Tag Archives: Photoshop

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.

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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

BOOK REVIEW: Deke McClelland’s Photoshop CS4 and InDesign CS4 one-on-one Books

id-oneonone

ps-oneonone

Deke McClelland is in my opinion one of the best instructors out there for Photoshop and other creative applications. He might also be the funniest (sorry, Scott Kelby). So I was glad to have the opportunity to read two recent books from his popular “one-on-one” series, Adobe InDesign CS4 one-on-one and Adobe Photoshop CS4 one-on-one. I think both of them are excellent resources for novice designers who are learning these two applications.

Both for beginners only

I think the very best books in the industry (or any books for that matter) are great because they are essential for beginners and experts alike. The one-on-one books don’t quite qualify in this regard, because they really are for beginners and novices. Expert users of InDesign and Photoshop don’t necessarily need these books unless they haven’t trained in a long while and feel they need to improve their basic and advanced skills.

As books for beginner and intermediate users, the one-on-one books are excellent. I had heard there were errors in these books but I didn’t find any myself. The layouts are well-done and Deke’s writing style is as loose and fun as ever without ruining the learning experience. The same goes for the videos included in the CD-ROM with each book: you don’t get the face time with Deke that you do in his more extensive videos with Lynda.com, but you get over four hours of tutorial footage with each book and it’s all narrated by Deke. These one-on-one books are a great value even at $50 each.

Whither CS4?

A major complaint I have with both these books is the lack of focus on features new to the CS4 versions of InDesign and Photoshop. Many of these features are certainly covered in the books but there is little indication to readers that they’re new to CS4. I wouldn’t expect the one-on-one books to talk all about new CS4 features (for that I recommend Ben Willmore’s Up to Speed series, one of my favorites) but there’s not even an icon to draw attention to CS4 features or a page at the beginning of the books to outline what’s new. I think flagging the CS4-specific information would have been a big help to all readers.

Not comprehensive but close

One more thing: both books do a great job providing all the essential information about InDesign and Photoshop but it’s not complete. In the Photoshop CS4 book, things such as HDR, Camera Raw, Photo Filter adjustment layers and the Lens Distortion filter among others were all missed or provided relatively little coverage. The InDesign CS4 book seemed better but some of the really advanced material such as GREP was not covered much. For beginners’ books such as these, I am not bothered that such advanced stuff was glossed over in favor of more essential features and techniques. But buyers should know that some topics, such as Camera Raw, are much better served by other books (for that topic I would recommend Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS3 by Jeff Schewe and the late Bruce Fraser).

Conclusion

Both Adobe Photoshop CS4 one-on-one and Adobe InDesign CS4 one-on-one are excellent books for beginners learning the trade: the quality of training in the pages and on the CD-ROM is very good. Those who are very familiar with Adobe InDesign CS3 one-on-one and Adobe Photoshop CS3 one-on-one may not need to purchase these as well—other than the CS4-related material, the books are probably very similar.

Adobe InDesign CS4 one-on-one
Rating: 9/10
Adobe Photoshop CS4 one-on-one
Rating: 8/10
Deke McClelland
Published by deke Press/O’Reilly
US$49.99

REVIEW: Bokeh Makes A Mean Bokeh

bokeh

At the end of last year Alien Skin Software released Bokeh, a Photoshop plug-in designed to recreate the “bokeh” effect that’s commonly used when photographers want to blur or tone down a background. I was a beta-tester for the software and was included in the Case Studies page for some Bokeh-improved images of mine. But now I have to remove by beta tester hat and put on my reviewer’s hat, and what I see in Bokeh is a very handy plug-in for photographers retouching with Photoshop.

The Bokeh effect

Bokeh can apply a wide variety of effects to an image:

  • Radial and planar bokeh, applying the effect in a circular or gradient fashion.
  • Aperture effects: areas affected with bokeh can reveal a diaphragm shape of anywhere from three to 11 blades, or a circular or heart-shaped diaphragm. Blades can also be curved inward or outward.
  • Bokeh can have varying amounts of creaminess.
  • Highlight boosting, which can create hot spots if you’re not careful but punches up the image pretty well if you’re judicious with the settings.
  • Vignettes: vignette shape, color, intensity, size and feather are all controllable in Bokeh.

