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Adobe Photoshop CS5 Software Review

An in-depth look at the new features of Photoshop CS5 - the image editing program part of the new Adobe CS5 Creative Suite.

|  Adobe Photoshop CS5 in Adobe Photoshop
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What's new
Content Aware Performance
System Specifications

 Adobe Photoshop CS5 Peter Bargh
Peter Bargh is photographer, journalist and author who launched ePHOTOzine and is CEO of the publishing company Magezine Publishing Ltd.

The Adobe Creative Suite CS5 is announced to the public today and part of this Suite is an upgraded Photoshop CS5. As usual with a Photoshop release there has been a fair amount of coverage leaked out over the past few months, this time even some controlled pre-release content from the tech-heads at Adobe. CS5 Extended takes a big step into the world of 3D, and adds some extra video features, but from a photographers point of view we're focusing on  he standard Photoshop CS5 and the most talked about feature is Content Aware Fill. If you thought the Clone tool was good, and were later impressed with the more advanced Heal tool you're likely to be blown away by the Content Aware options.

In this review we won't look at CS5 software as a whole, because if you're interested in Photoshop you're likely to have absorbed reviews of earlier releases or you'll already own, or at least use, an earlier version. Instead we will look in detail at the Content Aware tool and review the other stuff that's been added that may be useful for photographers.
Adobe Photoshop CS5: What's new
Hardly anything has changed in terms of appearance - the familiar clean, but old look remains. The tool bar icons have had not so much a lick of paint, but more like a trickle of water. The hard edged antiquated shapes have a slightly more modern, softer gradient shading so remaining totally recognisable, but with a slightly softer edge.

CS5 has several major new features, namely:
  • Content Aware Fill
  • Intelligent selection technology
  • Advanced HDR processing
  • Improved raw processing
  • Extended painting effects
  • localised Warp tool
  • Auto lens correction
  • Workspace management
  • Advanced 3D options (CS5 Extended)
  • and 30 JDI (Just Do it) additions

It's in the tool bar where, among a few new additions, you'll find one entry point for the much talked about Content Aware tool.

If you choose the Spot Healing Brush tool you can now switch from the standard Proximity Match to the new Content-Aware option and start to use Adobe's proud development.

Content Aware Performance
This Content Aware feature allows you to paint over any content you don't want and fill the chosen area with matching pixels automatically sampled from multiple areas around to give an intelligent seamless heal. Well that's what all the leaked promotional videos show, which could save us hours of complex editing using the heal or patch tools. A distracting tree, rubbish in the landscape, unwanted posts, skin blemishes can be eradicated at the drag of a brush. Where the heal tool often became confused and added a blurred messy patch, the Content Aware tool promises to leaves us with perfection. Well let's see.

Adobe CS5 original picI used an image that has various areas that we can test the effectiveness of the tool on.

Firstly a simple iron post removal. Using the Spot Healing Brush tool I painted over the post. I did what I would always do and choose a brush size larger than the area I wanted to remove. I also set it to a large feather as this generally smooths out areas better. Not in this case. See the before and after illustration below left.

I found you need to set a smaller brush and a hard edge to make the fill work better and on this post it's truly worked like magic (below right) and much faster and more precise than with CS4's tools.
So far, so good.
CS5 content aware tool CS5 content aware tool
A soft brush is not a good idea. A hard edge brush does a much better job.
The same can't be said about more complicated areas. Here the videos and guides suggest you make a selection around any area you want to remove and with the selection active go to fill and choose the new Content Aware option from the dropdown. As you'll see from the following four illustrations, the tool is clearly very much hit and miss.
CS5 content aware tool CS5 content aware tool
It's working really well here. The sign
has been removed and the wall replaced
and aligned well. Quick and easy!
What seems like a simple fix, like the one
to the left, has been totally misunderstood. You'd need to skip and do manually.
CS5 content aware tool CS5 content aware tool
Oh dear, what was it thinking! Another seemingly simple fix messed up.

CS5 content aware tool
A good job done here, but this would have
been just as easy with existing CS3/4 tools.
So, in summary, the new Content Aware fill will certainly do a better job for those who cannot clone to save their lives, but maybe they're the sort who will be buying Photoshop Elements not CS5. For CS5 customers you'll need to use wisely, just like you currently have to do when using the Heal or Patch tools. It's not quite the shining star I'd been lead to believe. Hopefully CS6 will have a turbo charged version that learns from all the feedback Adobe will receive about this version. 

Smart Radius Select > Refined Edge
Next biggie is a couple of advanced Refined Edge options that assists making complex selections. This is Adobe claiming more ground from the likes of Corel Knockout and Vertus Fluid Mask. Now Edge Detection with Smart Radius does a better job of working out what you're actually trying to select and with stuff like fur and hair it makes the job much easier. Below you can see a red mask (selected from view mode) that is covering the unselected areas. Look at how it has picked out the fine hair. Added to this is the Decontaminate colours option with a slider to really fine tune edge selections. Full marks for this feature and one that, when grasped, will make light work of selections.

