Title Says All About What Is In This Package. The Trial Version Of Photoshop CS4 And The Crack For It That Just Came Out...
After spending a few weeks working with a beta version, I've concluded that there's just enough that's better in the CS4 updates to Photoshop and Photoshop Extended--most notably, usability improvements for core features--that many people will find themselves sighing, biting the bullet, and upgrading. That bullet biting stems from Adobe's traditionally steep upgrade pricing--in this case, $199 for Photoshop and $349 for Photoshop Extended--combined with the knowledge that in 18 months Adobe will be asking for another $200 because it only partly ported over the interface changes and that 2009's latest version will have delivered on the promises of this version's technology upgrades.
In some ways this version feels like a necessary evil. Adobe has obviously put a lot of work into it, but most of it is under the hood--way under the hood from the perspective of the everyday user. The entire 3D engine (in Extended) has been migrated from a PDF-based architecture to OpenGL, and the company has seeded OpenGL support throughout the application. The panels architecture is now extensible via Flash, allowing Adobe--or third parties--to create their own panels or modify some of the existing ones. And via the release of the Pixel Bender SDK, the filter library is not only extensible but has baked-in GPU and multicore acceleration. All of this is essential in order to allow future versions of Photoshop to evolve. However, the move to support 64-bit Windows, and multitouch inputs and 16-bit printing on the Mac are likely the only technology changes that will significantly impact users of this version.
Extended users will benefit more immediately from these underlying changes than Standard users. For the latter, OpenGL support primarily manifests itself as some whizzy screen zooming and rotation tools that demo really well but likely won't get used much. However, Adobe has greatly improved Extended's 3D support. It now offers most of the essential render settings and view controls, plus the ability to create primitives (and extend the library of primitives), necessary to work with 3D models. You edit and paint on textures simply by double-clicking on them in the Layers palette, then see your changes applied when you toggle back to the model; not quite real-time, interactive painting, but close enough for now. And now there's basic keyframe animation for 3D scenes. Still there's room for improvement: it needs better lighting handling and the ability to tile textures, and several aspects of the interface, like the Rendering options, are still far too dialog-driven.
That mixture of real-time and dialog-driven still permeates the interface of Photoshop in general, despite some advances. For example, if you use Photoshop for Web or print production work, the move to modeless Adjustment and Masks panels for real-time adjustments and previewing of changes in mask feathering and density is potentially a huge time-saver. But all the ancillary operations, such as the Radius, Contrast, Smooth, (another) Feather, and Contract/Expand parameters controlled by Refine Mask, remain in a modal dialog box.
So while there are a few tweaks, such as the new tabbed windows (you can still float 'em, though) and jarring all-caps text, long-time users won't encounter a lot to slow down their workflow. On the upside, tool shortcut keys now behave in what Adobe refers to as a "spring loaded" fashion. That means that if you hold down the shortcut key for one tool while another is selected in the toolbar, it temporarily overrides the toolbar until you release the key. Very nice. On the other hand, I don't particularly like the iconic representations of the adjustments in the new panel--you can't tell what they are without mousing over them and reading the text--but you can just ignore them and use the adjustment layer pop-up on the Layers palette as always.
Aside from the real-time adjustments, there's not a lot new here for Photoshop's core photo-editing audience. Adobe Camera Raw is now up to version 5, and has been brought more into sync with the way Lightroom handles files. It includes local retouching brushes like that application, though I suspect the quick fixes for which they're intended are less important when opening into Photoshop than in Lightroom. And now that you've trained yourself not to use Dodge, Burn, and Sponge--because they've worked so poorly for the last 10- plus versions--Adobe has fixed them, by limiting the areas of the tonal range they apply to. The Vibrance control, a saturation adjustment that preserves skin tones and which has made it into all the other Adobe photo applications, finally comes to Photoshop as well.
Also useful (some might say overdue) the Clone Stamp and Healing brushes now display a preview of what it will be stamping or healing, and brush size in general is now interactive.
Adobe has also tweaked the Color Range Select tool, adding the ability to limit the selection to "Localized Color Clusters." It sounds nice, but I couldn't get it to work well in any meaningful way; rather than limit it to contiguous colors that meet the specified criteria, as I expected, it seemed to limit the range to a user-specified-size circle around a sample point. An extension of the old Auto Align and Auto Blend capabilities combines the sharpest areas of several layers of similar images, which Adobe promotes as delivering an extended depth-of-field image. In practice, you have to be very careful or end up with an odd mixture of blur and sharp that bears no resemblance to anything producible with a camera. Those image combination scripts have also been beefed up with vignette (edge darkening) and fish-eye distortion correction when creating panoramas.
Also nice in theory, but not so much in practice, is Content-Aware scaling, Adobe's implementation of seam-carving technology. This feature looks and acts like a first stab at an interesting capability; the results are unpredictable and frequently not up to the standards of a typical Photoshop user. Photoshop also has ostensibly better integration with Lightroom 2 (still in beta), but the workflow still seems fairly clunky to me. You make adjustments in LR, then save the metadata, open it in Photoshop, make changes, save, then you have to force a read of the metadata to update the display in LR. Given that LR 2 hasn't shipped yet, let's hope Adobe comes up with something a bit more elegant.
And, of course, there's the inevitable disappointment with the stuff Adobe hasn't changed, such as the poor print layout controls and embarrassingly primitive text handling. Performance conclusions will have to wait for final code, and only time will tell if Adobe has fixed its heinously annoying updater.