If you’re a photographer, the vast majority of your work with Bokeh will be in creating true bokeh: soft backgrounds, sharp foreground or subject, and possibly some aperture effects or vignetting. For this purpose Bokeh does its job exceedingly well: everything I’ve seen Bokeh produce looks like it was photographed that way. If you’re a mix of photographer, artist and designer like I am, you might find Bokeh useful for more than just recreating bokeh. I found that with a combination of colored vignetting and creamy bokeh I was able to age photos in a very nice way. For the bald eagle photo you see below, I played around with the aperture diaphragm settings to create some five-sided stars. A blue vignette and a little highlighting on the eagle’s head (done in Photoshop—Bokeh can’t do such spot retouching) made the image into a patriotic one.

This bald eagle image was created with Bokeh's standard effects plus some out-of-the-box application of vignette and other effects.
This bald eagle image was created with Bokeh's standard effects plus some out-of-the-box application of vignette and other effects.

More flexibility

If you’re hoping to use Bokeh for artistic effects like I did, be prepared to run into a few obstacles. Bokeh is designed for photographers, and so the plug-in isn’t designed to create a wide variety of effects. I loved using the “Heart of Hearts” diaphragm shape—it’s included with the plug-in—but there’s no way to create other shapes unless they’re based on a circle or conventional bladed diaphragm. Also, Bokeh cannot do anything to an empty layer, which would have been helpful if one wanted to mask or modify it later. Bokeh does allow you to duplicate the current layer when applying bokeh (click the “Create Output in New Layer Above Current” checkbox) but it flattens the effect with a copy of the original.

Conclusion

Bokeh is another well-designed plug-in from Alien Skin and for photographers who need to recreate true bokeh it’s an excellent tool. I recommend it for any photographer who falls in this category. Creative photographers and designers who want to play with the effects will find a lot of useful tools in Bokeh but keep in mind the plug-in was not really created for this kind of work and there’s sometimes more flexible ways in Photoshop to create the same effects. But Bokeh can do a lot, and I know from personal experience that it can make good photos great.

Bokeh
Alien Skin Software
Rating: 9/10
US$199.00

REVIEW: Fireworks CS4


Fireworks CS4 box

In 2007, when I reviewed the Adobe Creative Suite 3 applications, probably my most controversial was the Fireworks CS3 review, which got decent marks but I questioned its interface design, which had seemed left behind while the other apps got facelifts, and also its function in a suite of products that included Photoshop, Adobe’s main bitmap graphics application.

Even then, the Fireworks team was positioning Fireworks CS3 as a web prototyping tool—and now, with Fireworks CS4, the transition into a niche product has been completed. Fireworks CS4 is designed to be a rapid prototyping tool for creating web designs quickly. It also has some interesting new features that make it a unique application in the Adobe Creative Suite 4.

Interface evolution

I complained about Fireworks CS3’s lack of development of its interface, which had not changed much at all from Fireworks 8, the last version of that product produced by Macromedia. The problem was the Fireworks team did not have the time and resources to make such changes before the product’s launch. I expected Fireworks CS4 to be much more in line with Adobe’s interface for its other applications, and by and large it has delivered. The CS4 interface design has been incorporated into Fireworks CS4 so goodies like tabbed documents, workspace switching, the Application frame and more are available.

However, what I was really hoping for was alignment of Fireworks’ features to look like and act like identical features in other CS4 applications. In this regard Fireworks CS4 still has not changed much from versions 8 or CS3. Fireworks shares many panels with other CS4 apps (Align, Layers, Color) but Fireworks’ panels do not look or behave the same way. The Path panel, comparable to Illustrator’s Pathfinder panel, is actually much more robust than the Pathfinder panel but because it’s so unique it requires study to master it. Likewise, Fireworks CS4’s Color Palette panel is unique in that it has a Mixer and Blender mode that I’ve not seen in any other CS4 application.


Fireworks CS4 Path panel

Have you seen this panel anywhere else in CS4? Neither have I. Fireworks’ Path panel is unique, even when compared to the Pathfinder panel in Illustrator.

Fireworks CS4 sometimes improves on other apps’ features but sometimes it doesn’t. In particular, the method for adding filters to elements has not changed and I would rather work with Photoshop’s method (layer styles) or InDesign’s (using the Effects panel) than the small drop-down menu in Fireworks’ Properties panel. Also, Fireworks CS4 has implemented Smart Guides, which I applaud and work quite well, but it does not look like they will auto-space multiple elements like InDesign CS4’s Smart Guides will do.


Fireworks CS4 Smart Guides

Fireworks’ Smart Guides don’t seem as robust as InDesign CS4’s, but they are a real benefit nonetheless.

