Any new release from Adobe is, for me, an exciting event, relying as I do on Photoshop in particular, along with Bridge and Lightroom 2 for all of my photography workflow. I have been looking forward to this new release, and in anticipation of going the whole hog and making the most of the Adobe Master Collection, in this review I thought it would be good to cover the trials and tribulations, as well as the delights of what users will encounter with Photoshop CS4 Extended.
The first stage was to also make the most of an operating system and go with Windows Vista Ultimate, which has a true 64-bit processing; CS4 is optimized to extract the improved performance from this environment. Prior to this, PCs could not take advantage of more than 4 GB of memory, in fact not even more than 3.5 GB. With up to or more than 4GB RAM, and upgraded video cards, you will see enormous speed improvements, especially when working with large, high resolution images. This trend will certainly increase this need, as with the even greater sizes of files from some new Digital SLRs.
These trials turned out to be not entirely "plain sailing." 32 bit software may not work, and many of the Plug-ins I like to use would not work. This can be overcome with a dual-booting system running both the 32 and 64 bit versions. And indeed, many users could also have an XP system if they so prefer, so they can best retro fit their needs and past investments in older software.
Anyone who uses this program recognizes that it demands a lot from your computer. You should consider increasing your computer power and memory if you want to boost your speed.
The real joy of Photoshop, which one has to say without any reservation, has to be in creating one picture from multiple images, whether it is a panorama or a multi-layered image. And, in this new version we also have the ability to now create an extended depth of field, well beyond what is possible via normal photography with obvious applications in the Macro world, where the very shallow DOF is often problematic.
Control the Depth of Field
Adobe has also now improved the ability of the blend layer mode. This is a useful tool for techniques such as focus stacking, where the software will adjust exposure and colour automatically, once the layers have been loaded and highlighted. We can be grateful as this saves considerable time, even if it takes some time to complete.
HDR images also work very well, despite the fact Photoshop, in any of its recent versions, could not claim to be a tool for this, and I have heard it described more as a clipped version of HDR, which I think is more accurate. However, to me the end results are far more pleasing. For those who do like the other effects some HDR software provides, either as a plug-in or stand alone application, other software can be used if you then want to experiment further, such as Photomatix Pro 3.1.
There are other new features on offer this time around. Photoshop CS4 includes an improved interface, with the entire application now enclosed in the frame. At first sight, the usual floating windows have to be set via the menu. However, after not liking this very much at first, as I often work on two images at the same time when they are side by side, it has to be said that at some point you will need to find one of your open images that are hidden. Navigation using the Window menu won't help a great deal, because if you are like me or are using those raw file numbering methods you will certainly not be able to recall the names of the files. Instead, now you can press Control Tab repeatedly to cycle through all of your open documents and switch between them. Great stuff! These guys really do understand how we work! Apart from these advantages, I am sure it is not long before you appreciate that the interface is less cluttered, and is even more intuitive and user friendly.
The new improved Interface
Dual monitor users can, as was previously available in CS3, have more than one application running. The workspace switcher is ideal for swapping between applications such as Camera RAW 5 and Bridge, or Lightroom 2.
The zoom tool improvements include flicker free zoom, and lacks those annoying jaggies we had before, but being even smoother. And now having the ability to turn on the Open GL power of the modern graphics cards we have available these days via the preference settings, adds considerable power and speed. It was quite common for me to lose my bearings when zooming in on large images, and this is now far better controlled. A great improvement.
Needless to say, our new digital darkroom would never be complete without improvements to one of the oldest methods we have had at our disposal from the past, that we had with our enlargers prior to the digital revolution, such as dodge and burning techniques. This has been improved so that when you're adjusting the shadows, mid-tones or highlights, the tool won't impinge on the other two. Now when adjusting the saturation on the sponge tool, it won't move out of acceptable gamma correction, nor does it affect the surrounding pixels in the same way it did previously.
Brush size can now be previewed on the image, so when the tool is placed over the image you are working on, it can be moved in size far more intuitively, as you are able to see it before you use it.
