It’s been three hotly contested years since Adobe launched Photoshop CC, the subscription version of Photoshop. There were a lot of confused, concerned, and angry photographers when Creative Cloud was first announced. The switch from owning to renting the software created numerous questions. Would it ultimately cost more than the previous standalone upgrades? Where the new features in CC meaningful enough to buy?
The answer to the cost question was “no” for many photographers, including me, at least initially. Then I got on board when Adobe dramatically reduced the cost and threw in Lightroom and other goodies into the Creative Cloud Photography Program for only $9.99 a month. In other words, that’s 25 years worth of Photoshop and Lightroom subscriptions for the price of one Nikon D800 body. Which is not to say that $120 a year is trivial, but that it is probably a worthwhile investment if the new features are relevant to your work.
It’s been over three years since CC was originally launched. The differences from CS6 have continued to grow with the 2014, 2015, and last week’s 2015.5 upgrades. So I thought I’d ask, “Is now the right time to upgrade from CS6 to CC?” I believe the answer still depends on your personal needs and budget, and I put together the following lists to summarize the benefits you might get from upgrading. Note that this is not an exhaustive list of all CC enhancements, just the ones relevant to photographers.
Photoshop CC offers the following enhancements (vs Photoshop CS6):
- Support for new cameras (launched after July 2015). As of July 2015, Photoshop CS6 will no longer be updated to support RAW files from new cameras. You can work around this by using Adobe’s free DNG Converter or a 3rd party RAW converter. If you don’t want to use one of the options from Adobe, I would recommend taking a look at Capture One. At $299, you won’t save money for a long time with Capture One, but it offers an extremely good RAW conversion. Or you could pick up DXO Optics Pro for $99.
- Camera RAW filter lets you keep adjusting RAW images when opened as smart objects in Photoshop. You can additionally use this tool to make familiar Lightroom/ACR adjustments to any pixel layer (such as to add clarity).
- Better support for extension panels (“plug ins”). As a software developer, I can attest that the latest versions of Photoshop offer the ability to create much more beautiful and powerful extensions for Photoshop. As a small example of this, my own Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop has an enhanced user interface when running on CC, and offers a few enhanced functions that aren’t possible on CS6. And there are many other extension panels out there from other developers that require CC or later.
- Face-Aware Liquify to easily retouch the size and shape of various parts of people’s faces. This is truly an incredible tool if you shoot portraits.
- Perspective Warp to fix distortions. This tools is also incredibly useful for landscapes to increase or decrease emphasis on something by making it bigger or smaller within the image. For example, you could make a distant mountain look larger.
- Content-Aware Scale: Stretch an image without distorting important elements like people.
- Content-Aware Move and Extend with scaling and rotation.
- Content-Aware Crop to fill gaps when rotating an image or extending its boundaries (great for adding a little more sky).
- Content-Aware Panorama to fill the gaps when stitching images.
- Path Blur added to the Blur Gallery. This is an incredible tool for adding motion and energy to an image. I use it frequently to simulate a long exposure effect in my photographs.
- Spin Blur added to the Blur Gallery. This is perfect for making making a parked car look like it is in motion by spinning the wheels.
- Updated Smart Sharpen adds noise reduction and a better interface.
- HiDPI support on Windows. This allows you to make the Photoshop user interface larger so that it is easier to read on high resolution monitors.
- Camera Shake Reduction to salvage handheld images that should have been shot on a tripod.
- Real-time healing brush. This offers a fast and accurate (live) preview of the healing brush. Note that some users (especially people retouching skin on portraits) may prefer the results of the legacy brush. You can switch to the legacy healing brush by checking Preferences/Tools/Use Legacy Healing Algorithm.
- GPU acceleration for certain tasks (healing brush, sharpening, enlarging). Note that many older computers cannot take advantage of these GPU features.
- Focus Mask allows you to create a selection based on areas of the image that are in or out of focus. While I love the concept, this tool creates a hard-edged mask for which I have yet to find a use.
- CS6 Extended Features (video and 3D, which are not in CS6 Standard).
- And the list grows if you’re using a version of Photoshop older than CS6.
Lightroom CC offers the following advantages (vs Lightroom 6):
- Dehaze to remove (or add) fog or haze.
- Boundary Warp to handle irregular edges in stitched panoramas.
- Guided Upright to more easily and accurately straighten photos.
- Local white and black adjustment sliders to control the lightest and darkest parts of the image via brush or gradient tools.
- Mobile versions of Lightroom for iPhone, iPad and Android.
- Synchronize photos across desktops/devices.
- And the list grows if you’re using a version of Lightroom older than 6.
If upgrading doesn’t make sense for you, I believe you have the following options:
- Stick with the old versions and keep waiting. The CC Photography Plan is very popular and unlikely to go away. If you upgrade cameras or decide you want to get new features in the future, you will probably have the same options.
- Get another RAW converter and keep using an old version of Photoshop. This is a good option if you value quality and want to save money. I would recommend either using Adobe’s free DNG Converter or buying DXO Optics Pro.
- Switch to another editing package. Note that you should investigate whether you will additionally need to buy another RAW conversion program, as many alternatives to Photoshop either do not support RAW or do not offer sufficient quality for RAW conversion. I have dabbled with a few commonly-mentioned options, but I find they fall well short of my needs. I cannot endorse any of them at this time. There’s a reason why people say they “Photoshopped” an image, it’s the gold standard.
Those are just my thoughts. I’ve been extremely happy with CC, but everyone’s needs are different. I’d love to hear your comments below if you use another solution (and please comment on the types of photography you do with it). And if you’ve made the switch to CC already, are you happy with the choice you made?
[Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, a small percentage of the sale will be used to help fund the content on this site, but the price you pay remains the same. Please see my ethics statement if you have any questions. I have been personally using Photoshop and Lightroom CC for years and would not endorse any product I do not believe would be highly valuable to my readers.]