Tag Archives: Photoshop

Adobe’s CreateNow Event: New Photoshop 13.1, Muse, Creative Cloud For Teams

Apparently, the new Retina versions of Photoshop and Illustrator were just the tip of the iceberg. Besides announcing those, Adobe is announcing major updates to the Creative Cloud service and upgrades to Photoshop (besides the Retina enhancement) and Muse, Adobe’s webpage builder for non-coders. The biggest announcements have to be multi-seat Creative Cloud subscriptions for enterprise teams and Creative Cloud Connection for synching the 20GB+ of cloud storage with users’ desktops. Click here to see the CreateNow announcement live this morning.

Photoshop 13.1: Conditional actions, CSS output and more

For whatever reason, Adobe opted to announce Photoshop’s new Retina display support last night at midnight—before the CreateNow event. It ends up that Photoshop 13.1 has many more new features available today:

  • Blur Gallery and Liquify filters can now be saved as non-destructive Smart Objects. Non-destructive edits are wonderful time-savers and I recommend using them whenever possible.
  • Conditional Actions: Insert if-else logic that executes one of two actions depending on set criteria.
  • Layers can now be exported as CSS code for web developers to apply to their projects.
  • Improvements to the Crop tool.
  • Better OpenGL 3D shadow previews and better lighting controls.
  • Note that 512MB video RAM is now required for 13.1. Moreover, Windows XP is no longer supported.

Out of all the new features, the CSS export baffles me the most—Adobe had moved away from outputting code with their creative applications, perhaps because the code has never been very clean. I got my hands on the 13.1 build a week ago and have been looking at the CSS code produced by the new Photoshop (see below). It’s much improved. Photoshop generates CSS class rules for one or more layers that are absolutely positioned, z-indexed for the correct layering, and given background-image rules referring to PNG files for each layer (“images/Layer 1 copy.png”). I do not see a method for extracting those PNGs, which is strange. It’s also strange that the CSS uses inches instead of pixels for measurements, but my document is using inches so that makes sense.

.Group_1 {
position: absolute;
left: 0.767in;
top: 0.26in;
width: 6.753in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 6;
}
.Layer_3 {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 3.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0in;
top: 0.107in;
width: 4.87in;
height: 4.877in;
z-index: 5;
}
.Layer_1_copy {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 1 copy.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0.477in;
top: 0in;
width: 6.277in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 4;
}

Also, Photoshop can generate CSS code for single layers or a single layer group but not the entire document. This makes sense because developers often want just snippets for specific elements, but if the CSS output is all about positioning and specific measurements then I’d want code for all the elements so I don’t have to figure out how they line up.

My pick for the new features that’s great but could be a lot better is the Conditional Actions. In theory, they should be great: the action can execute one of two things depending on a condition in the document. However, two things hamper its usefulness:

Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
  • You can’t specify one of two commands to be executed—only actions. So if you want an image cropped a certain way if it’s landscape but another crop if it’s portrait, you have to save both crops as actions and apply them that way.
  • The conditions to be met are hard-coded into Photoshop and there’s 24 total. Most are based on the document’s status (color mode, pixel depth) or layer’s status (mask, adjustment layer, effects).

It’s obvious that overcoming these two points would require a very robust interface for selecting commands and creating conditions, so I am cool with not having it in 13.1. I would love to see this be developed further in version 14 (CS7?).

Creative Cloud: New teams, training service and desktop sync

Creative Cloud has some major momentum—200,000 members have joined in the last four months and most of them select an annual plan. I see this growing as Adobe continues to add value to the subscription and legacy users decide to stop purchasing standalone software. The new Creative Cloud for teams is going to accelerate the process.

David Wadhwani, senior vice president, Digital Media, Adobe, says, “Our goal is to make Creative Cloud the ultimate hub for creatives, where they can access the world’s best creative tools, store and collaborate around their work and ultimately showcase their creations. Now with the availability of the new Creative Cloud offering for teams, we’re making it easier for workgroups to create and collaborate.”

Creative Cloud for teams has some features that you find in subscription-based enterprise services:

  • Virtual workgroup management
  • 100GB of cloud storage per user (up from 20GB)
  • Expert support services
  • An admin interface for adding/removing seats
  • Easy migration from individual to team memberships
  • Annual contract is billed $69.99/month or $49.99/month for first year for users of CS3 or newer

I am really digging the Creative Cloud Connection, Adobe’s new desktop synchronization service for Creative Cloud. There are several cloud services out there now—Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Box and more—and they all provide some space for free, but it is not a lot. SkyDrive offers the most at 7GB. Creative Cloud isn’t free but subscribers do get a good 20GB along with all the Adobe programs. Some cloud services can sync files to users’ computers but not all; Creative Cloud can do so now today. Note that folder sharing is coming soon.

Adobe is also announcing today the new Creative Cloud Training service for subscribers. It’s a collection of training videos from various providers available free to subscribers. I wouldn’t be surprised if many customers already have subscriptions to these video providers such as Kelby Training and Lynda.com (who isn’t listed on the press release, so I don’t think they are participating) but it’s a good added value for those who don’t.

Muse: Better for tablet and mobile web layouts

Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse
Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse

Adobe Muse gets one major updates but it’s quite major: it can now create web layouts for the desktop, iPhone, iPad and other devices. Designers can work with all views within Muse, which is handy. I haven’t seen the new Muse so I don’t know whether it is generating a responsive website or just building multiple versions of a site—if it’s the latter, it’s unclear if Muse provides the code for device detection and serving up the correct version.

Availability

Tune in to see the full details unveiled at the Create Now online event at 10am PT with new Creative Cloud capabilities, including Creative Cloud for teams, available for download and purchase starting at 11am PT/1pm CT. Unless specified, everything announced today is available to users at that time.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 Now HiDPI Retina Display-Enabled

The rumor is true: Adobe has updated two flagship products for the ultra-high-resolution Retina Display screens. Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 is now capable of high-resolution graphics on Retina displays (such as those on the newest MacBook Pro models); Creative Cloud subscribers can log in and grab the update immediately as of 9PM PST/12AM EST, yet another bonus for users who subscribe through the Creative Cloud.

I’ve been running the Retina-capable Photoshop CS6 for several days now and the product works well–the user interface is sharp and clear, and views at various zoom settings work as expected. I wish Adobe was able to push this update sooner than this–the Retina models have been on the market for almost six months now–but I’m happy to see it here now.

More news?

Adobe probably has more in store for us today: their “Create Now” event to be broadcasted live on December 11 at noon CST says we’ll “explore what’s next in Creative Cloud.” I bet we will see more new features, or perhaps a Creative Cloud offering for enterprise clients (which has been often requested.) Click here to see the “Create Now” livecast on Facebook.

Alien Skin’s Eye Candy 7 Plugin Released

Eye Candy 7 interface

Alien Skin has announced that version 7 of their popular Eye Candy plugin for Photoshop will be released next month. Eye Candy has always had some spectacular effects, but what I’m most excited about in this version is a new modern user interface that looks like a big improvement. (You can see some images of this UI on Alien Skin’s blog post here.)


PRESS RELEASE

Alien Skin Software Announces Eye Candy 7 Graphic Design Effects Plug-In for Photoshop

Realistic effects look natural, including the new Lightning, Electrify, and Clouds. All effects are now in one user interface, making experimentation easy.

Raleigh, North Carolina – November 14, 2012 – Alien Skin Software today announced Eye Candy® 7, the new version of its graphic design effects plug-in for Adobe® Photoshop® and Photoshop Elements. Eye Candy 7 renders realistic effects that are difficult or impossible to achieve in Photoshop alone, such as Fire, Chrome, and the new Lightning. The completely redesigned user interface lets you quickly browse all of Eye Candy’s effects through icons and instant previews.

Eye Candy 7 contains the spectacular new Lightning, Electrify, and Cloud effects. There are over 1,000 presets that handle every design situation elegantly, from slick Web interfaces (Chrome, Glass, Perspective Shadow) to tasteful logos (Bevel, Brushed Metal, Extrude) to spectacular titles (Chrome, Corona, Fire). Realism sets Eye Candy effects apart from the generic filters built into Photoshop. Effects like Animal Fur, Smoke, and Reptile Skin are rendered in exquisite detail down to individual hairs, turbulent wisps, and shiny scales. Eye Candy helps designs look more natural and organic.

Eye Candy’s new, modern user interface makes it easy to explore and design looks. In Eye Candy 7, the effects are chosen through easy to recognize icons rather than text menus. As users move their mouse over presets, the thumbnail preview instantly shows how they will look within the design. Effects adapt to the size of artwork, so preset can be used without any modification.

“I’m proud of our big simplification of the Eye Candy 7 user interface,” said Terence Tay, the designer of Eye Candy. “Now you can browse effects visually, which is how designers naturally work.”

Eye Candy is made for professionals in demanding production environments who need support for 16-bit/channel images and CMYK mode. Eye Candy provides multiple techniques for non-destructive editing in Photoshop, including Smart Filter support and rendering effects on a new layer.

Pricing and Availability

Eye Candy 7 will be available in December 2012 through www.alienskin.com for $199 USD. Owners of any previous version of Eye Candy may upgrade for $99 USD. Free upgrades will be automatically sent to all users who purchased Eye Candy 6 directly from Alien Skin Software in September 2012 or later.

Host Requirements

Eye Candy 7 is a plug-in and requires one of the following host applications:

  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 or later
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 or later

System Requirements

Microsoft Windows users need Windows 7 or later.
Apple Macintosh users need Mac OS X 10.7 or later.
An Intel Core 2 processor or compatible is required.
A monitor with 1024×768 resolution or greater is required.

Updates to Adobe Touch Apps: Photoshop Touch 1.3 and Proto 1.5

Adobe Photoshop Touch and Adobe Proto, two of Adobe’s Touch Apps designed for tablets, were updated in the past month. Today, Photoshop Touch was updated to version 1.3 with a few new features designed for iPad users with Retina screens. Last month, the web design app Proto was updated to version 1.5 with more integration between desktop and cloud applications.

Photoshop Touch 1.3: High-resolution improvements

Adobe Photoshop Touch

According to Adobe’s blog post, Photoshop Touch 1.3′s primary goal is to support the new batch of high-resolution Retina screens being used by Apple in their new iPads (3rd generation). The app also supports images up to 12 megapixels, including print-quality resolutions. (The blog post makes it sound like you have to sacrifice the number of layers you can work with in order to gain the extra pixels.)

Other improvements include:

  • Two new Effects: Shred and Colorize
  • Smoother animation and scrolling in the organizer, tutorial browser and file picker
  • New three-finger tap gesture to toggle 100 percent view and fit screen
  • New pixel-nudging mode for precise movements
  • Support for Apple Photo Stream on the iPad

Adobe Proto 1.5: Little improvements can mean a lot

Adobe Proto Logo

Proto is one of my favorite Adobe Touch Apps (see my review of it here), but Proto 1.5 provides some very useful improvements that should have been in the original release. The more comprehensive list of improvements is here on John Nack’s blog, and here’s a selection of that list:

  • Email interactive wireframe as attachment or share via Dropbox and other Adobe Touch Apps
  • Copy and paste objects to different pages
  • Share common objects across pages
  • Navigations can now be pinned on all pages
  • Z-index (stacking over) can be changed via Context Menu
  • Show undo/redo count
  • Objects snap to both CSS Column and Design Grid
  • Code generated is now ordered according to the appearance in the page
  • All pinned objects generate a separate common CSS file (common.css)

Generally, the improvements provide a more productive workflow within Proto, a more efficient use of materials like common navigation elements, and more useful code outside of the Proto environment. Dreamweaver users should watch this Adobe TV clip to learn how to bring native Proto files into Dreamweaver CS6.

For more information, check out the product pages for Photoshop Touch and Proto or the Adobe Touch Apps homepage.

REVIEW: Lightroom 4 Prepares For The Future

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 has been available a few months but only in the last week Adobe has included Lightroom in Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, which is potentially even bigger news than the new version 4. Photographers who have purchased Creative Cloud subscriptions now get Lightroom whenever and wherever they want it, and that makes Lightroom even more relevant than before. I’ve been working with Lightroom 4 since it was released and Adobe has made some smart improvements to the application that embrace new digital technology.

I believe the most vital improvements in Lightroom 4 happen in the new adjustment brush features. Lightroom became much more useful when the adjustment brush was added a couple years ago, but Lightroom 4 lets photographers make spot adjustments to counter moiré, reduce noise or adjust white balance. The white balance adjustment is very useful and I was surprised no one thought to spot-adjust white balance before. I was so surprised I actually launched Lightroom 3 to confirm it!

Lightroom 4 white balance adjustments

Basically, the Temp and Tint sliders in the Develop module can now be adjusted within a single adjustment brush point on the photo or as a general adjustment across the photo. My color correction techniques have always emphasized correction across entire images—color casts and white balance mistakes will almost always affect everything the camera sees. However, there are a few times when multiple light sources can skew results in a part of an image. There are also many photographers today who want to be more creative with their images than just getting the color correct. These photographers will really enjoy the new controls available in Lightroom 4.

I am also really excited that Lightroom 4 now supports video formats. Prosumer cameras have been shooting video for a few years now and it’s becoming mainstream—some photographers like Vincent Laforet are experimenting with the art form while wedding and event photographers are supplementing their income shooting video as well as their usual photos. Adobe worked to make Lightroom 4 provide a complete video workflow. I don’t think Lightroom 4 provides a complete workflow—it’s missing basic features like sound editing, though Creative Cloud users will have all the software they need for video editing. But Lightroom 4 does provide easy importing and exporting to Facebook and Flickr as well as to your hard drive. I think exporting to YouTube is essential though.

Lightroom 4 does provide Quick Develop module tools for video editing, which is where workflow comes in. Photographers can change exposure, white balance and all the tone controls used for images. You can also trim clips and capture a poster frame for presenting the video. This is the extent of video editing in Lightroom 4, and I think it’s a decent enough editing suite for photographers in the field but a photographer who wants to sell his video footage should invest in Creative Cloud, CS6 Production Premium or Adobe Premiere Elements. Amateur videographers should really consider Premiere Elements, though serious photographers might want to invest in CS6 Production Premium (or, better yet, hire someone who already has mastered Adobe’s video applications.)