HDR Toning Image > Adjustments > HDR Toning
Adobe are stepping up the HDR element with the inclusion of HDR toning which allows you to take a single image and give it an HDR feel using various controls on the edge pixels as well as tone, detail and colour. This is more or less Tone mapping and saves you doing a bracketed HDR shot to get the cartoony style HDR effects. On the shot below you can see how powerful the feature is. Taking an originally underexposed shot and turning it into a typical highly processed HDR tone mapped shot.

Adobe CS5 HDR Toning

HDR Pro takes on Photomatix in offering full blending of multiple exposures to create one extended tone photo. Images can be brought in through Mini Bridge and a Deghosting option helps improve shots where there has been some subject movement by giving priority to one source image over another. This is all good news for photographers who like to record difficult scenes such as interiors with windows or landscapes with bright skies.

Puppet Warp Edit > Puppet Warp
Next up is Puppet Warp a kind of spider web grid that provides an advanced warp on localised element. You can bend and shape pixels as much as you like with this tool using anchor points to fix or move areas. It's probably more for graphic designers and image compositors, but it may come in useful for photographic projects where some shape shifting is required.

Adobe CS5 Puppet Warp

In the eyedropper section is a new 123 Count tool. This lets you add any number of marker points, each new one incremented. Size and colour of markers can be changed. You can also add groups of numbers and turn each group on or off.

Also in the eyedropper section is a change to the measurement tool. It now has a straighten button in the tool bar so you can make adjustments there rather than having to go to Image>Image Rotation>Arbitrary. I use this a fair few times in CS4 and this will save a few moments each time so a welcome addition. This, like 29 other minor improvements, is part of the Just Do It upgrades. The Adobe team decided to prioritise requested feature upgrades that would normally be low priority and decided to focus on pushing these through for CS5. It's good to see that Adobe are not only listening, but acting on suggestions and bringing us the Photoshop we want and not one they think we want.

CS5 straighten tool

Advanced brushes
In the brush section is a Mixer brush tool. This is starting to take Photoshop further in a paint direction, but only small scale as the option has limited use. You can adjust the percentage of wetness, load, mix of colour and flow before you paint over the image using the foreground colour. To get you started there are a selection of presets from the drop down menu. As well as shape you can now set the Bristle Tip type and have a live preview, making it far more convincing as a paint brush...much like how Corel's Painter works.

CS5 mixer brush tool

Here a brush with red paint was set to Wet: 100%, Load 50%, Mix 24% and Flow 31%. You can see I'm not an artists but in the right hands this could be a powerful addition, although it's still way off Painter.

Lens Correction Filter > Lens Correction
A useful addition for photographers is the Lens Correction filter. Here you can correct lens problems such as Chromatic Aberrations, but create profiles for your lenses and adjust for barrel and pincushion distortion. By shooting a test chart and then reading this through the free Lens Profile utility you can set CS5 up to automatically rectify problems with your photos taken with that lens. Below is a screenshot showing the interface and fringing caused by a lens' Chromatic Aberration.
Adobe CS5 lens correction

Watermarking Window > Extensions >Watermark
As copyright theft continues to be a serious threat  more photographers have started to add copyright messages across their photos. CS5 has just made the process much easier. With this palette you can set text message font size, family and colour along with position and opacity with ease. It can spoil looking at photos on the Internet, but it's the way many photographers are going.

Adobe CS5 Watermark option

Changes to Tools
You'll find a few new tool options 
On all the brushes there's now new icon on the top menu options - a tablet pressure control size that overrides brush settings and tunes in with your graphics tablet. The tablet pressure brush appears on any tool that has brush characteristics and can be controlled with a graphics tablet. Some brushes also have a tablet pressure control for opacity too.

Another icon takes you directly to the brush editing palette too, making the whole job a lot more seamless.

Clone tool
This old favourite has no new tricks apart from a toggle to go directly to the brush edit window and the clone source window so it's fast become the poor man's healing tool. In the clone source window you can now set a frame offset.

Sharpen tool
This has one new addition - a choice to Protect detail. This does as it says and doesn't make the image become obliterated instantly, so you have more chance of making the image sharper without ruining it as you can see from the enlarged section of the photo below. The top section is with the CS4 Sharpen tool and the bottom section is with CS5's Protect Detail ticked.
CS5 sharpen tool

Crop tool
On ePHOTOzine we went to lengths to write a tutorial showing how to use guides and grids to create a rule of thirds grid for use when cropping. It seems like someone at Adobe was reading our tutorial and thought...we can do that! As the Crop tool in CS5 has a built in rule of thirds grid , which adjusts with the crop. This is welcome for those who want more pleasing compositions using this rule. By cropping and using the guides you can place the main focal point on one of the thirds. Excellent feature.