The Adjustments panel features the new Vibrancy adjustment, giving you greater control over colour saturation, while preserving delicate tones such as skin colours. On-image adjustments are now available for Hue/Saturation and Curves Plus, for even greater convenience and time savings. The panel features a wide variety of modifiable presets for each type of change, including more than 20 new preconfigured, customizable starting points.
The other tools that photographers use a lot have also had a major revamp, such as the clone and healing tools. Apart from being now far more accurate in taking detail from neighbouring pixels, the preview of the selected area will show up on your brush, so when you are cloning even the smallest detail of linear objects, you can line them up with ease.
The Raw image handling has been improved upon even further in this new release; adjustments can be made such as exposure, contrast and saturation, and again seems to be even better when used together with Lightroom 2, and the new next-generation Bridge interface. I have no experience of how well this all works with other camera brands apart from Canon, which appears to include the latest cameras on offer at the time of review. But a quick check appears to show most, if not all, current raw handling for current cameras in the marketplace, and those not covered I am sure will soon be provided for.
The New Bridge interface, which I have long used as my main explorer for my PC files, sports several improvements along with similar clearing of the user interface. These improvements include new Path bar navigation and workspace selection buttons, camera import controls, PDF-based contact-sheet creation, web-gallery creation and uploading, support for 3D images and panoramas, and the new, intuitive List View, with its familiar data display and sorting controls.
However, in comparison to Lightroom, Bridge falls rather short for precise comparison of images, the Loupe did not seem to be as good either; I would have preferred to have seen Lightroom as the dedicated part of the package.
There are some exciting new tools on offer, such as the Content aware scaling, which I have to admit has been one feature I have taken a lot of delight to use. This seems to be a popular feature that I read by some of our members in the photography forum here on Renderosity.
First you must mask the areas you wish to keep in the picture. The image can then be resized and the parts that are protected by the mask will then not be cropped into. The program will start to reconfigure the areas within which, depending on the image, the effects can be amazing.
The use of the tool can be tricky, and to avoid any displacement of the pixels, the mask needs to be correctly applied and as you can see in this example it would also need the horizon to be corrected prior to the application for better results.
One recent addition to Photoshop CS4 has been the ability to have Flash panels running within Photoshop, and two are provided: a Kuler and a Connections panel that are built in as standard, and can be used to share on-line resources, and can now also be used to create your own customized panels via a new tool you can download called Configurator 1.0 (a great article on Configurator here).
You can build your own panels and it seems simple enough to use. A new panel can be created by the drag and drop method of any tools that you use on a regular basis in just 5 steps. Best of all, perhaps, is that you can also add videos and actions, and when you export the panel it will then be available from the extensions menu from within Photoshop.
No doubt there will be many custom made panels available online from Adobe, 3rd party providers, and indeed from users themselves, once again showing the collaborative approach that is constantly a part of the evolution of Adobe programs.
This is a considerable upgrade from CS3, and perhaps can fully justify the outlay which, for many, would be quite considerable. But Adobe has made so many improvements that will be welcomed by all, and the extra speed and ease of use are key factors here. The number of improvements is so extensive, that it would be difficult to cover them all in one review, and even when it comes to printing and colour management, there are new things to discover.
I can find little to quibble about other than the things I remarked on in the review, such as Bridge. Perhaps I would also have liked to have seen the retention of the extract filter which seems to have vanished. It has taken me some time to get used to the number of changes, and some of my shortcut keyboard commands have had to be re-learnt. But the logical way the new and less cluttered interface is set up will soon let you forget these minor glitches to what is a superb product and industry standard. To me the improvements in Camera Raw are worth the upgrade alone, and I can thoroughly recommend it.
For more information, please visit the Adobe Web Site.
Member of Renderosity since August 2002 and former Moderator of the Photography Forum and Gallery. I have had a few nominations for AOM in both photography and mixed medium. Aged 59, Born in Cornwall and have a special interest in Wildlife photography. I have travelled widely while serving in the Royal Air Force as a medic, and later working as mental health professional in the UK health service prior to retiring in 2005. Visit my website: http://www.digitalartzone.co.uk
January 12, 2009
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