Lightroom 4 map module

One of the most visually spectacular new features in Lightroom 4 is the Map module, powered by Google Maps, that lets photographers place their photos in specific locations. It’s a thrill to navigate the world in Lightroom 4 and see exactly where your photographic journeys have taken you, but I have a feeling Adobe will have to constantly play catch-up with advances in GPS and mapping technology. 3D mapping is starting to emerge and I think tagging photos by building floor as well as GPS location would be useful. I also thought the process of matching photos up with their locations was tedious (except when the photo already had location metadata). If there’s no location data, you can drag-and-drop photos onto the map to set their location. This is probably as good of a manual system as you can get, but it’s still a slog.

Lightroom 4 boasts improved shadow and highlight recovery, and you’ll have to learn some new sliders in the Develop module to master this. In Lightroom 3, the Basic sliders in the Develop module included exposure, recovery, fill light and blacks along with brightness and contrast. (Brightness and contrast have been together in Adobe’s settings lineup since the early days of Photoshop.) In Lightroom 4, exposure and contrast are together and the other four sliders are highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. It’s confusing to consider whites and highlights two separate things (same with shadows and blacks) and there aren’t many differences between the two that I can see. Generally, the Highlights and Shadows sliders will affect darks or lights without ruining the other and will avoid excessive contrast. I still prefer working with the Tone Curve settings to pinpoint the tone regions I want to work on, though I like how fast and easy I can produce results with the Highlights and Shadows sliders. If you don’t have time to work with the curves, try the new sliders.

Lightroom 4 soft proofing

For photographers who make prints of their work, the new soft proofing in Lightroom 4 might be useful. A “soft proof” is an on-screen representation of the final printed product, and it’s often hard to get a precise soft proof since a screen and a sheet of paper are two totally different substrates. I’ve relied on hard proofs on paper since the beginning of my career. Lightroom 4′s soft proofs look like they might be helpful but I still don’t trust them completely—there are too many factors in printing that can skew the results. But what I do find really useful in Lightroom 4 are the new gamut warnings which will show regions that are too bright or too dark to display any detail. Lightroom 4 will provide not only printer gamut warnings but monitor gamut warnings too, which I’ve not seen before.

Lightroom 4 book module

Lightroom has always had a fairly robust set of output modules (Slideshow, Print and Web) but in version 4 there is a new Book module for creating photo books. I have seen photo books offered by several photo production websites but I usually like to design my own in InDesign. I wondered if Lightroom’s Book module would be easy to use as well as robust, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn there’s a balance between software-generated layouts (see the Auto Layout panel in the sidebar) and fine controls. The Cell panel lets you put white space around images on all sides or each side separately. I found the caption and type tools very intuitive—text was overlaid on images right where I wanted them to be and I didn’t need to handle text frame corners. Everything is done inside the Book module sidebar. I found one user interface element to be particularly annoying: the inability to add photo cells on my own. The pages’ photo layouts are determined by the Auto Layout presets; you can make your own presets but they still adhere to predetermined layouts. You cannot simply drag and drop new images onto the page either, unless a photo cell already exists. The only real way to tweak photo placement is to add padding to photo cells, but this isn’t a great way to do it.

Lightroom has had integrated social sharing for awhile now, but it’s been improved in Lightroom 4 in a way I didn’t really expect. If you share to comment-capable albums (a Facebook album, for example), photos’ comments will be shown in Lightroom 4′s sidebar and you can write your own there as well. Your comments will then appear on the Facebook album entry. I thought this was a really neat way to leverage Facebook’s API and integrate social comments directly into Lightroom. I also love how you can include your Facebook albums in the Publish Services panel and push photos up to it just by dragging them onto the album name.

Lightroom 4 is another quality upgrade for a quality product, and its inclusion into Adobe Creative Cloud makes it available to even more people. On the other hand, I feel Lightroom is a mature application now and some of the features are not so exciting or unique. Other mature applications, including Photoshop and Illustrator, deal with the same problem sometimes. But the improvements in spot adjustments, shadows and highlights, and photo book layout in particular make me say Lightroom 4 is an upgrade worth buying.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Adobe Systems
US $149 full/$79 upgrade
Included with Adobe Creative Cloud
Rating: 8/10
Buy at Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements 10

Elements 10 box

The Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements bundle version 10 has been on the market for several months now but I wanted to review the product and give my impressions of it. Ironically, it has been just a couple weeks since Adobe released the Adobe Creative Cloud, which delivers their Creative Suite applications via a subscription. This is pertinent to the Elements products because, out of all Adobe’s products, they probably have the highest hurdles to overcome in order to convince home users to upgrade.

Photoshop Elements 10

The most game-changing and impressive new feature in Photoshop Elements 10 is the Smart Brush and its variety of effects and pattern overlays. The Smart Brush is comparable to Photoshop’s Adjustment Brush, but instead of adjustments you can apply one of almost 100 artistic effects, filters, adjustments, patterns and color fills. These are applied with a mask based on where you brush with the Smart Brush.

Smart Brush

The Smart Brush does a good job detecting boundaries for masking, similar to the quality masks produced by Photoshop Touch (though not as good as ones you can create in Photoshop). The Smart Brush effects are layer-based, so you can revise your work in the Layers panel or just click on other effects in the drop-down menu to apply them. This is a feature that seems simple but has a lot of usefulness, especially if you enjoy creating fun and interesting images. Users who just want to color correct and polish up their family photos might want to browse the Portrait subset of Smart Brush effects but otherwise won’t have too much use for this feature. There are better tools for color correction, such as Levels and Curves.

Elements’ Organizer has become smarter in version 10 and offers a few new features based on detection algorithms. Duplicate Photo Search, for example, uses a simple algorithm to detect and warn users about duplicate images. The Visual Search algorithm—which is new to Mac users in version 10—is integral to the new Object Search feature, which runs Visual Search on selections of photos in order to detect and display photos with a common object like a building or animal. It does a remarkably good job but the results depend on the clarity of the photos it’s given. Typical tourist photos and photos with a clearly defined foreground are great candidates. There’s not much control over Object Search: you can refine your search to focus on color or shape just like Visual Search.

Visual Search

People Recognition, which has been in Elements Organizer for some time, is still your best option for facial recognition. Adobe has integrated Facebook data with People Recognition to enable users to tag photos with Facebook friends. I think this is a really smart use of Facebook’s API to make photo tagging more fun and less hassle. It’s particularly cool for users moving a lot of photos from Photoshop Elements 10 to Facebook albums.

Photoshop Elements 10 also has three new Guided Edits to steer users through complex effects:

  • Orton Effect provides a soft, dreamy look for portraits and glamour shots
  • Picture Stack will segment an image into individual layered images suitable for a collage
  • Depth of Field produces a bokeh-like blurring of image backgrounds
  • depth of field

    Guided Edits have been a part of Photoshop Elements for a few versions and with each upgrade they release a few new ones. These are fun to use and I am glad two of them are for more professional-looking images—bokeh is a professional term for basically what the Depth of Field edit provides. However, the new features are not groundbreaking. The same can be said for Photoshop Elements’ new “Text on a Path” features, which insert text on a path, shape edge or selection.

    Photoshop Elements 10 Plus hasn’t changed from earlier versions and still provides 20GB of storage—the regular product provides only 2GB—as well as some tutorials and the ability to share photos on iOS and Android devices. Other than the Smart Brush, most of Photoshop Elements 10′s new features are nips and tucks, extensions of existing features or additions that should have been in place already (such as the ability to save JPEG and PDF files).

    Premiere Elements 10

    Premiere Elements 10′s most exciting new feature is the Pan & Zoom Tool, which lets users put together movie clips based on photos and animated with pan and zoom implemented by a framed interface. To use the Pan & Zoom Tool, you use rectangular frames to define where the shot should focus, the duration of the pan/zoom and how long it should hold at each frame position. Animators and anyone who has dabbled with Flash, Edge or web animations will be familiar with the approach. I’m frankly surprised the Premiere Elements team would have considered an animation paradigm to build a video production feature, but it is intuitive and makes sense. I think the user interface might be a little clunky and it can be hard to revise frame durations after the fact, but it’s a powerful little tool as is and I think it’s a nice addition.

    Pan and Zoom

    The Pan & Zoom Tool might be the most exciting new feature in Premiere Elements 10 but the AutoTone & Vibrance effect might be the most useful. This effect applies high-quality color correction to clips and I know from my experience in color correction with Photoshop that quality color really makes both videos and images look their best. I think color correction is given less attention in home video production so AutoTone & Vibrance is sorely needed. And since the Elements Organizer integrates with Premiere Elements 10 now, the application uses a Project Bin to provide file management for projects.

    AutoTone

    AutoTone & Vibrance’s primary benefit is to punch up color saturation without making skin tones look excessive. I tried this effect on a few clips and generally the performance is very good—colors look snappy but faces and hair remain natural. The effect also makes the shadows darker and richer, which generally improves the contrast. To maximize what you get out of AutoTone & Vibrance, be sure to click Edit Effects after applying it, uncheck Auto under AutoTone and edit the settings manually. There are five settings: Brightness, Contrast, Exposure, Black (shadows) and White (highlights). There’s also a single Vibrance slider to manage color saturation. These settings provide a simple but powerful way to color correct your clips.

    3 Way Color

    Adobe also added one more color correction effect: the Three-Way Color Corrector. Unfortunately, this effect is very complicated compared to the simple AutoTone & Vibrance effect. The Three-Way Color Corrector basically provides a large interface for changing the saturation and balance of highlights, shadows and midtones. You can use an eyedropper to set the balance or drag an anchor point on a color wheel in the effect settings. The results are effective but the user interface is complex, perhaps too complex for average users. The good news is the Three-Way Color Corrector encapsulates aspects of Curves and Levels, the two most important color correction procedures, which AutoTone & Vibrance does not do (that effect is more closely related to Camera Raw). However, I think the Three-Way Color Corrector can be made more efficient and easier to use.

    Premiere Elements 10 has been able to import AVCHD video since last version but now the application can also export and share movies in the native AVCHD format. You can also burn AVCHD footage to a DVD or Blu-ray disc for playback on a DVD or Blu-ray player. And one more note for Mac users: Premiere Elements 10 now includes the SmartSound feature which will let them add music to movie and dynamically adjust the length to match the movie length. This is a really nice feature I like to use, and I’m happy to see it now on the Mac.

    Users who like to post their movies on Facebook and YouTube will be happy to learn version 10 of the Elements Organizer has an interface for posting videos to both social media sites. The uploading process to YouTube is easy and clean but doesn’t leverage all of YouTube’s settings, such as tags. You also can set a video to be public or private (restricted to specific YouTube users) but not unlisted, which I think is more useful in several situations. The interface for sharing to Facebook is more robust but Facebook actually has fewer settings to manage anyway.

    Conclusion

    Adobe deserves praise for staying on top of the photo/video industry’s changes—their support of AVCHD and social media sharing are all important features that needed to be in this release. Both applications have received a worthy upgrade in version 10 but, as with many software upgrades, the necessity of upgrading depends on the user and I think the Photoshop/Premiere Elements 10 bundle has wide appeal but isn’t for everyone. I think many would make the switch just to work with AVCHD footage. Photoshop Elements 10 doesn’t have a new killer feature like Premiere Elements 10 has, but the Smart Brush is quite useful.

    Users should look at the upgrade price, look at their existing and future cameras and camcorders, and make the decision. Upgrading to version 10 offers a lot of new features—particularly for prosumers—but not everyone needs them.

    Photoshop Elements 10 / Premiere Elements 10
    Adobe Systems
    US $149.99 full, $119.99 upgrade
    Rating: 8/10
    Buy from Amazon.com

Adobe Releases Photoshop CS6 In Public Beta

The splash screen for the Photoshop CS6 pre-release, codenamed “Superstition.”

Adobe announced today the immediate availability of Photoshop CS6 as a public beta. Photoshop is expected to be one of the primary products in Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and in the past Adobe has released other Creative Suite products in public beta. The only version of Photoshop released as a public beta until now was Photoshop CS3.

Photoshop CS6 (and presumably other CS6 applications) will be paired with an Adobe ID rather than computer hardware, thus ending the old activation/deactivation method for license management. Fouled-up activations have always been difficult for users to deal with and often keep software from running at all without a call to Adobe customer service, so to do away with activation altogether is a nice improvement.

The change that I’ve seen leaked most is Photoshop CS6′s new dark user interface. Photoshop CS6 now has more in common visually with After Effects, Premiere and other video apps than the design apps including Illustrator and InDesign. You can actually change the user interface’s color in the Preferences menu to one of four shades of gray. I have usually preferred the old light gray, but I come from a background in design and that’s what I’ve been used to. I’ve used my Adobe video applications more in the past couple years though and now I’m keeping Photoshop CS6 with the default dark backgrounds. It looks more professional and the grays don’t compete with images, though technically none of the options will give your images a color cast.

The Photoshop team has made performance improvements in recent versions (the OpenGL support in CS4 comes to mind) but Photoshop CS6′s main performance improvement is the new Adobe Mercury Graphics Engine. Photoshop CS6 uses the MGE to accelerate filters and effects including Liquify, Lighting Effects and warping effects. I’ve worked with these tools in prerelease builds of Photoshop CS6 and they work smoothly most of the time. I hope public beta users have the same experience.

Note that some of Adobe’s video applications employ a “Mercury Playback Engine” for much-improved video performance with NVIDIA CUDA video cards. This is not the same thing as the Mercury Graphics Engine, and the MGE works with a variety of video cards.

Content-Aware technology has been behind many of Photoshop’s recent jaw-dropping features, and Adobe has expanded it into two new tools in Photoshop CS6:

  • Content-Aware Patch marries Content-Aware technology with the existing Patch tool. There’s now a Patch menu in the tool’s options, and selecting “Content-Aware” will help you patch regions more accurately.
  • Content-Aware Move is similar to the Content-Aware Patch feature but it behaves like the Patch tool’s opposite. Rather than select a region and fill it with another region, the Content-Aware Move tool lets you select a region and move it to another place on the image. It works beautifully when moving objects and backgrounds to other places on the image: backgrounds become seamless, usually without any extra work required.

