Adobe Creative Suite 6
George Maestri
November 6, 2012

Adobe Creative Suite 6

CGW Contributing Editor George Maestri puts Adobe CS6 through its paces.

Adobe released the latest update to its venerable Creative Suite graphics software a while ago. This suite includes over a dozen packages, from Web design to image editing to video and content creation. In this review, we’ll take a look at the Production Premium Bundle, which is aimed at video, film, and motion graphics professionals. This bundle includes Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Illustrator, Encore, and the new Speed Grade color-correction software, among others.

Many of the default interface schemes for CS6 went darker. This makes the images pop more, and helps with editing.

It should be noted that with CS6, Adobe is starting to rewrite the rules of software distribution and give a glimpse of the future. While the suite can be purchased in a box like before, Adobe is also promoting a new model called the Creative Cloud, which allows you to subscribe to the software instead. For a starting rate of $29.99 per month with $49.99 for the second year, you can get access to all of the Adobe Creative Suite products, with regular updates and feature additions. The economics of this are appealing to those who upgrade regularly, but for those who skip versions or only need a subset of the suite, it may not make economic sense.

Looking at the suite as a whole, there are a number of nice new upgrades that make it very appealing. Photoshop, Adobe’s flagship product, has seen some significant changes. Most visible is the new default color scheme, which is much darker. This darker color scheme permeates many of the CS6 products, but can be customized to lighter colors. I found the darker colors to be much more Lightroom-like, making images pop and easier to edit. Other tweaks include completely redesigned icons, so that tools such as the pen and lasso are much more accurate. Another useful feature is a heads-up display that can appear at the cursor, such as dimensions when dragging the marquee tool.

Photoshop’s new tilt-shift blur filter makes this effect easy. The effect can also be used on video using the improved timeline.

One of the best new features of Photoshop is the increase in speed. The software offloads a lot of its processing to your graphics card’s GPU via Adobe’s Mercury Graphics Engine, originally create for Premiere Pro. With a fast video card, such as an Nvidia Quadro, most operations happen in real time. The Liquify tool, for example, is notorious for being slow, but now with a good graphics card, it operates in real time.

The new Adaptive Wide Angle filter is particularly useful for photographers. It can correct images that are shot in wide angle and have a fish-eye effect. Simply draw over the lines that are supposed to be straight and they automatically correct. Other nice updates include some additional blur filters, including a Tilt-Shift filter that can create miniature effects. All of the new blur filters are GPU-accelerated. Finally, for video people, the standard version of Photoshop now allows for editing and adding effects to video.

Going deeper the video side, Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS6 is fast becoming a standard for video editing. Apple’s recent missteps with Final Cut have given Adobe a leg up in professional edit suites. The latest version certainly delivers a number of features aimed at professional editors. Probably the most important feature is speed. Since Version CS5, Adobe has included the Mercury Playback Engine, which utilizes the power of the GPU on the graphics card to accelerate all sorts of operations. The software was tested against an Nvidia Quadro 5000 card, and real-time playback with multiple layers proved to be no problem at all. Combined with a fast disk array, you can get interactivity and speed previously reserved for high-end film suites on a desktop,

The interface of Premiere Pro CS6 has undergone a few revisions, making editing easier and more efficient. The software now defaults to a more professional “two-up” workspace, which is more efficient and less cluttered. The media browser and project panels have both been improved. One nice little feature is the ability to scrub thumbnails in the project view. Import and Export have also been improved, giving much better connectivity to both Avid and Final Cut. This makes migration between these applications much easier.

Premiere has seen an interface updates and significant speed increases thanks to GPU acceleration.

For special effects, Premiere Pro CS6 has a number of new options. Probably the most interesting is the Warp Stabilizer, a camera stabilizer that can smooth out shaky handheld footage. This stabilizer goes the extra mile in removing motion artifacts to give a final result that looks quite professional. Another nice feature for Premiere Pro CS6 is the inclusion of Adjustment Layers, which work very similarly to those in Photoshop and After Effects and allow you to create layered adjustment and effects that can be changed at any time.

Probably the best addition for video and filmmakers is Adobe’s SpeedGrade color-correction and grading system. This powerful system uses the Lumetri Deep Color Engine and a new interface to give you layered color adjustments in real time. The engine utilizes the GPU on supported graphics cards, to provide this capability and speed.

Adobe’s new SpeedGrade brings professional-level color correction to the desktop.

SpeedGrade works on most types of footage, including high bit-depth formats such as RAW, HDR, ALEXA and RED. The software not only allows for high-precision color grading, but also the addition of effects and film-look filters. SpeedGrade can also connect to studio grading panels to provide real-world knobs and buttons with which to control the software.

After Effects CS6 has also been shown some love with this release. Like the other applications, speed has also been an area of improvement with the addition of a new cache system. This allows you to save multiple previews without re-rendering. This can save a lot of time. On the graphics side, the software is much more OpenGL friendly, which will make it much faster with a good graphics card. This will give you much faster manipulation of layers, masks, and motion tracker points, as well as working more efficiently with overlays such as guides and grids. Adobe reports the improvements at being anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 times faster. Of course, your mileage may vary, but it’s always nice to see speed increases.

With each release, After Effects adds more and more 3D features. This version includes a raytraced rendering engine and tools that allow text and outlines to be extruded. This gives After Effects a fair amount of capability for those doing motion graphics. For faster rendering, the software includes Nvidia’s OptiX for accelerated GPU rendering on Nvidia cards with over 1GB of VRAM.

Other 3D features include a new 3D Camera Tracker effect. This analyzes 2D footage to create a 3D camera that tracks to the footage. Normally seen only in high-end trackers such as Boujou, this feature will see a lot of use in people doing visual effects work that overlay CG elements with live action.

Overall, this is a great update to the Creative Suite. The new features, combined with increased speed and graphics card acceleration make it very useful to anyone who creates video or film content.