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Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Arthur C. Clarke postulated that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and every new release of Adobe’s industry-standard bitmap image-editor, Photoshop, comes closer to proving that true. The newest, Photoshop CS5 ($699 to $999 list, $199–$899 list for upgrades), implements features that aid in selection, painting, and high dynamic range (HDR) photography, as well as a new capability that’s as close to digital prestidigitation as we’ve yet seen. Photoshop CS5 may not be a must-have revision for every user, but it’s an outstanding, easy-to-use, and—yes—magical release that shows Adobe isn’t yet done changing the game.

Photoshop’s Content-Aware Fill
The most eye-popping of the changes here is Content-Aware Fill. Sound familiar? It should—Photoshop CS4 ($700 – $1,000 street, ) added Content-Aware Scaling, so you could resize images to reduce dead space, but preserve the content you cared about. Content-Aware Fill is that idea’s logical extension, letting you excise certain elements while preserving the image’s background. No, seriously: If an errant dog is marring your otherwise pristine capture of a green field, just select the dog, choose the option (it can be as easy as hitting the Delete key), and the dog disappears—but the field remains. The results aren’t 100 percent flawless 100 percent of the time, but they’re so outstanding in general that they may leave you wondering whether you’ll ever again send out an imperfect image.
Another new Photoshop CS5 feature, while it may sound a bit more mundane, is hardly less practical when it comes to achieving that goal. Selection technology has been given a supercharge with improved edge detection and masking by way of the intelligent Refine Edge tool, with which even complicated borders (especially those containing fur and hair) can be captured with high accuracy and improved with only a few minutes of not-painstaking painting.

Photoshop’s Camera Support
Other new functions give you expanded ways to deal with images either before or after importing. The Adobe Camera Raw 6 plug-in supports more than 275 camera models, and offers advanced editing tools for removing noise, applying new effects (like vignettes and grains), and sharpening at the earliest stages. The Lens Correction filter has gotten an update, and now offers better automatic and custom functionality. You can also use the Lens Profile Creator to set up scenarios that will automatically fix geometric distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting. The HDR Pro tool makes it easier to tweak over- and underexposed images to your satisfaction, whether you’re going after something unnaturally photorealistic or a bit more artistic.
If you’re even more openly creative, the Mixer Brush lets you treat your mouse (or Wacom tablet) as a real paintbrush, and your Colors panel as a real palette—you can define multiple colors on a single brush tip, blend them with what’s already on your “canvas” at any level of dryness or wetness, and more. With Puppet Warp, you can “rebend” parts of an image around any axes you select, which may remove an extra layer of frustration from adjusting one little errant element.

Photoshop’s 3D Features
As has been true for the last few versions, the Extended version of Photoshop CS5 puts an extra emphasis on 3D, though the changes this time around are a bit less extreme than they have been in the past. With Repoussé, you can easily convert two-dimensional artwork into 3D objects with any extrusion qualities you choose, and covered them with a variety of materials from the 3D Material Drop tool. Shadow Catcher even lets you create no-fuss shadows to accompany your images. Version 2.0 of Adobe Ray Tracer lets you pause and restart your rendering or perform selective renderings.

Photoshop’s Other Enhancements
There have been lots of smaller (or at least less visible) enhancements, too. Cross-platform 64-bit support takes fuller advantage of current hardware, which is especially nice if you’re working with big images or 3D projects. Don’t like Adobe’s layout of your design tools? Change it up any way you want with Configurator 2.0 (available as a separate download), which lets you create new panels using just the tools you want.

There are also the changes that have been implemented as part of Photoshop’s JDI (“Just Do It”) program of blasting through simple fixes (every so often, Adobe developers were be turned loose to work on smaller improvements for a day). These include the ability to move a selection while the active layer is hidden, a command for deleting all empty layers with scripts, the option to instruct Save As to always default to the folder in which you last saved an image (where has this been all my life?), the ability to create a new layer in your Photoshop document just by dragging and dropping a file onto it, an overlay grid for the crop tool that lets you see without guessing the nine different “sectors” of your crop so you may balance your trimming more easily—and a lot more.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 does share with its predecessors one major barrier to entry: its price. At $699 for the Standard and $999 for the Extended Edition, coming at either package new is a pricey proposition. Upgrade pricing is, of course, considerably more forgiving, and if you’re buying Photoshop as part of one of the versions of the CS5 suite, you won’t much notice the cost. If the changes in Photoshop CS5 may not necessarily scream “update” at those who just jumped on board the CS4 train a year and a half ago, for all other creative types it’s a must-buy. Budding magic makers may even find Content-Aware Fill worth the cost all by itself. Photoshop CS5 is once again a shoe-in for PCMag’s Editors’ Choice award.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.
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