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12th April 2010
Adobe Photoshop CS5 hands-on preview
by Ian Burley

Substantial revamp for Photoshop and Creative Suite 5 in general

Adobe has worked hard to stoke up interest in its latest (5th) generation Creative Suite release, pre-announcing the launch date and posting snippets of information about what to expect from CS5 across cyberspace. You wouldn't put this much effort into a launch unless you were confident that it was a major release, and it's fair to say that CS5 is indeed a big revision.

Lots of new features

We've been exploring a beta release of Photoshop CS5, including Bridge CS5, and this article serves as an introduction to what's new in this latest incarnation of Photoshop, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. There many detailed changes in Photoshop CS5, including a new tabbed workspace mode structure featuring Essentials, Design, and Painting setups, improved object selections where objects have complicated edge details, improved HDR/tone mapping effectiveness with single or multiple images, content aware fill for quickly and effectively removing unwanted objects in an image, a new feature called Puppet Warp that lets you transform picture elements, Adobe Camera RAW 6 featuring completely re-engineered RAW image processing, and automatic lens correction based on specific camera lens profiles.

There is also a new integrated version of the Bridge media file explorer and organiser application, Bridge, called Mini Bridge, accessible from within Photoshop as an alternative to the full stand-alone Bridge CS5 application. On top of that there are dozens of more subtle tweaks that have been implemented in direct response to user wish-list requests, plus lots of new brush-based painting effects and support for the latest Wacom tablet options.

In today's article we'll focus on Camera RAW 6 and the feature that has been widely leaked by Adobe; content aware fill. Look out for additional Photoshop CS5 articles throughout this week that explore some of the other new PS CS5 features listed above.

Camera RAW 6

For me, one of the most significant features of Photoshop CS5 is the introduction of Adobe Camera RAW 6 (ACR6). If you have been using Photoshop Lightroom 3 (LR3) in beta form, especially beta 2, you may already be familiar with what ACR6 brings to the table. But now CS5 has been officially launched, we can explain why LR3 and ACR6, which share the same RAW processing engine, represent significant improvements. Fundamentally, Adobe has re-engineered its RAW processing from the ground up. There are new de-mosaicing routines and certain aspects of basic RAW processing, like noise management, now benefit from specific profiling of individual camera sensor characteristics. In other words, ACR6 and LR3 now understand the structure of noise at different ISO sensitivities and image densities and can moderate noise much more intelligently.

(Click image above for larger view in a new window) The Adobe Camera RAW 6 luminance noise slider is disabled in the first beta release of Photoshop CS5, but it promises much.

Like the original LR3 beta release, the luminance noise adjustment option in the beta release of ACR6 in Photoshop CS5 is disabled, but we're expecting the next ACR6 release to mimic LR3 beta 2 and feature an activated luminance noise control. If you have used LR3 beta 2 you have probably already discovered how dramatically improved luminance noise management is compared to LR2. It's action definitely seems to be able to filter out a great deal of luminance grain without sacrificing detail excessively or introducing nasty artifacts, something earlier versions of ACR have been guilty of. There is also an improvement in the level of detail that can be preserved in shadows, while I feel that recovery of excessively under-exposed images is more effective.

(Click image above for larger view in a new window) You can now apply vignette effects much more flexibly with Adobe Camera RAW 6.

Meanwhile, Adobe is also building a database of lens profiles for automatic correction of distortion and other lens imperfections like edge-fringing, vignetting and sharpness, although this isn't tied to ACR.

If you like to add noise to improve the tone or texture of an image, or to deliberately darken the periphery of an image, you will be pleased to hear that ACR6 now has improved noise and vignette creative effects tools. The post-crop vignette effect in ACR6 allows much more subtle application of a vignette than before.

The bottom line is that while Adobe's RAW processing technology has built a solid reputation for processing speed, ease of use, and unparalleled support for the plethora of different camera RAW formats, especially supporting new formats quickly, some photographers have preferred the image quality that some other RAW converters have delivered. Adobe has certainly addressed this issue and it will be interesting to see if they can persuade photographers who haven't been satisfied with ACR to switch.

Content Aware Fill

Adobe used this new content aware feature as a taster on the lead up to the launch of CS5 and so I thought we'd explore this straight away. With Photoshop CS4 Adobe introduced content aware scaling. This enabled an image to be manipulated so that key objects in the image were preserved even though the dimensions of the image were altered. Conventionally, these objects would have been cropped out of the image, but through content aware scaling, the key objects remained in the image while the backgrounds against which they were originally positioned were automatically changed to fit the changing dimensions of the image. It looked scarily like magic. And there is more to wonder at in Photoshop CS5 with content aware fill.

Take an object that you want to get rid of in your image. With content aware fill, all you need to do is select the image and then apply a content-aware fill to the selected area. Photoshop analyses the areas of the image surrounding the unwanted object and builds a new background based on that analysis and then replaces the object with the new background.

Here is an example where we've removed a whole hen from an image that started off with three chickens and ends up with just two (click images to show full-size view in a new window):

So we're going to remove the dark brown hen to the right of the other two chickens (above).

First make a rough selection ensuring that the entire object is inside the marquee. You don't usually have to be very precise about this.

Now, with the object selected, go for the EDIT menu and select Fill...

From the Fill dialogue box, select Content Aware.

After a few seconds of analysis the selected area is replaced by a new image detail that has bee selectively sampled and reconstituted by Photoshop from the surrounding area. In this case the chicken in the middle has acquired an extension to its rear and there are new areas of both shaded and sun-lit ground inside the selection marquee.

Although the result is not perfect, it's remarkably close. In fact I was originally convinced that this picture would be a perfect example of how content ware fill would fail miserably. How wrong I was in this case.

With less complicated selections you can get remarkably good results, removing huge or small objects and replacing them with backgrounds that fit very nicely. Photoshop CS5 can even construct strong details, like tree branches that start and end on two sides of an object that is removed. Content aware fill also works with the spot-healing brush. Once you are used to the limitation of content aware fill it can be a huge time-saver.

We'll have more hands-on exploration of Photoshop CS5 in our next article.


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