Adobe Creative Suite 5 expands and extends its graphic reach

CS5 offers a plethora of new features. We look at what's new in its five major applications.

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The changes to Photoshop -- arguably CS5's, and Adobe's, flagship product -- are minor. This is probably good news, since almost every Photoshop user I've talked to hates what they see as unnecessary changes. Photoshop CS5's interface is only minimally different from CS3's and CS4's, so people with experience on the previous two iterations of the program can get to work without too much retraining.

The most striking new feature has already gotten a lot of buzz: Content-Aware Editing. This function, which works with a number of tools (such as the Fill function and the Spot Healing Brush), attempts to use the characteristics of surrounding space when touching up an image. For example, in a photo that featured a bird sitting on a sidewalk, I lassoed the bird and used Content-Aware Fill to replace it with the adjoining texture of the sidewalk in one click.

As with any Photoshop tool, practice and experimentation pay off, since they don't always work as you might expect. Content-Aware Fill works best for small areas within larger areas but can produce weird results if you use it near the edges of an image. Using the Spot Healing brush seems to work best for spot touch-up jobs, since you can delineate a little more precisely how you want changes applied.

Adobe CS5

Photoshop's Content-Aware tools

Another powerful feature, Intelligent Selection, takes the old Magic Wand tool a little further. With it, you can select an object against a background a great deal more easily, even an object with an irregular edge (such as hair). You can tune the scope of the selection as you go, by grabbing the bulk of the object in one or two clicks and then narrowing the diameter of the selector to add outlying regions that weren't caught the first time. (After Effects's Roto Brush function works in much the same way.) I also liked the Puppet Warp function, which lets you treat an image like an elastic mesh and distort it in highly controlled ways.

Given how many cameras on the market can save to raw image formats, raw image processing isn't a luxury feature anymore. Consequently, Photoshop ships with Adobe Camera Raw 6 as a standard-issue item, with support built in for tons of camera models. (Photos from my Canon Rebel XS imported with no problems.) One really nice touch: The default setting for the raw-processing plug-in can be made specific to cameras by serial number, ISO setting or both, which is handy if you have several cameras with different tweak factors. I also like how you can make nondestructive changes to the way raw images are interpreted by storing the changes in a sidecar file.

For even more precise camera- and lens-specific corrections, you can take photos of Adobe's calibration chart and feed them into Photoshop's Lens Profile Creator, which can automatically detect and compensate for chromatic aberrations or other problems.

In short, the name Photoshop is more appropriate than ever.

Adobe Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fill

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