Adobe Photoshop CC review

Pros

  • Sleek interface
  • Content-aware move and patch
  • Fast performance
  • Updated Camera Raw features
  • Camera shake reduction tool

Cons

  • Sheer number of tools can be bewildering

Creative Cloud changes everything. Well, maybe not everything: Adobe Photoshop CC looks nearly identical to its CS6 predecessor, but it packs several powerful new features, including a revolutionary photo motion blur corrector, more effective image upscaling (capable of getting those low-def images looking good on a Retina display), new photo geometry corrections, and multiple shape and path selections.

Since it's part of the cloud subscription, as long as you pay £17.58 a month for Photoshop alone, or £46.88 for the full creative suite (£27.34 for upgraders from CS3 or later, £15.88 for the Student and Teacher edition), you'll always have access to any new features that come along. That sounds more palatable to me than the old £650 or £950 up front, though I realise that some long-time users have expressed displeasure at having to continue paying to use the software. However, with the subscription, it would take you at least 3 years to spend the previous up front money, and by then, you'd probably want to upgrade anyway.

Another way that Creative Cloud affects new Photoshop users is that they'll now get all the Photoshop tools, including features that used to be available only in the Photoshop Extended edition, such as 3D modelling and image analysis. Extended costs £950, so this is quite a perk, not to mention the fact that it simplifies your product choice.

Installation

You should only consider installing Photoshop on a fairly powerful PC or Mac. You also need to sign in with your Adobe ID before the installer will let you start. I installed it on a Windows 8 PC (Photoshop CC runs on Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, but not on earlier Windows OS versions) with a 3.4GHz quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM. It took about 20 minutes, and, right off the bat, I got a message saying that 3D editing wouldn't be available because of my video card or its driver. Mac users will need OS X 10.7 or 10.8.

Interface

The Photoshop UI remains largely unchanged from that of Photoshop CS6, which was a big advance over CS5. All your left-side tools and right-side panels are still available, in a choice of workspaces suited to standard image editing, 3D, motion, painting, photography, and typography. It's incredibly customisable, and you can save presets for all your customisations. The new cloud connectivity also means that you can log into a copy of Photoshop at a different location and have all your interface customisation show up.

Another helpful aspect of the interface is that, for most updated features, you can check a "Use legacy" box to get the old tool you're used to. Plenty of other little conveniences (which Adobe likes to call JDIs, for "just do it") have been added to the world's premiere photo editing software. For example, you can now nudge a path with the spacebar. Actions can now be conditional, using if/then expressions.

Behance

Behance is a social network for creative professionals, offering online portfolios and connections. It will be built into all the Creative Cloud applications, and will let users post projects for feedback from colleagues and clients. Users can post their files directly from Photoshop CC via a one-click share button at the lower left. They can share their work from within Behance, and discuss the work and even connect with potential and existing clients and freelancers.

Behance's ProSites are customisable online portfolios which Creative Cloud subscribers can use with their own URLs. I found Behance's presentation elegant, clean, and it incorporated all the essential social features du jour. I especially like the fact that it offers statistics of your page activity. You can also export photos in Zoomify format – a cool viewer that lets viewers zoom deep into large images – but I'd like to see more sharing options, like built-in email and Flickr sharing. Of course, you can do all this from Photoshop's ancillary Bridge image organiser app.

New tools for photography

The hottest, most anticipated new feature of Photoshop CC is the modestly named Camera Shake Reduction. This was first shown by Adobe two years ago at its Max conference, and it was met with a very positive reaction. The tool analyses a photo to find the path of shake motion, and then aligns the shifted pixels. It sounds simple enough, but it's harder to get right than it may seem. This is because the path won't be the same everywhere in the photo unless you shook it exactly along a single plane – highly unlikely. You can use the tool's best guess, or select a region (or regions) where you want the blur trace to be estimated.

You can also adjust Blur Trace Bounds, Smoothing, and Artifact Suppression – the last two let me create a less "sharpened" looking result. I'd love to see a simple "effect strength" adjustment like that you get with Smart Sharpen (which, by the way, with this release gets a new Reduce Noise slider). Shake Reduction is not a panacea, but it's definitely a finer effect than even the Smart Sharpen tool. If the subject is simply out of focus, it won't help you; a simply blurry subject won't be fixed.

