Adobe announced the public beta release of the next Photoshop, anyone can download and use the new release until it expires after the release of the actual product. Superstition, as it is codenamed, has, as usual, many new features; some just fine, others are very useful, almost “must have” features that may make the upgrade very compelling. Depending on your usage of Photoshop and your needs, these must-have features may vary. In this quick look, I will highlight some features that may be important to photographers, rest assured, however, there are other features for graphic designers and those who create content in Photoshop.
The first thing you will notice as you launch the public beta is the dark user interface. Gone are the light gray background and the chrome and welcome the dark charcoal gray interface. I like it because it gives me a more subdued background and chrome when I work with my photographs. The light colored panels, toolbar, menu, etc. in the previous versions could at times be distracting. Aside from the dark color, you will also find the toolbars and icons cleaner, clearer, and easier to discern. The filters menu has been reorganized in a more coherent and meaningful manner. Once you start using the menus you will also notice the restructured menu hierarchy which seems to make more sense.
The Crop tool now works in a way that is similar to Lightroom. It keeps the crop window stationary while moving or rotating the image as necessary. There is an option to make it work in the “Classic Mode” as well as being able to superimpose a different grid or crop overlay. These include the rule of thirds (oh, no!), golden ratio, triangle, diagonal, and golden spiral. The last one seems oddly used since the golden spiral refers to a specific ratio where this overlay calmly sits over any crop ratio you may have. So, don’t assume you are really using the golden spiral, it is just a spiral in my view.
The engineers at Adobe reworked the Layers palette with a new properties panel along with the layer mask properties all integrated into a single fly-out panel. The new interface is a bit different from the old one but very easy to get used to. I believe everyone will like the new functionality.
More Content Aware
Photoshop CS5 brought the content aware fill and spot healing tools, which most users loved. Now, there are a couple of additions to the content-aware suite, content aware patch and content aware move tools take their place next to others in the collection. They work with equal ease and with some frustrations at times. If a content aware tool does not seem to work, the solution generally seems to be to apply the tool to smaller areas at a time to complete the job in hand.
Speed and Work Saving Features
Photoshop CS6 is a good deal faster than the earlier versions. Some work is done in the background, like saving a file, while you continue working. That is a very welcome feature. You will also find a major speed and functional improvement on tools like Liquify. On large or small images, Liquify works in real-time. Another welcome feature is the autosave feature. Photoshop saves your work at predetermined intervals, and in case of a system failure, you can retrieve your work mostly intact. That will be a much-appreciated function after the first power failure!
In addition to improving the old tools, Adobe added a few new tools. There is a skin selection option under “Select/Color Range” option. It also supports face recognition. Despite my good efforts, that potentially cool tool did not work well for me. The selected skin was blotchy and non-skin colored areas were included in the selection as well.
My favorite among the batch is the Adaptive Wide Angle filter which can correct complex distortions stemming from the lens and perspective geometries. This tool is worth the price of an upgrade for me. If you take architectural, cityscape, or any other kind of photographs with wide angle lenses, AWA filter will save tons of time. Yes, there was a lens correction filter, which is still there, but AWA is much simpler and intuitive to use. I really like this filter! Take a look at the series of screen captures that show the progress. Keep in mind that the constraint lines that are curved while drawing are done totally by AWA filter since it knows the lens geometry. As soon as you let go of the mouse, the curves snap to attention. They can also be designated as vertical or horizontal lines in addition to being straight lines. I chose an extreme example of a fisheye lens distortion to show what it can do. Imagine what it will do for a 24mm lens, slightly tilted up to get the full height of a building.
Here are the photographs from beginning to the end in the AWA filter:
Adobe Camera RAW
Adobe Camera RAW has been redone, it now features the good, the bad, and the ugly of Lightroom RAW engine. Other than the under the hood changes which improve the demosaicing and other image quality enhancements, there are visible changes as well. The Exposure, Brightness, Recovery, Fill Light sliders are reworked and some are dropped. That’s a good thing. Now, the Exposure slider works similar to the Brightness slider used to work in Lightroom 3, with restrained and gamma-corrected adjustments. The recovery function is now relegated to the Highlights and Whites sliders and the fill light has been replaced with Shadows. These are all sensible changes and they work well. I don’t understand, however, why the order of sliders is Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks. It would have made more sense, at least to me, if they were in the order of the luminosity, e.i. Whites, Highlights, Shadows, Blacks. But, since they work better than the old set I am willing to work with them.
The really botched up adjustment is the Clarity slider. They must have tried to minimize or even eliminate the halos and they succeeded in that. However, moving the clarity slider a little more than 20-30 (out of 100) on most images results in major tonal and structural changes. Totally unacceptable to me. That slider now has a much lower usable range. I hope someone takes notice of this and affects the much-needed change. In its current state, the slider can easily create what is (erroneously) called “The HDR Look”, and what should appropriately be called “The Grunge Look”.
The sharpening function in both Camera RAW and also in Photoshop proper has been improved considerably. With the use of selective adjustment tools in the Camera RAW, like the Gradient and Brush tools, sharpness can selectively be applied in the RAW conversion state to chosen areas, as well as noise reduction. These are very good and important improvements.
Along similar lines to sharpening improvements, the chromatic aberration removal in Lens Correction works extremely well. So good in fact that there is no slider associated with it. Click the checkbox and watch the color fringes disappear. In some extreme cases, you may need to use “Defringe” option in the manual lens correction panel.
The Camera RAW module, 126.96.36.1998 does not support very new cameras. I know this for a fact since it does not recognize my new Canon G1 X RAW format. That is not a major problem since Lightroom 4 works with that with no problem. The inconvenient part is that I cannot pass a G1 X file from Lightroom to Photoshop CS6 before converting it to TIFF file. I am sure as the product is finally released the RAW conversion engines will be synchronized between these products.
Print Workflow and Interface
The printing workflow and the interface has seen a significant upgrade. The preview now fills the available space in the resizable window. Full access to printer settings as well as the print options are logically organized. You will like the way it works with a large preview (how large is your monitor!)
There are more, much more under the hood, but I wanted to mention these salient features that you can start enjoying. It seems to be working with my additional 3rd party filters from Imagenomic, Nik, Topaz, and Pixel Genius in a 64-bit version. There are more to come. I will use Photoshop CS6 public beta in my HDR presentation on April 10 at PSRI. If you are there, you will get a chance to see some of these features.