Ars Technica Reviews Photoshop CS5

by Mike on April 28, 2010

Ars Technica just published what may be the first review of Adobe’s Photoshop CS5, and I’ve collected some of the highlights for you. As anyone could have expected. Photoshop CS5 is an absolute beast, and a great choice if you 1) have a powerful computer and 2) spend an awful lot of time editing at the pixel level.

I’m still of the opinion that for 99% of the population Aperture 3 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 are far superior because they combine strong editing tools with world-class organizational capabilities. And oh yeah, they’re a fraction of the price of Photoshop CS5.

…CS5 is loaded with new features, but there are some significant tweaks to the existing toolset to cover first. One small thing that a lot of people will appreciate is that you can now drag and drop smart objects into images directly. It’s a handy little addition, especially if you are working between Illustrator and Photoshop, where you want to keep vector images as smart objects.

Anyway, Photoshop’s masking is finally top-notch. A bit overdue, but nice to know I’ll never have to contact Fluid Mask’s tech support because I broke the touchy activation for the twentieth time (yes, I’m venting).

Content-aware fill has surprised me repeatedly with its accuracy. Its results are not flawless in all cases, but they are often a very good start to an otherwise complex and tedious cloning operation. Used together with the Clone tool and good selections, the content-aware tools will save a ton of time retouching. They’re already becoming essential tools for me.

Photoshop’s 32-bit HDR features fell behind some third-party options in the last couple years, so CS5 aims to step back on top with the new local adaptation mode for tone mapping. The new mode can produce a lot better images and a greater variety of effects. Whether you like natural, subdued contrast or crazy, hyper-glowing and saturated Hell-on-earth type HDR conversions, CS5 gives you more control over how your resulting images will look. The simpler clamped highs/lows and gamma/exposure options are still there if you need them.

This update is not going to please people with multi-core machines—multithreading is still very poor in CS5, and there is no use of the GPU for filters. It isn’t trivial to thread filters and, considering the 64-bit Cocoa transition and wealth of new features, I didn’t expect CS5 to also have pervasive multithreading. But it’s bad enough to warrant mentioning. Obviously, given the very low times that some filters take to execute on the very large 16-bit file in the benchmark, it’s not needed everywhere. But on things like HDR processing, complex and slow filters like lens blur definitely need it.

The other CS5 applications don’t have this widget placement problem. It’s no big deal, but I just can’t not mention it—once you notice it, you can’t unsee it. There are a couple glitches with the CS5 interface. Somehow Photoshop CS5 is the only program I’ve ever seen to get the the window widget placement wrong.

It’s truly impressive that Photoshop CS5 is successful at adding a lot of useful, engineering-heavy features in CS5, all while porting over to a new and stable Cocoa 64-bit code-base on OS X. And it’s encouraging to see that a program that has no real competitors isn’t just being phoned in. Against the on-going daytime drama of “Apple vs. Flash,” Photoshop is still just a great program and CS5 is a worthwhile update for a broad cross-section of users. My complaints are about minor issues—things like the low-res preview in HDR Merge Pro or window layering with AIR filters—can be addressed in a x.1 update without really slowing people down in the meantime. Nine thumbs up.

After being thrown yet another Apple platform curveball, Adobe produces another compelling Photoshop release.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: