Photoshop CS5 tries advancing photo frontier

Automatic lens corrections, HDR photography, and automated editing tools are among the new features of Adobe's flagship image-editing software.

Photoshop CS5 can automatically correct lens distortions, straightening the lines in this fisheye shot, and fix chromatic aberration and vignetting.
Photoshop CS5 can automatically correct lens distortions, straightening the lines in this fisheye shot, and fix chromatic aberration and vignetting. Adobe Systems

Two years ago, Adobe Systems thought the only big change coming with Photoshop CS5 would be the complete overhaul needed to build a 64-bit Mac version. With the unveiling of the software Monday, though, it's clear Adobe far exceeded that low expectation.

Photoshop CS5 brings a number of high-profile features for photographers, artists, and the broader designer market that uses the software. It's just one of numerous changes among the Creative Suite 5 packages Adobe is unveiling at a Monday event, but it's one of Adobe's highest-profile programs. So without further ado, here's what's coming when the new version ships in the next 30 days:

• Automatic lens corrections, based on Adobe's close measurements of various camera bodies and lenses, can ease the removal of barrel and pincushion distortion, vignetting that darkens corners, and chromatic aberration that produces colored fringes along edges. This automates a previously manual chore. People can create their own basic profiles and, showing the wonders of crowdsourcing, share them on the Net.

• Revamped support for high-dynamic range (HDR) photography will let people combine a range of images at different exposures--and this time, produce the desired look out of the composite. Adobe believes it's surpassed the prevailing tool for the job, HDRsoft's Photomatix. Photoshop CS5's HDR Pro feature can be used for an unassuming look that fixes blown-out highlights and crushed blacks, or it can be used to generate the eerie but controversial otherworldly look some HDR aficionados enjoy. For those who want the effect but didn't take bracketed photos at different exposures, a HDR toning command applies the look to a single image.

Photoshop CS5 can combine multiple exposures into a single high-dynamic range, then let the user fine-tune the result.
Photoshop CS5 can combine multiple exposures into a single high-dynamic range, then let the user fine-tune the result. Adobe Systems

• Content-aware fill lets a person delete a region of a photo--an unwanted object, for example--and let Photoshop fill in the resulting blank patch even if it's a complicated background. Content-aware fill can also flesh out the blank patches left around the edges when images are stitched into a panorama. It's common knowledge that photo-editing tools can be used to alter reality, but this automates the process even more.

• An advanced selection tool will let people more easily isolate subjects from their backgrounds, even with that most notorious of complicated edges, hair. Photoshop users spend lots of tedious hours at this, often buying plug-ins to help, so any improvement in automation is significant.

• Puppet warp lets people move elements of a scene around with free-form adjustments based on control points and anchor points. Adobe demonstrated it moving an elephant's trunk from the ground to its mouth, and to level a horizon line bowed by lens distortion, but a more likely use case is making models look skinny and curvaceous.

Content-aware fill lets you erase the boat visible in the original image, inset, with a quick selection and a click of the delete key.
Content-aware fill lets you erase the boat visible in the original image, inset, with a quick selection and a click of the delete key. Adobe Systems

• 64-bit support on Mac OS X. It was there on Windows since Photoshop CS4 was released in September 2008 , but now Mac users will get its chief benefit, the ability to handle really large images and exploit the advantages of computers with more than 4GB of memory.

• The artistic set gets new physics-based paintbrush and paint dynamics, including attributes such as ink flow, detailed brush shape, and paint mixing. This process is accelerated by a computer's graphics processing unit, or GPU, and works in conjunction with the pressure and orientation settings of a pen and tablet setup such as those from Wacom.

• The plug-in for handling raw images from higher-end cameras--inconvenient but powerful files taken from the image sensor without in-camera processing into a JPEG--is refurbished with the new, higher-quality processing algorithms for noise reduction and edge sharpening that Adobe is building into the upcoming Lightroom 3.

A smarter selection tool in Photoshop CS5 is geared for isolating complex shapes from their backgrounds.
A smarter selection tool in Photoshop CS5 is geared for isolating complex shapes from their backgrounds. Adobe Systems

There's more, of course, many of them lacking the glamour of the above. Bryan O'Neil Hughes, Photoshop product manager, said there were more than 36 changes made to address the "just do it" list of productivity improvements Adobe asked users to supply.

Providing significant new features an important consideration given the unceasing grumbling Adobe faces about its upgrade prices. Adobe hasn't announced pricing, but in the past upgrades have cost hundreds of dollars. The software should be available within 30 days, Adobe said.

It remains to be seen whether Photoshop customers will eagerly embrace the new features. Another constant refrain is grumbling about Photoshop bloat from those who see a faster, svelte version as the most desirable upgrade. The trouble, as Adobe has pointed out, is that nobody can agree on what limbs should be lopped from the Photoshop feature tree.

However, to tidy things up somewhat, Photoshop CS5 gets a series of buttons toward the upper right that tailor the user interface to various common tasks.

Puppet warp: new horizons in fluid distortion.
Puppet warp: new horizons in fluid distortion. Adobe Systems

Adobe does continue to keep some features out of the regular Photoshop, offering a more expensive premium "Extended" version. With CS5, the flagship feature is Repousse, a module that lets 2D shapes be extruded and otherwise formed into 3D shapes.

Photoshop is 20 years old , and it's now got many stablemates that will be updated Monday. Once upon a time, there was a giant software industry devoted to selling boxes full of a CD-ROM and a manual. While much of the innovation has shifted to Web services, Adobe continues to pursue the old agenda.

It can, of course, because its products usually handle the kinds of CPU-hammering chores that adapt poorly so far to running over an Internet connection. It's built that into a big business--Ticonderoga Securities analyst Jay Vleeschhouwer estimates it generates about $235 million to $240 million a year right now for Adobe.

Adobe Systems

What else is in the Creative Suite? There's Premiere Pro for video editing, After Effects for video effects, Illustrator for vector graphics, InDesign for page layout design, DreamWeaver for Web site creation, Flash Pro for writing Flash applications, the new Flash Catalyst for converting graphical mockups into Flash apps, Acrobat for handling PDF files, and others. It's a sprawling collection that spans multiple DVDs. Adobe packages it in any number of specific subsets for various specialties.

Many of these packages get new features, too. Illustrator has new abilities to incorporate perspective into 3D designs. Premiere Pro gets the new GPU- and multicore-accelerated playback engine called Mercury for higher-performance video, including better multilayer compositing. After Effects gets the roto brush for isolating backgrounds or elements across a series of frames, and both video tools are 64-bit to take advantage of lots of memory. And alas for Adobe, Flash Pro's fancy new feature, the ability to bring Flash software for the iPhone, appears to be in jeopardy with new Apple license terms.

One big difference at Adobe is the acquisition of Omniture, whose technology lets Web sites track usage in detail. Adobe thinks of it as part of a feedback loop to steer designers more intelligently, but it has another important element: it's a subscription service, not a shrink-wrapped box. Integration with Web-oriented tools such as Flash Pro and Dreamweaver appears to just be under way, though.

The full suite is so broad that Adobe has a tough time coming up with a theme to encompass all the changes. But that's not too important, as long as it can keep persuading its wide customer base to keep on paying for those boxes.

 

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