Adobe Photoshop CS5 Beta Review

Photoshop CS5 boasts some stunning new tools, but how much difference will they make to your everyday photography?

Photoshop already has a reputation for achieving the impossible, and someone, somewhere has invented a technique for every conceivable effect. So what could Adobe possibly add to CS5 to make it even better?

Photoshop CS5’s New Features

First, there are new ‘adaptive’ selection modifications designed to make complex and intricate selections easier to perfect. Once you’ve made a selection, say with the Magic Wand tool, you can refine the edges with Smart Radius, Refine Radius and Erase Refinements tools, then save the modified selection in a number of different ways – as a new layer with a mask, for example.

This adaptive edge selection process is very clever. In a way, it’s like the principle of the old Extract tool, where you use a brush to highlight the object edge and then Photoshop uses the pixel values either side to work out precisely where the edges are. Here, though, you start with a selection and use the tools to modify it where the subject outline is particularly tricky, and human hair is the prime example. It does take a little practice to get the settings just right, and the procedures are, to be honest, quite tricky to get your head around at first, but the results are remarkable.

Most photographers have come to terms with the fact that some objects are just too difficult to select and always will be. CS5 changes all that. The new selection processes aren’t foolproof and they’re not suitable for every subject, but they are extremely effective in situations where you might previously have given up or chosen a much cruder solution to the problem. They’re particularly useful when you have to create cut-outs of objects or people, or where you need to remove a background.

‘Content Aware’ Spot Healing Brush and Fill options

For those who’ve struggled with selecting tricky subjects in the past, these selection tools have a hint of magic about them, but not as much as the new ‘Content-Aware’ Spot Healing Brush and Fill options. You’d use this option with the Spot Healing Brush to remove power lines or other small but annoying details from your pictures. All you do is drag the brush over the offending object, and Photoshop automatically replaces it with surrounding detail. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it is spectacularly effective.

The Content-Aware Fill option is used for larger objects. Here, you need to create a selection larger than the object you want to remove in order to include some of its surroundings. Again, it doesn’t always work – complex backgrounds and angled planes are a problem – but if the background is a fairly straightforward patterned or textured area, it is spectacularly effective.

Does this Content-Aware technology replace traditional cloning? Not really, but with certain subjects it may offer a near-instant alternative to long and tedious manual cloning, which doesn’t always work out well anyway.

Photoshop CS5: New Features

Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools
Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools
Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action
Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct
Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements
Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?
Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict

Photoshop CS5 HDR tools

Adobe’s obviously aware of the big surge in interest in High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, and it’s made big changes to the HDR tools so that it’s now possible to get much closer to the results of programs like Photomatix.

More interesting still is the addition of an HDR Toning feature for single images. This applies the same HDR tone-mapping processes but doesn’t demand a series of different exposures. If you shoot RAW files with a digital SLR it’s often possible to capture the full tonal range of high-contrast scenes with a single exposure, and then you don’t have to worry about trees, branches or pedestrians moving between exposures (though the full HDR mode has new options for removing the ‘ghosting’ this causes).

Adobe’s keen to stress CS5’s suitability for more traditional types of photography too, pointing out the range of preset colour-mono conversions in the Adjustments panel, it’s new and sophisticated mono toning Action and the potential of the HDR tools for striking black and white images. These tools do look useful, but they still don’t go as far as plug-ins like Nik Software’s amazing Silver Efex Pro.

But CS5’s reach is extending. It comes with a new version of Adobe Camera Raw (v6), which contains a large proportion of this release’s most exciting features. Amongst these are new and improved noise reduction controls, a Post Crop Vignette feature designed to apply vignetting creatively rather than simply trying to remove it. Most exciting of all, though, are the new automatic lens correction tools. These are not found in Adobe Camera Raw, but in Photoshop’s Lens Correction filter.

Photoshop CS5: New Features


Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools


Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools
Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action
Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct
Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements
Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?
Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict

Photoshop CS5 additional tools

Photoshop CS5 comes with a whole host of other enhancements and improvements, including a Puppet Warp feature that can be used to reshape arms, elephants’ trunks and other objects. It’s not really a replacement for the Liquify filter; instead it’s more for manipulating objects on their own layers.

And then there’s a long-overdue ‘Mini Bridge’ panel, which lets you browse the contents of your folders without having to keep switching back and forth to Bridge itself.

Photoshop CS5 is a substantial upgrade, then, but is it worth the upgrade cost over CS4? If you’re not sure, you can always download the free trial version and test drive it for 30 days. The enhancements and additions to CS5 are exciting, unexpected and really very clever. They make some previously rather difficult tasks a whole lot easier, and they make new things possible that simple weren’t before.

Photoshop CS5: New Features

Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools

Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools


Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action
Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct
Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements
Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?
Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict

Content-aware fills

The content-aware fill feature doesn’t always work – it depends very much on the subject and it’s background – but when it does, it’s spectacular.


