I wrote this article for Amazon.com. But then it occurred to me, as if in a dream: Wait, I should make this available to everyone on the site. So here it is, slightly modified to suit the unique needs of the denizens of dekeOnline. In other words, I spiced it up.
I hope to add links and figures soon. Like this one (below). And maybe even fix a few typos. Check back real soon, you hear?
In the meantime, here’s the article:
Every upgrade to Photoshop offers up a bounty of labor-saving, time-shaving, and downright inspiring new features. And wouldn’t you just know it? I’m growing more and more convinced that CS4 is more bountiful than most. Here are my Top 10 new features in Photoshop, from semi-lame to absolutely great:
10. Spring-loaded tools. Temporarily select a tool by pressing and holding its shortcut key. For example, when retouching an image with the healing brush: Press and hold Y to temporarily get the history brush, erase part of your modification, and then release Y to return to the healing brush. Sexy name for a run-of-the-mill feature. Might catch on. Time will tell.
9. The Adjustments palette. Nondestructive adjustment layers (which are independent layers of editable color adjustment) are now handled in a central palette. Some folks will love the convenience, others will lament the many changes that were required to accommodate this feature. Mostly, though, the palette aggregates stuff that’s been there for ages. One new item, Vibrance, enhances color intensity without exaggerating noise.
8. The Masks palette. CS4’s other new palette is largely another aggregator, providing convenient access to old features. Three new items: The wonderful Color Range command can now directly generate masks. Color Range can see base colors based on proximity. And you can blur edges parametrically (meaning non-permanently, by the numbers).
7. The enhanced Bridge 3.0. The Bridge is CS4’s asset manager, permitting you to preview and organize your images. Auto-updating workspaces, a review mode complete with image carousel, full-screen preview, folder-independent image collections, and search-based smart collections are just a few improvements. Oh, and you can assemble multipage PDF contact sheets from the Output panel.
6. Improved toning tools. Paint with the dodge tool to lighten an image; paint with the burn tool to darken. Only thing, the tools used to suck. Now they’re so good, I actually use them on a regular basis. They’re still destructive (meaning they permanently change pixels), but in a good way!
5. Camera Raw 5. Essentially a logically organized and altogether independent color adjustment application, Camera Raw continues to be that top-secret tool that makes every version of Photoshop worth buying. This time, it offers the equivalent of nondestructive and highly customizable dodge and burn. Which you can apply as brushstrokes or gradients. Plus you can add vignettes inside crop boundaries. It’s like a free copy of Lightroom’s Develop module bundled inside every version of Photoshop. Which given that Lightroom costs more than a Photoshop upgrade, and this is just feature 5 of 10, is fairly significant.
4. Target adjustment tool. Associated with three color adjustments—Hue/Saturation, Black & White, and Curves—the target adjustment tool lets you selectively modify colors and luminance levels by dragging in an image. For example, drag on a model’s lips to boost their saturation. No need to isolate a hue range. Just drag. Honestly, if you aren’t loving this tool within a week, check to make sure you have a pulse.
3. The tabbed-window interface. This feature has already proved controversial, with a few noisy Macintosh users in particular voicing disapproval. But speaking as a cross-platform guy with a decidedly Mac bias, it’s a net-sum gain. You now have the option of docking every image in a tabbed window. Click a tab to switch documents. Drag a tab to reassign priority. Plus, you can drag-and-drop a layer onto a tab to move that layer from one image to another. The tabbed window interface is a masterpiece of design and a thing of beauty.
2. Content-aware scaling. Part of Adobe’s advance compositing suite, the Content Aware Scale command lets you stretch or squish low-contrast “background” elements independently of high-contrast “foreground” ones. Which means you can bring people together, turn horizontal images into vertical ones, and otherwise transform photographs intelligently. My guess: five years from now we’ll all be mocking this feature for what it got wrong. (The degree to which it can mess up certain images is fantastic!) But in the moment, you’re going to be singing its praises. This is Photoshop’s first truly magical feature since the magic wand. And that was 18 years ago, babies. (Okay, the healing brush was also magical. And that was, what, seven years ago? So we’re talking three magical features in two decades. Got to admit, magic is rare.)
1. OpenGL navigation. Forget all that other crap. Seriously, content-aware scaling? As if. So far as I’m concerned, Photoshop CS4 offers one and only one new feature: OpenGL navigation. Assuming you have a video card that supports OpenGL (most do), then here’s what you get: Slow continuous zooms. Rotate the view. Get the hand tool, toss the image, and watch it sail across the screen. Hold down H and click and hold for bird’s eye. And by God if every zoom level isn’t a thing of bicubically rendered beauty. (No idea what I’m talking about? Trust me, huge.) OpenGL navigation is so good it makes me hate CS3. Some nights, OpenGL navigation and I open a bottle of wine and just talk about how lucky we are just to have met each other. It’s that good.
Plus you Mac people (who will soon get wind that Photoshop CS4 supports 64-bit processing but only under Windows Vista): MacBook Pro and Air users can try out all that freaky two- and three-finger ultra-swipe stuff and watch Photoshop CS4 keep right up with you. Frankly, it’s sort of major. Of course, this falls under the OpenGL umbrella, which is yet another reason me and OGL are so goofy on each other. (Well, it’s why I like her. Who knows why she takes a shine to me?)
So that’s the summary. For the full story, down to the last granular detail, with you as master of the application, purchase and eagerly await and read Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-on-One. You’ll be glad you did.