Photoshop CC also benefits from several new Camera Raw capabilities, some of which we've already seen in the Lightroom 5 beta. The latter includes a new geometry correction tool, Upright (see the above image). This lets you fix parallel vertical and horizontal lines. Its Auto setting attempts to fix perspective, but you can choose only to align verticals or only horizontals, or mess with the perspective to taste with transforming sliders for pincushion/barrel distortion, vertical, horizontal, and aspect ratio.

Maybe the most useful new Camera Raw feature is that you can use it as a filter, applying all its manifold photo adjustments – colour temperature, exposure, geometry, all of it – to any image layer. Before, you could only work with this powerful tool when you were actually importing a photo. Now, you can even apply camera raw adjustments to video, and use a non-circular healing brush (see above).

As with Lightroom 5, you also get a radial filter that lets you apply the adjustments to an oval shape, such as a person's head – very useful for highlighting that bit of anatomy.

New tools for artists and designers

With higher and higher display resolutions becoming more common, such as Apple's Retina displays, your old images sometimes aren't good enough anymore. Photoshop CC's new upsampling algorithm could be a lifesaver. The new upscaler shows up when you resize an image, in the form of the Preserve Details resample setting. This also offers a Reduce Noise option, since the sharpened large image may introduce noise. It was definitely clearer than the old bicubic algorithm.

A couple more new capabilities designers will be thrilled to take advantage of are rounded rectangles and the ability to select multiple paths and shapes when applying effects. You can now save formatting of type as styles that can be easily applied to other text later. Type can also now be viewed in a way that previews system antialiasing used in web browsers. For web designers, Photoshop CC now can generate CSS code that produces the exact look designed in the software. Going in the other direction, they can also now import colour from a website's HTML or CSS code.

New 3D tools

You no longer need to drop a cool grand to get Photoshop's 3D image editing capabilities in an Extended Edition, as it comes with all Creative Cloud or Photoshop CC standalone subscriptions. And not only that: Adobe has improved Photoshop's 3D tools for this release, with faster performance and more realistic shadow rendering. Working in the program's 3D mode is not for the faint-of-heart, though: It's practically rocket science, and indeed, you could very probably design a rocket with it!

A new 3D Scene panel makes it a little easier to get to grips with, though, as it consolidates many typical 3D design functions. You can now create instances and duplicate 3D objects, which will take on any edits that you perform on the "mother" object.

Video editing

You can apply all of Photoshop's still image adjustments to video clips – including exposure, cropping, filters… you name it. Photoshop is even capable of multitrack and keyframing, using the same fast rendering engine that powers Adobe's Premiere pro video editor. But only a few transition options are available – all variants of fades. Each video track you add becomes a Photoshop layer that can be individually adjusted.

You also get all the standard video editing tools, joining, splitting, and trimming clips. Audio tools are minimal, but you can set an audio track's volume, fade it in, fade it out, or mute it. Movie files are saved as .PSDs, but by choosing File > Export > Render Video… you can create a video file with H.264, QuickTime, or DPX encoding. You also get a decent choice of resolutions, including 720p and 1080p HD. Rendering a 1 minute and 26 second long HD video took just three minutes on my 2.5GHz Core i5 with 4GB of RAM.

Performance

The app started up nice and fast on my middling PC, but Photoshop remains one of the more taxing applications you can run on a PC: Even on a fairly powerful 3.4GHz quad-core machine, I still had to wait several seconds for a lot of effects to complete rendering, though 3D manipulations were surprisingly responsive. And video playback at full HD resolution was a bit jerky. The program is also a little inconsistent about telling the user when it's finished applying an effect: Some tools have clear progress bars, while others leave the user guessing.

In this review, I've concentrated on what's new for the Photoshop CC version, but keep in mind that this release includes all of the advances made in CS6, which was actually a much bigger overhaul of the program, with a revamped interface and the addition of video editing and content-aware tools. For a deeper look at those tools, check out our review of Photoshop CS6 from last year.

Verdict

There's a reason "Photoshop" has become a verb in the English language: The software can perform image tricks that approach the unbelievable. With Photoshop CC, Adobe has maintained and increased the program's position as the pre-eminent image editing tool on the planet, adding powerful new tools such as camera shake reduction and improved upscaling to its already jaw-dropping capabilities like the content-aware tools.