Adobe Photoshop CS6 (review)

Adobe Photoshop CS6 has new features that make it harder to recognise at first sight whether a photo has been enhanced or not. That’s good news for photographers who need to generate ever more creative artwork. Photoshop’s 3D capabilities have been enhanced as well, as have commonly used tools even.

I’m going to concentrate on the new stuff in Photoshop CS6 for this review. New are more precise cropping, astonishing content-aware tools, additions in the blur gallery, new and re-engineered design tools, adaptive wide-angle adjustments, Adobe Camera RAW 7, intelligent auto corrections, skin-tone aware selections and masking, better 3D controls, and intuitive video adjusting.

Starting with crops: expect the same sort of cropping ease as what you’ve come to appreciate in Lightroom, Aperture, and other photo editors. This means the image moves, not the cropping window. You can enhance the cropping window further with aspect ratio “helpers” such as golden spiral, rule of thirds, etc.

Photoshop CS6 image showing a crop with the straighten option

Personally, I found the perspective cropping a fabulous tool. This cropping system appears as a perspective grid and adjusts your image to the perspective grid when you hit the crop OK button. It happens frequently that I want to shoot an object straight ahead but that there are obstacles in front of me so I can’t shoot the way I like. With the perspective crop, I can fix this — at least, if the skewness isn’t too exaggerated.

The cropping tool is also home to the straighten tool, which is new as well.

Finally, you can save croppings as a preset now.

Content-awareness has now reached a stage where you can remove, stretch or move objects with no visible marks at all. I successfully removed a block of houses within 3 minutes, with no previous learning. The only thing that I didn’t do, is be a bit accurate in my creating the selection. If I’d read the review guide prior to trying this removal action, I would have known that I could first create my selection using the usual selection tools instead of just dragging with the removal tool…

In one word: content-aware tools now enable you to alter images in such ways that it becomes hard to tell whether they were shot that way or have been adjusted to make reality adapt to your vision as an artist. I can imagine these tools by themselves being used by artists creating their own geeky worlds with them.

Image shows Photoshop CS6 content-aware removal tool, having removed left part of the image with no visible trace

New Blur effects include Iris, Field and Tilt-Shift blurring. I tried the Iris and Tilt-Shift effects. The controls are incredibly easy to use. A central pin with a blur amount circle lets you set the focal point, while handles allow you to change the blur field and the transition from blurry to sharp. It’s as easy as in Alien Skin’s Bokeh plug-in.

Photoshop CS6 has new and improved design tools, such as paragraph and character styles, and new vector layers. I’m sure the typography thing will appeal to many people, but I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps that’s because I’m not used to working with typography in Photoshop for anything else than web graphics — and even then only very occasionally. The new vector layers, however, combined with new alignments when rendering, are visibly better than the old.

Layer search allows you to find layers based on criteria like Kind, Name and Effect. Very useful and handy if you have a lot of them! Layers can also be turned on and off by clicking the switch button.

Image shows wide-angle correction capabilities of Photoshop CS6.

Less time-saving but more creative is the adaptive wide angle adjustment. It’s based on Adobe’s Lens Correction system, and it works wonders on GoPro images, for example. It’s dead easy too. You load the image in the Filter > Adaptive Wide Angle dialogue. Then you use the tools at left to draw the lines that you want to straighten. On these lines adjustment circles and control points appear. With those you can experiment until the image looks right.

Of course there’s a trade off: the image gets warped in very odd shapes, and you need to crop afterwards, but the result is worthwhile if you care about straight lines. The same tool will also allow you to correct perspective distortions and even full spherical panoramas.

Skin Tones is now available as a selection criterium in Select > Color Range… It’s also available in some adjustment dialogues so you can set a mask based on skin tones. Useful, but in my opinion not as well implemented as in Capture One Pro, for example. And no, you’re right, Capture One Pro isn’t comparable with Photoshop — at least not one-on-one.

Video editing is something I wouldn’t want to do in Photoshop. I am one of those people who think you need to have the right tool for the job, and Photoshop isn’t the right tool for video editing. Premiere Pro CS6 comes a lot closer. However, you can do some nice colour grading and corrections in Photoshop CS6, but as you can imagine it all takes a lot more time than needed. My advice: stick to Premiere Pro unless it’s a very short clip and it doesn’t need much more than a tiny cosmetic update.

3D never was my strongest point. Still, I managed to create something that looks nice in Photoshop. The only problem was getting out of the 3D look, which I found is quite hard. It’s not documented how to get rid of the 3D view altogether — at least, I didn’t find references. Until I accidentally came across a contextual menu option in the Layers palette that let me rasterise the layer…

To round up this review, there’s one thing left: speed and performance. The Adobe Mercury Engine is present in all (or almost all) CS6 products. In Photoshop CS6 this translates in faster image loading, better speeds when applying a Filter. And yes, it’s true Photoshop CS6 feels a lot snappier, although when I compare it with CS4 it’s not overly dramatic, except in some filters like the ones that warp your image.

All in all, Photoshop CS6 is certainly a juicy upgrade of an already feature-packed application. Skilful image editors will once again be able to create stuff nobody deemed possible before.