Hands On With Adobe’s Updated Photoshop and Camera Raw


Adobe has rolled out another set of incremental updates to many of its flagship applications, including Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom, as has become standard since the company moved to a subscription model. We had a chance to work with the new versions, and while the features aren’t life-changing, they do provide some great timesavers.

Smarter Subject Selection for Portraits

The headline feature for Photoshop in this update is improved subject selection for portraits. In particular, fine detail like hair is selected much more accurately than previously. From a user perspective, the Select Subject command hasn’t changed, just the results. In particular, the selection of hair has been dramatically improved. I tried the new tool on several tricky portraits like the one below, and have been quite pleased with the results. It isn’t perfect, of course, but provides a great starting point for any final tweaking:

Adobe's new Smart Subject Selection tool does an impressive job with complex images

Adobe’s new Smart Subject Selection tool does an impressive job with complex images.

Smart Selection Would be a Great Companion to PortraitPro

In parallel with testing out the new version of Photoshop, I’ve been using PortraitPro 19 from Anthropics to experiment with touching up portrait photos. I’m not going to argue whether and when it is a good or bad thing to mess with people’s faces and bodies. I’ll leave that up to each of you. But from a purely technical perspective, PortraitPro is pretty amazing. Below is an example of an old (circa 2001) portrait that I fixed up in about two minutes. The one place I’d love to see more accuracy from the tool is its automated masking. So I’m hopeful that Adobe’s new Subject masks can be used with it (I’ve asked Anthropics about this, but haven’t heard back).

Before and after of an old portrait, done from the in-camera JPEG

Before and after of an old portrait, using Anthropics PortraitPro, from the in-camera JPEG.

Camera Raw Becomes More Like Lightroom

I was a little apprehensive when Adobe told us at the press briefing that Camera Raw was being overhauled to be more like Lightroom. I have mixed feelings about the Lightroom UI. So I was pleasantly surprised when I tried out the new ACR interface. It keeps many of the nice features of Lightroom, but without becoming overly complex.

You can have multiple edit sessions now, and the UI has a more modern look and scales nicely on high-DPI displays. The tools have been moved over to the right past the sliders so that they are closer together, but I actually find that awkward. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to move them back to the top. If you don’t like the new UI, you can go back to one that is similar to the old version.

Camera Raw now looks like Lightroom

Camera Raw now looks like Lightroom, with a modern UI. It also allows multiple edit panels.

There are a couple of other nice features that come along with the new ACR interface. First, you can customize the information displayed on your image filmstrip. I know that the “super-clean” look is trendy, but I find it very helpful to see some of the relevant metadata. You can also place the filmstrip on the bottom or left, depending on your preference and whether you are working with landscape or portrait images. Presets can now vary by ISO. This is a great addition. One of the biggest reasons I use DxO’s PhotoLab instead of ACR for my typical batch processing session is that PhotoLab’s defaults are “intelligent” and adapt to camera settings better than ACRs. I look forward to seeing how this new capability helps level the playing field.

Local adjustments have also been extended to include Hue. The Crop tool adds an option for a 2×2 grid overlay for times when you want to precisely position the center of the image, and the Curve tool has been updated for easy selection of Parametric and Point curves. As always, there are also a number of new cameras and lenses supported.

Merging Added to Camera Raw

For those of us who shoot a lot of panoramas and HDR sequences, one nice addition is a capability to do merges — including spherical (360-degree) panorama merges right in Camera Raw. For relatively simple cases, like a traditional HDR bracket or a carefully composed panorama shot with a DSLR, it worked quite well. However, for trickier situations such as a hemispherical scene shot from a drone, I had to wrestle quite a bit with various adjustments to get a decent result. Even then, I didn’t have all the control I get from using either Hugin (free) or PTGui (paid).

One nice feature of merging in Camera Raw is that the output can also be saved as a DNG file

One nice feature of merging in Camera Raw is that the output can also be saved as a DNG file.

Auto-Activation of Fonts and Rotatable Patterns

There is a grab bag of smaller updates to Photoshop as well. For example, instead of getting an annoying warning message about needing a font, if it is available from Adobe Fonts, it will be automatically downloaded and loaded into Photoshop. The Match Font feature has also been extended to work with more fonts, vertical text, and multiple lines of text. Also, patterns can now be rotated when used, eliminating the need for creating separate versions just to have rotation options. iPad users will also be pleased to see that Adobe has improved the integration between Photoshop and Lightroom on the device. Users of Adobe Capture to snag patterns and colors from their surroundings can now integrate those results into the desktop version of Photoshop.

For those who remember the massive major releases of pre-subscription Photoshop and Lightroom, these rolling releases certainly seem anti-climactic. But it’s great that they allow Adobe to release new capabilities much more quickly than under the old model.

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