There are a bunch of little improvements in Photoshop CS6 as well. According to Zorana Gee, Senior Photoshop Product Manager, the newest version of Photoshop has 62% more new features than CS5 and 65 enhancements requested by users. These include:

  • Multiple layers can be selected and then locked, labeled or have their blend modes changed at the same time.
  • Layer opacity can now be set to zero by typing “00.”
  • Layer > Rasterize > Layer Style has been added to rasterize layer styles in one step. Previously, users had to create a new layer and merge the two layers together.
  • Brushes can now be as large as 5,000 pixels.
  • The Eyedropper tool can now select layers current and below, and can also ignore adjustment layers.
  • Layer effects are now rearranged in the Layer Effects menus so they match the order they are blended together.
  • Windows users can now right-click on a document tab and open a new or existing file.
  • The hexadecimal field in the Color Picker dialog box will now accept a hash mark, which is useful when copying and pasting hex color values.
  • A new menu command, Type > Paste Lorem Ipsum, will generate placeholder text.
  • The Blur Gallery, which provides a new UI for tweaking blurs and also two new panels, Blur Tools and Blur Effects, for adding bokeh and other details. Note that this only applies to the three new blur filters—Field Blur, Iris Blur and Tilt-Shift.
  • Photoshop CS6 now auto-saves files and has an auto-recovery system.

The press release is on the next page. To download Photoshop CS6, visit Adobe Labs. Macintosh users will need OS X Snow Leopard or Lion; Windows users will need Windows XP or Windows 7.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Released From Public Beta, Now $149

After a relatively short beta period, Adobe has released version 4 of Photoshop Lightroom, its photography application for management, development and production of digital photography.

A larger review will be forthcoming, but here are some of the major new features in Lightroom 4:

  • A Map Module that includes location tagging controls and a standard map that places photos in the locations they were shot
  • Video format support for trimming and extracting frames from video clips, applying adjustments to clips and sharing video to Facebook and Flickr
  • Simplified basic adjustment controls
  • Soft proofing features in the Develop module
  • More local adjustment controls such as Noise Reduction and Moiré
  • Templates and tools for creating photo books in the new Book module
  • An email engine within Lightroom for sending mail directly from the application

Adobe has also added some aggressive pricing to Lightroom 4, making it just $149 for the full version and $79 for the upgrade. Lightroom has typically cost $299 for the full version. Tom Hogarty, Lightroom’s main product manager, said, “Lowering the price makes Lightroom more accessible to a broader range of photographers—from pros to amateurs.” This makes sense to me—more and more amateur photographers want to work with professional tools and take their work to the next level—but I also think Adobe wants to compete aggressively with free and cheap photography products on the shelves and online.

Press Release

Innovative Shadow and Highlight Recovery and Enhanced Digital Photography Workflows Mark A Milestone Release

SAN JOSE, Calif. — March 6, 2012 — Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the availability of Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 4 software for Mac OS and Windows. Lightroom is the essential digital photography workflow solution helping amateur and professional photographers quickly import, manage, enhance and showcase their images. First released as a public beta in January 2012, the final version of Lightroom 4 is now available for US$149 for the full version and US$79 for the upgrade, providing an incredible value for photographers. Lightroom 4 introduces refined technology for superior shadow and highlight processing, ability to create photo books, additional local adjustment controls, and enhanced video support.

“Feedback from our customers is invaluable in developing Lightroom and the real trick to a great release is to combine these insights with Adobe’s unrivalled image processing innovation,” said Winston Hendrickson, vice president products, Creative Media Solutions, Adobe. “Lightroom 4 is a stunning new release that will enhance photography workflows and help photographs stand out from the crowd.”

New Features in Lightroom 4

Lightroom 4 is a major release, adding significant new capabilities and innovations. New adjustment controls maximize dynamic range from cameras, recovering exceptional shadow details and highlights. The software features new and improved auto adjustments to dynamically set values for exposure and contrast, and additional local adjustment controls including Noise Reduction, Moire and White Balance.

Lightroom 4 provides photographers the tools to create beautiful photo books with text controls and a variety of easy-to-use templates, as well as a direct link for photo book creation from within the new Book module. A new intuitive Map module displays images already assigned a location, provides location tagging and reverse geo-tagging controls and saved locations for easy assignment of a photographer’s common locations.

Now, native video support gives photographers the capability to play, trim and extract frames from video clips shot on DSLRs, point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones. Video-specific presets and many standard Lightroom image adjustment controls can be applied to video clips, and adjusted videos can be exported as a H.264 file or published directly to Facebook or Flickr*.

In the Develop module, presets fully utilize new processing technology and the addition of soft proofing helps photographers tune images in a destination color space to ensure content looks its best. In addition, customers can now email images directly from Lightroom using an email account of their choice.

Pricing and Availability

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is now available for Mac and Windows at www.adobe.com/store. The estimated street price is US$149 for new users or US$79 for upgrades. For more detailed information about product features, upgrade policies, pricing and language versions, please visit www.adobe.com/go/lightroom.

Users can also connect with the Lightroom team directly on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lightroom), via Twitter (www.twitter.com/lightroom) or on the Adobe Lightroom blog (http://blogs.adobe.com/lightroomjournal). For Lightroom how-to videos, visit http://www.youtube.com/lightroom.

Adobe Photoshop Family

Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Extended are at the heart of the Photoshop family, joined by solutions for users at every level who want to bring out the best in their digital images either at home, in the office or on the go. Photoshop Lightroom addresses the workflow needs of amateur and professional photographers, helping them create, manage and showcase images in impactful ways. Photoshop Elements provides consumers with powerful yet easy-to-use tools that organize, edit, create and share photo memories. For mobile devices, the Adobe Photoshop Touch app helps users transform images with core Photoshop features custom-built for tablets; and Adobe Photoshop Express is a free app for simple photo fixes and enhancements, and sharing to social networks*.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Enters Public Beta


The alternate splash screen for Lightroom 4 with its “Sprocket” codename.

Last week, Adobe announced Photoshop Lightroom 4 and released the photo management software as a public beta available on Adobe Labs. Lightroom has enjoyed a public beta for each of its four iterations and it’s one reason the product has been popular among photographers. “Giving early customer access to new versions of Lightroom has helped our team deliver an outstanding battle-tested product that really stands up to the demands of photographers worldwide,” said Winston Hendrickson, vice president of Digital Imaging Products for Adobe.

The new features in Lightroom 4 are ready to be tried and tested, including:

  • A Map Module that includes location tagging controls and a standard map that places photos in the locations they were shot
  • Video format support for trimming and extracting frames from video clips, applying adjustments to clips and sharing video to Facebook and Flickr
  • Simplified basic adjustment controls
  • Soft proofing features in the Develop module
  • More local adjustment controls such as Noise Reduction and Moiré
  • Templates and tools for creating photo books in the new Book module
  • An email engine within Lightroom for sending mail directly from the application

I saw a quick demo and what I found most interesting were the new Map and Book modules. The Map module provides a really striking visual representation of the photographer’s journey around the world, though it’s probably a bit depressing for the user who doesn’t jet around the world very often. The bookmaking features are intriguing to me, and the Book module exports to PDF or publication at Blurb.com, an online publisher.

There are also many smaller features, including “fast load data” in DNG files for faster load times in Lightroom 4. You can also have a lossy (less than top quality) comp for fast loading. Another nice addition is soft proofing and gamut warnings for screen and print profiles. I’ll be curious to try these but I know it’s traditionally hard to get precise color management exactly right. One more note for holdouts on Windows XP: Lightroom will require Windows Vista and newer with version 4.

Adobe’s press release on the Lightroom 4 announcement is here.

REVIEW: Adobe’s Touch Apps for Android

Last month, Adobe released its line of Adobe Touch Apps for Android tablets. Adobe has been testing the mobile and tablet software markets for some time now, first with Adobe Ideas for iOS and Photoshop Express, then the Photoshop SDK and the three Photoshop-related touch apps for iPad, then with Adobe Carousel which also runs currently on iOS, and now with six apps for creative professionals on Android tablets:

  • Adobe Collage, where users can build mood boards with images, text and graphics,
  • Adobe Debut, suitable for presenting graphics and concepts to audiences,
  • Adobe Ideas, a vector application suitable for creating and marking up images,
  • Adobe Kuler, which provides an interface for picking and refining color schemes,
  • Adobe Proto, where layouts for websites can be constructed, and
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, a tablet-based version of Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve worked with all six and I think the suite of apps are a mixed bag: some really stand out for their usefulness and ability to leverage many tools available in the Android SDK, while others are not as helpful and robust. I can’t tell whether some of the apps are hamstrung by limitations in the APIs or were designed by Adobe to focus on a very specific set of features.

The crown jewel: Photoshop Touch

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch is probably the Adobe Touch app being promoted the most, and it got a lot of love at the Adobe MAX developer conference in October. Many Photoshop users—including myself—have been wanting “Photoshop on a tablet,” and I think Adobe delivered. Photoshop Touch has a lot of Photoshop’s tools, effects and adjustments, including some I wasn’t expecting (such as Warp). There are a few Photoshop tools that aren’t present, including some animation tools such as the Animation panel. But Photoshop Touch stands out as the most feature-rich and robust of all Adobe’s Touch apps.

I also think Photoshop Touch has the most robust user interface, and incorporates a helpful menu bar at the top of the screen. All the Adobe Touch Apps have a top menu but most only show a few icons and don’t have submenus. Photoshop Touch needs an extensive UI like this, and even though it’s packed with features it’s not hard to use. The only criticism I can make is that some tools aren’t in the same place they are in Photoshop, and Photoshop users might find this counterintuitive. I think the Photoshop Touch development team sometimes strayed too far from the example set by Photoshop.

ps-touch

The results you can achieve with Photoshop Touch are remarkable, particularly with the Scribble Selection tool which lets you mark areas to keep and remove. The app figures out the rest with very good accuracy. This tool reminds me of Photoshop’s old Extract filter, which was removed from that product a couple years ago and still hasn’t been given a suitable replacement. Most of major features are borrowed from Photoshop—layers, brushes, text, adjustment filters and effects are all integrated into Photoshop Touch. One missing feature is the layer mask, which I think is a major oversight. Fortunately, Photoshop Touch exports its files in a new .psdx format, which Photoshop can open with a plugin, so you will be able to bring the full power of Photoshop to your Photoshop Touch projects.

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch performs best as part of a workflow that also includes Photoshop, though you can do exceptional work without it. Creative professionals who use the Creative Suite extensively will find Photoshop Touch to be a solid extension of their Photoshop tools into the mobile space.

Impressed by Proto

The other Adobe Touch app that really impressed me is Adobe Proto, a web wireframing tool for web designers. Like Photoshop Touch, it has a robust set of tools and a UI that also includes gesture shortcuts. For example, draw a box on the canvas and an HTML div element is created. Draw a “play button” triangle and an HTML5 video element is created. The gesture UI is very easy to work with and I wish Proto was not the only Adobe Touch app that implemented it, but each app has its own development team and the Proto team happened to be the only one to weigh gestures important enough to include in the initial launch. Proto’s gesture UI makes creating website wireframes quick, easy and even fun.

Proto image

Proto projects can contain multiple pages and link between them, and there’s a lot of emphasis on basic HTML elements, form elements and navigation powered by jQuery, the ubiquitous JavaScript framework. Projects can then be pushed up to Adobe Creative Cloud—Adobe’s upcoming cloud service for creative professionals—and then brought into Dreamweaver or any other programming application. I’ve looked at the code Proto renders out and it’s fairly basic but functional, consisting of HTML5, CSS and jQuery as needed. Each page in a project gets its own CSS file, which is not usually advantageous.

Proto image

Proto is a solid wireframing app that provides a lot of tools despite its restrictions in the tablet. Developers need to apply some design work to the output and perhaps clean up some of Proto’s code, but I think Proto can provide a decent starting point for many projects.

Two new apps: Collage and Debut

Collage image

Adobe Collage is a fun tool for producing “mood boards,” which agencies and design teams sometimes use to bring images and text together to communicate a concept for development. Collage leverages the tablet interface very well, including support for multi-touch gestures that brings a tactile behavior to the mood board experience. Moving items around with your fingers is different than using a mouse and a monitor. Collage also interfaces with the tablet’s camera so you can take pictures of your environment and make it part of your mood boards instantly. There’s a small set of tools as well for markup, including a vector brush, text tool and a drop-down menu for duplicating, deleting and stacking elements. You can also include playable video into your mood boards, but they play in a new window and not on the project board itself.

Collage image

Unfortunately, there are not many more features in Collage and I find it to be lacking a few features. Why not include a microphone or allow importing video from the tablet camera? Both of these could really bump up the personal experience of creating projects in Collage. Also, Collage files are currently imported into Photoshop by converting them into a PSD file that can’t be converted back into a Collage file. The converted PSD doesn’t retain video elements either. I think there’s a few kinks to work out in the Adobe Touch Apps/Creative Suite import/export process.

Debut image

Adobe Debut is the least powerful and weakest member of the Adobe Touch Apps family. Debut is a presentation tool that imports graphics and images from various sources and lets users swipe through them. It’s the kind of feature that can be handy in a client meeting or a portfolio presentation. Debut’s best feature is the breadth of sources it can pull images from, including from the tablet’s camera, the Creative Cloud, Google and Flickr. The Creative Cloud gives access to users’ Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator files, which is a real plus for creative professionals. You can also toggle Photoshop file layers on or off when importing. A vector markup tool allows Debut presentations to be marked up on the fly, which can be handy in client meetings.

Debut image 1

However, the fact that I’ve just described the extent of Debut’s functionality goes to show how little it can really do. Collage can do pretty much anything Debut can do except present multiple slides, which is what makes me think Adobe should combine these two apps into a more powerful mood board creation and presentation app for client experiences.

Adobe Releases Touch Apps Tablet Applications For Android

Today Adobe officially released their lineup of Touch Apps for Android tablets, deepening their dive into products for mobile devices. The company has devoted considerable resources to mobile applications for a few years now, so the Touch Apps represent a major investment for Adobe.

The Touch App lineup released today includes six applications:

  • Adobe Collage, for creating “moldboard” layouts including photos, drawings and text.
  • Adobe Debut, a presentation tool for mockups and Touch App projects.
  • Adobe Ideas, which is similar other vector drawing programs like Illustrator.
  • Adobe Kuler, a color palette builder.
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, which is designed to deliver core Photoshop features on a tablet.
  • Adobe Proto, for building interactive prototypes of websites and mobile apps.