I am starting to wonder if Fireworks’ interface should not be changed, because it will throw off current users. The Photoshop team made some radical changes to its application’s interface in CS4, which has bothered a lot of users including myself. I personally think there’s still room for improvement, and it drives me crazy to use a unique set of panels and commands in Fireworks, but maybe the current user base doesn’t agree. Comments on this topic would be most welcome.

Importing Photoshop designs


Fireworks CS4 PSD open

Importing Photoshop files is a snap in Fireworks CS4, but some care is required to make it match what one sees in Photoshop.

One of the new features of Fireworks CS4 is the ability to import complex Photoshop documents. I tested this with a Photoshop comp of a website I will be designing in the next couple months, and it worked pretty well but there were a few problems:

  • Fireworks CS4 interprets all Photoshop layers as having 100% Fill, no matter the actual Fill amount
  • Layers can shift during import; use “Maintain Photoshop Layer Appearance” to resolve this, though this can reduce editability in Fireworks CS4
  • Fireworks CS4 applies fonts with slightly different spacing, causing some overlap with nearby elements
  • A Photoshop layer with a layer mask (a simple gradient mask in this case) was not masked in Fireworks CS4, even though Fireworks can do the same thing with a layer mask

This is when I really wish the Fireworks team would revise the application so it does things the same way as Photoshop and other CS4 applications, because I suspect these little errors occur when Photoshop features have no comparable Fireworks feature (or similar but not quite the same).

BOOK REVIEW: The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers


Companion

Derrick Story’s The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is an interesting book, in that it strives to be a slim “companion” book for photographers out in the field but still aims to cram itself with all the information pertinent to a photographer using Photoshop. The end result is something in between, a book I enjoyed for its compact size and portability but ended up questioning whether it simply has too much information.

Great book for the studio

Don’t get me wrong—I’m the type to encourage information overload. And with that being the case, I’m impressed by the amount of information the Companion packs into its pages. Like many other books, this one focuses on workflow at the beginning and spends a chapter discussing importing images with the Photo Downloader, a component of Bridge that I’ve not found much use for until now. Derrick considers it a very powerful tool for importing photos, and I agree although there are other solutions (I personally use Photoshop Lightroom) and I would doubt most photographers are shooting in the field without an importing strategy already in place.

The book continues with a chapter on rating and keywording in Bridge (again, I use Lightroom for this—but Bridge is the next best thing) and two chapters on Camera Raw, and then the book moves into Photoshop territory with coverage of a variety of tools (Clone Stamp, Levels) and techniques (blemish removal, sharpening, hue/saturation, panorama stitching). The book ends with a small chapter on printing, which (like workflow) seems a little out of place because one would expect a photographer to worry about printing only after returning from the field.

Not enough Photoshop

Out of the eight chapters in Companion, only two cover Photoshop itself. This bothers me—I know Derrick wanted to avoid packing every Photoshop tip into this book, but I think more could have been done. Since this book is about Photoshop CS4, CS4-specific information would have been helpful: not much is said about the Adjustments and Masks panels, two of the most noticeable changes in Photoshop CS4. A photographer out in the field might want a comprehensive overview of these panels handy when he/she is working on images. There’s also plenty of other tips and tricks a photographer may want to reference in a companion like this book.

A lot of copy

When I think about companions, handbooks and pocket guides—whether they are travel guides or Photoshop books like this one—I hope to see the right mix of imagery, copy and information design. These small books get too jam-packed without white space and visual aids like headings and such. Companion does a pretty good job of mixing images in the right place but the copy is served in huge blocks that are rarely broken up with callouts, boxes or other aids. This makes the book somewhat difficult to use when looking up a particular bit of information, which is often the case out in the field. As I alluded to in my subheading above, this book works best in the studio—or reading room, where one can read the book cover-to-cover. A photographer in the field who has to find out fast how to apply a photo filter to an image for a client will be hard-pressed to find the information in Companion.

Conclusion

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is a good book, and I would recommend it for beginners or amateurs who could use a small, easy-to-digest guide to workflow, Camera Raw and a few Photoshop techniques for photographers. It is not a complete Photoshop guide or a full survey of new CS4 features, and I might stick it in my camera bag for “just in case” situations but the lack of Photoshop-specific information and ease of use out in the field might keep it unopened.

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers
Derrick Story
Published by O’Reilly
Rating: 7/10
US$24.99