Adobe's flagship focuses on speed and workflow.
By TAN KIT HOONG
Aah Photoshop. What would we do without you? Adobe's photo editing tool is still the most powerful and versatile photo editing tool out there by a wide margin.
The problem is, if you're a company like Adobe, how do you expand Photoshop's already extensive list of tools and options?
Well, Photoshop CS6 is the answer - with this version, Adobe has taken a step back, looked at the interface and the software as a whole and decided that instead of just adding more tools, that it would overhaul the parts that really matter in a number of fundamental ways.
The most major change is the Mercury Graphics Engine which makes extensive use of the GPU to handle a lot of the heavy lifting.
While Adobe has flirted with offloading some tasks to the GPU in previous versions of Photoshop, the new engine really brings it all together in a more significant way and now many tools and tasks are faster thanks to help from the GPU.
Of course back-end improvements alone aren't reason enough to upgrade to CS6, so Adobe has redesigned many visual elements while adding a few new tools and tweaking others.
The most important change is the menu system and interface which uses very dark grey colours and redesigned icons.
This darker interface makes it easier to focus on your work than the light grey design of older versions of Photoshop, but if you're one of those who prefers the lighter (and dare we say more intrusive) interface, you can easily go back to it in the Preferences menu.
Not changed is Adobe Camera Raw. One would have thought that such an important component would have been redesigned to match.
In older versions of Photoshop, working with large files or CPU-intensive adjustments means a lot of waiting for things to happen.
For example, when working on extremely large files, saving the work sometimes requires minutes of waiting before you can move on and work on another file.
With CS6 however, now you can save your work and while the saving is being done in the background, you can move on to another file.
CS6 also implements an autosave feature which you can set to automatically save your work at regular intervals.
This autosave feature also allows you recover your work in case of a crash which, again, is a real time saver if you are not in the habit of automatically saving your work at regular intervals.
The Mercury Graphics Engine, the new rendering engine in CS6, has also increased the speed by which some of the tools operate.
Tools like Puppet Warp, Transform and Liquify are now GPU-accelerated and operate with little to no lag between what you're doing and when the effect is seen.
Adobe started putting in "content aware" tools in Photoshop CS4 with Content Aware Scaling where you could literally stretch an image from a landscape to a portrait orientation without warping important elements in the image.
With Photoshop CS5, Adobe introduced Content Aware Fill where the software would automatically analyse and fill in areas you selected with data from the background - think removing a human from a regular patterned wall.
With CS6, Adobe has taken this one step further with Content Aware Move and as the name suggests, it allows you to move selected objects around in the photo and have the software automatically fill in the space vacated by the object you just moved.
In our tests Content Aware Move worked reasonably well, especially if the background has a very regular pattern.
However, it isn't perfect - most images will still need a bit of work to look right - but it is a good starting point if you need to move a very large object from one part of the image to another.
We also discovered that when selecting an object to move using this tool, it's actually better to be a little loose with the selection and include a little bit of background around the object as well.
Other automated tools have also benefited from CS6's content awareness - for example, the Auto option for Levels, Brightness/Contrast and Curves have all been redesigned to work better than before.
Apparently, the new auto corrections were redesigned based on information gleaned from a database of thousands of hand-retouched images, making these tools more accurate than ever.
In our tests, using Auto Levels certainly seemed to produce results that were much better than in previous versions of Photoshop.
Another tweak Adobe has done is with the Crop tool. In previous versions, when you're using the Crop tool, once you hit Enter, the parts of the image you've cut out are gone and the only way to get it back is to use the History menu to take you a few steps back, which also negates any other changes you've made since the Crop tool was used.
Now, with the new Crop tool, you can check an option that allows for keeping the pixels you've just cropped off, thus allowing you to change your crop at any time without having to resort to the history tool.
Of course, once you save the file as a JPEG and close it, your crop will be permanent, but as long as you are still working with the file without the final "Save as..." you can change your crop at any time.
The question at the end of the day is not whether Photoshop CS6 is the best image editor out there, because it is.
If you can afford Adobe's hefty asking price, then CS6 is practically the only choice for professionals who make a living out of editing images.
The question is really this - is it worth upgrading from your existing Photoshop to this one?
Well, the answer is yes - leaving aside the redesigned tools, CS6 has many tweaks that make the interface better, and above all faster than any version before it.
Background saving, as well as the speed improvements gained with the Mercury Graphics Engine alone is worth the price of admission, IMHO.
Pros: Fast; well thought-out interface redesign.
Cons: Adobe Camera Raw remains the same; pricey.
(Adobe Systems Inc)
Photo-editing software for Windows, Mac
PC SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Intel Pentium 4 or better, Windows XP SP3 or better, 1GB RAM, 1GB HDD space, OpenGL 2.0-capable system, DVD drive, Internet connection.
Mac: Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support, Mac OS X v10.6.8 or later, 1GB RAM, 2GB HDD space, OpenGL 2.0, DVD drive, Internet connection.
Review unit courtesy of Adobe Systems Incorporated, 1-300-80-0027.