Adobe Photoshop CS6 review
Improvements all round and some impressive surprises, including advanced video handling – but it’s the reworked interface and graphics engine that really make the difference
Review Date: 23 Mar 2012
Reviewed By: Tom Arah
Price when reviewed: £556 (£667 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Ease of Use
Adobe Photoshop is the flagship of Adobe’s creative platform, and the standard by which all photo-editing software is judged. The launch of CS6 takes it forward another incremental step, yet this time it set heads off in a subtly different direction.
The first thing existing users will notice is the new interface. It’s darker and moodier, looks much smarter than before, and it sets off the colours of the photos you’re working on a better too.
The UI offers more consistent handling of toolbars, panels and dialogs and moves many controls directly onto the canvas. Much thought has also been given to usability, with common tools and features foregrounded, rationalised and generally made more accessible.
It isn’t only Photoshop CS6’s working environment that's more modern, though; its underlying image-processing engine is too. Adobe has greatly boosted the amount of pixel processing that’s devolved to the graphics processing unit (GPU) via what the company calls its Mercury Graphics Engine. The result is that common complex tasks such as transformations absolutely zip along in real-time. It feels completely natural, but the behind-the-scenes number-crunching that makes it possible is phenomenal.
One example of Photoshop’s new interface and engine working hand in hand is the reworked Mini Bridge panel. It now runs horizontally along the bottom of the screen, providing a film strip, and its preview thumbnails are now rendered and resized at blistering speed. Another is the Liquify dialog. Here, advanced parameters have been sensibly moved to a separate tab, but the biggest change is to performance. In the past, distortions would start to crawl as brush sizes approaching the maximum of 1,500; now brushes can be ten times as big with no lag at all.
Thanks to its Mercury Graphics Engine, Photoshop CS6 feels more solid than ever, but with so much work handled via temporary files and the GPU, crashes actually become more likely and more dangerous. To mitigate this, Photoshop CS6 can now save auto-recovery files at set intervals. It also introduces Background Save. Previously, saving high-resolution, multilayered files would lock up the application until completion – now you can just keep on working (although we did experience some slowdown using brushes on our test system).
So what other new tools does Photoshop CS6 offer? Nowadays, much of Photoshop’s core image enhancement is handled through the dedicated Camera Raw 7 dialog, which can work non-destructively with both raw camera data and JPEGs. Here, Photoshop benefits from the work done on the Lightroom 4, with the old Fill Light control now broken down into separate sliders for shadows, highlights, blacks and whites to provide far greater control when pulling out detail.
The adjustment brush and graduated filters are also more powerful, most obviously with their new ability to vary temperature and tint across the image – ideal for sunsets. The clarity setting can now be boosted to the maximum without creating unsightly halos.
Top of the crops
Within Photoshop proper, there are more changes afoot. This starts with the Crop tool, which sees a long overdue overhaul. Now, dragging with the Crop tool automatically centres the image in real time, and there are overlays, such as the golden ratio and golden spiral, to help with composition. Pixels can also be hidden in the crop process rather than deleted, and this information is saved in the file so that the image can be recropped at a later date.
"Thanks to its Mercury Graphics Engine, Photoshop CS6 feels more solid than ever"
"...but with so much work handled via temporary files and the GPU, crashes are more likely and more dangerous."
Wait - what?
By jamiemcc on 26 Mar 2012
It is great - generally
@Jamie It might sound like a mistake but that’s the way it works. Handling graphics operations via the CPU is simpler and because it doesn’t depend on the graphics cards and the installed driver is less likely to crash. When you shift image handling to the GPU everything feels faster, smoother and more solid - unless you’re unlucky and the card/driver falls over. Of course you could just turn off the GPU handling but, once you’ve experienced the superior performance, you won’t want to go back.
By TomArah on 5 Apr 2012
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