Adobe Photoshop CS6 review £556
23rd Apr 2012 | 09:00
The latest edition of Adobe's world-beating image-editor boasts some impressive new features
The new Photoshop CS6 interface design is the first thing to catch your eye. It uses darker tones to make your images stand out more, and this gives it more visual consistency with Lightroom and, for that matter, Photoshop Elements.
You can choose one of four different brightness values in the Preferences if you're not happy with the default.
And staying on a purely functional level, a new Background Save and Auto-recovery option should provide a level of protection against crashes, while the introduction of Adobe's Mercury Graphics Engine is designed to speed up processor-intensive tools like Liquify, Puppet Warp and Transform.
The new features include much more sophisticated cropping options, content-aware Move and Patch tools, a very interesting Blur Gallery, 'adaptive' wideangle lens adjustments, skintone-aware selections, improved auto adjustments and, surprisingly, some useful video editing tools.
When you crop your photos you can now use a range of overlays, such as the Golden Ratio, Rule ofF Thirds or a simple grid to help you decide on the composition. You can save crop presets which include image size and resolution and, most signficantly, crops are now non-destructive. You can come back later, in other words, and re-do them if you change your mind.
Adobe's also extended its clever content-aware technology to include the Move and Patch tools. In theory, you can now move objects around and have Photoshop fill the gaps that are left behind..
And with the Blur Gallery you can add a cinematic or 'film' look to digital images. 'Iris Blur' simulates the shallow depth of field of a wide lens aperture, 'Tilt-Shift Blur' creates a 'miniature' effect, while 'Field Blur' enables you to isolate individual objects against a blurred background.
But the new video editing tools are the most striking addition. Increasingly, there's a crossover between stills photography and video, particularly for professional photographers. Photoshop CS6 can trim and combine video clips, insert transitions and even add titles, and all within the familiar Photoshop environment.
CS6 also comes with a new version of Adobe Camera Raw. ACR 7 (yes, it's annoying that the version numbers are out of step) has a new processing engine and improved tone-mapping, leading to a redesign of the tonal controls and better results when recovering shadows and highlights in RAW files. ACR also brings a greater range of controls to the Adjustment Brush, adding localised white balance, noise reduction and moire corrections.
The improvements here are exactly the same as those in Lightroom 4, which is no surprise as that too is built around Adobe Camera Raw 7. It's good in the sense that there's consistency between the two products, though it also creates an overlap that could make it harder to figure out which of the two programs you need.
This is what you need to bear in mind if your interests are primarily photographic, Lightroom 4's editing tools are now so sophisticated that you may not often need Photoshop at all. And if you do, you might find Elements 10 perfectly adequate for the layers, montages and other effects that Lightroom can't do, rather than paying ten times more for Photoshop CS6.
So has Adobe done enough to justify the release of a whole new version, and is there enough here that's new to tempt existing users into upgrading?
The new Blur Gallery is terrific, and it's not just for gimmicky tilt-shift effects, either. You can use it to subtly draw attention to your subject and tone down distracting background clutter. Previously, you'd have had figure out how to do this kind of thing manually or buy a dedicated plug-in.
The video tools are great, too. Photoshop 6 isn't designed to replace a full-blown video editor, but it still does plenty, and many photographers who need to branch out into video may find that it's all they need.
The content-aware Move and Patch tools can offer dramatically faster and more effective alternative to the Clone Stamp tool. In ideal conditions, you can select and drag an object to a different part of the picture and have the gap filled in automatically. In practice, this depends on the image, the uniformity and size of the background and its proximity to other objects that might interfere with the outcome. It's more alchemy than science, but when it works, it's brilliant.
And Adobe Camera Raw 7 is a clear improvement over the previous version. The highlight and shadow recovery from RAW files is much more effective because it has less impact on the image's overall brightness and contrast.
Apart from the video tools, Photoshop CS6 is more about making existing things easier rather than making new things possible. If you need video editing tools, that's a good enough reason to upgrade on its own. If not, it's a tough call.
It's also rather annoying that you have to keep upgrading Photoshop to get the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw, in order to be able to open the RAW files from the latest cameras.
If you're a professional designer, artist or photographer, Photoshop will have become an essential tool of the trade. Whether you upgrade or not will depend on how important the new features are for the work you. The 3D editing tools in the Extended version have been simplified and improved, for example, and the video tools could be just what you've been waiting for. Otherwise you might prefer to save some cash and skip a version. May pros are still happily using CS4 or earlier.
For more on Photoshop CS6, head over to CreativeBloq'sAdobe Photoshop CS6 review.