Adobe Photoshop CS4 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: 485 . 139 . 775 . 275

  • Pros: Fantastic new view options make for a more positive experience; toning tools improved; Content Aware Scaling works well.

  • Cons: Pricey; full support for new view and workflow functionality requires Vista or OS X 10.4+ plus Open GL graphics card.

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Adobe runs a predictable product development life cycle – every 18 months or so we can expect to hear about new versions of its primary products. Photoshop CS4 has arrived right on schedule.

With each new release there’s a major feature that compels the upgrade – in CS3 this was the introduction of support for 3D. So what’s the big new feature for CS4? Hardware-accelerated display.

It sounds like something you don’t really need, but once you start using CS4 on a system that supports OpenGL acceleration (a compatible graphics card and a modern operating system such as Vista or OS X 10.4 or higher), you’ll never want to go back.

No longer is 66.7 per cent magnification scourged by pixellation: all zoom levels render beautifully under OpenGL. Panning around a document at high magnification is far easier, as Adobe has introduced a flick effect when panning that allows you to glide over your document. The Navigator panel has been made all but redundant with a birds-eye view facility that allows you to temporarily zoom out and reposition your viewport, before gracefully zooming back to the magnification you were working at, which you return to through using a shortcut key.

Then there’s the ability to rotate your view (independent of the canvas) and see a grid of your pixels when you get really close in. It doesn’t sound like it should be the main ‘buy me’ feature, but in terms of workflow and usability, this really is groundbreaking.

The new version of Photoshop has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve.

For starters, there’s the new unified Creative Suite interface. Every application in the suite looks and feels the same. At the last round of releases, Adobe had recently bought Macromedia and hadn’t had time to fully unify two product arms. This time round, it has had time to develop and refine the concept of panels instead of palettes. Each docked panel is spring-loaded, so that if you’re dragging an object into a panel, it springs open when you hover over
the panel tab.

Workspaces have been promoted to become far more useful, and they’re now intelligent enough to remember your personal arrangement of open panels when you switch between them. There is a series of nice touches for arranging and aligning open document windows, including the new tabbed view which users of Flash will be familiar with.

Numerous other small improvements make the whole application layout feel far more thought-through and user friendly.

Another major change is the introduction of the new Adjustment panel. Non-destructive adjustment layers were originally introduced in Photoshop 4, and although the range of adjustments has been extended over the years, the functionality has largely remained the same.

The Adjustment panel is not much more than a new set of clothes for the existing features. Gone are the individual dialog boxes for the various adjustment options; they’ve been replaced with a new single panel that changes according to the adjustment being applied.

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