Even though it’s considered part of the “Touch Apps family,” the previously-announced Adobe Carousel photo management app isn’t listed as one of the “Adobe Touch Apps.” It also is only available on iOS devices at the moment; see below for more details. Kuler and Ideas both exist in other forms as well.

I received a demo tablet from Adobe just last Saturday and I’ve just started to work with the applications, so no review for now. However, these applications were shown extensively at Adobe MAX (including the Day 1 keynote) and I’m fairly familiar with how they work. Together, they provide a solid collection of core tools from most of the major Creative Suite products—Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver and minor elements from a couple others. The hurdle Adobe has to clear is to provide a user interface that works in a tablet but has the power and flexibility to get serious work done in a variety of environments.

The Touch Apps are on the Android Market now and sell for $9.99 each, a price well over the $3.13 average price of paid Android apps. Adobe will have to appeal to the professional community to justify the price. The apps are also restricted by language (English only) and by hardware specs: 8.9-inch, 1280×800 minimum screen size and resolution with Android 3.1 or higher, which eliminates all current Android non-tablets. The apps are currently available only on Android, but they will be ported over to iOS devices in early 2012. There’s no word yet whether the apps will be restricted to the larger iPad.

Day 1 Announcements From Adobe MAX: Adobe Creative Cloud And Adobe Touch Apps

Today Adobe announced a variety of newsworthy items, mostly acquisitions and new products that will greatly impact creative professionals. Ironically, “Flash Platform” was not mentioned once at this event, traditionally Adobe’s largest for Flash developers, but I and other press colleagues think more developer news will be announced at tomorrow’s keynote.

Adobe Creative Cloud Combines Apps, Services and Community

This was the big-picture announcement: Adobe has a new service called Adobe Creative Cloud that combines their desktop products, tablet and touch applications, a community website with cloud storage, and a variety of services. The Adobe Creative Cloud’s discrete components will be detailed separately below, but the outline includes:

General pricing and availability of the Adobe Creative Cloud will not be announced until November 2011. The product itself looks absolutely beautiful, and is what I expected from a company like Adobe responding to huge changes in mobile computing and data distribution. Apple and Amazon are doing the same thing in the cloud computing landscape. However, right now we don’t know what a service like Adobe Creative Cloud will cost, so until then we can’t judge how successful it might be.

Another complication is the fact that the Creative Suite 5.5 products have been available with a subscription since May. Will that option go away now that users can subscribe to those and more through the Adobe Creative Cloud? I doubt it will—I know the CS5.5 apps and suites will still be available as standalone products and for sale through the conventional way, and I expect Creative Suite subscriptions will also continue. I also think you can look at the prices of those CS subscriptions, add a bit more money, and have an idea what the Adobe Creative Cloud will cost.

Adobe Touch Apps Released, Includes Photoshop Touch

Adobe has been investing considerable resources into tablet and mobile applications, first with Adobe Ideas and then with Photoshop Touch SDK apps like Eazel and Nav, and the iOS-only Carousel. Today Adobe announced six new “touch apps” currently on Android, which will all be available to Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers.

  • Adobe Photoshop Touch brings basic Photoshop features to tablets, including layers, adjustments, selection and background extraction among other features. Out of all the apps this is the only one to be named after an existing desktop product, and I predicted a “Photoshop on the iPad” product at some point. However, Adobe has made a strategic decision not to put too many Photoshop features into Photoshop Touch and so the app is nowhere near as powerful as its namesake. This was out of both necessity and UX considerations, but I think it will hurt its reception by users.
  • Adobe Collage helps creative people combine imagery, drawing and text to create storyboards and basic layouts. I see this being more useful in the conceptual phase of a creative project, and it doesn’t take the place of Illustrator or InDesign.
  • Adobe Debut is a client presentation application for displaying project materials in meeting situations. Photoshop and Illustrator files can be displayed, among other Creative Suite file formats.
  • Adobe Ideas is a vector drawing application whose files can be opened in Illustrator or Photoshop for refinement. As with Collage, it can’t take the place of Illustrator and it’s useful for off-site work when a laptop isn’t an option.
  • Adobe Kuler is a tablet-based version of Adobe’s existing kuler application, previously just a web and AIR application. Users can build and share color palettes.
  • Adobe Proto builds wireframes and prototypes for websites. It’s the only app that incorporates gestures in a major way: users can draw an “x” to insert an image, or squiggly lines to create headlines and text. There are roughly 16 different gestures already created for Proto.

All the touch apps integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud and share projects and assets in the cloud, so projects can be touched by multiple apps. For example, a project can be conceived by a project manager in Collage, passed on to a designer who builds the color palette in Kuler, then to a web developer who wireframes the product in Proto, and approved by the client in Debut before moving on to final production in Creative Suite. All these apps are also built with Adobe AIR, so they could technically be deployed on the desktop, but the apps’ user interface is designed for small devices and touch screens.

All apps will be available separately for $9.99 each.

Conclusion

After all these announcements, I wasn’t sure if life will be easier or harder now for the traditional creative professional—those who design or develop with Adobe products and have been using the Creative Suite products for years. The Adobe Creative Cloud moves resources to everyone, not just the creative professionals, and the touch apps seem like they are designed for creative users who aren’t necessarily the ones putting publications to bed or deploying code to the web. Even Photoshop Touch, whose namesake is Adobe’s flagship product, feels lightweight and lean. Adobe seems to be focusing on a larger creative audience, and it could complicate things for creative professionals.

However, I like the direction Adobe is taking in marrying everything through the cloud—it had to happen eventually, and the opportunity is huge for business and also for creative productivity. The notion of web fonts being available in the cloud via TypeKit makes sense not only for web fonts but for all fonts—imagine being able to license the entire Adobe type library without installing files on your own network. Out of all this news, the Adobe Creative Cloud has the most implications for Adobe and for consumers.

Adobe Announces CS5.5, Subscriptions, Photoshop SDK and Touch Apps

Major changes are coming out of Adobe today as they announce several new products and technologies:

  • CS5.5, the next iteration of the popular Creative Suite applications for creative professionals,
  • The Photoshop Touch Software Development Kit (SDK), which allows applications using Android, BlackBerry Tablet OS and iOS to interact with Photoshop,
  • Adobe Nav, Color Lava and Eazel—three iPad apps that implement the Photoshop SDK, and
  • A new yearly upgrade cycle and subscription plans for Creative Suite products.

CS5.5 for Design: InDesign leads the way

Besides the Photoshop Touch SDK (described below) and the addition of the already-released Acrobat X, the CS5.5 Design suites have all their major new features in one product: InDesign CS5.5. The emphasis is on improving the use of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, which was released last fall as a tool for major interactive publications.

InDesign CS5.5 has a new set of tools dubbed Folio Producer, which allows interactive elements to be added to standard page layouts. This includes 360-degree graphics such as QTVR, embedded websites, hyperlinks and slideshows. The Folio Producer outputs a .folio file, which is digested by the Digital Publishing Suite for packaging and final distribution. If you’re not using the Digital Publishing Suite, the benefits don’t apply.

What I like a lot more are the improved authoring features for eBooks, which don’t require the Digital Publishing Suite. Support for HTML5 video and audio for eBook readers and auto-resizing images are the two main features. There’s also a way to apply character and paragraph styles to EPUB, HTML and PDF tags so, for example, a heading style can be applied to an h1 tag for HTML output and another tag for the PDF output. A new Articles panel lets you sequence content elements so they are read in the appropriate order.

Photoshop Touch SDK and Touch Applications

The Photoshop development team is releasing a SDK which will allow developers to build software that interacts with a user’s Photoshop application. Unlike the CS5.5 products, the Photoshop Touch SDK is available immediately. I’ve not looked at the various methods and functions available to applications through the SDK so I can’t tell the scope of what it can do, but the three applications developed by Adobe (below) suggest it can move artwork, color swatches and tool selection from the app to Photoshop and applications can be aware of what’s open in Photoshop.

The three applications are:

  • Adobe Nav, which makes the iPad an input surface for selecting tools in Photoshop and displays open Photoshop files on the tablet,
  • Adobe Eazel, a neat app for painting with fingers or an iPad-sensitive brush,
  • Adobe Color Lava, a color mixer that can deliver swatches to Photoshop.

I am a member of the prerelease beta team testing these three apps and have been using the shipping version for a few weeks now. I feel the three apps need some more work before they are fully mature. Eazel offers a decent painting experience—whether with fingerpainting or by brush—but the five-fingered user interface can be clunky at best and downright difficult when you’re using a brush or happen to be missing a finger. Color Lava is the best of the bunch in my opinion—the water well and mixing action is very intuitive—but I personally think it belongs as an integrated component of Eazel.

Nav was released to the beta team after the others, and we’ve had it just a few weeks. I’m not sure what its usefulness is: selecting a Photoshop tool on the iPad so you can grab the mouse and actually use it on your computer doesn’t seem helpful. Why not just click the tool with your mouse? Nav’s only other major feature is the ability to browse open Photoshop documents from the iPad and select one as the active file on the computer. This at least makes the iPad a portable window into what’s open in Photoshop, which can be useful when showing images in a meeting. However, Photoshop has to be open and your iPad and computer have to be connected via the Internet to get files into Nav.

A far better application using the Photoshop Touch SDK is the brief demo John Loiacono provided at last week’s Photoshop World event. That app demonstrated layers, layer masks, a desaturation tool and a unique “exploded layer” view. We are moving toward a “Photoshop for iPad” app, and whatever app achieves that level of photo manipulation will be very successful. I think the Photoshop Touch SDK will be the catalyst for such an app, but I’ve not seen this app materialize yet.

The three apps will be available in May 2011 on the iTunes App Store and will be priced at $4.99 for Eazel, $2.99 for Color Lava and $1.99 for Nav.

BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Photography In Vision & Voice

vision-voice-large

David duChemin‘s Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom would be just another book on Lightroom were it not for the great photography that’s inside. Most Lightroom books boast good photography but I think it’s David’s focus on exotic locations, introspective portraits and quiet moments that unify the material and make the book stand out.

I think the first four chapters are the most important in the book, because they cover the essence and distillation of vision instead of the Lightroom techniques you get in the rest of the book. David’s notion of a “vision-driven workflow” is not really anything new—intention, aesthetics and process—but I like it when authors frame old processes in new ways because it can help readers visualize and refine the rote way they approach things like photography. Other books have done this too, such as Scott Kelby’s seven-point approach to Camera Raw, but that was for photo processing and David’s workflow is for composing and creating images. David will be the first to say it’s not a paint-by-numbers method for making photos, but the exercise of quantifying the process can help improve the process.

The highlights of the book are the 20 case studies that take up the last half of Voice & Vision. These are David’s own photographs and not only do you get to see how he improved the images but also learn the circumstances of their creation—where they were shot at, what was going on at the time, and what David was thinking when he processed them. These glimpses into a real-world situation always interest me and David’s are memorable. He knows how to shoot interesting things and get the most out of them with Lightroom.

The rest of Vision & Voice focuses on Lightroom tips and techniques, and they are well-written and illustrated but do not make a comprehensive Lightroom resource like other books. This is expected since the book has a lot more going in it than just Lightroom tips. If I were buying a gift for a photographer starting out with Lightroom, a good combination would be Vision & Voice with a more comprehensive book like Martin Evening’s The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers. Vision & Voice stands up very well on its own but by its nature it can’t be all things to all people. That is not a bad thing.

Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
David duChemin
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 10/10

Photoshop Family Product Discounts Through December

Adobe is putting out some holiday discounts for Photoshop family products from Monday, December 13 until Sunday, January 5. This includes all products in the Photoshop family, including the consumer-oriented Photoshop/Premiere Elements 9 bundle which non-professional users will enjoy. It looks like Photoshop Elements 9 alone is not included in the discounts, but it currently has a $20 rebate through the end of the year that makes it $79.99. For $20 more, you can take advantage of the discount and get Premiere Elements 9 in the bundle.

Here are the discounts:

psepre9
Photoshop Elements 9 & Premiere Elements 9 Bundle
US $99.99 (save $50)

pslr3
Photoshop Lightroom 3
US $249.99 (save $50)

pscs51
Photoshop CS5
US $649.99 (save $50 off full version or $25 off upgrade)

pscs5e
Photoshop CS5 Extended
US $899.99 (save $100 off full version or $25 off upgrade)

Adobe Releases Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9

psepre9-boxes

Adobe Systems announced today that Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9 have been released and are immediately available at www.adobe.com, and will be available soon at retailers. The Elements applications are Adobe’s consumer photo and video editing applications and I’ve always been impressed by the amount of advanced features and also the clean organization of the tools and digital asset manager, the Organizer.

Photoshop Elements 9

pse9-photomerge

Content-Aware Fill is used to finish up panoramas and fill in the gaps caused by warped edges.

As with Photoshop Elements 8, Photoshop Elements 9 borrows the best technology from its professional counterpart, Photoshop CS5. The Spot Healing Brush has been enhanced with Content-Aware painting, which was a hit with the Photoshop community from the beginning. Content-Aware Fill has also been added to the Photomerge Panorama creator so the unavoidable gaps left by stitched photos can be filled in automatically. I thought this was a great way to make Content-Aware Fill even more useful.

pse9-healing

The Spot Healing Brush has been improved with Content-Aware technology.

Other additions to Photoshop Elements 9 include:

  • Five new guided edits including a Lomo effect, portrait retouching workflow, reflection builder and a step-by-step process for making foreground subjects “break the frame” of the photograph.
  • Photomerge Style Match, which applies the tone and color of one image to another. This reminds me of Photoshop’s Match Color feature.
  • The Photoshop Elements product manager tells me Facebook is now the number-one way to share photos online. Photoshop Elements integrates with Facebook and will resize and upload images, and also create albums.