CS5 rule of thirds crop tool
Tabbed Workspaces Workspace > Reset new in CS5 & Window > Workspace > New Workspace
A small but useful upgrade for those who either share a computer or work on different projects in different ways. You can no have a tabbed series of customised workspaces accessed from the top bar.

Mini Bridge
Is a compact faster loading version of Bridge added for those who just want to locate a file to edit in Photoshop
Adobe CS5 Mini Bridge

Camera Raw 6
As always with a new release comes a new version of camera Raw. As well as supporting over 275 cameras, the latest version has an improved noise reduction along with a a grain effect so you can remove the bad digital stuff and turn it into a film look. There's also a vignette option, shown below on a cropped photo.

Adobe CS5 camera Raw 6

So as you can see many changes have been made in CS5 and through File > Create New Review
Adobe are making CS5 more socially interactivity so you can share projects online. This option requires you to sign into CS Review and then you can invite friends, colleagues or clients to provide feedback from within Photoshop...all they need is web browser access.

Adobe Photoshop CS5: Verdict
The Content Aware option is, without doubt, the major new feature in CS5, followed closely behind by the advanced Refine Edges options and the Lens Correction utility.

So from an upgrade point of view the Content Aware feature is a bit disappointing, especially after all the hype. If you look closely (well as close as you can) at the videos created to leak details, you will see that most of the Content Aware fill jobs done proudly by the Adobe team actually throw in poor patches of replicated detail that you'd certainly be disappointed with if you looked at the original and not a 640pixel video image.

If you do a lot of removal of dust/obstacles and the scenarios look like the type of things that I've illustrated work well, then it would be worth a shot, otherwise stick with what you've got and let's see what V6 brings.

If you do a lot of cut outs, especially around difficult subjects the Advanced Refine Edges may make an upgrade more tempting. It costs about £60 for Corel KnockOut2.

If, on the other hand, you're new to Photoshop this is still the best image editing product around and the best just got better. It's certainly the one to own and gets our thumbs up once again.

Adobe Photoshop CS5: Pros
Selections made easier with Refine edge and Smart radius.
Lots of minor feature requests added.
No major change to interface - so for regulars it continues with its comfortable feel.
Still the industry standard.

Adobe Photoshop CS5: Cons
For the majority of photographers it's still a very expensive program.
Content Aware is not as clever as it looks.


System Specification
Price Photoshop CS5 £644, CS5 Extended £933
Upgrade CS5 £187, Upgrade CS5 Extended £327
Operating system Windows Mac OS
System Windows XP (Service pack 3) Vista Home, Business or Enterprise Edition, Windows 7 Mac OS X v10.5.7 or 10.6.3 or later
Processing Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 processor Multicore Intel processor
Memory 1GB RAM + 1Gb Hard-disk space 1GB RAM + 2Gb Hard-disk space
Installation DVD-Rom Drive for installation
Monitor 1024X768 (1280x800 recommended)
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EddieAC 17 3.5k 2 United Kingdom
12 Apr 2010 8:32PM
Perhaps what the content aware tool needs is an option to mask out areas an the image to be avoided and even to specify an area to concentrate on.
RayBeck 17 43 United Kingdom
14 Apr 2010 10:03AM
Excellent, well balanced review. The Before & After images give a real insight into how useful or otherwise the Content Aware tool is in practical use.
Thank you.
hippysnapper 13 17 United Kingdom
21 Apr 2010 8:49AM
Very expensive for a novice photographer!
_ 17 535 4 Virgin Islands, British
6 May 2010 6:48PM
Expensive for a seasoned photographer too.
A very good review that I wish I'd read before taking the plunge to upgrade.
As a Mac user I welcome the 64 bit ability now.
davey_griffo 13 213 165 England
20 Jun 2010 4:45PM
Not necessarily as expensive as you'd think. The upgrade for Windows is valid for anything from CS2. So, I bought a used copy for 90.00 from Amazon, then bought the ugrade copy of CS5. A perfectly legal way of getting CS5 on the cheap (as I'm not a student). Ok, it's still 280 in total, but better than half price if you buy a non-upgrade copy (650), or even an upgrade from Elements 6+ (550).
User_Removed 18 17.9k 8 Norway
11 Oct 2010 12:07PM

Quote:It seems like someone at Adobe was reading our tutorial and thought...we can do that!

Where's my Complimentary copy of CS5 then Pete!??


23 Mar 2014 8:50AM
I got a great deal from software-quick.com. I bought ADOBE PHOTOSHOP EXTENDED CS5 for only $379.99.

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