A Look at Adobe Photoshop, Premiere & After Effects CS4

Adobe recently released their 11th major version of Photoshop, along with the rest of the gang: Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, Acrobat, Premiere, After Effects and more. Here’s a peek at CS4’s video-related tools, which are closer to the technologies I use for my Creative Commons videography work.

Installation took about 30 minutes and went without a hitch. After Effects (AE, for its friends) is considered one of the most important applications today in video production as it’s more powerful than most compositors around — and at the right price. Learning AE can be daunting, but there are a number of free online tutorials and good books on the subject.

Among the new features found on CS4 are the XMP Metadata, mobile phone exporting settings per phone model, Flash CS4 integration, and a motion tracker provided as a stand-alone application: Imagineer Systems’ Mocha. Additionally, some new effects found their way in, like the Turbulent Noise, Bilateral Blur, and a Cartoon effect. Additionally, AE can now import Photoshop CS4’s 3D layers as 3D, and use its Unified Camera Tool to control the 3D model and independently keyframe the x, y, z values. Finally, you can now nest compositions and most among them easily.

Real time preview of the video is pretty slow on AE, even after using the lowest quality. However, AE is not an editor per se, it’s a compositor and effects application. And it’s fast where it matters: on applying effects. AE was able to utilize my stock, consumer GeForce card’s OpenGL capabilities and accelerate the plugin rendering time.

Along AE, there’s a third party plugin tool coming for free, Color Finesse 2, which is a powerful color grading tool. Compared to the holy grail of the enthusiast’s color grading tools, Magic Bullet, Color Finesse offers more features, but it uses the worse “Offset Gamma Gain” method to maintain shadows compared to Magic Bullet’s “Lift, Gamma, Gain” color model. A negative surprise to me was that Finesse would crash when I would try to navigate to another folder using Vista64’s “open” dialog.

CS4 comes with better integration between its applications, you can now open project files from one application to the other, and Premiere CS4 is going to be particularly benefited from it. Among the new features on Premiere there is Speech recognition and search: Premiere saves speech as text metadata and allows searching, helping mostly documentary editors to speed up their work.

The biggest new feature on Premiere is probably AVCHD support. The previous version, along with Premiere Elements 4, were the only major editors this past year that did not support AVCHD yet, and this has cost Adobe a bunch among consumer and prosumer users.

Other features include batch encoding in the background, Blu-ray Disc authoring via Encore, an enhanced (although too dark for my taste) UI, vertical audio waveform zoom, Sony XDCAM and XDCAM EX support, and much more. I found Premiere pretty quick in terms of video previewing compared to Sony Vegas and After Effects. For the duration I tested it, it proved stable as well. Along with Premiere there’s direct-to-disk recording with the completely revamped Adobe OnLocation CS4.

And this brings us to Photoshop, now with 64bit ablities (it was able to utilize all of our 6 GB RAM, after some tweaking). Photoshop, just as Illustrator, now comes with a template-based user interface. For example, you can choose between the normal tools, the video related tools, the 3D tools etc. And speaking of 3D, the engine around it has seen maturity and flexibility, e.g. direct painting on the model, make 3D objects from 2D paintings etc. The accompanied Camera Raw utility can now apply gradient filters, while the new Adjustment brush allows to make corrections on isolated sections of the image.

A great new tool is the content-aware resizing. This allows you to resize some aspects of your picture, while other aspects remain with the right aspect ratio. For example, if you have a widescreen picture that you want to turn into 4:3 without cropping and without making things look unnaturally squeezed, this feature can help.

My favorite new feature is “Vibrance”. Oh, how I wish we had such a plugin on video editors! Vibrance is similar to saturation, but it doesn’t use the traditional saturation algorithms, instead, it gently “pops” the colors on the image without making it as obvious as saturation usually does. Each time you are using saturation you are losing visual quality, because the way saturation works is by overflowing colors to neighbor pixels, while vibrance is careful about this aspect.

Now, regarding the updated video tools on Photoshop. It is indeed of a great assistance to be able to work on frame by frame basis, or per clip, and apply amazing color corrections, or color grade, in 32bit-per-pixel mode. Unfortunately, I have three issues with Photoshop’s video support to such a degree, that doesn’t make me too eager to use the feature:

1. Photoshop won’t read HDV .m2t footage. This is the most popular format among prosumers.
2. Photoshop will only export in .MOV, through Quicktime (so it requires that Quicktime is installed). While this is cool on the Mac side, it’s less helpful on the PC side. Quicktime on the PC does not have enough intermediate encoder selection, and this makes exporting very problematic. Photoshop should have supported Windows’ DirectShow AVI way of doing things, as this is the default way on Windows to access codecs. Now, because of this shortcoming, I can’t use powerful intermediate encoders like Huffyuv, Lagarith, or Cineform.
3. Photoshop doesn’t have motion tracking like After Effects does. So when I do a selection around an object to color grade it or tweak it, I have to manually modify the selection frame by frame. And this can take forever, depending on the length of your video.

In addition to the tools above, I also looked at Illustrator, but I found its usability less than ideal. Somehow, Photoshop has a mature interface that it’s easy to find what you need. Illustrator on the other hand does unpredictable things: things that worked a minute before, they don’t anymore, because the application somehow got into another mode out of the blue. Regardless, I was able to use Illustrator and trace this sketch of mine, and then colorize it with Photoshop:

The Vision

Finally, to reward customers for staying current, Adobe is offering Creative Suite 3 customers moving to Creative Suite 4 a lower upgrade price than it offers to those moving from older, qualifying versions. For a
limited time, a special introductory offer enables customers with older qualifying products to enjoy the same lower price with savings of up to US$200 off their actual upgrade price. And it’s an upgrade worth taking.


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