Tuesday, 13 April 2010 00:34

Adobe Photoshop CS5 - a closer look


Announced today, Adobe's Photoshop CS5 brings some new and interesting features to the desktops of the world's image manipulators.

Following a confidential briefing some weeks ago, iTWire received a full pre-release version of CS5 a few days later.  In order to fully explore the features, it was installed it on a production photo manipulation system and has been used as the primary software ever since. 

The operator of this particular system specialises in photo restoration, retouching and clipping services.  Her expertise is specific to Photoshop and thus the other CS5 components will not be covered in this review.

Prior to today's announcement, Adobe released a number of video presentations showing many of the major new features.  Some of these features are as amazing as they seem; others not quite so.

The first feature to discuss is edge detection based on smart radius.  This is a very useful feature that allows a very simple selection of a complex object.

The provided video shows a white horse moving in a field with grass beneath and a wooden paling fence behind.  With some very simple selection steps, the horse (including a very wispy tail) is fully selected.

Next, and more amazingly, the content-aware fill can be launched to re-create the scene behind the horse when it is removed; the fence is recreated as are trees, sky and grass.

More on the next page.

Another demonstration seen by iTWire during the press briefing showed a man being removed from in front a cemented rock wall where the rocks and cement were recreated in what would be considered a 'reasonable' layout.

These features will certainly make life simpler for the lay user.

However, the key point here is 'lay user.'  Although of value as a quick-and-easy tool, the ability to quickly create a selection mask that identifies fine detail such as hair (either on a horse or on a model) proves much more problematic in real life.

iTWire's expert user certainly found that the tool was unable to clearly delineate the background where it was of a similar tone to the hair.

Similarly, when reconstructing a background, there are many situations where the best guess of the software may not look 'real' and must be touched up or even totally recreated.

This reminds iTWire of an old (probably apocryphal) tale of the photo retoucher who was asked to remove the hat from a gentleman in a photo.  The retoucher asked the customer what the colour of the gentleman's hair might be.  The customer responded, "Won't it be obvious once the hat is removed?"

Adobe has made other content-aware fill videos available where techniques such as removal of distant power poles and other discrete features are demonstrated.  Clearly this demonstrates that such simple usages are easy to use.

Some of the more obscure tools released in this version of Photoshop are of very significant use to the professionals. 

One which caught iTWire's eye was noise reduction - a problem with low-light photography.  In the image seen, we are shown a neon advertising sign against a supposedly dark sky.

Zoom in and the sky is far from dark: random red pixels fill the darkness.  Apply the repair tool and all is again well with the world.

There are many more features that may be explored by the discerning user.  However, be aware of some restrictions.

Firstly, as discussed earlier, the magical features are somewhat simplistic.  They do not remove the expertise of the professional; they simply shorten the extent of the task.  Nothing will take away the artistic skills that are key to this work.

It's very like the frequest comments regarding cameras.  The skilled operator can achieve amazing shots with the simplest of cameras; the fool can achieve next-to-nothing with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

Finally, let's look at system requirements.

Discussion forums are rife with comments that CS5 is making huge demands upon systems that previous versions did not make.

iTWire's expert made similar comments: regular reboots have been required; frequent error messages that there is insufficient memory to complete a task etc.

The production computer in question is running a Pentium Core 2 Duo at 2.2GHz with 2GB RAM.  Not the most modern of computers, sure; but no slouch either.

For pricing and availability, users are referred to Adobe's Australian on-line store.  Interestingly, the system requirements stated on the Adobe store are significantly weaker than the testing PC.

Overall, this is a major improvement in Photoshop, but it's not about replacing the expert with tools that any lay person can use.  The experts will love it, in fact iTWire's expert has been asking for days to know how much the upgrade will cost.


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