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Product Review: Adobe Photoshop CS5
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Product Review: Adobe Photoshop CS5

This version rocks! Here's why.


Adobe Photoshop CS5 is out, and it incorporates too many improvements to name, providing new power with basic adjustments for the user who wants the out-of-the-camera look, and offering some amazing new tools to the user who wants to go wherever his or her imagination leads.

The term CS refers to Adobe’s Creative Suite of applications, aimed at integrated media content creation. In addition to Photoshop, it includes Acrobat Pro, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, InDesign, Fireworks, Flash, After Effects, Soundbooth, Premiere Pro, OnLocation, Contribute and Encore, all of which are now updated to version CS5. But I’ll use CS5 here to refer to Photoshop CS5.

Beginning with CS4, Photoshop comes in two editions, regular and Extended. Extended adds tools for 3D and animation, but the regular version has everything you need for digital darkroom work. (I’m using Extended so you may see some items in my screenshots that you won’t have in the regular version. Just ignore them.) You can also buy it two ways, full-price and an upgrade price. See the end of the article for details.

Installation and Configuration

The last few Photoshop versions have incorporated major improvements and some changes to the user interface. If you have an older version such as CS or CS2, you can learn about some of the new things you will encounter switching to CS5 in my earlier reviews of CS3 and CS4. You can also learn how to configure your new version (or your current one) in my tutorial, “Setting up a New Version of Photoshop.” If Photoshop crashes, check your configuration items; you may need to redo at least some of them.

A new version of Photoshop can be installed independently of the old one, leaving a fallback to familiar territory if needed. Photoshop is a powerful program and does have some requirements for computer hardware, but they are not exceptional. If you have a Mac, you will need OS 10.5 or later. For Windows, you will need XP or later. For more information, go to

Installation of CS5 was smooth, fast and hassle-free. Look at the Read Me document and follow its instructions about shutting down other programs. You will need to provide your Adobe ID (or set one up) to register and activate, but the process is behind the scenes, with the software doing all the work.

After installation you will want to put the icons for Photoshop and Bridge on your desktop. For Macs, open the corresponding folders in the Applications folder and drag the program icon to your Dock. For PCs, go to the Start menu, Programs and find the icons. Right-click on each and drag it to an empty space on your desktop. (You do have empty space on your desktop?)  Let go of the mouse button and you will see a choice to move or copy the icon. Choose copy, or create a shortcut.

Under the hood, CS5 is now a 64 bit application on both Mac and Windows. If you have a 64 bit operating system (Mac OS 10.5 or 10.6, Windows 7, or 64 bit Vista or XP) CS5 can use more memory than with a 32 bit system, and run faster. If you have a 32-bit system, it will still run without a hitch. Utilization of the available resources is all handled behind the scenes; you don’t have to know or do anything.

The look is very similar to CS4, with some extra icons that you may hardly notice at first. And, as always, a few menu items have been moved. The first thing I did was to configure and save my preferred workspace (see the Setting Up tutorial above). Then I discovered I no longer needed to do this; see the Photoshop section below. Tool Preferences and Actions won’t be brought over automatically, but importing them is straightforward and is discussed in the Setting Up tutorial. Plug-ins should be re-installed from a download of the latest version. Some may not have caught up with 64-bit support, but they soon will and the updates should be free.


The new Bridge looks very much like the old one, with a few more icons that represent new functionality. I had a custom workspace in Bridge CS4 and Bridge CS5 found it and added it to its workspace list on the upper right of the screen. Bridge CS5 has improved management of other media, such as videos, and better web gallery integration. Within Photoshop there is now a Mini-Bridge, which is always at your fingertips without Bridge being open as a separate application. Its small panel may take some getting used to, but it looks very useful. And of course, you can continue as in the past to have Bridge open as a separate application alongside Photoshop, jumping between the two as needed.


Adobe Camera Raw

A caution to Lightroom users: Make sure you have the same setting for Apply Auto Tone Adjustments in both applications—either on or off. In Lightroom, it is found in Preferences > Presets. In Photoshop it is found in File Handling > Camera Raw Preferences.

Adobe Camera Raw is the one-application-I-would-choose to take to the proverbial desert island. (But I hope I never have to choose just one.) It now supports over 275 camera models, and is updated regularly as new ones come out.

The wealth of power in Camera Raw is contained in 10 tabs under the histogram information, circled in red in the figure below.

The General tab, the one on the left, which comes up when you first open a raw file, is unchanged. Under the Detail tab you will find improved noise reduction, with sliders added for Luminance Detail and Contrast and Color Detail. There are improved sharpening and de-mosaicing algorithms behind these sliders. In the Lens Correction tab, Post-Crop Vignetting is missing. It has been moved to a new Effects tab and has been given added functionality along with a Grain slider, to add grain, not remove it. You can now control the roundness and feather in post-crop vignetting, and there are controls for Highlight and Color Priority.



