Adobe Photoshop CS6 review

Ben Pitt
24 Apr 2012
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Already peerless, this update is brimming with impressive new features to keep it firmly on top


Photoshop needs no introduction. No other image editor is remotely this expensive, but for those who work with – or are generally passionate about – digital images, there’s no alternative.

It has a strong track record for new features that get its users clamouring to upgrade. For CS6, that feature is a new set of blur tools that mimic depth-of-field effects. Blur is applied dynamically across the image, so the midpoint between sharp and a 100-pixel blur is a 50-pixel blur. This is far more convincing than simply fading between blurred and sharp versions of an image, as most depth-of-field effects (including Premiere Elements’) do.

Photoshop CS6 Blur

Combining a pair of Tilt-Shift blurs allowed us to create this graduated blur while keeping the tree sharp

Tilt-Shift creates a band of sharp focus with gradually increasing blur either side, while Iris Blur creates an ellipse of focus. Field Blur is the most flexible: isolated points are positioned freely on the image, each with its own blur amount, and the software interpolates between them. Intuitive controls appear directly on the image, and with quickly updating previews, designing complex blur effects is extremely intuitive.

The three blur types can be combined and previewed together before you commit to them, but this can get unwieldy. Applying two Iris Blurs, for instance, creates two sharp circles on the image. However, when combining a Tilt-Shift and Iris Blur, both effects work independently so blur values are compounded, potentially leaving nothing sharp.

Photoshop CS6 Field Blur

The new Field Blur effect allows different blur amounts to be set across the image

There are options to turn highlights into the distinctive circular blobs of an out-of-focus lens. Sadly, though, these effects lack the sophistication of the Lens Blur effect introduced in Photoshop CS3, which lets the user specify the number and shape of aperture blades in the virtual lens, giving superb control over the appearance of the blur, known as bokeh. Lens Blur is still available, but it's not as easy to use as the new Blur tools.

Using the selection tools before applying blur makes it easy to keep parts of the image sharp – useful for creating a blurred background that wraps tightly around a subject. This could easily have led to opacity problems or bleeding of colours along the boundary of the selection, but the effect is clever enough to avoid both problems. This is the kind of attention to detail we expect from Photoshop. These new blur effects are likely to see lots of use, not just for photo processing but also as more abstract effects in graphic design projects.

Smooth moves

Content-Aware Fill made its debut in Photoshop CS5, automatically grafting parts of the image to cover unwanted items. You now have more control over this thanks to the Patch Tool, which lets the user specify the source area for the graft. Content-Aware Move is yet another spin on the same idea, transplanting a selection from one area to another and blending both the original and new positions. There's also an Extend mode for stretching objects. As with the other Content-Aware tools, the results are hit-and-miss, but in many instances they get close to usable results, cutting down on the amount of manual tweaking involved. Content-Aware Move rarely gave tidy results but it’s useful for quickly trying out compositional ideas.

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