Adobe Creative Suite 5 extends its graphic reach

CS5 offers a plethora of new features. We look at what's new in its five major applications.

In the same vein, Illustrator CS5 adds anti-aliasing for text, so you can see in the same way how fonts rasterize. Note that Illustrator CS4 already had advanced text-handling features (ligatures, hanging punctuation), akin to what we see now in Flash CS5; Flash has been playing catch-up to Illustrator.

Speaking of Flash, those who use Illustrator to create graphics for Flash will like how Illustrator integrates with Flash's sister app, Flash Catalyst. Catalyst lets you add Flash programmability to Illustrator images -- which can be re-edited in Illustrator without losing the programmer's markup added in Catalyst.

Photoshop

The changes to Photoshop -- arguably CS5's, and Adobe's, flagship product -- are minor. This is probably good news, since almost every Photoshop user I've talked to hates what they see as unnecessary changes. Photoshop CS5's interface is only minimally different from CS3's and CS4's, so people with experience on the previous two iterations of the program can get to work without too much retraining.

The most striking new feature has already gotten a lot of buzz: Content-Aware Editing. This function, which works with a number of tools (such as the Fill function and the Spot Healing Brush), attempts to use the characteristics of surrounding space when touching up an image. For example, in a photo that featured a bird sitting on a sidewalk, I lassoed the bird and used Content-Aware Fill to replace it with the adjoining texture of the sidewalk in one click.

As with any Photoshop tool, practice and experimentation pay off, since they don't always work as you might expect. Content-Aware Fill works best for small areas within larger areas but can produce weird results if you use it near the edges of an image. Using the Spot Healing brush seems to work best for spot touch-up jobs, since you can delineate a little more precisely how you want changes applied.

Another powerful feature, Intelligent Selection, takes the old Magic Wand tool a little further. With it, you can select an object against a background a great deal more easily, even an object with an irregular edge (such as hair). You can tune the scope of the selection as you go, by grabbing the bulk of the object in one or two clicks and then narrowing the diameter of the selector to add outlying regions that weren't caught the first time. (After Effects's Roto Brush function works in much the same way.) I also liked the Puppet Warp function, which lets you treat an image like an elastic mesh and distort it in highly controlled ways.

Given how many cameras on the market can save to raw image formats, raw image processing isn't a luxury feature anymore. Consequently, Photoshop ships with Adobe Camera Raw 6 as a standard-issue item, with support built in for tons of camera models. (Photos from my Canon Rebel XS imported with no problems.) One really nice touch: The default setting for the raw-processing plug-in can be made specific to cameras by serial number, ISO setting or both, which is handy if you have several cameras with different tweak factors. I also like how you can make nondestructive changes to the way raw images are interpreted by storing the changes in a sidecar file.

For even more precise camera- and lens-specific corrections, you can take photos of Adobe's calibration chart and feed them into Photoshop's Lens Profile Creator, which can automatically detect and compensate for chromatic aberrations or other problems.

In short, the name Photoshop is more appropriate than ever.

Premiere Pro

As with most of the other products in CS5, Premiere Pro -- Adobe's video editing product -- has most of its big fix-ups under the hood.

The most radical change, and the most useful, is the newly rewritten Mercury media playback engine. The more processor cores you have to throw at it, the better it'll perform -- and it takes advantage of Nvidia's CUDA parallel-processing technology, which uses your GPU to accelerate real-time effects performance. The bad news is that only a very small subset of Nvidia cards are supported: the Quadro FX 3800/FX 4800/FX 5800/CX and GeForce GTX 285. (Note that this doesn't preclude you from using GPU acceleration in, say, Photoshop -- just Premiere.)

Another major change, but one that I suspect won't be a deal-breaker for the program's core audience: 64-bit Windows is required to use Premiere Pro from now on. This allows the program to routinely make use of more than 4GB at a time. You'll need it.

Anyone who uses even a moderate amount of effects processing in video -- which, these days, might well be everyone -- will quickly appreciate what the 64-bitness and Mercury's rewrite will give them. GPU acceleration means a lot less time wasted rendering footage just to see accurate results for one change, or having all four CPU cores gobbled up by a single effect. (Rendering in Adobe Media Encoder is also GPU-accelerated.) Not every effect can be sped up this way, but Premiere at least lets you know which effects are accelerated and which aren't.

