It’s been two years since the last new version of Photoshop, so naturally there are a lot of changes. Some are very esoteric, and useful only to a minority of specialist users such as forensic analysts or people designing content for mobile computing applications, but it is that adaptability and attention to detail that has kept the program at the cutting edge of graphics technology.
Among the more generally useful new features is the Quick Selection Tool, which works in a similar way to the existing Magic Wand tool found on most image editing programs, except it has dynamic tolerance which automatically adjusts to the area of the image over which it moves. As a tool it is most useful for picking out sharp-edged objects against high-contrast backgrounds, something for which most people would use the Magic Wand anyway. Like the Magic Wand tool it’s not much use when you need to select around a soft or low-contrast shape. In fact in practice it works about as well as using the magic wand and the shift key, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have an alternative, and it is slightly quicker. Most professionals will probably still prefer to make selections using more precise and controllable manual tools.
Once you have made your selection, there is a new menu option which will help to fine-tune it. As well as the existing Modify menu, there is a new Refine Edge option, which gives you a preview of how your selection will look as a mask, or on a white or black background, as well as sliders to adjust smoothing radius, edge contrast (sharpness)and feather, as well as expanding or contracting the selection. This is genuinely useful, and something I personally would use on an almost daily basis when processing my review product shots.
Photoshop CS2 introduced the idea of Smart Objects, basically a property of layers that allowed some alterations and transformations to be done non-destructively. Smart Filters extends this idea, so that filters are added to the Smart Object layer non-destructively. This means that like an adjustment layer, individual filter settings can be adjusted at any time, as can the order in which filters stack on the layer. They can also be removed individually without having to go back through the history and re-do everything afterwards. This is a very good idea, even if simply adding Watercolour, Glowing Edges and Lens Flare to everything still looks like crap.
Another improvement is to the automatic layer alignment. Previously this had been part of the panorama stitching Photomerge function, but it has now been expanded and improved for use in other situations, such as where two similar photos need to be correctly aligned for compositing. The images are placed as layers within the same document, and the program compares the content of both layers and matches them up as closely as possible. Layers can be merged in different perspectives to compensate for different photographic focal lengths, greatly increasing the versatility of the feature. Added to this is automatic blending, which can compensate for minor differences between shots caused by automatic exposure and white balance.