If you have a 64 bit system you will notice that Photoshop loads much faster.

Under the menu item Window > Workspace you will now find a new workspace named Photography, which is much more suited to digital darkroom work. In fact, it is virtually the same workspace as the custom one I have been using for years, which is described in my tutorial cited above,
Setting up a New Version of Photoshop.” Mine has History, which I use constantly, instead of the Paths tab found in the Photography workspace. I seldom use Paths, but I use History constantly. You could, of course fit both tabs side by side.

As in the past, you can create a custom workspace by going go to Window > Workspace > New Workspace and check the desired items. Rearrange the tabs as you like and save it. When your computer decides to change your workspace without asking, just go back to this menu and re-load it.


Probably the most exciting new thing in CS5 is Content Aware Fill, which is available in the Spot Healing Brush and the Edit > Fill command for a selection.

You can remove objects such as power lines over a complex background with the Spot Healing Brush using the new Content Aware Fill setting in the Options Bar.

Set the brush to 100% hard.


Trace over an object and watch the intelligent fill from the surrounding areas. No, it isn’t perfect (is anything in your life?) but it is amazing and probably the tip of an iceberg. I got the best results by being very careful to paint over all of the object without getting too much of the surrounding areas. I had more control by making several short strokes rather than trying to cover the whole wire in one stroke. There were some imperfections, many of which I could remove by stroking over them in a second step.

I did the work on a duplicate layer, which let me mask off any imperfections that were outside the original wire itself. Then I could merge the two layers and clone or re-stroke the rest. This was much less work than if I had cloned the whole thing.



 The same magic is contained in the Edit > Fill command. Select an object you want to remove, such as in this poppy image.


In this case you want to make a sloppy selection that includes some of the surrounding area, so you can use the Lasso Tool. (At last, I have found a reason to use it!) Then click on Edit > Fill.



Hit Enter…and be sitting down. If the result isn’t to your liking, go back a step and try a slightly different selection; it will give a slightly different result. Here is the result after I removed two other objects.


Removing the out-of-focus bud in front of the petal was asking for a miracle. I tried three slightly different selections before I got this result. The ragged front edge of the petal needs a little work, and there is an odd area to the right, because my most successful selection included the entire petal. I can’t believe it reconstructed one for me! This is actually scary. And the result looks great at 100% zoom. I have done no further retouching here. This shows the Edit > Fill steps on three areas of the image.

Of course I did these fills on a copy of the Background layer so I could further refine the last step, the removal of the bud, which changed the shape of the petal, by simply masking out the parts of the corrected layer that were not perfect. Here is the before (left) and after (right).



Distortion-type operations have also been brought to a new level with the Puppet Warp feature, found in Edit > Puppet Warp. You can drop pins on an object and move them to bend it, with amazing interpolation quality. It is Edit > Transform > Warp on meth.

Speaking of selecting, the Refine Edge dialog in CS5 has greatly improved edge detection and control for selecting and masking. Make a selection by an appropriate method such as the Quick Selection tool, and choose Select > Refine Edge. You will get a dialog with many new options.


You can tweak the edge in many ways and remove background color contamination. Smart radius detects sharp and soft edges on the same selection, and you can brush in difficult-to-select areas such as fine hair.

You also have the same controls once a selection has been used to make a mask.  Click on the mask to make it active (circled in red in the figure below), go to the Masks Panel and click Mask Edge to get the same dialog.

The Lens Correction filter has undergone significant improvements. There are now two tabs, Custom and Auto Correction. Custom is the previous interface with the addition of a new slider for red-green chromatic aberration. The new Auto Correction tab will find the lens used from the metadata and allow automatic corrections if it is in the extensive database. You can check the type of corrections you want. You can search online for a profile for an unsupported lens, or make your own custom profiles for unsupported lenses by downloading the Adobe Lens Profile Creator from (And of course you can also create distortion, such as a fisheye look.)
Make a correction and switch to the Auto Correction tab. The Auto Scale Image checkbox lets you decide how to handle the areas that will surround the image after barrel or perspective distortion is corrected. You can let Photoshop magically fill in the areas, or you can select them and use Edit > Fill with Use: Content Aware chosen. The result is mind-boggling.

The default grid is now larger, but its size is adjustable with a slider as before, and it can be toggled on and off and the color changed as before.

Good news for HDR shooters

Photoshop has a new high dynamic range editor called HDR Pro, which greatly expands the control available in previous versions. If you haven’t played with HDR you can learn what it is all about in my tutorial Basic HDR With Photomatix. Similar capabilities are now included in Photoshop. Use Bridge to select your source files shot at different exposures and click on Tools > Photoshop > Merge to HDR Pro, or select the files in Lightroom 2 and go to Photo > Edit In > Merge to HDR in Photoshop.

Also read Adobe CS5 and HDRI by Jack Howard.