There’s several more new features in the reviewer’s guide but I want to test them and report back in my full review.

pse9-edits

Five new “fun edits” help consumers create some cool effects without handling advanced tools. Layers are created during the guided edit process so users can dive deeper and tweak things with other tools.

pse9-reflect

Convincing reflections can be created with a new guided edit in Photoshop Elements 9.

pse9-popart

A new guided edit creates “pop art” out of your photos. My first graphics on the computer were colorized clip art in the pop art style, so I have a soft spot for this feature.

pse9-frame

Step-by-step directions help users “break the frame” and make three-dimensional pictures.

pse9-lomo

Lomo camera effects give images a saturated, vignetted look.

Photoshop CS5 Review

ps_box

This review supplements Photoshop Extended CS5 First Impressions, which I wrote just after CS5 was announced. That article explains most of the new features in Photoshop CS5 like other reviews, but the goal of this article is to share my experience in the field with Photoshop CS5 and to tell what works and what doesn’t work for me.

The best upgrade in a long time

In my “First Impressions” article I said Photoshop CS5 could be the most exciting upgrade since Photoshop CS, and I think that’s turned out to be true. Photoshop’s performance is noticeably speedier for me, thanks to the rewritten 64-bit code that employs more memory and handles larger files. Of course, your performance will depend on the processor, memory and video card you are using so for some users the 64-bit change will not add much.

I find myself using Content-Aware Fill and the Spot Healing Brush with Content-Aware more and more, and it’s become my main retouching tool. Content-aware technology was jaw-dropping in Photoshop CS4 but the fill and brush are superior methods to apply it and it finally achieves a complete one-step retouching technique. The Clone tool, which Photoshoppers have used for years, is great but its one weakness is you have to replace the brushed area with something already existing in the image. Content-Aware technology naturally has to do the same thing—it can’t choose pixels that aren’t in the image—but it has an uncanny ability to mix things up and create a very natural replacement for what’s removed.

The one difficulty I have with the Spot Healing Brush is it will still make the same mistakes it has in previous versions—even when I’m using the Content-Aware mode. I often have to remove timestamps from point-and-shoot photos and the tool will sometimes replace the timestamp with bits from the same timestamp, even when Content-Aware is the selected mode. It seems Content-Aware works best with larger areas that don’t overlap with busy backgrounds or foreground elements, which is what all the retouching tools work best with.

I had also expressed some reservations about the Refine Edge feature, which I hoped would perform as a background removal tool like the Extract filter used to do. After testing, I’ve found that Refine Edge works well in some situations but in others the Background Eraser tool does a better job. What’s missing from Refine Edge is the ability to analyze how background contaminates fine edges such as hair, which the Background Eraser tool also lacks.

On an image with frizzy hair on a white background, I got a decent background extraction with Refine Edge but the hair’s edge was gray—a combination of white and the dark hair color. I got a much better result after applying a high radius and shifting the edge, but this also knocked out some of the foreground subject too. A two-layer approach would probably be the ideal Refine Edge workflow—one layer with aggressive Refine Edge to get the fine edge and another to restore the foreground as needed. This is not as precise as the Extract filter used to be, but it would be faster.

What I’m not using

Maybe it’s because I’m too used to my old working methods, or maybe it’s because I just haven’t needed them lately, but there are some things in Photoshop CS5 that haven’t proved useful to me:

  • I never got into HDR photography, mostly because the ghastly colors HDR techniques have created never appealed to me. The new Merge to HDR Pro is designed to get HDR back to its original intention of expanding dynamic range, but I’ve not used it much at all. Another reason why I don’t use it is because most of my imagery is either going to print—which doesn’t show maximum range—or being used as graphics on a website.
  • When I want to paint digitally, I use a Wacom tablet and Corel Painter. Photoshop CS5′s new Bristle Tips and brush engine work very well but I sometimes come across performance issues, especially when I’m mixing paint with other colors in a photograph, and I haven’t used the new brushes much except when I want to make some artistic effects. For all my retouching work, the usual soft-edged circular brush works well.
  • A few months ago I was used to docking Mini Bridge to the bottom of my screen as a quick and easy way to access files, but even at its small size it took up enough of my screen that I decided to close it and just access images with the Open Recent command. I am usually working on a small set of images over and over again during a project, and Open Recent gives me access to them without needing another open panel. I still think Mini Bridge is a great addition that makes things a lot handier.
  • I’m still not into Photoshop’s 3D features very much, including Repoussé, Photoshop CS5′s 3D extrusion tool. When I want to produce 3D assets I’m used to using Strata 3D, though if Adobe were to produce a standalone 3D application and include it in the Creative Suite I’m sure I would use that. But the 3D tools and panels in Photoshop CS5 don’t seem as intuitive to me despite the various improvements to 3D in CS5. The best thing Photoshop 3D has going for it is its compatibility with the other Adobe CS5 applications, such as After Effects.

Conclusion

No matter whether or not you use all of Photoshop CS5′s new features, every one of them works as advertised and I don’t have a major complaint about the upgrade. Professional Photoshop users will want to upgrade for the Content-Aware technology alone—it’s twice as useful when applied as a fill or a stroke instead of when scaled, like it was in Photoshop CS4. HDR enthusiasts will want to look at Merge to HDR Pro and 3D enthusiasts will really want to see Repoussé and the expanded 3D features.

Photoshop CS5
Adobe Systems
US$699/$199 upgrade

Photoshop CS5 Extended
Adobe Systems
US$999/$349

Rating: 10/10

Adobe Lightroom 3 Released

lr3-box

Today Adobe announced the release of Photoshop Lightroom 3. The digital photography management application had been available previously through a public beta, which will expire at the end of June 2010. Tom Fogarty, Lightroom’s Senior Product Manager, reports that 2,000 people participated in the beta’s forums and the application was downloaded 600,000 times during the program.

The difference in noise reduction is really apparent!

There’s two major advancements and several smaller new features in Lightroom 3. One major new feature is Lightroom’s new noise reduction algorithms, which changes the way Lightroom renders digital images as well as introduces three new sliders to the Noise Reduction panel. I tend to shoot with high ISO settings which introduces more noise, so having a better algorithm that reduces noise affects all my photographs.

lr3-noise

The other major addition is lens correction—Lightroom 3 can correct images based on the lens it was shot with, as reported by the image’s metadata. By itself I wouldn’t call this a groundbreaking feature but Adobe’s Lens Profile Creator—currently in the prerelease phase at Adobe Labs—lets you generate profiles of your own lenses. Together, these two applications can make manual lens correction unnecessary and give you better images immediately. Unfortunately I don’t think the Lens Profile Creator will gain much traction until it is integrated with Lightroom, but when it is I think it could take off.

The Watermark Editor dialog box.

Several new features are improvements to the user interface. One is the new Watermark Editor, which does the work previously taken on by third-party plug-ins and the Identity Plate feature in previous versions. The Watermark Editor is a fairly simple interface but does the job well and I like that you have fairly fine text and image controls. However, a few things bother me—you can’t use text and an image at the same time, the inset controls don’t allow standard or metric measurements, and you can’t set a watermark within the Library module to have it applied in the other modules. You must set watermarks in each module separately, which might be ideal for some photographers.

The Lightroom 3 user interface.

The other major user interface improvement—and one that excites me personally—is the totally revised file import dialog box. This is the one interface I use the most in Lightroom and it’s been redesigned to look cleaner and more logical. I like how the two devices—camera and destination disk—have been separated and placed on either side of the dialog box, with various import settings available in the center. The design of the dialog box is also very slick and easy to use. You can even minimize it into Compact View, save presets and create a one-click import process. The minimized interface is also used for the new Tethered Capture feature, which eliminates the need for a third-party application to import photos shot with a tethered camera. This also excites me, though it will take a little time to get more camera models approved for use. Currently, 26 Canon and Nikon cameras have been tested and approved.

There’s several other features in Lightroom 3:

  • The lens correction tools can also be applied manually with a set of perspective correction sliders. This set of sliders is particularly robust and perform well, though Photoshop is still the king when it comes to repairing warped perspectives.
  • Online publishing services have been touted since the Lightroom 3 public beta was released, with Flickr getting the most attention in demos. Basically, Lightroom 3 can access an online photo-sharing account like Flickr and manage images and comments on the fly. Tom Fogarty told me customer research has shown hosted services to be more popular than standalone web galleries, which surprises me—most pro photographers I know have their own website and galleries. I love this new feature but it will depend on the third parties, including Picasa and photo printing websites like Mpix, before it gains wide use. Personally, I would love to manage my Mpix albums from Lightroom. The addition of video export (see below) also makes publishing to websites like YouTube possible in the future.
  • The Vignettes panel has been replaced by an Effects panel with improved Post-Crop Vignetting sliders and also new Grain sliders that recreate the natural grain of film photography.
  • Print layouts are more flexible now, with practically no limit on the layouts you can produce. The Print module behaves more like a page layout tool this way, but that’s fine by me and you can of course save your layouts as presets. The conventional print package presets are still available too.
  • Slideshows can be exported to video and synchronized with music for a great presentation experience. Lightroom 3 also recognized videos in the Library panel, making it possible to manage video shot from still cameras—which seems to be happening more and more.

Lightroom 3 can manage online publishing services such as Flickr.

Lightroom 3 can manage online publishing services such as Flickr.

Videos shown in the Library module.

All these features feel mature and I am quite impressed by Lightroom 3 already. Users of Lightroom 2 should consider the upgrade, especially at the $99 price point (the full version is $299). For me, the File Import and video improvements alone have made digital photo management a more enjoyable experience.

Photoshop Extended CS5 First Impressions

ps_box

Today Adobe announced the upcoming release of Creative Suite 5 (CS5) and its vast array of applications for creative professionals. Photoshop upgrades to CS5 along with the rest of the applications and I’ve been working with Photoshop Extended CS5 for several months now as a beta tester and reviewer. I believe Photoshop CS5 is a more compelling upgrade than Photoshop CS4 was and there are some very smart new features coming to Photoshop users everywhere.

Why Photoshop without Extended?

Before I go into Photoshop CS5′s new features, I should point out the are still two version of Photoshop:

  • Photoshop Extended CS5, which has special features for certain professionals and is included in all CS5 suites except Design Standard, and
  • Photoshop CS5, which has a smaller feature set and is included only with CS5 Design Standard.

I don’t know why Adobe continues to sell Photoshop CS5. Every professional I know uses Photoshop Extended CS5, though that may change with this new configuration of suites: the difference between Design Standard and Design Premium is only the addition of four web design applications, and print designers can easily do their work with Design Standard. But so far there’s no compelling reason to use anything other than Photoshop Extended CS5 so that’s what this article and my upcoming review will cover.

The File Browser is back

It’s true: the File Browser, that handy little asset management tool from way back in Photoshop CS, is back and I think it’s better than before! Adobe had moved digital asset management from File Browser to Bridge but that application turned out to be too cumbersome and overpowered for some users. Bridge has improved over the years but the Photoshop team has an extension called Mini Bridge that provides a leaner and more useful experience.

Mini Bridge provides only a few features from Bridge including file preview, filmstrip/thumbnail views and access to image processing functions such as Photomerge or the new Merge to HDR Pro. It’s not very powerful but it’s very accessible and easy to work with, and I like docking Mini Bridge to the bottom of my screen so I can access the filmstrip. Bridge’s Compact and Ultra-Compact modes come closest to Mini Bridge’s ease of use but Compact mode can still get in my way and Ultra-Compact mode is not really useful enough for me. I think users who loved the old File Browser will love Mini Bridge.

HDR reclaims its old intentions

Merge to HDR was introduced in Photoshop CS2 as a tool to boost photography’s tonal range, but it was used and overused by some professionals to produce work that is close to surreal. Overdone HDR photography is usually easy to spot with its extreme range of highlight and shadow as well as oversaturated colors. I personally like the artistic expression in such HDR photography but I don’t use it in my own work.

Merge to HDR has been augmented in Photoshop CS5 to “Merge to HDR Pro,” and I think it comes closer to making HDR photography a useful tool for everyday professionals. One simple example is the new Remove Ghosts feature that eliminates ghosting caused by misaligned shots: it works great and will probably salvage a lot of work. Previously, such ghosting was sometimes removed by exaggerating HDR effects, making the “surreal” HDR style more common.

ps_hdrproThe Merge to HDR interface is more useful and detailed now with Merge to HDR Pro.

There’s a lot more to Merge to HDR Pro, including settings for precise control of edges, glows, tonal settings and color. Things that were done before in Photoshop can be done in Merge to HDR Pro. There’s also a preset menu available that gives you 14 custom settings for everything from photorealistic to surreal imagery. Photographers who haven’t been comfortable with HDR photography in the past due to its lack of control should look at the new features in Photoshop CS5.

ps_hdrpresetsThe HDR presets that will ship with Photoshop CS5.

If you like the wild colors in HDR photos but actually don’t care to shoot multiple exposures and do the work with Merge to HDR Pro, Photoshop CS5 has a new HDR Toning feature in the Adjustments menu that recreates the HDR look for 8-bit images. Unfortunately it’s not available as an adjustment layer, but it’s available in Image > Adjustments and it does a good job of recreating that HDR look. I’m curious to see if any color correction gurus will consider it as a color correction tool, because at first glance it produces colors close to the Lab color space, which has been proven to be a useful colorspace for corrections.

Refine Edge: Still not Extract

ps_refineedgeThe Refine Edge dialog box in CS4 (left) and CS5 (right). Click the image for a better view.

I lamented when the Extract filter was removed from Photoshop CS4 because it was the best background-removal tool Photoshop had. The Background Eraser and Magic Eraser tools were just not as good. In Photoshop CS5, the Refine Edge has been rebuilt with much-improved edge detection and interpretation that almost makes it a replacement for the Extract filter. This would be a phenomenal addition, since the Extract filter was a very difficult feature to use, but so far I don’t think Refine Edge duplicates Extract’s results. It was hard for me to retouch edges despite Refine Edge’s new Refine Radius and Erase Refinements brush tools. I am still working with a beta copy of Photoshop Extended CS5 so I am not passing judgment on Refine Edge yet, but so far it’s a fair improvement but not a replacement for the Extract filter.

More 3D improvements in CS5

I keep waiting for Adobe to produce a standalone 3D application, but for some reason they continue to load Photoshop Extended with more and more 3D tools. In CS5 we have a new 2D>3D extrusion feature with its own name—oddly enough, “Adobe Repoussé.” When I saw this name appear in the Photoshop prerelease beta program I hoped it would be temporary, but it looks like it will be a permanent addition to the product. I don’t have a problem with the name myself but I can see how it would be confusing. Repoussé basically extrudes 2D shapes into 3D shapes, the same way Illustrator has been for years with its 3D filters. Repoussé is more powerful than Illustrator’s filters and finally gives Photoshop a method to produce its own 3D objects.

