Review: Photoshop 4
Published By: Adobe Systems
Phone: (800) 492-3623
Street Price: $560
Macintosh with 68030 or greater
8-bit (or greater) color display
System 7.1 or later
16 MB RAM (32 MB recommended)
25 MB hard-disk space
Adobe Photoshop is the world leader in photo-retouching and manipulation. Since its first release, it has been the preferred program for many designers worldwide. Now, in its fourth release, does it keep up with its own reputation?
Preeminent programs can sometimes suffer from their own dominance. Companies occasionally use the monopoly of their market share as an excuse to launch lower quality products. An example of this is Macromedia's Freehand 7.0, which is big and sluggish compared to version 5.5. However, this is not the case with Adobe Photoshop 4.0, a product definitely in its best form.
I have been an avid Photoshop user since its first release. I must admit that I found version 3.0 so good that I was reluctant to upgrade. It was enough for my requirements, or at least that's what I thought until I used version 4.0. I know I sound a bit overboard with all this. However driving Photoshop 4.0 is like driving a car; once you try it, you can never look at walking in the same way.
Photoshop customers are one of two types: those who can't afford it and those who are looking into upgrading. Potential buyers are rare, because anyone who is serious about their design will already own Photoshop. Taking that into consideration, I will discuss whether Photoshop 4.0 is a worth the cost to upgrade from a previous version.
The All-new Gadgets
Photoshop 4.0 has been radically upgraded inside-out. Many code portions have been rewritten, and while they do not affect appearance, they do affect speed. Thus, I will try to be as detailed as possible about the improvements.
Support for 16 bits / Channel images: This won't affect every user, but it means that images can be 32 bit (i.e. billions of colors instead of the millions).
Image caching has been recoded for better performance and new controls have been added to let you adjust the trade-off between speed and memory usage.
Appending File Extensions: OK, this is not the most creative new feature of the bunch, but having the 3-character extension of the file type automatically appended will be appreciated by anyone who does a lot of cross-platforming.
Guides have finally been implemented in Photoshop. Goodbye to using Illustrator and exporting paths for guides!
Multiple Transforms: This is definitely the best new feature of version 4.0. Remember how we used to rotate and scale an object? We used to rotate, apply, scale and apply again. Now we can do all our transformations, then hit "apply" to implement everything in one step. This procedure saves time and gives better quality (because interpolation happens just once).
Selecting: You can now drag selections without dragging the image inside because the algorithm for manipulating images has been modified slightly.
Tip: In version 3.0, you do can accomplish this by Command-Option-dragging.
Tool Tips: This option gives you a brief description of each tool simply by moving the mouse over a tool button. Very helpful for beginners.
Actions: This feature is still in its infancy. Think of Actions as "Macros for Photoshop." For example, as a designer, I can make a collection of actions, each action applying a different effect (soft shadow, chroming....etc.). Then I can save them to a diskette. Afterwards, any "newbie" with minimal Photoshop skills can open a picture and simply run any saved Actions. Imagine Kai converting his chops (channel operations) into Actions...
Gradients: Photoshop's native gradient tool is improved to handle multiple colors. Although it does not even come close to the gradient designer it Kai's Power Tools, it is a significant improvement over previous versions.
Adjustment layers: Remember how once you applied several curves to an image, you couldn't undo? Well, with these new types of layers, all the adjustment and color information about an image can be stored separately. It can achieve very impressive results.
New Filters: These are not an improvements per se, nonetheless they represent a very bold move. All the 33 plug-ins previously known as "Adobe Gallery Effects" are incorporated within Photoshop itself, giving the application a more "painty" feel. Furthermore, a slew of new plug-ins and formats were added.
If these are not reasons enough to convince you to upgrade (purchase) Photoshop 4.0, how do the Navigator palette, Muli-processor support, Polygon tool and Interface enhancements sound?
Power hungry: Photoshop 4.0 uses approximately 60 MB of hard-disk space and a minimum 16 MB of RAM. However, for best results, assign as much RAM and hard-disk space as possible. (I have 256 MB RAM and 2 GB hard drive and still find them confining—get my point?)
Awkward at first: In 4.0, Adobe changed some short-cuts and concepts underlying the working interface. Lots of actions, such as cut & paste and the Type tool, create new layers instead of acting on the existing layer. It feels awfully strange at first, even for seasoned Photoshop users. Nevertheless, once you get the hang of it, you will love it!
Layer Previews: When you have multiple layers containing white elements, you cannot recognize where each object is using the layer thumbnail previews.
Plug-in manager: With the huge range of plug-ins available, it is time for Adobe to incorporate a plug-in manager. This will definitely improve Photoshop's performance. In the interim, you can use Conflict Catcher to manage Photoshop's plug-ins. Check out the review in this issue of ATPM.
Rounding It Up
Photoshop 4.0 is to designers what System 8.0 is to the Mac OS. Many tools need some fine-tuning, but on the whole, the product looks better than ever. If you've read this far, my only suggestion is to stop reading and upgrade now!
Copyright © 1997 Jamal Ghandour, <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Reviewing in ATPM is open to anyone. If you're interested, write to us at <email@example.com>.