When I heard about the new features in Photoshop, I have to say I was pretty excited to hear that there was going to be some more usage of the GPU to give some extra processing power. I heard about slick zooming transitions, pixel overlays at extreme zoom, rotating the canvas (for illustrators I suppose, just like rotating the piece paper they are working on) and faster processing of rotations and translations. Imagine my disappointment when I installed this new version and my graphics card doesn’t support it! I’m using a generation 2 MacBook Pro (Core 2 Duo, 2.2GHz) which is only just a few months over one year old. I guess these new features are only for professionals using newish, professional computers. Wait! That’s me. So disappointed...

Anyways, there are plenty of other features in this new version to be excited about. Firstly, and most notably, are the interface changes. There is a new icon, some new stylings with the panels and such, and the Application Bar. One other change is that, on a Mac, you can now enable the ‘Application Frame’ which, from what I can tell, places a grey background behind your open documents so you don’t see other apps below Photoshop. A simple and effective change, although I haven’t felt compelled to turn it on yet (until now, but still, I’m kind of ambivalent about it).

Tabs
Interface-wise though, the biggest new feature is the tabbed interface, which brings Photoshop in line with everyone’s favourite interface feature. Right? Well, no. I turned the tabbing off straight away because I like to have bucket loads of documents open at once, and the tabs make that a bit of a pain. Others have complained about the tabs for what they perceived as more fundamental flaws (like the idea that they don’t respect Expose` on the Mac, and such things), but I don’t really care about that stuff too much. I’m not one of those streamline-or-die type users. The one and only reason I turn off the tabs is because I like having heaps of documents open, and I like scattering them all over my monitor (actually, both of my monitors). I do this if I’m cutting up a design that I, or a designer has produced and I’m taking it to the web. I’ll chop one file into hundreds of pieces and paste them into new documents. From there I can ‘Save for Web’ (an old feature that is nicer than ever in this release). I imagine that everyone has a different workflow for this kind of thing, and whilst I think the new tabbed interface won’t fit in with my way of working, you can be thankful that the developers at Adobe at least give you the option of switching the tabs off if you want to. Flexible software is the best software I guess.

Adjustments Panel
I’m really enjoying the new Adjustments panel. This is a bit of a timesaver for me, allowing me to quickly and simply apply a new adjustment layer to the currently selected layer. Adjustment layers were a new thing to me last year, I had previously been a bit of a hack in that area, but this new panel makes it really easy to apply adjustments like Levels, Curves, Hue/Saturation, Vibrance, without destroying the source layer. There is also a handy little button on the bottom of the panel that toggles the ‘clip to previous layer’ function. I guess thats the point with making this kind of panel - take those things you used to dig for and expose them to the user more obviously and they will use them. It works!

Flash Panels



Above you can see a swf I made over a year ago (a simple tree growing algorithm) that I was able to make into a panel in Photoshop just by dropping it in the Plugins->Panels directory.

Easy!

Useless!

Why would you need a tree in Photoshop? You don’t. At all. But the big upside is that this new ability to add panels made in Flash to the Photoshop interface allows the developer to control Photoshop in many more meaningful ways than growing some foliage in the sidebar. Adobe have also released an application into Adobe Labs called Configurator that lets you create and manage your own custom panels. Thinking about this and how it is cool, I thought that perhaps some web connected functionality would be really interesting here. Images from Flickr or iStockPhoto that can be dragged directly into a Photoshop document without hitting a browser? This is great functionality, with lots of possiblities.

3D
Photoshop CS4 can now import 3D files (including from 3D Studio and OBJ formatted files) and display them in a document with the ability to translate and rotate the objects. You can also convert standard layers into 3D layers (as an object or as a ‘postcard’, which is a 2D plane in 3D space). This is all very nice but because my GPU isn’t usable with Photoshop, all the rendering is done in software and it is quite slow. So, nice features, but I bet nicer if you have the accelerated graphics!

Content Aware Scale
This is my favourite new feature in Photoshop. As the name implies, this new transformation function analyses the actual content of the layer you are scaling to intelligently work out which bits to squeeze and which bits to leave alone. There is an excellent video demonstrating this here. I remember a guy I use to work for saying that the only way you should ever scale anything is uniformly. At the time he was right, but this feature in Photoshop changes that a little bit. You can now scale things in one dimension and, if you’re careful not to push it too far, trust Photoshop not to make your image look like something from a house of mirrors. It works really well and I think has easily been the new feature I have used the most (that, and the adjustments panel).