There’s also some improvements to the current 3D tools in Photoshop Extended, including support for 3D materials and a new ray-tracing engine for handling lights, reflections and refractions. Photoshop Extended CS5 can also produce cast shadows with the Shadow Catcher feature. This all helps to make Photoshop Extended CS5 a better producer of realistic 3D objects.

Better brushes

Photoshop has always prided itself on its brush engine, but I’ve preferred Painter to Photoshop any day for digital painting. Photoshop CS5 introduces a new Mixer Brush that behaves like Painter’s brushes—responding to canvas wetness, “paint” load, mixing and flow—and a Bristle Tips feature that delivers conventional fine art brushes—such as fan brushes—to the Brushes panel.

I had a really fun time testing these new painting features out. Some brushes feel a little stiff but some fiddling with the settings can make these brushes work very much like real paint brushes. Right now I prefer working with paint on a blank canvas rather than an existing photograph, because photos tend to dominate any color on your brush, but with some practice and more tweaking of the settings I hope to improve my results.

Nips and tucks

Photoshop Product Manager John Nack seems to mention the “nips and tucks” every time a new version of Photoshop is released. With CS4 it seemed like these small improvements actually outnumbered the big new features, but this time around they do not. I think this bodes well for Photoshop CS5. However, these small productivity enhancements really do make Photoshop CS5 a more valuable tool. Here’s a list of my current favorites:

  • Perhaps the most well-known Photoshop tip is using the Ruler tool and Rotate Canvas to straighten an image. Now the Ruler tool has a Straighten button in its toolbar that will straighten an image for you. However, the button actually executes a Rotate Canvas and Crop at the same time, so undoing this requires two undos.
  • The Gradient tool now has a neutral-density preset.
  • The Zoom tool now zooms in and out gradually if you hold the mouse button.
  • 16-bit photos can be saved as 8-bit JPEGs in one step.
  • Lens Correction is in the Filter menu and does much more auto-correction. This filter has been much improved and I’ll cover it in more detail in my review.
  • Default values for layer styles can now be modified and saved.
  • A new on-screen heads-up display (HUD) lets you select colors without going to the color well on the toolbar.
  • A Paste Special menu item in the Edit menu lets you paste inside and outside elements.
  • Workspaces will now remember any changes made to it, so if you move a panel or change a keyboard shortcut it will stay that way. You can reset workspaces as always.

The big one: Content-Aware Fill and Spot Healing

I wanted to save what might be the most jaw-dropping surprise until last: Content-Aware Fill and Spot Healing. Photoshop CS4 impressed many with its Content-Aware Scaling, which can accurately judge how to scale an image and scrap or create detail without losing important elements. Photoshop CS5 takes it a step further with Content-Aware Fill—available with the long-standing Edit > Fill command—and the Spot Healing Brush tool, which now has Content-Aware as an available mode. These two new features have made the rounds on YouTube, having been demoed at some events such as Adobe MAX’s Sneak Peeks, and elicited oohs and ahhs from the crowds.

ps_cafContent-Aware Fill before (left) and after (right). Ironically, the new Content-Aware technology in Photoshop CS5 works better as a fill than as a brush.

I’ve been using Content-Aware Fill and the Spot Healing Brush tool for my retouching and they have performed well in the past few months I’ve used them. Content-Aware Fill performs the best: it is very smart about figuring out what is subject and what is background in an image selection and recreating the background to cover up the subject. The Content-Aware mode of the Spot Healing Brush performs well too but less so—sometimes it will pull detail from unrelated areas to replace brushed areas, which is the problem I’ve had with the Spot Healing Brush in general. But I am only working with a beta version so I’m withholding judgment until I get the final product to test.

My first impression

Photoshop Extended CS5 could generate excitement like I haven’t seen since Photoshop CS first hit the market. The Content-Aware features by themselves make this an upgrade worth considering, but for me it’s Mini Bridge and the improved Refine Edge that make Photoshop Extended CS5 far more useful. There’s many more new features besides these that I will look at in my full review.

Photoshop/Premiere Elements 8: New technologies, same ease of use

pepe_8_boxshot_3in

Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8 are interesting upgrades because some cutting-edge technology from the professional-grade Creative Suite 4 (CS4) has migrated to the Elements consumer lineup. CS4 users like myself who have used this new technology for a year now know that consumers will be excited about the new features because they represent the most jaw-dropping advances found in CS4.

The first basic difference previous users will notice is a change in the interface: Elements 8 applications now use the same panel-based system in CS4. This includes the tabs, buttons and double arrows familiar to CS4 users. This interface was met with some debate a year or two ago but I think people have become used to the interface and I don’t hear any complaints about it. Perhaps this is because it’s easy to maintain the same palette layouts longtime users are used to (including myself). Elements users should feel pretty comfortable with the new interface, though it does function differently.

Auto-Analyzer and People Recognition

One of the major additions to Elements 8 is the Auto-Analyzer, an automatic tagging and rating system that analyzes images upon import. Metadata handling and tagging is probably the most tiresome aspect of digital asset management and professional workflows for products like Photoshop Lightroom have always assumed photographers would be looking at every photo, rating or flagging every one. The Auto-Analyzer and the “Smart Tags” it adds to images is designed to do all this automatically.

pse8-analyzer

I think the Auto-Analyzer works very well: imported images are given quite a few tags and the keyword make sense most of the time. If anything, the Auto-Analyzer can add too many tags to an image, even ones that are debatable. But the Auto-Analyzer generally gave appropriate tags to almost all images and made it very easy for me to separate good and bad photos. When used in tandem with other keyword tags, the Smart Tags helped me find good photos for specific subjects very quickly.

pse8-tagcloud

Quick Tip: It’s easy to miss the Keyword Tag Cloud feature, new to the Keyword Tags panel in the Organizer. An image’s tag cloud can help you differentiate between an image’s major tags and minor tags.

The Find Faces feature in the Elements 7 Organizer has been replaced with a People Recognition feature in Elements 8. Find Faces was simple and easy face recognition but People Recognition is smarter: it finds more faces and it also tags names to images in a more intuitive way. This is done by asking the user who people are—the more people the user confirms, the smarter People Recognition gets and the more images are tagged automatically by the Organizer. It’s an improvement over Find Faces and the “Who’s this?” questions don’t get annoying, but I find that People Recognition can be easily thrown off by a variety of things such as changes in headwear, photo angles, stuff on the lens (like water droplets) and others. The Organizer recognized many more people in still portraits and not many at all in candids and active shots.

pse8-peoplerecog

Quick Fix is surprisingly helpful

pse8-quickfix

I say “surprisingly” because I’m an experienced professional so I am used to seeing sliders labeled “Vibrance” or “Midtone Contrast,” but I still fiddle with sliders often because I’m unsure what modifications a slider will produce. Enter the Quick Fix previews, a set of nine icons that appear below a slider to show potential results (very similar to Variations in Photoshop). Sliders in Photoshop Elements 8 now have an icon beside them that reveal the Quick Fix previews. Click a preview and the modification is applied to the image. You can also click and drag within a specific preview to tweak its settings. This is a great consumer addition, and also helpful for professionals. Photoshop Lightroom could benefit from a similar preview feature.

Stealing from CS4, Part 1: Photomerge Exposure

I believe it was Picasso who said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” and I have no quarrel with products that borrow great features from other products. Photoshop Elements 8 has borrowed two great features from Photoshop CS4, both of which were exciting when released over a year ago and still excite CS4 users.

pse8-exposure

The first is Photomerge Exposure, which borrows technology from Photoshop CS3 and CS4′s Auto-Blend Layers feature. The original feature was designed to composite images with different depths of field but Photomerge Exposure uses it to automatically composite images with different exposures. The user marks the foreground object with the Pencil Tool; Photomerge Exposure transfers it to the image with the good background. The result avoids the poorly exposed images that are hard to avoid at night or in odd lighting situations.

Stealing from CS4, Part 2: Recompose

pse8-recompose

Photoshop Elements 8 offers Recompose, which Photoshop CS4 users will immediately recognize as Content-Aware Scaling. Content-Aware Scaling predicts which objects belong in an image’s foreground and manipulates the background for seamless stretching and resizing. The end result is magical. Recompose uses the same technology and even offers a couple improvements:

  • Protect and Remove brushes help fine-tune the Recompose process: paint over objects you want to keep or lose and Recompose will get a better result. This gives Elements users the added ability to remove people or objects during the process.
  • Select a print size from the Preset pull-down menu and Recompose will make the image the proper size, removing and protecting pixels where needed. This feature makes Recompose even smarter.

pse8-protect

The only downside to Recompose is its interface, which you have to use in order to apply Recompose to an image. I’m not used to it because Content-Aware Scaling in Photoshop CS4 doesn’t have one—it’s built into the general editing interface. However, Photoshop Elements has always been designed around multiple interfaces for things like this so I’m not surprised, and regular users of Photoshop Elements will only be blown away by Recompose.

Premiere Elements now integrated with Organizer

In the past, the Organizer was exclusive to Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements had a different organization tool built into the application. Adobe has moved away from that arrangement and Premiere Elements 8 now shares the same Organizer as Photoshop Elements 8. I think this is the right approach and now Premiere Elements users can organize assets, auto-analyze clips and more. The Organizer can also do a few nice tricks with video clips, such as full-screen previewing with sound and transition options for quick and dirty slideshows. It didn’t make much sense for Premiere Elements not to share the Organizer with its still-image counterpart, so I approve of this change.

Making things easy with Online Albums

pre8-album

The Premiere Elements team really focused on making things easy and “smart” in version 8. One of the new features designed to make things easy is Online Albums, basically online templates for building simple video albums. They’re easy to produce and the album designs remind me of iMovie’s album designs. There are a lot of designs to choose from (and more on the way for Plus members) and in the usual categories (fun, family, travel and more) but while iMovie merely makes designs difficult to modify it seems Online Albums can’t be customized at all. Users select their images or videos, select an Online Album and then publish to FTP, hard drive or a couple other options. It always surprises me how users almost always want to use canned designs like this but then modify the heck out of it, so I am disappointed Online Albums have no customization options.

A suite of “Smart” adjustments

Premiere Elements has gone “Smart,” introducing three adjustment features with the “Smart” moniker and one, motion tracking, that could have been. These four new features are designed to “make video editing less work” for customers.

  • pre8-smartfix

    SmartFix is basically an automatic exposure and camera shake adjustment tool. Premiere Elements will change brightness and contrast levels in a clip for optimum exposure, highlights and shadows, and it will also reduce camera movement. Exposure adjustment is often hard to pull off realistically so I found that SmartFix worked well for minor cleanup of video clips or to increase contrast, but caused some unwanted effects when handling very underexposed or overexposed clips. These effects included murky or shifted colors, plugged shadows and other problems. I think SmartFix does as good a job as it can but it shouldn’t be counted on to save bad clips.

  • pre8-smarttrim

    Smart Trim is a very convenient tool for trimming boring or poorly shot segments of a clip, or trimming to fit a specific duration. Thanks to the new Organizer and its Auto-Analyzer, Smart Trim can use the clip’s Smart Tags to decide what to cut and what to keep. The result is a more interesting video, and it does a really good job. I like to use Smart Trim to cut clips to a specific duration. Smart Trim also handles fade transitions around each cut so the automatic trimming is seamless.

  • pre8-smartmix

    SmartMix maintains a healthy volume when sound and video tracks play together. This is probably the easiest of the “Smart” tools to apply: Audio Tools > SmartMix > Apply will take care of it, and it does a great job of reducing the audio clip volume so it doesn’t drown out audio brought in with the video clip. There’s also a SmartMix Options window for fine-tuning the results, but I didn’t need to really use it to get a good result.

  • pre8-motiontrack

    Motion tracking should have been named “SmartMotion” or “SmartTrack,” because it’s another new feature that automatically analyzes and applies effects to your video clips. In this case, motion tracking finds movement in a video clip, defines the moving object and then will track another object to the same motion path for synchronized motion. Premiere Elements 8 has new libraries of clip art that make this easy but I prefer to add color keyed video that has had its background removed. In any case, it works well and it’s a very exciting addition for consumers. As with Photoshop Elements 8, Premiere Elements 8 has outdone itself in terms of the intelligence and jaw-dropping effects of its new features.

Now synchronize content across multiple computers

The Elements Organizer has had a backup/sync feature that takes advantage of the 2GB of space offered for free with Photoshop.com membership, included with Elements 8. 2GB isn’t much space anymore but it can be helpful and it can be upgraded to Plus, which provides 20GB.

pre8-sync

With Elements 8, backups can now sync across multiple computers—this is handy for multi-computer families and users with multiple computers such as a laptop and a tower. There’s also a new Backup/Sync icon at the bottom of the Organizer. It’s at the bottom of the interface and not very visible, but it gives access to all the backup and synchronization preferences, allows manual syncing and resolves conflicts manually among other things. Handling backups is one of the major pain points of consumers, who don’t often see the need for backups until personal photos are lost for whatever reason. Any tool that helps make backups easier and personal photos safer is a major benefit.

Pricing and conclusion

The cost of Elements has remained the same:

Standalone products (Photoshop Elements 8 or Premiere Elements 8)

  • $99.99 full
  • $139.99 full, includes Plus

Bundled product (Windows only)

  • $149.99 full
  • $179.99 full, includes Plus

There are also some holiday deals coming soon, see below!

Black Friday (Nov 23-30)

Holiday – North America (Dec 7-21)

There aren’t a whole lot of new features for either application, but what’s been added are major advances in organization and in ease of use for consumers. In particular, cutting-edge technology that Adobe has acquired or developed is now paying off for Elements users as much as CS4 users—Recompose and the “Smart” tools in Premiere Elements 8 are prime examples.

Some of the new technology, such as People Recognition and SmartFix, are solid but not foolproof, and I’m not sure they can ever be foolproof. I do think they can and should be improved in the next release. But both Elements applications are excellent consumer choices and a good value for the money.

