The gossip about Photoshop 7.0 started on the chat rooms months ago, but it wasn't until the Focus on Imaging exhibition at the end of February in Birmingham that the rumours were verified. Photoshop 7 was demonstrated on the Nikon stand by Martin Gisbourne and the crowds gathered.
I had been privy to a beta version of the new program which gave me access to a special area of the Adobe web site to feedback bugs etc. Being involved in this process gave me a whole new view of how software develops. In the course of a few months I received many new versions and the dedication of the team and some of the testers is amazing. Now a couple of months after the show the full retail version, hopefully bug free is available.
The main question you will probably have is 'Is Version 7.0 worth the 120 upgrade cost'. Well we will assume you know Photoshop 6.0, so lets look at the new features in version 7.0 and then you can make up your mind.
First of functionally. There are no major surprises here. You still have the familiar menu system, and most of the palettes, tool bars and option boxes are identical to the previous versions. There's a subtle change to the toolbar in that the icons now change colour when you move over them and if you are a Mac users running with OSX you gain the lovely Aqua style menus buttons and scroll bars that glow blue. It's also fully compatible with Windows XP and provides the Luna styles.
The most talked about addition appears on the toolbar. The Airbrush icon has been replaced with a couple of new tools - the Healing brush tool and the Patch tool - both designed for repair work.
The Healing Brush tool is a glorified Clone tool and, like the Clone tool , you use it to paint with sampled pixels from another part of your image. The difference is that this tool matches the texture, lighting, and shading of the sampled pixels to the source pixels. Once you've Cloned, or should I say Healed, an area there's a short pause as the tool goes into action matching pixels and making the possibly unnatural cloned area blend seamlessly into the rest of the image.
This really is an amazing tool that does a fantastic job... sometimes! There are occasions when it just does not work and makes a complete hash of the job. On these occasions you can improve its hit rate by making a selection around the area that you want to repair and then when you use the tool it won't be influenced by surrounding pixels.
Overall this is a stunning bit of technology that Im sure will find its way into the competitors products soon.
The picture on the left is the original taken on a D1x. After the curves were adjusted to brighten up the colours I started to play around with the Heal tool. Removing a line, crease spot and catchlight here and there. Hard to spot the repairs and better still it took no more than a minute to do!
If you thought that was impressive, wait until you try the Patch tool. With this you make a selection either around the area that you want to repair or around an area of pixels that you want to use to repair. Then, while holding down the mouse, you drag the selection to the new spot which, depending on your first choice, will either be the sampled pixels or the area you want to repair.
Again this tool takes a few seconds to merge the two sets of pixels, but when it does it's incredible. There's no excuse to have photos with scratches, wrinkles, blemishes and such like ever again.
Here the fly had to go! The middle photo shows what would happen if I cloned from the area circled in red using the normal Clone Stamp tool. It results in darker patch were the fly was. The right hand shot shows the same area being sampled using the Patch tool and a far more impressive repair job.
Those who read earlier that the Airbrush was replaced will be relieved to note that it's still available, but is now selected as an option from the brush bar so you can add depth to your painting skills. The brushes have also been made more interactive, so you have far better control over the shape and dynamics. Two brush styles can now be combined and all options can be saved as custom brushes and stored in a new tool preset box. As we're primarily interested in photography I won't dwell on these areas, but the changes, especially for brush shapes, are big for the artists amongst you. Having said that, it's still far removed from a program like Painter where you can effectively create oilpaint and water colour on your canvas which could be watercolour paper or canvas effect. So if digital painting is you main area of interest Photoshop still has a way to go.
I never said I was any good at art!
Photographers who have loads of images on file and find it troublesome locating these will welcome the File Browser which provides a quick visual search of your images. Having used this for the last few months I couldn't be without it now. From here you can also view EXIF data that was recorded by a digital camera and this info also appears in the File Info box options too. From the File Browser you can organise images rotate them and rename them making image management easier.
Web designers will be pleased that Image Ready still comes with the program and it's jumped from Version 3 to version 7 again we won't go into detail as our focus is photography.
You may be familiar with Auto Levels and Auto Contrast that look at the pixels in your image and adjust the black white and mid points to improve the image automatically. These have been joined by a new one auto color that pays attention to the colour of an image. Where Auto levels often boosts contrast you may have found it often introduces a colour cast and then auto contrast is preferred but this cannot often spot a colour cast so Auto color promises to rectify this. In practice I found that you often had to try all three to find the best option. It really depends on the image. More often than not I could trust Auto Color whereas the same can't be said for Auto Levels. So it gets my thumbs up as a welcome addition.
Here's were Auto Color didn't work. Left is the original, followed by AutoLevels, Auto Contrast and Auto Color. Auto Levels is the one I would choose, if I was in a rush, but a quick manual tweak in Curves will produce a far better image.
These pictures in the same order of adjustment as the sequence above. In this example The right hand side Auto Color correction is the closest to the original scene, but, once again, it could do with a slight increase in green to bring it a closer to the Auto Levels version which appears overly saturated.
Another seemingly important, but potentially pointless feature is the Pattern Maker. This is found alongside the repositioned Liquify option in the filter menu and creates a pattern from a selection. You make a selection, then open the pattern maker, select how you want to tile and let it lose. The result is a seamless image that could be used as a web background image or as a drop in image for a button, but I haven't found a use for it and feel it may be a bit overplayed. Again photography's my angle not graphic design so maybe I'm being harsh!
And these, apart from a few minor tweaks and additions, are the main points of difference from Version 6.0 to version 7.0.
When I first started exploring the upgrade I felt that maybe this ought to have been a version 6.5, as going to 7.0 seemed to big a jump for little changes. The few changes there are though have soon become indispensable. If you're considering buying Photoshop for the first time you're getting the best product available with amazing flexibility and it's just got better. If you currently use version 5.5 or older now is the time to upgrade, but if you have 6.0 and you haven't used the features you won't miss them. You can download a great file borrower from ACDsee and you can, albeit slowly do most of the things the Heal and Patch tool does using new layers opacity changes and blend modes. If, however you're like me and want an easy life the cost of the upgrade is well worth while.