Tag Archives: Photoshop

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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