Just as you can predict the migration of the geese or the setting of the sun, you can predict that Adobe will unveil a new version of Photoshop every 18 months and that time has come again with the release of Photoshop CS5.
Every photographer wants to know “What’s new that will help me?” There are several new features that every photographer will benefit from. They include the much ballyhooed Content Aware Fill, but just as importantly, the improvements to Camera Raw, Refine Edges, HDR Pro, Lens Correction, the new Mini Bridge, and Puppet Warp.
Let’s take a quick look at these new features. I’ll start with Content Aware Fill, which is the sexiest and most-hyped new feature. If you haven’t heard, Content Aware Fill takes the technology of the Spot Healing brush to the next level filling in areas that you either select with a selection tool, or paint on with the Spot Healing Brush. It takes multiple samples throughout the selection and the borders of the selection and makes calculation to rebuild the selected area and fill it with material similar to the surrounding areas. This makes it much easier to remove unwanted items from an image. Simply lasso an unwanted item and Photoshop does a very good job of rebuilding the area filling in with similar patterns and details to the surrounding area.
You can also set the Spot Healing Brush to Content Aware mode and paint over unwanted elements, which will work wonders for removing power lines and jet trails! As an example of Content Aware Fill, see the Before-and-After series below.
But my favorite new features are refinements to old tools, especially Camera Raw. The new Noise Reduction feature is worth of the price of the upgrade in my opinion. It does such a good job of removing noise and preserving detail that it is like getting 4-5 more stops of useable light out of your camera! I can shoot with my 1D Mark 4 at ISO 12,800 and you could not tell it from an ISO of 400! It will change the way we take images. No more noisy nighttime and low light exposures! It will make your camera work like you always wish it had. As an example of Noise Reduction, see the Before-and-After series below.
Also improved in Camera Raw is the new Lens Correction, where Adobe has profiled many lenses for Chromatic aberrations, Barrel Distortion, Pin Cushion Distortion and Vignetting. Obviously, Adobe cannot profile every lens camera combination so they have created a profile making tool allowing you to photograph a target and have software analyze the results and create a profile. In time, there will be a very large database of lens/camera profiles. The lens correction has been added to Photoshop as well as Camera Raw so you can apply these profiles to older images as well.
Another improvement to Camera Raw is the way the program demosaics and processes the file along with new algorithms for improved contrast, tone and sharpness. Together, these changes give us the best processed files from our Raw images ever!
If you have ever worked with selections, especially for creating composites and doing extractions, then you will appreciate the new Refine Edge, which makes it much easier to clean up selections and create seamless blends. It will also help you if you need to extract people or animals with hair that is difficult to select.
In the past, Photoshop did not give you many tools for tone mapping your High Dynamic Range images into a useful file. Now HDR Pro does a much better job of tone mapping. For those people who only use HDR occasionally, this new feature will take the place of the myriad of stand-alone programs that have cropped up to deal with Photoshop’s deficiencies. While it is not perfect, it is a major improvement!
One of the best features for improving your workflow is the Mini Bridge. There is now a panel within Photoshop that serves as a conduit to the Bridge allowing you to access your images without leaving Photoshop! This will be a real time saver speeding up your workflow when working with multiple images.
Puppet Warp is a new feature for bending and manipulating elements in an image and while most nature photographers may shun the idea of repositioning an animal's legs or wings there are other practical effects that are noteworthy. You can use Puppet Warp to fix a panoramic image that does not come out straight while using all the original elements in the scene. I will demonstrate this in a future article as well.
So to answer the question on everyone’s mind - “Is the CS5 upgrade worth the price?” - I would have to answer with a resounding yes! This is one of the most photographic-featured upgrades in a while and will make any digital photographer more productive and give you much better files from your digital cameras.
©Lewis Kemper 2010
Editor Note: To learn more about Lewis Kemper, see his pro photographer bio. Lewis - a longtime contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer and Digital Photo magazines - teaches for BetterPhoto.com's online photography school and photographer certification program.