Name: Adobe Photoshop CS6 Extended
Type: Image editing software
Price: £667.20. Upgrade from earlier edition from £190.80. Subscription options also available.
After a few years worth of so-so updates, Photoshop CS6 Extended sees Adobe really dig deep, adding new features, carefully refining old ones and making everything run far quicker to boot. Read on to find out what makes this the best version of Photoshop yet.
Photoshop is the creative industry's weapon of choice, and has been for some years. A powerful image editing suite, you'll see its fruits at work practically anywhere that an image has been touched up and arranged in a slick way, right down to the web narcissist's vanity shot, making bingo wings of the rich and famous everywhere vanish. It's been top of the pile for many a year now, but a series of lacklustre updates have left hardcore users crying out for more substantial improvements.
And Adobe have delivered what's probably the best version yet with Photoshop CS6 Extended. It's a mammoth piece of software with hundreds of features both new and old, and plenty of meaningful tweaks and improvements. Rather than re-tread old ground, this review will focus on the new core improvements made Photoshop.
The most instantly striking thing about the latest version of Photoshop is its new interface. Opting for a darker tone (though you can also choose to use the classic lighter grey if you prefer), it puts tools and buttons to the background, making your actual image editing jump to the fore. That's not to say the buttons and toolbars themselves haven't been reworked. New icons are sensibly refined versions of the older ones, but what's most important is how much chaff has been cut away. There's no longer layer upon layer of windows and menu options to trawl through, with far more context sensitive stuff surrounding the cursor, making workflow quicker and more intuitive, and the whole Photoshop workspace more spatially economic and tidier to boot.
New Mercury Graphics Engine
In terms of speeding up your workflow, the importance of the new Adobe Mercury Graphics Engine can't be understated. Allowing Photoshop to harness your PC's GPU to its full extent, full hardware acceleration means that tasks that would once require timely processing cycles can now be whizzed through. Best of all, it means that you can see the adjustments made by tools like Liquify, Puppet Warp and Transform in real time. Though it's not directly linked to the Mercury engine, background auto-saving is an equally awesome time-saving addition. Backing-up your work in 5, 10, 15, 30 or 60 minute increments, you can rest safe in the knowledge that your work is secure, without being interrupted by a saving dialogue.
Content-Aware Patch Tool
Everything about Photoshop CS6 Extended seems designed to make an image editors life easier, and this is no better shown than with the Content-Aware Patch tool. Building upon the Content-Aware Scaling from CS4 and Content-Aware Fill from CS5, it allows you to make a selection in an image and move or extend them within a scene, patching in their original replacement near-seamlessly. It's success is largely down to the type of image being edited (you'll have better success with natural scenery with a smaller colour range than a busy industrial scene for instance), but when it works it feels a little bit like magic.
Other Tool Improvements - Paragraph, Character Style, Shapes, Crop
Across the board other legacy tools get significant improvements. The Paragraph and Character Style panels have always felt a little superfluous if you've got Illustrator running as well, but with the new ability to open up favourites and adjust them to make tiny variations, they're much more useful tools. Shapes layers are now true vector objects too, letting you play with strokes within or outside, as well as being able to stroke open paths and use dotted dashed or gradient filled strokes.
Most significantly improved however is the Crop tool. For starters, it's no longer irreversible, letting you go back as many crop steps as you like at any time. The Mercury engine also means that crop adjustments can flow in real time, scaling and zooming beautifully. Perspective cropping is a boon, letting you twist a subject slightly, while the rotate crop function also has a precision straighten tool that intelligently turns selections without strange distortions. Overlays like golden ratio, and the rule of thirds make it even easier to judge crop frames as well.
Adaptive Wide Angle Correction
If you shoot lots of stitched-panoramic shots, you'll be aware of how annoyingly distorted the results can seem. Again improving on an earlier feature (the so-so Lens Correction tool from CS5) Adaptive Wide Angle Correction lets you rework an image for a more natural look. Using a lens geometry database that taps into the photographs metadata, , you can pick out the straight lines in an image, such as the horizon or a wall, and have Photoshop shift the image based on your straight-line selection. With it, you can take even the most wacky of fish-eye lens shots and make it feel altogether more natural.
New Lens Blur Options
Lens Blur also benefits from the real-time previews that the Mercury engine allows for. Three types of effects can be tinkered with, from Iris Blur, Field Blur and Tilt-Shift. Again, cleverly intuitive, context-away HUD info means that you can quickly tweak all sorts of blur details, giving you dramatic control over specific elements of focus in each shot.
Better Camera RAW Imports
Adobe's RAW 7 import improvements are substantial. Using a new "tone-mapping algorithm", RAW files now pop in a far more satisfying way. Highlights and Shadows in particular look good enough to make you want to go back to older imports and re-touch them, with no noticeable halos. Defringing has been streamlined too; it's all carried out with a simple check-box option now. Localised noise reduction is also introduced.
Better Task Automation
If you're a fan of macros, Adobe have also improved the Actions function. You can now include brush movements and selection options as part of your automated tasks, and use a shortcut to see them all applied instantly.
Video Editing In Photoshop and Extended 3D Tools
Video editing can now be done within Photoshop, whether you opt for the standard or Extended editions. It's not a vastly comprehensive tool set, but the ability to apply all the regular Photoshop filters and effects to moving images, as well as animated layers, can lead to some nifty results. Some will see this as a needless feature, but those that don't often do much video editing and don't want to bloat out their computer with rarely used stand-alone video software (or those that are simply more comfortable within the Photoshop application) will appreciate it.
Grab the Extended edition and you'll get the 3D Layer toolset too, which feature far more intuitive HUD controls. Every parameter you can think of, from twists to shadows, bevels to vanishing point filters, can be tinkered with. You can easily insert 3D objects into an image, and making them meld seamlessly into a pre-existing image is a piece of cake.
There's a hell of a lot that's gone into this latest build of Photoshop, and all of it is welcome. Speedier processing and a more intuitive interface means even the most complex of jobs can be turned around more quickly than ever. When it works, the Content-Aware Patch tool is a magical addition, and new lens blur options are powerful too. It's definitely the most significant update the program has seen in quite some time, and a worthy upgrade for all users.