Earlier this year, Adobe announced its plans to make Photoshop CS6 the last in its Creative Suite (CS) bloodline, making room for the new Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC). Unlike its predecessors, the latest adaptation of the pro-level editing software is no longer purchasable as a one-off edition with an indefinite licence; instead, it requires a pay-monthly subscription. The advantage? Well, Adobe will now be able to create regular updates and additions to the software that’ll be made available immediately without the need for the company to release an entirely new package every 12 to 18 months, as was the case with the CS format.
So far, this decision has sparked a wave of controversy across the photographic and design communities, with some users having mixed feelings towards the concept of ‘renting’ software rather than owning it outright. What’s more, with Photoshop CS6 still available for purchase, are the latest additions to the software really enough to entice users to take the leap to CC, or should they hold fire and stick with the ‘pay-once, use forever’ version of the software? We got hold of a review copy of Photoshop CC to find out exactly that.
Despite the name ‘Creative Cloud’, Photoshop CC isn’t strictly a ‘cloud’ based system; by which we mean it doesn’t operate via an internet connection. The software is installed directly to your computer hard drive, just like the regular CS packages before it, and any files you create will also be saved locally, though, with your CC subscription you’ll receive 20GB of free Cloud storage, should you wish to use it. However, in order for your subscription to continue each month, the software will require access to the web every 30 days.
Packaged along with Photoshop CC is Adobe’s latest instalment of the Camera Raw plug-in, Adobe Camera Raw 8, which includes a handful of useful new tools and a few improvements from the previous 7.4 incarnation. The first of the additions is the Radial Filter tool; in essence this operates in the same manner as the Graduated Filter tool, but allows you to apply adjustments either inside or outside of an elliptical Selection. We found this particularly useful for making selective adjustments to an image including those to the White Balance, Exposure, Contrast and Sharpness.
Under the Lens Corrections tab, Adobe has added a set of Automatic Upright Corrections, which allow you to quickly fix perspective distortion within an image using a single click of the mouse; great news for architectural photographers as it makes short work of correcting converging verticals on shots of buildings.
The Spot Removal tool has also seen improvement; the brush can now be dragged along the canvas to ‘paint’ over imperfections, and make corrections to larger areas of the image, which was a welcome addition as it grants greater control and acts much more like the Healing Brush tool in the main Photoshop interface. A Visualize Spots tick box has also been added, which, when activated, overlays a black & white Mask on top of the pic that helps to identify any dirt spots present, making them much easier to locate and remove.
Within the main Photoshop interface, Adobe has put some work into improving the Sharpening filters, with the inclusion of a Shake Reduction filter that helps to remove the blurring effect created by camera shake. The Smart Sharpen filter has also been modified to further reduce the appearance of digital Noise that was often generated as an unwanted side effect in previous versions of the software.
Also new to the Filter menu is the Camera Raw filter; clicking this option will allow you to make creative adjustments to a Layer using the sliders found within the Camera Raw Interface – albeit without the same latitude that a native RAW file offers.
Resizing pics using the Image Size option has also seen some slight improvements with a new Preserve Details Resample option. This allowed us to retain an overall sharper image with greater amounts of detail when resampling low resolution shots to a larger scale, when compared to the regular Bicubic Smoother (enlargement) preset.
Graphic designers will be pleased to hear that shapes can now be modified more easily thanks to an enhanced Properties Panel that allows corners to be rounded after a shape has been created. Specific Layers can also now be singled out within the palette, thanks to the aptly named Isolate Layers option and this is particularly useful when working on complex composite or montage pictures.
Elsewhere, a brand-new Sync Settings mean that if you have Photoshop CC installed onto multiple computers with the same subscription licence, options such as Actions, Brushes and Tool Presets can be instantly matched-up between both versions of CC to ensure that changes and additions to common presets (such as Brushes and Actions) are kept consistent – though, this will only work if both computers have an active internet connection.
Interface & performance
If you were to open Photoshop CC and CS6 side-by-side, at first glance you’d struggle to tell one from the other. Very little has been changed in terms of the overall interface with the latest update, and by default the latest update features the same dark grey skin as its predecessor, though, just as before, this can be changed to the classic light grey look via Preferences.
All of the regular palettes and tools are located in the usual positions, and this isn’t a bad thing as it allows anyone familiar with previous CS incarnations to start work straight off the bat without having to scour the layout for common functions.
During testing, filter effects and adjustments were applied rapidly and previews were displayed in real time, with more involved filters just needing a few seconds longer to take effect, such as Lens Blur. One gripe we did have, however, was with an unusual but consistent bug found when using Adjustment Layers. After creating an Adjustment Layer, like Levels for example, and altering any of the values, we found that using Edit Undo, or pressing Ctrl+Z to undo our previous adjustment would result in the on-screen preview taking effect but the values in the Adjustments palette appearing unaltered until the window is closed and re-opened. Although only a minor bug, it still managed to slow the pace of working. That said, with Adobe promoting the idea of releasing regular updates and patches for Photoshop CC via its in-software update system, hopefully issues like this will be resolved relatively quickly.
Value for money
Photoshop CC could be seen as being more expensive than CS as once the discounted rate of £8.78 per month (£105.36 per year) for users upgrading from CS3 or later has expired (eyes above for more details), it’ll cost you £210.96 per year compared to the £170 you’d normally pay to upgrade to the latest CS package every 18 months (or £113 per year). To some, this subscription-based payment may be appealing, though, as it grants access to the most recent professional image editing software in affordable bite-size chunks, rather than having to fork out a hefty £650 in one lump sum. This is especially true to newcomers where it’ll take about five years before a CC subscription becomes more expensive than the traditional buy-then-upgrade CS model (providing the CC rates don’t inflate over time). That said, it’s worth remembering that you’ll never actually ‘own’ the software, so if you don’t continue your subscription, access to the software will be cut off.
If you can’t commit to CC’s infinite monthly subscription, then CS6 is worth a look, as it’s still available as a pay-once licence for around £650 and offers many of the features found in CC, including Adobe Camera Raw 8 with the latest update. Alternatively, Lightroom 5 (£102) and Elements 11 (£74) are two alternatives worth considering, as not only are they a fraction of the price, but together they’ll cover most RAW conversion and image manipulation needs.
Adobe Camera Raw – New Upright Correction tools
Clicking on the Lens Corrections tab within the Camera Raw 8 interface reveals a total of four new automatic Upright Correction options. First in the list of presets is Auto mode, which will analyse the image and automatically apply balanced perspective corrections accordingly. Next there’s ‘Level’, which, as the name suggests, automatically levels out the horizon line of the image – much like you would do manually using the Straighten Tool. Clicking the ‘Vertical’ option both levels the image and corrects the vertical perspectives. Finally, the ‘Full’ option will level the image, as well as making horizontal and vertical perspective corrections.
After a bit of trial and error, we managed to get the best results by using the Auto mode, and then making any further adjustments that were required manually using the regular sliders beneath.
With a conservative amount of new features, CS6 users would be justified by not making the immediate upgrade to CC. That said, it’s still a fantastic piece of software, and for newcomers, CC’s bite-size monthly fees make pro-level image editing more accessible than ever before.
- Street price: Discontinued (CC Release 2014 available on £8.57/mo Photography Plan)
- Visit: www.adobe.com/uk
This review was first published in the September 2013 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.