Adobe Photoshop CS5 review

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

  • Price When Reviewed: £548 plus VAT (Standard) . £794 plus VAT (Extended)

  • Pros: 64-bit enabled. Helpful Refine Edge feature. Easier merging of HDR images. Many community-driven improvements. Lens Correction filter uses camera/lens profiles. Better noise reduction in Camera Raw. Convenient Content-Aware Fill feature.

  • Cons: Many plug-ins/filters work only in 32-bit mode. App generally does not feel much faster.

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Photoshop is a key tool used by most Digital Arts readers. Here we put the final released software through its paces to see if it's a worthy upgrade.

It's no exagerration to say that Adobe has put forth a Herculean effort to improve both functionality and user experience. This release brings the much-anticipated 64-bit compatibility to the Mac version of the image editor, as well as hundreds of feature requests from the Photoshop community at large. For example, you can now drag and drop files from your desktop into an open Photoshop document (they land on their own layer), change the opacity or fill of multiple layers at once, save your favorite layer style settings as defaults, and more.

But this release showcases many new features, as well. The new Content-Aware Fill option makes removal of unwanted objects in photos a snap and the Puppet Warp tool lets you move parts of objects within your image. The brush engine also got its first major overhaul in years, featuring realistic brush tips as well as a Mixer Brush that lets you turn photos into paintings.

Other enhancements include a redesigned Refine Edge dialog box whose new Smart Radius feature makes selecting things like hair and fur easier than ever before; and an improved Lens Correction filter that utilizes camera profiles that you download or create yourself. Merging multiple exposures into one also got easier with the new Merge to HDR Pro option, and the list goes on. Add it all up and you’ve got an upgrade that’s not only worth the cost, it’s one you can’t afford to skip.

64-bit enabled

To say that the programming team had its hands full in making Photoshop 64-bit compatible is an understatement -- the program had to be rewritten from the ground up. For end users, this means Photoshop can now open and edit super-huge files -- those over 4GB -- as well as utilize more memory (RAM), the latter making the program feel zippier. However, the speed increase is barely noticeable if you’re running OS X 10.5 (Leopard), though more so in OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). That said, if you’re the proud parent of one of the newest Macs (with faster video cards), the program should run faster.

Unfortunately, to accommodate the new programming code that allows for 64-bit processing, some plug-ins and filters -- the built-in Variations and Lighting Effects, for example -- only work in 32-bit mode, and that surely will disappoint some users. Moreover, most third-party plug-ins too will work only in 32-bit mode, until they are updated. Thankfully, it’s easy (though not especially convenient) to switch between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the Mac version; just select the application icon, choose File->Get Info, turn on the 32-bit option, and relaunch Photoshop.

Content-Aware Fill

One of the most useful new features in this new version is Content-Aware Fill (see above right), which works with the Spot Healing Brush and Edit->Fill command. Based on the same technology that makes Content-Aware Scale possible, this option makes zapping unwanted content from photos quick and easy. It works by comparing your selection or brush stroke to nearby pixels and then filling the selected area so it blends seamlessly with the background. It works unbelievably well.

Refine Edge enhancements

Another exciting new feature is the much-improved Refine Edge dialog box. It now sports several options for refining selections and makes selecting tough stuff (such as hair and fur) incredibly easy. For example, the new Smart Radius option detects the difference between soft and hard edges and the new Decontaminate Colors option all but eliminates any leftover pixels from the object’s original background. You can also control the destination of the new selection -- the current layer, a new layer, a layer mask, a new layer with a mask, a new document, and so on -- from within the Refine Edge dialog box. You also get seven preview options, instead of five.

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