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The best new features in Adobe Photoshop CS4, from a photographer's perspective - Part 2

Many new and improved features make working with Photoshop faster and easier than ever By Robert Jensen

Last week I started my two part article on Photoshop CS4 by talking about Bridge and Camera Raw. This week I'm going to cover the big guy in the box, Photoshop. I'm not going to cover Photoshop Extended since its advantages aren't used by most photographers.

Under the hood - The biggest change you're going to see in CS4, well, you aren't going to actually see it, but you'll certainly experience it's effects, and that is support for OpenGL graphics acceleration. With OpenGL support Photoshop screen redraws are very fast while moving an image around inside the editing window. Before, if you had a large image you had to wait a bit for the screen to move around all those pixels to their new locations. (which is why Photoshop CS2 and earlier had a setting in the Preferences setup to use Pixel Doubling which basically lowered resolution when moving those pixels around) Now for example, I can take a very large image and with a flick of the mouse pan around smoothly and quickly.

Another plus is improved image quality at oddball zooms. Before, whenever you zoomed to anything other than the standard 25%, 33.33%, 50%, 66.67%, 100%, etc. you ended up with diagonal lines that should look smooth turning into jagged lines. Now, no matter what factor you've zoomed to, 21%, 73.1%, whatever, your lines stay nice and straight looking.

Photoshop's interface has been tweaked in a number of ways. Here are just some of the new or improved tools too. Click for full view

Note: When upgrading to CS4 it might be time to upgrade your old graphics card or computer if its older than 3-4 years. You can upgrade your desktop PC to a newer NVIDIA or ATI card that will keep up with CS4 for less than $100. Its harder to do that with a laptop or a Mac, with the exception of Apple's G4 desktop.

Next, under Preferences/General Preferences there are these new selections:
Zoom with Scroll Wheel - Its not new but it works much smoother now with the new Performance/OpenGl settings enabled.

Zoom Clicked Point to Center - This really works best when Zoom with Scroll Wheel is enabled. What it does is zoom in on the area of the image where your cursor is. One little catch, this kicks in once the image fills the editing window. Before that you have to keep moving the cursor a bit each step of the zoom.

Enable Flick Panning - Another new feature that keeps me from pressing keys, in this case when I'm doing a 1:1 look at an image to see if there are any problems that need correcting, like dust spots, using the Hand tool I can now just flick the image around from top to bottom, right side to left, where ever I want - and its fast!

When editing in Photoshop you now have some new and updated tools.
Adjustment Layer panel - Until now I've had to use a number of Actions I recorded to quickly add various adjustment layers in my photos. Now Adobe has a new Adjustment Tool panel with more features than my actions had. (Time to do some rewriting of My Actions.)

Mask Panel - Using masks is now easier and more flexible. With the new Mask Panel you have all your tools in one place. Since a lot of the new features in Photoshop are non-destructive you can now go back and make changes to your masks much easier than with older versions.

Refine Mask - You can now easily refine your mask with the Mask Panel. You can also use the power of Refine Edges along with this tool.

Vibrance Adjustment - A fairly new feature in Lightroom 2,Vibrance, has been brought over to CS4 which adds saturation to colors but in a much better way than using the Saturation adjustment. Back then whenever I increased saturation I had to then go to the Fade adjustment, set it to Luminosity in the drop down list and by setting it to near 100% to get something like what Vibrance does. Vibrance tries to keep everything looking more natural compared to other tools like Saturation. Vibrance is smart enough to only effect those colors where it can do some good. Its very good at keeping the skin tones in the image more natural looking.

Dodge, Burn and Sponge - This is an old tool made much better mimicking the same methods as Vibrance does to lighten or burn in areas of your image. Ever try to dodge a person's face and have them end up looking more like Casper the Ghost than a human being? Now things stay much more natural looking.

On Image Editing - Look for a new icon in your adjustments panel. Nothing is as simple and intuitive as placing your cursor on the area of the image you want to change and simply dragging your mouse up or down to make adjustments.

Color Range improved - There's a new Localize Color Clusters check box on your Color Range panel that keeps effected colors near where you want to adjust and not on the entire image. For example, this would be handy if you have two yellow boats in your photo and you only want to effect one of them.
Live Brush preview - Especially useful when using the Clone Stamp or other brushes. Now you see what your brush will do BEFORE you actually make the change to the image. I've found this useful for cloning in brush, hair, etc, and making it line up with the rest of the image. I can also see if I've set things too far or not far enough.

Blending images to create enormous depth of focus - Using the Merge tool you can combine several images, each with a different focus point/depth-of-field, to create images where everything is in focus from a blade of grass inches in front of the lens to a mountain in the distance. No need for special macro or tilt and shift lenses, its all done in software.

Better integration with Lightroom 2.2 - Sending an image or group of images from Lightroom 2 to Photoshop CS4 is a bit easier than before, but there's still room for improvement. What I'd really like to see is Adobe do away with Bridge and Camera RAW and replace them with Lightroom, but still have all the features of Bridge and CR. Its 95% there already. I just don't understand why they still have two or more development teams working on what should be one tool. They can still sell Lightroom to those that find it enough for what they need and offer those who need PS's abilities an upgrade path or a more featured/integrated package with LR/PS.

Caption: Added to the Print panel is a new Gamut warning, as well as a redesign of the panel to make it more efficient. Click for full view


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