Adobe Launches Free Photoshop CS6 Beta; Read Our Hands-On Preview

March 22, 2012

By Theano Nikitas

Adobe has been teasing photographers with sneak peeks of Photoshop CS6 for the past couple of months and tonight finally unveiled the software as a free public beta that’s available now for download. You can download Photoshop CS6 as a beta by clicking here.

We got an early look at the software, under NDA, at an Adobe-sponsored workshop last month. The following are some of our first impressions of Photoshop CS6.

Photoshop CS6 Updates
The 13th iteration of Photoshop follows closely on the heels of Lightroom 4 (read our review here) and Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) 6.7, incorporating new technology and features in all three. But it’s the all-new Photoshop, of course, which has received the largest number of updates including — surprise, surprise — continued support for Windows XP.

As a cross-platform user with one Macbook Pro and a couple of Windows XP desktops, I was concerned Adobe would phase out XP support as they did with Lightroom 4. But, according to Adobe, about 14% of Photoshop users are Windows XP based, so CS6 still supports the slowly dying operating system, despite hints at last year’s CS5 briefings to the contrary.

It’s important to note, though, that some GPU enabled features and 3D tools are not supported in XP. Vista users, however, are totally out of luck. Mac support includes OSX v. 10.6.8 or 10.7.

You’ll need to create an Adobe ID to install the beta if you don’t already have one. You’ll also need your Adobe ID for the final version as well.

Not surprisingly, some of the new features target designers, graphic artists and other non-photo creative professionals. And while there are probably few photographers who will get excited about paint tools having erodable tips reminiscent of wearing down the points of your favorite Crayola colors, Photoshop CS6 is a major upgrade and is sure to set off a wave of Internet buzz during the beta trial.

Comparing Notes
As part of our early look at Photoshop CS6, Adobe held a meet-up at the New York City studio of fashion, beauty and dance photographer Sarah Silver. As Photoshop Senior Product Manager Bryan O’Neil Hughes previewed a series of PS CS6 features, Silver treated the crowd of about 75 photographers, students and other professionals, to a presentation of her work with explanations of how she uses Photoshop.

We’ve had some hands-on time with the latest Photoshop build but even after a full briefing and a couple of weeks working with the beta, we’re nowhere near finished with exploring every nook and cranny of what’s new in the software. Since Sarah Silver is a hard-core Photoshop user, we circled back with her to compare notes.

We were both in agreement on what should be considered some of the most important new features in CS6, particularly Photoshop’s expanded video capabilities. Basic video support has been available since Photoshop CS3 (only in Extended) but is now far more advanced and, importantly, is available in both Standard and Extended versions.

With the proliferation of video-capable DSLRs, being able to work on video footage in Photoshop using photo-familiar adjustment tools, eliminates (or at least minimizes) the learning curve for photographers.

Silver, who shoots motion editorials for every still project these days, commented: “I can now do all my color grading the same way I balance all my pictures. I’m not learning new software, I’m just applying what I know [e.g., curves, layer adjustments, etc.] to this new world of video. And we’re saving money by not having to hire someone to retouch the videos.”

Other intriguing and practical Photoshop CS6 features include the new crop tool, auto recover and background save. Silver said she’d upgrade just for the background save alone and she’s not the only one since being able to work while an image file is being written to the hard drive will save hours and hours of time in front of the computer.

New Features
Liquify’s real-time adjustments, among other improvements including larger brush sizes, is a real bonus to anyone who uses the often-overlooked tool and Silver said she’s taking full advantage of the update. She’s a huge fan of Liquify and has, perhaps single handedly, brought back the shoulder pads of the eighties using the tool for fashion and beauty shoots. Silver also uses Liquify to adjust the sweep of a hem or to make big hair look “OMG bigger” and loves being able to now see the changes immediately.

But even if you don’t work with video or need to add volume to a model’s hair, Photoshop CS6 has so many improvements — Adobe touts 62 percent more new features and more than 65 user-inspired enhancements, along with much faster performance — that you’ll find a long list of potential reasons to upgrade or purchase Photoshop for the first time.

And while we don’t have any inside information, given that Adobe was ready to limit upgrade pricing for Photoshop CS6 to owners of the most current version (5/5.5) — but reverted back to its standard practice of providing upgrade prices to the previous three versions of Photoshop after a public outcry — one might anticipate that Photoshop CS6 may be the last version for which this upgrade pricing policy holds true. So, if you own CS3, CS4 or CS 5/5.5, you will be eligible for the upgrade price ($199 for the Standard PS CS6; $399 for the Extended version) from the time of Photoshop CS6’s final build release until December 31, 2012.

Economics aside, though, you’d be foolish not to try out the beta version of Photoshop CS6 now that it’s ready. Download it from:

Pricing for final version:
Adobe Photoshop CS6 (Standard): $699/new; $199/upgrade
Adobe Photoshop CS6 (Extended): $999/new; $399/upgrade