An HDR image is created by merging several different exposures to produce a 32-bit file, which can contain a huge range of tonal data. But that range can’t be displayed on a screen without tone mapping to bring it into a usable range. In the previous version of HDR in Photoshop, after choosing the source files and waiting for the alignment and merging, you were presented with the 32-bit file. You could save it if desired, but your only logical choice was to check the option to go to a 16 bit file, which took you to tone mapping.

CS5 has streamlined the process. After the initial merging of exposures, you are taken directly to the tone-mapping interface.  As before, there are four choices, shown in the screenshot below, two of which give you no control and one only minimal control.

Local Adaptation is the choice you want for control, and it gives the sliders shown. It now has more options than before but is still fairly simple. There are several presets for different looks and you can save your own. There are fewer controls here than in Photomatix, which is probably the most widely-used HDR program. That makes the interface easier to use but there is still a learning curve. In the sets of images I have tried, I have gotten an odd mixture of low contrast and harsh halos that I found difficult to balance, although it is normal to need further Photoshop work on an HDR image. 

Adobe claims very accurate alignment of source files. (Hand-holders will rejoice.) But subject movement such as wind-blown tree branches has always been a problem for HDR programs to deal with, leading to a strong possibility of artifacts with any HDR program. You need to examine the result at 100% magnification to check for them. (You may be able to clone them out, or you can composite one of your exposures on top of the finished HDR, mask it out and brush back in the problem areas.) I think CS5 may really shine here; I have been delighted to find fewer artifacts in my CS5 HDR images than in previous HDR programs I have used. Check the Remove Ghosts box for automatic removal of ghosting artifacts. The source files are shown at the bottom of the screen and you can override the automatic choice of which one to use for de-ghosting by clicking on it. The chosen one will be outlined in green.

As with other HDR programs, you can tone map a single exposure by choosing Image > Adjustments > HDR Toning. You get the same control panel shown above. Since this is making changes directly to a pixel layer, do it on a duplicate layer so you have the choice to change your mind.

Painting tools

Photoshop now has painting tools built in, which looks very exciting. You have a great deal of control over the brushes and the paint. You can paint on top of an image or paint from scratch. But it doesn’t have the “clone painting” features of Corel Painter. This is a feature I’ll need some time to master it but it looks very exciting.

You’ll need a digitizing tablet such as a Wacom to take advantage of the incredible sophistication of the brushes. I recommend the Intuos 4; it has high pen sensitivity designed for graphics use. You hold and use the stylus as you would a pencil making a sketch. I prefer the smallest tablet size, so you can rest the heel of your hand in one place and sweep across the screen area with a flick of the wrist, with no need to move your arm. You also want to place the tablet ergonomically, to the side of your keyboard and at lap height, so your arm hangs naturally at your side and your forearm is horizontal. It comes with a cordless mouse, which you use on top of the tablet surface just like a regular mouse, but I use the pen for everything. It is an incredible improvement over a mouse because its movements are mapped directly to the screen; no more picking up and repositioning.

There are many new details in CS5 that I don’t have time to cover here. Here are a few I find really useful. There are so many, I probably left out your favorite.

•    You can now save a 16 bit file to a JPEG using Save As. Before you could do this with Save to Web and Devices, but not directly.
•    The default amounts for Shadows-Highlights are lower and much better.
•    The Ruler Tool (hidden under the Eyedropper) now has a Straighten button in its Options Bar, so you don’t have to go to Image > Image Rotation > Arbitrary > OK.
•    The Crop Tool now shows a rule of thirds overlay.
•    There are many new actions, tools, presets, brushes, swatches, shapes, gradients, styles, and tool presets.


The regular version of Photoshop CS5 retails for $699 and Extended for $999. There is a complex system of upgrade prices. If you have regular CS2 through CS4, or CS3 or CS4 Extended, you can purchase regular CS5 for the same platform (Mac or PC) for the upgrade price of $199. You can upgrade from CS3 or CS4 Extended to CS5 Extended for $349. The upgrade version is exactly the same as the full-price version; you just get a frequent-flyer discount.

If you bought one of the Collections (Photoshop along with several other CS components) with an academic discount, you are in a different boat. There are no academic upgrades; if you still qualify for academic pricing you will need to buy another collection. You can’t buy Photoshop as a stand-alone with academic pricing, and you can’t upgrade from a collection to stand-alone Photoshop. Full upgrade eligibility details are on the Adobe web site.

There is a bundle offer to purchase Lightroom 2 for 30% off when purchased with Photoshop, but hold off on that. Lightroom 3 will be out soon, and I’d guess the same offer, which has been around a long time, will apply to it.

Diane Miller is a widely exhibited freelance photographer who lives north of San Francisco in the Wine Country and specializes in fine-art nature photography. Her work, which can be found on her web site,, has been published and exhibited throughout the Pacific Northwest. Many of her images are represented for stock by Monsoon Images and Photolibrary.



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