GPU acceleration is doubly valuable when you're working with HD video -- and Premiere Pro comes with tons of native format support for HD cameras. This includes video cameras like the Red line of high-end digital cinema systems. These sport their own proprietary file format (bad) but can shoot imagery that gives full 35mm a run for its money at a fraction of the cost (very good). Premiere Pro's new maximum image size is 10240 by 8192, which shouldn't pose any format problems for a while yet.

Another new addition for the effects-centric filmmaker (and actually part of Premiere's brother application, After Effects) is the Roto Brush -- a compositing/rotoscoping tool that uses a Photoshop-like interface to make separating an object from its background a lot easier. Roto Brush attempts to detect how the edges of an object (and the edges of its matte) move between frames, so you generally only have to do touch-up work between frames instead of re-creating the matte from scratch each time.

After Effects, like Premiere's other brother app, Media Encoder (which handles rendering of video to output in parallel with other tasks), can be set to share memory with Premiere so that you can efficiently run them side by side.

Many of the other changes in Premiere are aimed not simply at editors, but at moviemakers. The clearest incarnation of this is the auxiliary application Adobe Story, a combination of Web service and Adobe Air-powered program designed to close the gap between a screenplay and the actual footage shot and logged in for editing. You can take an existing script or create a new one from a template, break it down by scene and shot, associate specific takes or video files with those elements for easy editing, and collaborate with others on the results.

Some things are missing: For example, you can associate characters with a project (e.g., for lines of dialogue), but you can't yet generate a call sheet for that scene with props and such, which seems like the next logical step.

Wait, there's more

There's more to Creative Suite than just these five applications, of course. Here's a quick rundown of everything else you'll find in the various Creative Suite bundles, each of which has been upgraded since the last edition:

* After Effects complements Premiere Pro, adding the creation of visual effects such as rotoscoping and title sequences.

* Acrobat (and its online service, Acrobat.com) should be familiar to most people: It's Adobe's application for producing .PDF documents.

* InDesign would nominally be called Adobe's desktop publishing app, but it has also been devised to create documents in any number of Adobe's formats, such as Flash and Acrobat, and so now includes features like embedding video.

* Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder are new tools for creating Flash content. Builder is for people developing cross-platform apps (e.g., AIR), and Catalyst is for those who want to develop in Flash with minimal use of programming.

* Fireworks is something of a scaled-down halfway-house between Photoshop and Illustrator, a mixed vector/raster drawing tool for creating graphics for the Web. New features include better handling of vector images and gradients, integration with Adobe Device Central for better development of graphics for mobile devices, and the redesigned font/typeface engine also seen in Flash and Illustrator.

* Contribute allows collaborative authorship of Web content, either from Dreamweaver or through an online editor. New features include native XML editing (no need to launch an external editor), cross-browser preview and support for Subversion code control.

* Soundbooth is Adobe's audio editing suite, akin to ProTools.

* OnLocation performs video capture and footage logging as a complement to Premiere.

Conclusions

So, is CS5 worth it as a whole? For CS3 users, yes. You'll gain a whole panoply of features. You will need to adapt to some minor new UI changes -- mostly how tool panels and the workspace are styled and presented, although they remain functionally identical for the most part.

For CS4 folks, your money and mileage will vary. If you normally use only one application that is part of CS4, keep in mind that not every application in the CS5 suite is worth an upgrade. (Note: You can get upgrade prices if you own one of the applications and want to move up to the suite, but if you own the suite, you won't get upgrade pricing on single applications.)

However, if you use the suite rather than just one or two programs alone, the majority of the apps are worth the upgrade. The programs are available individually for free 30-day trials, so if you're more than one revision behind, they're absolutely worth a look.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for over 15 years for a variety of publications, including InformationWeek and Windows Magazine.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags adobephotoshopadobe illustrator

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Serdar Yegulalp

Computerworld (US)

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?