Photoshop Elements 8
Adobe Systems
Rating: 9/10

Premiere Elements 8 (Windows)
Adobe Systems
Rating: 9/10

Photoshop/Premiere Elements 8 Bundle (Windows)
Adobe Systems
Rating: 9/10

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Enters Public Beta

Adobe announced today that Photoshop Lightroom, its photo management and editing application, is now available as a public beta of version 3. This is the next major upgrade for this application and all three versions have been preceded by a public beta. I was able to attend a demo of the version 3 beta by Tom Hogarty (Lightroom Senior Product Manager) and also gained some insight in their approach to this public beta process.

Image quality, performance—and one improvement I love

I saw lots of nice improvements in the Lightroom 3 public beta demo. The two main improvements will be found in general performance and a redesign of image quality algorithms. This second improvement was most apparent in the new Settings > Process Version menu item, which lets you switch between the old algorithms and the new. I believe you can specify which algorithm version you want for all your photos, but Tom spent his time demonstrating the menu item, which can toggle back and forth. The image improvement was noticeable but I want to test it on my own images and see how they respond.

lr3-version

The integration with photo sharing websites like Flickr is very impressive. Flickr and other photo sharing sites are now listed in a Publish Services panel below Collections and Library. One can drag and drop photos right to the panel and Lightroom 3 public beta will do the publishing. Online comments are visible in the Lightroom 3 interface and changes can be made and updated automatically. In the case of Flickr, these nifty features are only available to paying Flickr Pro users—the free Flickr service still works in some ways, but dynamic updating and commenting doesn’t work.

lr3-pubservices

lr3-pubmodify

The one improvement I love the most is the redesign Import window. Of all the interfaces I use in Lightroom 2, I use Import the most and it’s never been up to par with the rest of the well-designed application. Now it has matched it and then some. It’s still its own window but it has the same user interface design as the rest of the application, with photo sources on the left and destinations on the right. It looks very slick and easy to use. Even better, the whole window can collapse into a small interface where you can quickly select a source, destination, metadata and file handling presets. I can’t wait to use it.

lr3-import

lr3-importsm

Editing and presenting improvements

There are also several new features for editing and presenting photography:

    lr3-nr2

  • Sharpening and Noise Reduction have both been improved. This feature set will change a lot during the public beta: Tom mentioned the noise reduction feature will be released with color reduction only and with luminance reduction to follow.
  • Collections are now available in the Develop module.
  • lr3-vignettepriority

  • Post-Crop Vignetting has been expanded and a Grain effect is available to recreate film grain. Post-Crop Vignetting will have a color priority and highlight priority mode in the initial public beta, but user feedback will eventually eliminate one of these.
  • lr3-playback

  • Slideshows can now be published with music and set to sync with the song duration.
  • lr3-video

  • Slideshows can also be exported as a video file. Lightroom 3 public beta offers a few common preset sizes.
  • lr3-watermarkedit

  • Watermarks can now be edited with much greater control in the Watermark Editor. I remember being wowed by the watermark feature in Lightroom 1, but this is even more exciting. At first glance it looks like it could be developed further, but I’ll know more after I start using it.
  • lr3-custompackage

  • Print output has been improved: Custom Packages have much more flexibility and look more like a page layout application than ever before. Contact sheets can have colored backgrounds and more metadata options displayed.
  • lr3-contactsheetpage

I couldn’t really complain at anything I saw during the demo—everything operated very well, and it should be a fun public beta experience.

A “medium rare” public beta

Tom used some vivid metaphors to describe how the Lighroom team is approaching this public beta differently than the one for version 2. The first public beta program was “medium rare”: lengthy and full of development. This made sense since it was for a brand new application. For version 2, the Lightroom team adopted more of a “medium well” public beta program, allowing less time to digest feedback and improve features. It seemed the reason was because Lightroom had already established a strong feature set and the team didn’t expect version 2 to require as much time in beta development.

For the version 3 public beta, Tom and his team are going back to the “medium rare” public beta program and will devote more time to it. It’s unclear how long it will last, but Tom says Lightroom 3 will ship “in 2010″ so at the most we can expect the public beta to last a year.

Changes in system requirements

There will be a few bumps in the system requirements that may exclude some Lightroom 2 users. Windows users will require 2GB of RAM to operate Lightroom 3; on the other hand, it will work with Windows 7. Mac users will have more hurdles to clear: not only is 2GB of RAM also required, but Lightroom 3 will not work with Mac OS X 10.4 (“Tiger”) or with PowerPC processors. It’s been a few years since PowerPC Macs were being sold, but I know there’s still plenty of them out in the field. The Lightroom 3 public beta may convince some of these users to buy an upgrade.

How to sign up

The Lightroom 3 public beta just went live at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom3/. Participation is easy—just download the software and use it—but be sure to give your feedback when you can. I know the Adobe engineers take the feedback seriously, though they also have their own ideas of what Lightroom 3 should have. Lightroom 2 users should note that catalogs from that application cannot be imported into Lightroom 3 public beta—you’ll need to import your own images into that application.

Welcome, Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8

ele8-boxshots

Today Adobe announces the upcoming release of Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8, available now at www.adobe.com (Windows only—Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac will be available in October 2009). I enjoyed working with the previous version of both applications (you can see my review of Elements 7 here) but version 8 looks like it might be an awesome upgrade. I’m also very happy to report that Mac users no longer need to wait to upgrade Photoshop Elements: Adobe has fast-tracked development of the Mac version and it will now be released almost at the same time as its Windows equivalent!

Adobe’s strategy

I haven’t seen the actual software yet—this article is not a review—but I did see a demo by Adobe’s Bob Gager and Mike Iampietro. I was able to cull some of Adobe’s strategy from their presentation and comments:

  • Adobe’s consumer division, which controls the Elements product line, makes it clear their mission is to empower customers to “tell their stories.” The Elements products are therefore designed for personal media, such as photo collections and home videos.
  • Bob mentioned they are looking with version 8 to strike a balance between ease of use and “headroom,” allowing users to get creative and produce more “wow” moments.
  • Bob also said, “Intelligence enables ease of use.” This is reflected by the integration of some smart technologies we’ve seen in other products in the past year, such as Content-Aware Scaling (Photoshop CS4) and face recognition (iPhoto ’09).
  • Mike, who presented on Premiere Elements 8, said their objective was to “make video editing less work” for consumers. The development team’s focus on “smart” editing tools makes this obvious, and in fact such tools comprise the bulk of the improvements in version 8.

Photoshop Elements 8: Leveraging new technology

It looks like Photoshop Elements 8 is using new technologies to add new features that will make consumers ooh and ha. One is the Auto-Analyzer, which will add Smart Tags to photos upon import so you don’t have to manually tag photos. Another is People Recognition: the Organizer can recognize photos of faces and will ferret out other photos of the same people. It works best when the user can devote a little time telling the Organizer what it gets right and wrong, but after looking at a couple batches the Organizer gets uncannily good at finding people, even in older photos. The other thing I notice in my reviewer’s guide is a new keyword tag cloud feature, which will be appealing to users of services like Flickr, who have had tag clouds for some time. Click here to download a demo of the Elements Organizer (Flash video).

It’s important to note that Mac users will get Bridge CS4 instead of the Organizer. Bridge is a good file management application with some features above and beyond the Organizer, but I’m actually a fan of the latter with its leanness and ease of use, and Mac users don’t get any of the cool new features in the Elements Organizer.

ele8-exposure

There are a few new editing features, most of which look very exciting for consumers:

  • Quick Fix previews have been added to the Quick Edit controls. Clicking on the icon beside each control will bring up a 3×3 matrix showing what the control can do. This addition is based on user testing that showed users were far less likely to use a control if they didn’t know right away what it would do. Photoshop users will recognize it as a variant of the Variations command.
  • Photomerge Exposure (see the image above) lets users combine photos with different exposure levels. This is ideal if you have two photos of the same subject but with different exposures, and you want to use the foreground of one and background of another. It’s similar to HDR but is designed to be more functional and less artistic. Click here to download the demo (Flash video).
  • The Recompose tool (see the image below) is basically Photoshop CS4′s jaw-dropping Content-Aware Scaling, but does have a couple improvements including size presets and brushes to protect or remove objects during scaling. Click here to download the demo (Flash video).

ele8-recompose

I’m really looking forward to reviewing Photoshop Elements 8, and I expect consumers will really get a thrill out of the new features. Professional users have had these tools for awhile now but the consumer market is quite different (though they are converging). It stands to reason that their software would as well.

Premiere Elements 8: Everything’s “Smart”

ele8-smarttags

There are two big news items for Premiere Elements 8: it now uses the same Organizer (now dubbed the “Elements Organizer”, see the image above) as Photoshop Elements 8, and there’s a suite of “Smart” features designed to make video editing easier. Premiere Elements 8 sports all the new Organizer features such as the Auto-Analyzer and People Recognition, and I noticed during the demo that you can apply tags to video at specific points in the clip.

The “Smart” features analyze your clips and apply global adjustments or trims them as needed. It’s unclear whether these are non-destructive edits or not—I will learn more after I look at the software. For now we don’t have a whole lot more than the descriptions of the Smart features:

    ele8-smartfix

  • SmartFix, which will correct light or dark video.
  • ele8-smarttrim

  • SmartTrim, which can automatically detect bad video or segments with no action and suggest what to trim out. This feature can be used to simply improve a video or to trim to a specific duration. Click here to download the demo (Flash video).
  • SmartMix analyzes the sound in a video project and makes sure speech isn’t drowned out by noise or music.

ele8-motiontrack

The last feature that was demoed was motion tracking: Premiere Elements can define and track a moving object in video, and align and move graphics, text or effects with that object. Premiere Elements 8 also comes with a library of artwork, and in the demo a bird from the library was linked to a girl skating across the stage (see the image above. Motion tracking allowed the bird to follow the girl’s motion path. Out of all the new features shown in the demo, motion tracking was the most exciting! Click here to download the demo (Flash video).

And Plus…

In version 7, Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements came with a basic Photoshop.com membership and 2GB of online photo/video storage, upgradeable to Photoshop.com Plus membership. It’s still available but it’s now called Photoshop (or Premiere) Elements 8 Plus. There’s a yearly fee to upgrade to Plus and with it you’ll get:

  • 20GB of storage instead of 2GB
  • Access to seasonal artwork, templates, movie themes, special effects and more, delivered to the applications
  • Tutorials for photo and movie projects

Pricing and Availability

The pricing looks like it will not change from the previous version:

  • Standalone products (Photoshop Elements 8 [Mac or Windows] or Premiere Elements 8 [Windows only])
    • $99.99 full
    • $79.99 with mail-in rebate
    • $139.99 full, includes Plus
    • $119.99 with mail-in rebate, includes Plus
  • Bundled product (Windows only), available only at Adobe.com
    • $149.99 full
    • $119.99 with mail-in rebate
    • $179.99 full, includes Plus
    • $149.99 with mail-in rebate, includes Plus
  • Plus membership alone is $49.99/year.

Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8 for Windows are available today, but the Mac version of Photoshop Elements 8 will be available next month. Both products will be available soon at retail outlets such as Amazon.com, Apple (Mac only), Costco.com (Windows only), Best Buy, Office Depot and OfficeMax.

Stay tuned for the review!

REVIEW: Serif PhotoPlus X3 Adds New Features, Still No CMYK

photoplusx3

Last year I published a lengthy review of Serif’s suite of desktop publishing, art and photo software. Serif is based in the UK and this suite was its initial foray into the American market. I found the suite to be intriguing, with some polished gems (PagePlus X3 Publisher Professional was a good product) and others that had promise but could be improved. The first of these products to be improved was DrawPlus, which was upgraded to X3 and reviewed earlier this spring.

PhotoPlus has now graduated to X3, and it boasts several improvements. In my previous review of X2 I lamented the total lack of CMYK image support and compared PhotoPlus X2 to Photoshop Elements rather than Photoshop. PhotoPlus X2 did not have the necessary professional-caliber tools but was a fair product for photo hobbyists and amateurs. PhotoPlus X3 makes some welcome additions for pro users as well as some for amateurs, but one thing still bothers me….

No CMYK support

PhotoPlus X3 has exactly the same weak CMYK support as its predecessor. CMYK images are automatically converted to RGB, and the application doesn’t seem to handle the black channel effectively because the resulting RGB image doesn’t much depth in the shadows. RGB and grayscale are the only two available color modes. Lab isn’t an option either. However, a look at the image modes will show one of the major additions to PhotoPlus X3: support for 16-bit images. 16-bit images can carry more data in each channel so the resulting image can capture a greater tonal range and make High Dynamic Range (HDR) images possible. The downside is that these images naturally have more data and thus more file size, plus some industry leaders argue that the extra bits don’t result in any noticeable differences to the eye. It’s also not quite as advanced as Photoshop, which supports 32-bit images.

Serif was smart to include an HDR Merge function with X3, now that it can support the necessary images. HDR Merge works pretty well but I am used to Photoshop’s Merge to HDR feature which only has a few simple controls; PhotoPlus X3′s HDR Merge offers six sliders. Some users might like the added control but I prefer to fine tune HDR images with Photoshop’s other tools. Nevertheless, HDR Merge is a welcome addition to PhotoPlus.

Raw Studio is raw indeed

I know of only one point-and-shoot camera that writes Camera Raw files; they usually shoot JPEG alone. This explains why PhotoPlus has not supported raw files—until X3 arrived. Now it boasts Raw Studio, a module for processing raw images. The price of cameras keeps dropping and the camera manufacturers have many more SLR models available now, so a lot more prosumer cameras (and raw images) are out in the world. Photoshop and Photoshop Elements both have their own Adobe Camera Raw modules for handling raw images.

Raw Studio is underpowered compared to Camera Raw. There’s not many sliders, other than a few for exposure, black point, noise reduction and chromatic aberration. The White Balance menu does not have most Camera Raw options, such as cloudy or tungsten white point. I also seemed to pick up color noise in the shadows of my test image (a DNG shot with a black background). Camera Raw and Lightroom produced excellent blacks with the same image. Still, I am impressed Raw Studio was even able to read a DNG file (Windows had no idea what to do with it) and with some tweaking of the controls I was able to get decent results. It’s ironic that I complained about the excessive controls in HDR Merge and minimal controls in Raw Studio, but I use a lot of sliders when working with raw images. It’s surprising how often I use Camera Raw’s minor controls like Fill Light and Clarity. But the most important control for any raw photo is Exposure—exposure control is one of the killer features of raw photos—and Raw Studio has that covered. For those who haven’t shot raw before, this is a big step forward.

