Photoshop CS5 Beta

Whenever a new version of an important program comes out, the need for it, depending on the changes, can run the spectrum--from it's-revolutionary, got-to-have-it-now to ho-hum, I-can-wait-for-the-next-revision. Adobe Photoshop CS5, the latest version that's sold both individually and as part of Adobe Creative Suite 5, falls between those two extremes ($699 for Standard stand-alone, $1299 for Creative Suite 5 Design Standard; upgrade pricing available).We reviewed a beta.

Photoshop is a mature program that is already an indispensable component of everyday business for photographers and graphics professionals. What sets Photoshop CS5 apart isn't any one killer app but dozens of refinements that will make users' lives easier, more efficient, and, potentially, more creative.

Interface : Everything Is Where It Should Be... Plus More

Photoshop CS5's interface remains comfortably familiar, though slightly changed--and more efficient to use. For instance, the revamped Workspace switcher is no longer buried in the Window drop-down menu. Instead, it is always immediately available at the top of the screen to the right of the Ribbon Bar. What's more, if you make changes to any Workspace (such as Photography) and then switch to another (such as Painting), when you return to Photography, those changes will be retained.

The most significant workflow improvement to the interface is the introduction of Mini-Bridge. Essentially, it's a palette (or panel) within Photoshop that's really a window onto Bridge, allowing full access to all your image files without having to leave Photoshop. As with the full Bridge, you can choose different display options, depending upon what information you need or want: Thumbnails, As Filmstrip, Details, or List. And as before, if you need the full functionality of Bridge, just click on the BR icon, either within the Mini-Bridge palette or at the top of the screen.

The other noticeable (albeit trivial) change to the interface is that the appearance of many of the toolbox icons is different. While the shapes remain the same (for instance, the Clone tool icon is still a rubber stamp), they're redrawn.

Advances in Camera RAW

One of Photoshop CS5's most important changes is in the new noise reduction algorithms in Camera RAW 6. It now has sliders for both Luminance and Color Noise. However, it wasn't fully implemented in the beta version we tested, so our judgment has to be based on demonstrations by Adobe, which made it look quite good.

If your creative instincts lean toward filmlike texturing, the new FX tab in Camera RAW will add grain or vignetting.

By the way, Camera RAW 6 and Lightroom 3 are now better coordinated, since they both use the same RAW conversion. This means that you'll no longer have conflicts and be forced to choose between the two. Camera Raw 6 will not be available for anyone who is using earlier Creative Suite software than CS5.

Smarter Masking

Photoshop's masking and selection tools are the workhorses of the program, because a high percentage of any creative session starts with drawing a good mask. That's why any improvements for easier, more precise selections are always welcome.

The Refine Edge selection dialog box has been redesigned to allow more accurate selections, especially of difficult textured edges, such as wooly clothes or flyaway hair. This isn't to say that creating such masks are now child's play, but with the Refine Radius and Erase Refinements brushes, along with Smart Radius analyzing the edges, the task of working on such difficult subjects isn't as grueling. In addition, the Color Decontaminant option helps remove excess background that you might have inadvertently included in your mask--though as with all such tools, your original picture must have some differentiation in color and contrast between the background and the subject.

Refine Edge will generally save time with such masks, but it is annoying that the dialog doesn't have Undo/Redo options--just Reset, which takes you back to your starting point, when all you might want to do is roll back a couple of brush strokes. When saving the mask, Refine Edge offers several useful options, such as Layer Mask, New Layer, New Layer with Layer Mask, New Document, or New Document with Layer Mask. Incidentally, Refine Edge works with Smart Objects, which means you can return to Camera RAW to re-edit the conversion parameters, while retaining all the work you did on the mask.

A Magic Eraser Tool

The new Content Aware Fill is like a magic eraser for extraneous elements you wish weren't in your photograph, such as telephone wires or the ex-boyfriend. Content Aware works with the Spot Healing Brush and is an option of the Fill tool. It fills a selected area with data from the surrounding area, so that the lighting, texture, and tonality fits. No, it isn't perfect in all circumstances; sometimes, you need to do bits of cleanup with the Clone tool. But, overall, it is an impressive time-saving feature.

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