This is exactly the sort of situation where the content-aware fill works best. We have a large subject we want to remove (the second crocus bloom), which is set against a highly-textured background on a more or less flat plane.


It’s extremely easy to use. You have to make a rough selection larger than the subject itself so as to include some of the background too, and then in the Edit>Fill dialog, choose Content-Aware from the drop-down menu.

The repair is so effective it’s uncanny. Even when you know what’s been done, it’s hard to see where the repairs have been made or any transition between the old background and the new one. Imagine trying to clone all these blades of grass by hand!

Photoshop CS5: New Features

Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools
Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools

Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action


Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct
Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements
Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?
Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict

Automated lens corrections

A quick guide to one of Photoshop CS5’s most interesting features

Lens aberrations (distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting) are a significant problem for photographers, and mostly we either have to put up with them or spend inordinate amounts of money on professional lenses in order to reduce them to an acceptable level.

Previously in Photoshop you had to apply distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting correction manually; now, Adobe is providing camera and lens-specific profiles for doing it automatically. Does this sound familiar? This is the technique used by DxO Optics Pro, which uses custom, lab-developed camera/lens profiles to batch-correct RAW and JPEG files straight from the camera.

Photoshop CS5 carries out its own automated corrections via the Lens Correction filter. Adobe is already supplying lens correction profiles online – you can search for profiles from within the filter dialog – but it will also be possible to create them yourself using test targets and procedures supplied by Adobe.

This sounds a great idea, though there is also the worry that the Internet might rapidly become flooded by second-rate lens profiles created in badly controlled conditions.


Now you don’t have to correct distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting manually. As long as there’s a profile for your lens, the Lens Correction filter can do it automatically.


Photoshop CS5: New Features

Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools
Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools
Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action

Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct


Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements
Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?
Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict

RAW editing enhancements

1. Adobe Camera Raw’s new Grain effect is very sophisticated, with control over the grain amount, size and roughness. The results are very realistic, too.

2. The Post Crop Vignette tools are designed to produce attractive corner shading for a vintage look or to focus attention more effectively on the subject.

3. The Detail section offers improvements in both the sharpening and noise reduction tools. It’s now possible to adjust edge detail while removing noise.

4. The Lens Corrections section still has sliders for chromatic aberration and vignetting, but in the beta version at least the new automated correction tools are to be found in the Lens Correction filter instead.

5. The Effects section is new. This is where you’ll find Adobe Camera Raw 6’s Grain and Vignette tools, visible here in the panel below.

6. Adobe Camera Raw 6 now supports over 275 different RAW formats, and Adobe is usually amongst the first to support new camera bodies, too.

Photoshop CS5: New Features

Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools
Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools
Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action
Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct

Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements


Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?
Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict

Photoshop CS5 Extended

Do you need Photoshop’s standard or extended version? For photographers the standard version will almost certainly be fine. It’s important to remember that Photoshop isn’t just photo-enhancement software. It’s a tool for professional designers, and this includes many other disciplines outside of photography.

The most significant difference is the extended version’s 3D capabilities. Like CS4 Extended before it, CS5 Extended can import and manipulate 3D objects, and this is especially useful when preparing illustrations for magazines, textbooks and advertisements.

The big addition in CS5 is a ‘repousse’ feature, which can extrude 2D shapes (like type, for example), into 3D objects. This places heavy demands on the computer’s graphics card, however, and at the moment there are certain hardware restrictions.

Elsewhere, CS5 Extended gets enhanced 3D effects with a new version of Adobe’s Ray Tracer engine, powerful new Materials tool and a Shadow Catcher tool for adding realistic object shadows (and sophisticated shadow interaction with other layers).

Photoshop CS5: New Features

Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools
Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools
Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action
Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct
Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements

Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?


Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Specifications

Contact: www.adobe.co.uk, 020 8606 1100
Price: £548 (upgrade from CS2 and above £159)
Minimum system: PC: Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 processor, 1Gb RAM, Windows XP SP3, Vista, Windows 7. Mac: Intel multi-core processor, 1Gb RAM, Mac OS X 10.5.7 or 10.6.3 (see Adobe website for 3D graphics requirements)

The Digital Camera Verdict
Photoshop CS5 brings some big additions and enhancements over CS4, and the new selection, lens correction, Content-Aware fills and HDR tools will be of particular interest to photographers. Adobe’s developed some new and inventive approaches to tricky image-editing tasks, which produce excellent results and which are also (mostly) straightforward to use.


See this beta review in the June edition of Digital Camera, on sale 4 May.

Photoshop CS5: New Features

Photoshop CS5: HDR Tools
Photoshop CS5: Additional Tools
Photoshop CS5: Content-Aware Fills in action
Photoshop CS5: Automated Lens Correct
Photoshop CS5: RAW editing enhancements
Photoshop CS5: Extended – do you need it?

Photoshop CS5: Specifications and verdict