Adobe Photoshop CC
25th Sep 2013 | 13:26
The latest version of the industry-standard image editor
Starting from Photoshop CC, Photoshop is no longer available under a 'perpetual licence'. You don't just pay a single up-front cost and use the software for as long as you like. Instead, you must take out an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and choose a plan that includes the applications you need. These are then available to you for as long as your subscription continues.
If all you want is Photoshop, that's fine, but the cheapest deal you can get works out at £17.58/$19.99 per month (if you take out an annual subscription). That's pretty hard to swallow when you're used to software licences you buy outright, and bad news for users who like to save a little cash by skipping a couple of versions between upgrades.
On the upside, that's less than most people pay for their phone contracts, and if you're a Photoshop professional, why shouldn't it be just a routine business cost, like paying rent or leasing vehicles? It also makes it possible to get started with Photoshop for a lot less outlay.
What else is new
The arguments over Adobe's subscription plans aside, what else has Photoshop CC got to tempt new users and upgraders?
For a start, it has two new ways to achieve sharper images. One is an all-new Smart Sharpen tool designed to maximise clarity and reduce noise, and the other is Adobe's new Camera Shake Reduction tool.
It analyses the direction of movement ('trajectory') and then attempts to reverse the blur digitally. On Adobe's sample images it works really well, but not all shots provide the right kind of blur, so don't expect it to be a fix for every shaky shot.
Photoshop CC's 'Intelligent Upsampling' feature helps you scale up pictures for big prints without the image degradation normally associated with upsampling, and means you no longer have to turn to third-party plug-ins like OnOne's Perfect Resize. You don't get any more detail, but sharp edges are better preserved.
But the biggest cluster of new features centres on Adobe Camera Raw 8, Photoshop's companion RAW conversion tool. In fact, you can now carry out so many everyday photographic enhancements in Adobe Camera Raw that you may need Photoshop itself less and less. By the time the photo opens in Photoshop, you'll have already done everything that needs doing.
For example, the new Radial Gradient tool can be used to highlight the focal point of your picture by darkening, blurring, desaturating or otherwise subduing the surrounding areas. It comes with grab handles you can use to change the shape and size and a central 'pin' you can drag it around with. It's very good, though it could do with a wider feathering range to blend in the effects more subtly.
And the Advanced Healing Brush is very effective too – you can how 'heal' irregular areas by painting over them, whereas previously you could only heal circular areas. It's not as sophisticated as the Clone Stamp and Healing tools in Photoshop, but it can cope with simple touch-up jobs very easily.
Best of all, though, is the new Upright tool, which can detect lines in your image which it thinks should be horizontal or vertical, and automatically straighten them, correcting perspective problems such as converging verticals. It works so well it's almost uncanny.
Adobe's new subscription-only plan has whipped up a big storm all of its own, but how does Photoshop CC itself rate as an upgrade?
Photoshop CC is still the best image-editing program you can get. Adobe continues to do a remarkable job in giving such a complex and powerful program such a clean-looking interface. To get the most out of Photoshop you do need to know what you're doing – there's precious little help here for beginners – but once you've learned your way around, it's the best there is.
And while the improvements in the app itself are relatively modest, the new tools in Adobe Camera Raw are terrific – and you can now apply them as filters to image layers, too.
Even the new pricing system has merits. The idea of paying for your software month-by-month may leave you feeling a little uncomfortable, but the initial cost of 'getting' Photoshop is now considerably lower. You also get automatic updates too, of course.
The subscription system does pose some awkward questions. How do you open all your Photoshop PSD files when you decide to stop subscribing, for example?
And be aware that some of the best new tools are in Adobe Camera Raw 8, which is also the processing engine for Lightroom 5 – so if you want the Radial Gradient, Advanced Healing Brush and Upright tools, you don't actually need Photoshop to get them.
There are other enhancements in Photoshop CC that will make life easier for illustrators, web developers and 3D artists, but these draw attention to the other issue with Photoshop – it's an all-encompassing tool for all kinds of digital designers, so that whatever your area of interest, it probably does a whole lot of stuff besides that you don't need but which you're still paying for.
But maybe the biggest problem is that as an upgrade it seems a little tame and a little too soon. Photoshop CS6, its predecessor, brought a whole barrage of great new tools, and because it's not much more than a year old itself, it still feels fresh as a daisy.
The big news with Photoshop CC is the swap to a subscription-based system. This does have advantages for professionals, but it's less appealing for amateurs and occasional users. The upgrades to the software itself are pretty modest compared to Photoshop CS6, and for photographers who need to keep up with the latest new cameras and RAW formats, there are cheaper ways to do it – Lightroom 5, for example. But even though CC doesn't bring anything new and revolutionary, Photoshop remains the best professional image-editor there is.