Adobe Photoshop CS4 review

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Adobe Photoshop is universally recognised as the most powerful photo-editor available, but Adobe isn’t resting on its laurels. With Photoshop CS4, it has made the best even better.

As always with new launches, this starts with the interface, which has been reworked to make the absolute most of your screen real estate. The big changes are new self-adjusting docker panels, easily selectable document tabs and the removal of Windows’ wasteful Title bar (though its absence takes a while to get used to). In its place Photoshop CS4 adds a new Application bar alongside the existing Menu bar. This provides instant access to zoom controls, the new Workspace switcher, a range of new workspace presets and the Arrange Documents dropdown, where you can quickly choose from a selection of window layouts.

Bridging the gap

Photoshop CS4’s Application Bar also provides quick access to the separate Bridge CS4 application for asset management. With its new Workspace switcher, presets, search capabilities and Path bar for hard disk management, Bridge CS4 has been significantly improved and is a serious bonus across all the Creative Suite bundles and most of the CS4 apps.


Bridge CS4 is particularly important for Photoshop users as it makes a natural partner for visually managing files and offers some dedicated tools. Select multiple panorama shots, for instance, then the PhotoMerge command and Photoshop automatically uses new vignetting and geometric distortion corrections to offer highly effective blending of frame edges.

The same Auto-Align and Auto-Blend processing engine can also now be used to enhance the depth of field and tonal range for bracketed shots of the same image. In each case, inspecting the layer blends shows that Photoshop does a lot to get the best out of your images.

Bridge CS4 has just as much to offer when opening single standalone images into Photoshop, allowing you to open them in the dedicated Camera Raw 5 utility. Here it provides access to a wealth of powerful colour-correction tools, with all changes in Camera Raw 5 now recognised in Lightroom 2 and vice versa. Camera Raw 5 also adds the ability to localise adjustments to particular areas of the image with its new Adjustment Brush, which creates non-destructive and re-editable masks.


As its name suggests, Camera Raw 5 really comes into its own with unprocessed, camera raw formats, but it also provides similar non-destructive editing of TIFFs and JPEGs.

Non-destructive editing

It’s the sort of capability that might have put Photoshop to shame in the past, but that’s not the case here. The core focus of the improvements in Photoshop CS4 lies in a complete overhaul of its image-adjustment capabilities, placing the focus on similar non-destructive editing.

A new Adjustments panel provides instant, icon-based access to each layer type; there are 15 in all, including a new Vibrance option, which offers greater control over colour saturation while preserving delicate tones such as skin colours. Below the generic icons, Photoshop CS4 also provides access to a list of presets for the main adjustments, meaning that you can quickly add layers to increase contrast, lighten shadows, boost red and so on.

And where in the past adjustment layers were first defined and later refined in their own dialogs – powerful but awkward and off-putting – with CS4, whenever you add an adjustment or click on it in the Layers panel, its settings automatically appear in the Adjustment panel ready for editing. Switch to the Color and Tone workspace, which stacks the Histogram, Adjustments and Layers panels above each other, and you have an efficient centralised control panel for live fine-tuning every aspect of your image. It’s simply superb.


Software subcategoryPhoto editing software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes

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