While Photoshop CS3 may not have been ideally suited to the photographer, CS4 sees a change in emphasis for Adobe
Much as Google has become synonymous with web browsing, Hoover with vacuum cleaners and Tannoy with public address systems, Photoshop’s status as the market-leading image-editing software means many people view it as the only option when it comes to editing your shots.
However, the image-editing market is now awash with alternatives to the Adobe beast, with Adobe themselves offering the alternatives of the more-stripped-down Photoshop Elements and the increasingly popular Lightroom. So, whereabouts does Adobe’s latest incarnation of the famous software sit? What new ground does CS4 break, and what exactly does all the extra cash get you?
The first major change that strikes you when you start CS4 is the changes to the interface. Adobe has taken a lead from current web-browsing trends and has decided to integrate a tabbed user interface, so, say if you are editing four images at the same time, they can now be combined within the same window, rather than four separate windows, and as such tidies up your workspace.
There is also now an ‘arrange documents’ button that organises the images back into their separate windows, but in a range of convenient set-ups, such as an evenly distributed ‘4-up’. Besides the tabbed innovation and tiling options sits fully integrated workspace shifting, allowing quick hopping between Adobe-family products, such as Lightroom, InDesign and the like.
For me, the real groundbreaking change with CS4 features in the adjustments panel. As Adobe puts it: ‘there’s no dialog box maze to navigate any more’. If you’re like me, then you’re aware that the best way to edit your images in Photoshop is to use separate layers for each adjustment made. However, I’ve always found the adjustment layer process unintuitive, and as such rarely ventured beyond the odd layer or two.
CS4 sees a complete overhaul of the adjustments panel. All of the adjustments layers that used to sit at the base of the layer palette now have their own devoted panel, with each adjustment featuring a range of further tweaks to its settings, along with several presets. What’s more, you can set your own presets, so as to make a uniform adjustment easier than before. Once applied, the adjustment layers automatically appear on the layers panel, making corrections non-destructive. This improvement will no doubt make the whole adjustment layer experience more accessible for less- experienced users, or just easier for lazy people like me!
One of the standout new standalone features is Content-Aware Scaling – an editing device that works as a kind of intelligent Free Transform. The tool, located in the editing menu, allows you to change the size of different areas of an image without adversely affecting the content. You can also ‘protect’ certain areas of the image so as to localise the scaling, and no doubt this tool will be a hit with both hobbyist and professional photographers.
Another area that sees an overhaul is the masking dialogues and interface.
In previous Photoshop versions, masking was a bit of an inexact science. Quite often if you wanted to apply a quick gradient mask, for example, getting it to cover the area of the image you wanted might take four or five inaccurate drags of the mouse.
However, areas masked in CS4 can now be adjusted after the masking has taken place, meaning it’s simpler than ever to select a specific area of the image.
Dodge and Burn tools were two more that weren’t always the most precise, though the tools now come with a ‘protect tones’ option, meaning that more local changes can be carried out over a wider area.
Again, these changes will no doubt benefit those who have, in the past, been put off from using the more ‘advanced’ side of Photoshop due to the steep learning curve it possessed, one that has now been significantly levelled out.
Better RAW Image Processing
Camera Raw, now version five, is an area that sees, some may say, a much-needed facelift and improvements made upon previous versions.
Users can now apply localised adjustments and gradients, alongside other similar tools using brushes, meaning that the new Camera Raw has a lot of Photoshop familiarity to it, rather then seeming like some strange standalone feature.
The previously mentioned improved interface is complemented by enhanced OpenGL functionality.
Your work canvas can now be fluidly rotated, zoomed into and out of, and even thrown around thanks to new ‘toss’ physics, meaning that navigating the image is a breeze.
However, one of the facets of OpenGL is that, of course, your Mac or PC must have an OpenGL graphics card.
It must be said that some of the changes are arguably more suited to the beginner or relative newcomer to image editing, rather than the more advanced user who would no doubt have their own workflow sorted in such a way that, for example, the need for a simplified adjustments panel would never occur to them. And with this in mind it begs the question… if you?re a newcomer to image editing, are you going to be willing to spare nearly £600 for editing software? If you do, you?ll get the market-leading program, but surely it will only be a matter of time before the headline features in CS4 make their way through the Adobe family to more accessibly priced and easy to operate products.
It must be said that some of the changes are arguably more suited to the beginner or relative newcomer to image editing, rather than the more advanced user who would no doubt have their own workflow sorted in such a way that, for example, the need for a simplified adjustments panel would never occur to them. And with this in mind it begs the question... if you’re a newcomer to image editing, are you going to be willing to spare nearly £600 for editing software? If you do, you’ll get the market-leading program, but surely it will only be a matter of time before the headline features in CS4 make their way through the Adobe family to more accessibly priced and easy to operate products.