Noise reduction?

PhotoPlus X3 sports a new Noise Reduction feature, found in the Raw Studio and also in the Effects menu and QuickFix Studio. I tested the feature with my noisy DNG file but the results were average. Before I even began, I was frustrated by not getting any results in the QuickFix Studio. The Noise Reduction effect was also grayed out in the menu. I eventually realized Noise Reduction does not work on 16-bit images. After I converted down to 8-bit RGB I tried Noise Reduction and the algorithm seemed to blur the color while retaining the details. The resulting image had poor color (almost like sepia tone) and the black/white noise remained.

If you need to use Noise Reduction and are shooting raw images, I recommend using the Noise Reduction control in Raw Studio. It seems to knock out both color and black/white noise, though I’m not quite satisfied with its results either—it blurs important image details as well as noise, and my images often ended up with the soft blur you see in glamour shots.

Print multiple photos much easier

Serif has replaced the Print dialog box with the Print Studio, which gives much greater printing control and enables printing of contact sheets and photo packages. Photoshop used to print these as well but the features were jettisoned with CS4; Lightroom prints both and does a wonderful job. The Print Studio doesn’t have the flexibility Lightroom does when printing photo packages but the contact sheet capabilities are excellent. The photo package (called Print Layout) capabilities are also quite good and easy to use with many presets available immediately. Some users may wonder how to reach the Print Studio since it doesn’t have its own button, but once they learn how easy it is to reach they’ll start using it immediately.

Other improvements

Serif’s has a few other improvements in PhotoPlus X3:

  • The How To panel has a new “Black and White Studio” to make grayscale conversion easier for novices. It walks users through a series of options for producing good black and white images, and it’s handy for new users but experienced users will not need this tool.
  • As with DrawPlus X3, PhotoPlus X3 supports Microsoft’s HD Photo file format.
  • The QuickFix Studio has several new adjustments besides Noise Reduction: Hue/Saturation/Lightness, Exposure and Black And White Film are all new features and work well. It also has a histogram that makes things easier for Photoshop users and others who know how to read histograms. I suspect a lot of PhotoPlus users will sooner use the image itself as feedback.
  • There are five new effects: Film Grain, Kaleidoscope, Page Curl, Plasma and Shear. They all make nice effects and are easy to use, and Shear and Page Curl are particularly useful. Plasma is basically Photoshop’s Render Clouds filter, and is good for producing textures. Film Grain works well for high-resolution images but it was hard to get a small enough grain on web-resolution images.
  • 3D effects now support mapping of reflections, bumps, patterns and other attributes for 3D image creation. This is not true 3D like Photoshop is supporting nowadays, but manipulation of light sources and maps to make 2D images look 3D. The 3D layer effect process seems kind of complicated but it can produce some fun results.

Conclusion

If Photoshop Elements did not have Camera Raw, I would have considered PhotoPlus X3 to be a compelling substitute. However, Camera Raw is in that product and Raw Studio needs some maturation before it’s comparable. Serif made all the right additions—Raw Studio, 16-bit and HDR support, noise reduction, contact sheets and photo packages—however, users spoiled by Photoshop and Photoshop Elements might be disappointed in their execution. I would recommend Photoshop Elements over PhotoPlus X3, though if you’re already a Serif customer and like using their products then you will enjoy PhotoPlus X3.

PhotoPlus X3
Serif
US$79.99
Rating: 7/10

Adobe CS4 and ROI: Is Productivity The New Killer Feature?

cs4lineup

Last fall Adobe Systems released Creative Suite 4 (CS4) to good reviews, which was good news to Adobe since CS4 represents the bulk of their creative pro software products and includes industry standards such as Photoshop, After Effects and Flash. Adobe stayed true to their traditional upgrade cycle and released all the CS4 products simultaneously, 18 months after CS3 was released.

But over the past few years, the 18-month product cycle has forced Adobe to release upgrades that haven’t had as many groundbreaking features as those in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many CS4 applications saw more improvements in efficiency and productivity as fewer new tools and cool technologies have been included. In my reviews I considered this shift detrimental, but according to third-party research commissioned by Adobe productivity may very well be the “new killer feature” that delivers tangible savings to CS4 users.

The methodology

Adobe commissioned Pfeiffer Consulting, an independent technology research institute, to benchmark the productivity capabilities of CS4 and compare them to CS3 to measure productivity gains. More than 125 benchmarks were conducted across the design, web, video and digital imaging (Photoshop and Lightroom) segments and tested a variety of large and small real-world tasks and assignments including:

Dave Burkett
Dave Burkett
Dave Burkett.

Dave Burkett, Adobe’s Vice President and General Manager for Creative Suite – Design and Web Segments, said the goal of CS4′s productivity capabilities was to improve “deep usability”—refinements of the small steps designers execute every day in their daily work. “When developing Creative Suite 4 we paid close attention to our customers’ needs and pinpointed common tasks that matter most to them. We then focused on adding features and improving upon existing features in order to make those tasks more intuitive and less repetitive. Put simply, it now takes less clicks to achieve the same results.” Andreas Pfeiffer, who conducted the research, wrote that “the cumulative effect of small productivity gains in everyday operations is almost universally underestimated.”

The benchmarks were performed by professional designers and measured by researchers. No scripting or automation was used. The research does not take into account the time and money spent in training, installation and continued learning after the initial purchase, since such investments apply to previous versions of Creative Suite and don’t affect the measurements in productivity. For more information about the benchmark methodology, visit www.pfeifferconsulting.com.

roi-chartPfeiffer’s benchmarks were quite thorough and takes very small time savings into account. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

The findings

Pfeiffer found that “CS4 increases efficiency in a vast variety of operations, including many routine, everyday production tasks.” In particular, the following CS4 features provided substantial time savings:

  • InDesign CS4′s Live Preflight,
  • Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View and Live Code,
  • Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments and Masks panels,
  • Tapeless video support in Premiere Pro CS4, and
  • CSS export from Fireworks CS4.

As an example, Illustrator CS4′s multiple artboards feature allowed designers to consolidate related projects in one file and become more efficient when experimenting with color palettes and designs. I’ve been using multiple artboards myself in my design business: handling one or two Illustrator CS4 files is a lot easier than handling one file for every illustration. I work with a lot of logos and brands, which often have several versions for size and color, and multiple artboards help me organize my clients’ branding. Burkett commented that multiple artboards, according to the research, can save designers three hours per month.

indesign-charts
The research on InDesign CS4 shows Smart Guides and Live Preflight can save a load of production time. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

Other examples, such as InDesign CS4′s Live Preflight, save time and money fixing printing errors by intercepting them early—research found that Live Preflight helped designers find and fix errors twice as fast than with InDesign CS3. Live Preflight is one of my favorite CS4 features because I haven’t had to mess with preflighting at the end of a project like I used to—violations are flagged immediately and I can fix them right away. Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments panel and Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View and Live Code features were shown to offer similar speed improvements.

CS4 was also designed with multiple media content delivery in mind, and is the first Creative Suite to fully integrate Macromedia software (Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks) so Pfeiffer also analyzed cross-application features such as Photoshop Smart Object support in Dreamweaver CS4, Flash CS4 Professional’s abilities in handling After Effects and InDesign content, and Dynamic Link technology that integrates assets between the CS4 video applications.

So how much money does productivity save you? Pfeiffer’s analysis estimates show a substantial sum:

  • $5,753 saved with CS4 Design Premium compared to CS3 Design Premium
  • $10,563 saved with CS4 Web Premium compared to CS3 Web Premium
  • $11,404 saved with CS4 Production Premium compared to CS3 Production Premium
  • $4,020 saved with Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2 compared to Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom 1

Burkett commented, “Ensuring that time- and cost-saving benefits were built into our Creative Suite offerings was always a priority, but is even more vital right now given the current economy. Users can now complete everyday tasks in significantly less time, allowing designers and agencies of all sizes to come in under budget, deliver ahead of deadline and maximize time spent on the creative aspects of the project.”

ps-chartsPhotoshop CS4′s OpenGL support and speed has always been one of its most promoted features, mostly because of its efficiency potential. Pfeiffer’s research supports this, but my view is that your mileage may vary. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

My view

I think CS4 is a major step ahead of CS3 when it comes to efficiency: it’s clear that many improvements in CS4 had efficiency improvements in mind. I’ve always thought this shift toward improving efficiency occurred because it’s become harder and harder to pack the upgrades with cool, exciting new tools when their toolsets are quite mature already. But it appears productivity might have been Adobe’s game plan all along.

As with many such objective findings in the industry, your mileage may vary. Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments panel was found to decrease the time making adjustments in half, but I actually do not like the feature: the new keyboard shortcuts are difficult and the panel is either too small to make adjustments or so large the panel strip takes up too much space. As another example, the research found Fireworks CS4 and Dreamweaver CS4 cuts down CSS creation and management time by over 80% but the CSS generated by Fireworks was not clean enough for my tastes and I still do quite a bit of coding in Dreamweaver.

fw-dw-chartsFireworks CS4 and Dreamweaver CS4 have various new improvements in CSS creation and editing that appear to save a great deal of time. However, my experience suggests not everyone will reap such productivity gains. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

But I am a fan of many other efficiency improvements, especially InDesign CS4′s Smart Guides and Live Preflight features and Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View feature. Flash CS4 Professional’s new object-based animation system, which was also cited as a major time-saving feature, can be difficult for experienced Flash users to get used to but does make sense in the long run. Ultimately, consumers should remember that Pfeiffer’s benchmarks were performed by experienced users of both CS3 and CS4—designers new to CS4 will have a harder time duplicating their level of efficiency—but, given training and experience, the time and cost savings could be substantial.

SIDEBAR: The Visionaire Group and Fast & Furious Show CS4’s Time Savings

Adobe is praising The Visionaire Group for leveraging the productivity benefits of CS4 in order to maximize the online campaign for the movie Fast and Furious. Universal Pictures, the studio that produced Fast and Furious, attributes the movie’s recent #1 position at the weekend box office to the online experience that sparked the enthusiasm of young car enthusiasts and hard-core moviegoers. An engaging Web site, rich-media advertisements, a downloadable desktop widget and a custom iPhone Web site were just some of the campaign’s key elements. J.P. Richards, vice president of marketing, said, “Our goal on Fast and Furious was to develop the most compelling creative content and Adobe Creative Suite 4 delivered way beyond my expectations, while doing it in half the development time.”

In an article published on Enhanced Online News, several CS4 features are called out including Flash CS4 Professional’s 3-D tools, a faster Adobe Media Encoder, Dreamweaver CS4’s Code Navigator and integrated Flash and AIR development with the Adobe Flash Platform.

Today’s economy

In the current economic climate, such findings are sure to command attention. “In today’s economy more than ever, investments in software need to be justified by clear business reasons,” said Andreas Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Consulting. Adobe certainly showed good timing in paying close attention to efficiency and time-cost savings just before the recent economic downturn. According to Burkett, productivity improvement was a primary objective of the CS4 product line and it’s the first time product teams scrutinized this objective in such detail: “We took a new approach with CS4 and decided very early on in the development cycle to better understand how real-life projects could be enhanced with productivity improvements.” Customers were consulted to help pinpoint the most effective ways to improve workflow, and during development the product teams worked to improve raw performance and reduce steps required to complete a task. In some cases, the goal was to make it so users wouldn’t have to access a single panel to execute a command, although I’ve noticed that in some applications (such as Photoshop CS4) more commands have migrated to panels.

Even though productivity improvement was a primary goal, no metrics were developed internally to measure the applications’ success; despite this, Burkett and his team were pleased with the results. “We’re happy that these benchmarking tests were performed,” said Burkett, “as they allow us to gauge just how much of an improvement CS4 is over previous versions.” For more information on Pfeiffer Consulting, visit www.pfeifferconsulting.com. For more information on the CS4 ROI study, including the benchmark data, visit www.adobe.com/go/cs_productivity.

BOOK REVIEW: Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual

missingmanual

Who misses the printed manuals that use to come with Adobe’s applications? I used to read those things, but now they’re only online. The last Adobe Creative Suite product that shipped with manuals was CS3 Production Premium, which came in a large, satisfying box full of manuals. Well, it seems David Pogue missed the manuals and began the “Missing Manuals” line of books designed to fill in for those manuals.

Lesa Snider King has written Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual and it’s worthy of the title. The book is over 750 pages and has a massive amount of information about almost all of Photoshop CS4′s functions. Lesa does a good job of writing clearly yet with a little humor, which is easy to overdo. The interesting thing about Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual is that it’s not just a dry technical manual but also combined with some simple tutorials that illustrate some of Photoshop CS4′s best and most important features. These tutorials are relatively simple and aren’t as satisfying as the advanced things you’ll find in books like Adobe’s Classroom in a Book series, but for beginner and intermediate users they work just fine—and that’s the audience this books serves most.

When is a manual not a manual?

When I first started reading this book for review, I had to decide whether to judge this book as a “tips and tricks” book or a true manual, which has a different purpose and structure. I decided to judge it as a manual, and in that regard Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual has some gaps. I think every good manual must make it easy to find out how to operate something when it’s needed; however, this book doesn’t group things together to make them easy to find. I went to the index to learn more about the Adjustments panel, one of Photoshop CS4′s most important new features. I learned the panel itself is given little notice because its functions are explained throughout the book in various sections. A user needing to decipher the Adjustments panel’s icons would be hard-pressed to do so with this book.

Not everything about Photoshop CS4 is covered in the book. Some things like Color Settings are mysteriously not covered at all, which I think is a shame. Others are covered but maybe not as thoroughly as the online Adobe help docs. But most Photoshop CS4 tools and commands are indeed covered, so I would bet Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual stands as the most comprehensive “missing manual” in the bookstore today. It’s not perfect, and it’s not exactly a manual for good or for bad, but it’s still a fine resource.

Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual
Lesa Snider King
Published by Pogue Press/O’Reilly
US$49.99
Rating: 8/10