Photoshop CC brightens up a somewhat stormy transition to Creative Cloud

Although the option to purchase a Photoshop subscription dates back to the 2011 release of Creative Suite 5.5, Adobe has now left users with one of three choices: shell out monthly to keep receiving the latest and greatest versions, stick with last year’s CS6 (which continues to be supported, at least for now), or switch to something else entirely.

While only a small percentage of its users may actually go rogue, the latest Photoshop CC offers an awful lot of very good reasons for them to stick around. Adobe is working to make the transition as painless as possible, with a subscription to Photoshop (or other single key CC application) for as little as $19.99 per month. For most users, however, it makes more sense to invest $49.99 per month into the full Creative Cloud experience, which comes with a wide range of other applications and services for design, web, and video creation, as well.

Sadly, the promised Save to Cloud option was a no-show at launch, but Photoshop (and most of Creative Cloud) is now hooked directly into Behance, allowing designers to share their work with other members straight from the application. Photoshop CC also consolidates the 3D, video-editing, and image-analysis tools previously only available to those who shelled out extra dough for the Extended version. Though the average user may never use them, it’s a nice perk and a welcome consolidation.

Camera Shake Reduction has received the most attention of all the Photoshop CC features, and rightfully so. Originally previewed at Adobe MAX 2012, this feature magically removes image blur caused by camera motion, and the results are quite stunning. However, it’s not actual magic—you won’t be able to restore images where the focus was set wrong to begin with, for example.

On the other hand, Photoshop CC does perform virtual miracles when upsampling lower-resolution images by smoothing away jagged edges and preserving detail, all without adding noise to the final output. Together with a new Smart Sharpen tool for more finely tuned edge enhancement, users will find themselves rescuing images that would have otherwise been unusable.

Photoshop CC also includes Adobe Camera Raw 8, and instead of limiting its use to when files are initially imported, any of the extensive editing tools can now be applied as a filter, even to individual layers. With tools for healing images, creating vignettes, and fixing perspective distortions, it’s almost like receiving a full-featured plug-in suite as a free bonus.

The remainder of Photoshop CC’s new features may be less noteworthy, but are no less welcome. For years, users have clamored for the ability to edit rounded rectangles, a seemingly simple task that frequently required too many steps. Such objects can now be edited or resized to your heart’s contents, then exported complete with CSS data—a big time-saver for web designers. Multiple paths, shapes, or vector masks can also be selected and edited at once, and Conditional Actions add if or then statements to make automatic processing better than ever.

All these features do an excellent job of keeping Photoshop CC timely, but Adobe is going to have to keep up this pace if they want users to continue forking over dough each month, especially with a minimum investment of $240 per year—an expensive proposition for those more comfortable with buying once and upgrading only when budget allows or must-have new features are introduced. More than any other Creative Cloud application, Photoshop CC would benefit from being sold separately in what Adobe now calls a «perpetual license» edition—the traditional one-time boxed or downloadable purchase we’re all accustomed to.

Last but not least, there’s Bridge CC. Adobe’s Swiss Army knife of asset management has been unbundled from other software installations, but is a required download for those using the Mini Bridge feature found in Photoshop or InDesign CC. Aside from CC branding, there’s nothing to see here—in fact, Adobe has actually removed a couple of previous features (Adobe Output Module and the Export panel), which came in handy for making PDF files and web galleries, or sharing photos to social networks.

The bottom line. After 23 years, Adobe has managed to keep Photoshop fresh and relevant as it moves exclusively to Creative Cloud. Moving forward, the company will have to innovate rapidly if they expect users to keep paying—or risk defections to excellent third-party image editors like Pixelmator, which can be purchased outright for less than a single month of Adobe’s flagship product.

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