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Adobe Photoshop CS5 review

From £643 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Adobe

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5

Adobe Photoshop CS5 adds enhancements to the image-editing software that enable smoother workflow and boost creativity.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 adds enhancements to the image-editing software that enable smoother workflow and boost creativity. See also: Adobe Photoshop CS6 review.

Whenever a new version of an important program comes out, the need for it, depending on the changes, can run the spectrum - from it's-revolutionary, got-to-have-it-now to ho-hum, I-can-wait-for-the-next-revision. Adobe Photoshop CS5, the latest version that's sold both individually and as part of Adobe Creative Suite 5, falls between those two extremes. We reviewed a beta.

Photoshop is a mature program that is already an indispensable component of everyday business for photographers and graphics professionals. What sets Adobe Photoshop CS5 apart isn't any one killer app but dozens of refinements that will make users' lives easier, more efficient, and, potentially, more creative.

Adobe Photoshop CS5: Interface

Adobe Photoshop CS5's interface remains comfortably familiar, although slightly changed - and more efficient to use. For instance, the revamped Workspace switcher is no longer buried in the Window drop-down menu. Instead, it is always immediately available at the top of the screen to the right of the Ribbon Bar. What's more, if you make changes to any Workspace (such as Photography) and then switch to another (such as Painting), when you return to Photography, those changes will be retained.

The most significant workflow improvement to the interface is the introduction of Mini-Bridge. In essence, it's a palette (or panel) within Photoshop that's really a window on to Bridge, allowing full access to all your image files without having to leave Photoshop. As with the full Bridge, you can choose different display options, depending upon what information you need or want: Thumbnails, As Filmstrip, Details, or List. And as before, if you need the full functionality of Bridge, just click on the BR icon, either within the Mini-Bridge palette or at the top of the screen.

The other noticeable (albeit trivial) change to the interface is that the appearance of many of the toolbox icons is different. While the shapes remain the same (for instance, the Clone tool icon is still a rubber stamp), they're redrawn.

Adobe Photoshop CS5: Advances in Camera RAW

One of Adobe Photoshop CS5's most important changes is in the new noise reduction algorithms in Camera RAW 6. It now has sliders for both Luminance and Color Noise. However, it wasn't fully implemented in the beta version we tested, so our judgment has to be based on demonstrations by Adobe, which made it look quite good.

If your creative instincts lean toward filmlike texturing, the new FX tab in Camera RAW will add grain or vignetting.

By the way, Camera RAW 6 and Lightroom 3 are now better coordinated, since they both use the same RAW conversion. This means that you'll no longer have conflicts and be forced to choose between the two. Camera Raw 6 will not be available for anyone who is using earlier Creative Suite software than CS5.

Adobe Photoshop CS5: Smarter Masking

Photoshop's masking and selection tools are the workhorses of the program, because a high percentage of any creative session starts with drawing a good mask. That's why any improvements for easier, more precise selections are always welcome.

The Refine Edge selection dialog box has been redesigned to allow more accurate selections, especially of difficult textured edges, such as wooly clothes or flyaway hair. This isn't to say that creating such masks are now child's play, but with the Refine Radius and Erase Refinements brushes, along with Smart Radius analyzing the edges, the task of working on such difficult subjects isn't as grueling. In addition, the Color Decontaminant option helps remove excess background that you might have inadvertently included in your mask - though as with all such tools, your original picture must have some differentiation in colour and contrast between the background and the subject.

Refine Edge will generally save time with such masks, but it is annoying that the dialog doesn't have Undo /Redo options - just Reset, which takes you back to your starting point, when all you might want to do is roll back a couple of brush strokes. When saving the mask, Refine Edge offers several useful options, such as Layer Mask, New Layer, New Layer with Layer Mask, New Document, or New Document with Layer Mask. Incidentally, Refine Edge works with Smart Objects, which means you can return to Camera RAW to re-edit the conversion parameters, while retaining all the work you did on the mask.

NEXT: a magic eraser tool >>

See also: Adobe Creative Suite 5 review

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Expert Verdict »
Intel Pentium 4, AMD Athlon 64 processor or Multicore Intel processor
Windows X/Vista/7, Mac OS X v10.5.7 or v10.6
1GB of RAM
1GB of available hard-disk space for installation (2GB for Mac)
additional free space required during installation (cannot install on removable flash-based storage devices)
1024x768 display (1280x800 recommended) with qualified hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card, 16-bit color, and 256MB of VRAM, Some GPU-accelerated features require graphics support for Shader Model 3.0 and OpenGL 2.0
DVD-ROM drive
QuickTime 7.6.2 software required for multimedia features
Broadband Internet connection required for online services
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

Adobe Photoshop CS5 has lots of little tweaks, enhancements, and improvements that add up to smoother workflow, greater convenience, and more creative potential for those who use Photoshop day in and day out. If you're still using CS3, combining the advances of CS4 with CS5 makes upgrading an easy decision. If you are currently using CS4, moving up to CS5 could save you some time and effort - especially if your regular tasks include masking and cloning. If you are into painting, the new Mixer Brush may be enough to make the upgrade worthwhile. And if you do a lot of low-light photography, in which noise is a problem, the fact that Camera RAW 6 won't be available to CS4 users is very compelling. However, moving from CS4 to CS5 it isn't one of those mandatory, can't-avoid-it decisions for other Photoshop users who are satisfied with their current workflow and toolset. As usual, Photoshop and the rest of Creative Suite 5 are available in a somewhat confusing array of packages. But when you stop to read what each contains, it becomes a clear issue of deciding just what programs you need (or want) and which ones you don't. You can buy Photoshop CS5 Standard or Extended as stand-alone applications.

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