may be better to show you than to try and explain.
Above-left is an image of my cat, Zoe, sitting next to the window in my apartment. But let's say she dies, and I'm horribly heartbroken, and I can't bear to have her in any of my photos anymore. Above-right is a Content-Aware Fill of the picture that removes Zoe.
The Content-Aware Fill process took me about two minutes. There are some artifacts in the image, to be sure, but it does a remarkably good job of removing a fairly complex object from a moderately complex image.
Content-Aware Fill allows you to fill in white spaces in an image with imagery derived from the image itself. To remove Zoe from the image took a few delete-and-fills before it looked presentable (the first couple used part of the Rock Band controller to fill in the carpet), but a precise outlining with the lasso helps a great deal.
This was a complex change, though, and the feature isn't perfect. I tried a couple of different images with marginal success before settling on this one. It seems the Content-Aware Fill algorithm has some trouble replicating any kind of geometry in the image -- a baseboard, the grid of linoleum -- but I was pleased that the high contrast of this image made it work well. For smaller touch-ups it can be absolutely outstanding and save an extensive amount of time. It does leave some artifacts if it has trouble, and you can see my "ghost cat" in the second image. But if you need to remove a bush, shrub, tree, or some random jerk from your family photos, a couple of hits of Content-Aware Fill are liable to get the job done.
One of the other major changes to CS5 has to do with digital painting. Borrowing an idea from Premiere Pro, Adobe implemented a sort of "workspace toggle" in the top right corner that allows you to select a mode for Photoshop to run in. One of the three main modes is Painting.
Photoshop CS5 brings some big advances to the table in regards to digital painting, advances that in my friend's words "should have Corel worried." CS5 includes texture brushes, on-canvas color blending, brushes with sensors that let you control the number of bristles, and pressure sensitivity for people who use Wacom and other drawing tablets.
THE LITTLE EXTRAS
Photoshop CS5 also includes expanded interoperability with other members of Adobe's Creative Suite, including Premiere, After Effects. Adobe's own site lists "improved workflow," but honestly the UI has remained unchanged from CS4. And of course, this version brings with it the advances CS4 made in GPU acceleration (Photoshop can use OpenGL to store images in video memory to dynamically scale them and apply other effects) and the 64-bit executable that allows it to address as much memory as your system can spare (though you can manually specify how little or how much memory you want Photoshop to use).
Powerful software like the programs found in Adobe's Creative Suite do require some hands-on time to learn and explore, but a 30-day demo version of the CS5 Master Collection can be downloaded from Adobe's site to allow you to feel out the programs you might use.
The question for some users is going to be whether or not Photoshop CS5 is worth the upgrade over its predecessors. While I had some small reservations in recommending Premiere Pro CS5 over CS4, Photoshop CS5 is a slam dunk. I think that's due in no small part to Content-Aware Fill, which for many users may very well wind up being Photoshop CS5's killer app. It's something new we've never seen before and it works better than it has any right to. Adobe's promotional video for it may be a series of best case scenarios, but the reality isn't far off at all, and I'm still not sure exactly how they were able to make it work as well as it does. Substantial improvements to digital painting functionality make Photoshop CS5 an easy sell for illustrators as well.
Bottom line, if you make heavy use of Photoshop, especially professionally, you need Photoshop CS5.
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