Just in case you thought we had shares in Macromedia, here are two Adobe upgrades which we’ve been testing for a while on real projects: they are Photoshop 5.0 and version 5 of the digital video editing tool Premiere.
The first thing to say about Photoshop 5 is that if you haven’t already, go out and upgrade at once. It’s a hit. So its new 3D transform plug-in is a bit rubbish and it still can’t import DXF 3D objects, but almost everything else is, according to our suede heads, wicked.
Take the selection tools. Magnetic Lasso, the freeform selection tool, senses areas of high contrast and hugs the edges and you can adjust the sensitivity on the fly. It really works. Magnetic Pen also finds and snaps to an edge, but then produces a bezier path precisely around the image, and there’s a freeform pen like the one in Illustrator. A measuring tool has been on a lot of people’s wish lists for ages and here it is.
But even better is version 5’s new approach which is to keep everything as live as possible. One terrific aspect of this is the new history palette which enables you to carry out multiple undos. The history palette tracks every image-editing step. This means that you can go back to any stage in your design, compare stages, combine them, and edit them. Under the old regime you really had to make security copies of each stage and that was such a pain that most of the time you didn’t. Now you can go back and try out different filters and effects. It makes Photoshop both totally different to work with and much, much friendlier.
An inexplicable and diabolical characteristic of earlier versions of Photoshop was that you
couldn’t edit text once it was in place. You couldn’t even kern it. Now text stays live, you can edit it, move it around, adjust it, change fonts all until you finally decide to render.
Not unconnected with this is the newly organised layer effects. You now add such things as glow or dropped shadows or bevels to images on a layer. Thereafter these effects stay live at that layer so that when you come back to the layer and say add some freehand images, they become bevelled or glowed as well. Go on, you’ll be able to think of more interesting applications.
Other features are plug-ins which automate boring routines: Adobe is shipping a small selection including a resize wizard, export transparent image wizard, a batch command, a conditional mode change command which changes the colour mode plus a contact sheet, image fitter and a multipage PDF to PSD command.
There has been some controversy about the new version’s ICC colour management system for RGB images. The default is that Photoshop converts them to a new version, sRGB which Adobe sees as the coming thing. According to some grumpy US critics, this system has a smaller range of colours. In fact, you can have Apple RGB, HDTV, NTSC and PAL instead of sRGB, should you want to. Other colour things include a spot colour channel, a channel mixer for doing things to the colour, previews for duotone, indexed colour and colour settings dialogue boxes, and much better conversion from 24-bit images to Web-friendly 8-bit images. Oh, and there’s a lot more little things – and all for the 165 upgrade price.
Pity Premiere 5 couldn’t have been such a hit. The new version of Premiere looks too much like a cosmetic upgrade which, despite a new less-horrible interface, doesn’t really turn it into a heavy-duty off-line application as Adobe seems to hope. That’s not to say it’s not a very good toolbox for editing QuickTime movies because it is – although some of its virtues are actually to do with the virtues of the new QuickTime 3. But, for pros it’s a bit clunky. There are a lot of small and useful things such as allowing you to hide tracks to save screen clutter; it now has a useful 99 tracks each for video and audio; has 32 levels of undo and things like that but Avid and Media 100 it ain’t.
No one is likely to argue the toss with QuickTime over movie formats, especially when QuickTime 3 has turned out to be so good. But there are other movie file formats out there on the Web notably AVI. Not for much longer. Microsoft has introduced AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) and ASF (Advanced Streaming Format) which both replace AVI files and are to become the default multimedia file types in Windows 98 and the forthcoming Windows NT 5. There are two types because they can each be optimised for their specific tasks. ASF will have a big impact simply because, as a Microsoft standard, it will become prevalent on the Web. Microsoft worked with Adobe, Intel, RealNetworks and Vivo for ASF and for AAF with Adobe, Avid, Matrox, Pinnacle, Softimage Sonic Foundry and Truevision. So we have to take it all a bit seriously. Committed Mac buffs should remember that it’s all right to think of Quicktime.