Photoshop CS4: a quick tour
The guys at Adobe must derive much perverse pleasure from keeping us mortals on our toes, or perhaps they’re just a particularly motivated bunch of guys. I’m not sure, but just when you thought it was OK to sit back, relax and sink your teeth into CS3, Creative Suite 4 parades across our software landscape amidst much fanfare and mouse-clicking.Adobe’s latest incarnation is packed with new features that will no doubt entice the most reticent of users to reach for their wallets.
What follows is a broad overview of the latest incarnation of that pixel pushing behemoth – Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop CS4 heralds big news for Windows Vista users – it not only ships in a standard 32-bit version, but also a RAM friendly 64-bit version that will make previously unmanageable 300dpi 2 gig files seem like 72dpi 2 meg files, if of course you have loads of RAM to back it up. Bear in mind that Photoshop requires you to manually allocate a desired amount RAM. Simply put, if you’re running Windows Vista and the 64-bit version of Photoshop CS4, go out and buy lots of RAM – it will be the most cost- effective solution of boosting Photoshop’s abilities when working with seriously large amounts of pixels. There’s one other catch though; even if you’ve upgraded your RAM, there’s no denying that the reading and writing of massive amounts of information to a hard disk is ultimately time-consuming. You’ve been warned.
Photoshop CS4’s main interface has also undergone some cosmetic surgery, and there’s been an obvious move on the part of Abode to streamline the interface. This includes tabbed documents and the addition of some common tools such as Zoom and Rotate to the Title bar of a current document. Photoshop CS4 is all about saving time and accessibility, and this philosophy extends to the Panel layout too. Noticeable changes to the Panel area is the exclusion of the somewhat irritating sidebar, the addition of a Masks Panel and a very functional facelift to the Adjustments Panel. The Masks Panel essentially gives you immediate access to all the masking features in Photoshop (including both pixel- and vector-based masks) while the new-look Adjustments Panel allows for user-friendly non-destructive edits and a rather cool set of presets.
Depth-of-field tweaks include a tool that allows you to combine a variety of images, each with a different exposure, colour and even focal point into a single colour-corrected image. It appears to have some relation to an HDR (High Dynamic Range) method of photography, so the use of a timed release and tripod would be mandatory. Adobe also have spruced up the colour correction tools in Photoshop CS4 by ‘reengineering’ the rather bedraggled looking Dodge, Burn and Sponge tools. These now have the ability to ‘intelligently preserve colour and tone details.’
Adobe Photoshop’s Camera Raw 5 plug-in now includes enhanced support for over 190 camera models, the ability to do localized corrections, post-crop vignetting and the usual flawless JPEG and TIFF processing.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 are also on better terms. You can now simply select a set of images in Lightroom 2 and automatically open them in Photoshop CS4 for the creation of HDR photos, multi-layered montages and even panoramic compositions. Roundtrip editing between the two applications appears to have reached a real functional maturity, and in combination with the Camera Raw 5 plug-in and a speedier version of Bridge CS4, there’s no doubting the seamless integration of the respective applications. My personal favourite is Bridge’s Recent Folder tool that allows you access previous working folders in Bridge, and even Photoshop.
Returning to Photoshop CS4, there’s a host of new Transform related goodies that are worth mentioning. My personal favourite (Left-handed Wacom tablet users will love this one!) is non-destructive Fluid Canvas Rotation, which allows you to smoothly turn your canvas for distortion-free viewing at any desired angle at the click of a mouse. You can also Pan and Zoom with the click of the Hand tool, and even scroll automatically by means of mouse action. Bear in mind this feature requires an OpenGL Graphics card, but you might well consider upgrading your graphics card if it doesn’t support OpenGL. OpenGL rendering enhances the performance of Photoshop CS4 and it eliminates the jaggedness in the display of images at odd magnification percentages. In addition, OpenGL allows for silky-smooth zooming in CS4. Another impressive feature of Photoshop CS4 is Content-Aware Scaling. This feature essentially allows one to automatically recompose an image as you resize it. Vital areas of the image will adapt to the new scaling sans any distortion. Imagine transforming a 4:3 ratio image to 16:9 without any major horizontal distortion!
Extending Photoshop CS4 has been enhanced by allowing users to download and share Adobe Flash technology-based panels that developers create to accomplish customized tasks. There’s also a new Adobe Community Help online service where you can get help, tips and tricks.
Incidentally, Photoshop CS4’s online component now provides users with access to Kuler’s ‘colour themes’. These themes are hosted online, where you can create, share and upload them to Adobe’s online repository. It’s a fairly user-friendly way to find a fresh colour palette for a project.
The release of Photoshop CS3 saw impressive integration and viewing of 3D files. CS4 includes tools for an even better conversation between 3D files and Photoshop. Users can now paint directly on 3D models with ease and wrap a 2D image around a 3D shape. Gradient maps can be converted to 3D objects, and you can even add depth to layers and text. Photoshop CS4’s new ray-tracing rendering engine allows for commercial print quality output, and there’s the option of exporting your files to industry standard 3D formats. The 3D editing interface has been streamlined significantly and you can orient objects and position the camera using 3D axes and a ground plane.
Photoshop CS4’s printing abilities have also been given an overhaul with support for lush 16-bit printing on Mac OSX 10.5 and later. There’s far tighter support and integration with popular printer brands such as Canon, Epson and HP, hopefully translating to less colour management issues. The inclusion of an out-of-gamut preview in the print dialog is also a welcome addition to the process of soft-proofing print documents.
In closing, Adobe Photoshop CS4 appears to be brimming with new features, most notably 64-bit support for Windows Vista users and a host of worthy upgrades, additions and tweaks. If you haven’t made the move to CS3 yet, perhaps it’s time you gave Photoshop CS4 serious consideration. Happy Photoshopping!