Say goodbye to physical media and Photoshop CS6, and hello to a Creative Cloud subscription and Photoshop CC.
The first point to note is that there's now only one version of Photoshop, whereas before you needed to pay extra to get the extended edition, which included features such as 3D. Now, everyone gets everything and updates will happen on a rolling basis, not every 18 months or so.
There are a lot of small and modest tweaks and feature enhancements in this release, but those aren’t going to convince anyone that the Creative Cloud experience is worth having. The headline-grabbers are an all-new Sharpen filter, support for Camera Raw 8, and a Camera Shake Reduction option.
Other features worth mentioning include editable rounded rectangles, multiple path, shape and vector selection, the copying of CSS attributes, expanded Smart Object support, the ability to save type formatting as a preset, as well as system anti-aliasing. There have also been a number of improvements to the ponderous and underpowered 3D engine.
When you first log in to Creative Cloud, a CC helper app will install on the menu bar. This lets you access downloads and updates for all the CC apps, any files you've stored in the cloud, new fonts and the Behance showcase system. When Photoshop CC runs, your Adobe account name will appear in the main app menu, allowing you to sync your settings.
To Camera Raw 8 then and a likely first stop for opening Raw images, though it can also process other formats such as Jpegs. The interface offers a useful way of getting started with a photo. Adobe has a tendency to keep re-inventing the wheel, and that’s certainly the case here. Lots of the tools and adjustments in Camera Raw 8 are available in the main program, where they can be better applied on layers. Here you can use adjustment brushes with a mask system, but it’s clumsy and slow compared to using an adjustment layer with a mask.
The exception is the Spot Removal tool, which is actually a general healing brush. This is particularly clever, as once an area is marked the tool identifies a suitable replacement area, then uses the texture from that area while retaining the tones from the original area when blending them together. If you don’t like the selected source, you can just move it to a better one.
There's also a whole collection of basic corrections. One new option is the Radial Filter, which is actually a mask system that uses the built-in adjustments. It's also worth noting that Camera Raw can now be used as a filter, to allow access to that group of slider-based adjustments, and that it supports 16-bit and 32-bit images for toning HDR images.
Sharpening images is an oft-visited area, so we were interested to see the all-new Smart Sharpen filter. The filter window can be resized, making it easier to see the preview, and there are main controls for amount, radius and reducing noise.
During testing, it not only delivered really crisp and artefact free results, in mid-tones and highlight areas, but it also made noise and artefacts in shadow areas a lot more noticeable. Using the Noise slider smoothed those out, though at the cost of the highlight detail inside the main edges of objects in the photo.
There are options for fading the effect on highlights and shadows, but while we found that the highlight fade worked very well, the shadows effect was a lot less effective. Compared to the Smart Sharpen tool in CS6 the results are very similar, though CS6 tends to create harsher edges, while CC is more even and a little better on the details.
Photography is all about light, and not having enough of it for the aperture and shutter speed you are using leads to camera shake. At the mild end that makes your images soft, at the severe end it makes them unusable with double edges. Enter the new Camera Shake Reduction filter, which is under the Sharpen filter menu.
There’s no surprise to see it here because soft images can be rescued by sharpening them anyway. The problem is that sharpening increases noise and artefacts in this type of image significantly. The real trick though, is to save an image with double edged movement. The filter analyses the direction of the movement and attempts to remove it to leave a sharpened, single image underneath. There are options for tracing the blur boundary, so that the bigger the gap between the double images, the more you need.
The filter analyses this automatically but it can be adjusted. The rest of the options are for smoothing and artefact suppression. Too much smoothing and you lose all the sharpening, too little and it’s too noisy. With some trial and error it’s possible to really make a considerable difference to an image.
It’s processor intensive though, so there’s lots of times when it stops to render the results. Testing on a soft image the results were excellent, on a badly shaken image there were still some shadowy after effects from the double image but the overall improvement was considerable making this a fantastic new tool.
Image resizing is one area where Photoshop has left it to the third party plug-in market, but now it’s here with a new system. There are options for preserving details or making smoother or sharper, or you can just leave it on automatic. Taking a 12-megapixel image and making it poster size by 300 per cent took 16 seconds in CC compared to just three seconds in CS6, using the best for enlargement options. The CC version was sharper, with more detail and a better result, but it looked like it was using more contrast to give the image more impact.
Photoshop CC’s Bicubic Smoother option also did the upsizing in three seconds and the results were identical to that in CS6. Trying the same thing with OnOne Software’s Perfect Resize 7.5 plugin took significantly longer at 81 seconds, but it didn’t have to resort to using extra contrast, circles were better defined, verticals were straighter and diagonals slightly less jagged.
So, we got a better result using CC, but not as good as OnOne’s third-party plugin.
3D for everyone
If you haven’t used Photoshop Extended, then you won’t have come across Photoshop’s attempt to incorporate 3D, which has been a bit hit-and-miss due to its instability. For Photoshop CC, the scene panel has been reworked to make it more like regular Photoshop, and 3D painting is now a lot faster, though it's worth bearing in mind that it was pretty slow before.
You should also note that importing 3D files from elsewhere is still limited in terms of format, and a lot of OBJ files don’t import properly as well. The lights are thankfully a lot faster and more responsive, though the system of showing them in the 3D scene still isn’t particularly good.
Unlike CS6, where a lot of the supposed new features weren’t that good, this CC release has plenty to get your teeth into. There’s something for everyone, but the real star is the Camera Shake Reduction filter. The improvements to the 3D engine are also notable. Ultimately it’s all going to depend on whether you buy into the Creative Cloud, software-leasing model or start looking for alternatives. As it is, this is a decent release with usable functions rather than unnecessary bloat.