Photoshop CS6, now in public beta, has three new blur filters including:
- Tilt-Shift Blur which simulates the kind of depth-of-field effects you get by adjusting a camera’s aperture and focal length
- Iris blur in which focus is maintained on a specified point and increasing blur is applied radially outward from that point
- Field blur which blurs the entire image
Each of these effects includes the option to add bokeh effects including the ability to change the amount of light and its color.
In this post, I’m going to compare the new Photoshop tilt-shift blur with onOne Software’s FocalPoint 2 which provides a similar blur effect.
Photoshop CS6 Tilt-Shift Blur
When you select the tilt-shift blur filter Photoshop displays two pairs of lines and a focus point. These allow you to define where the center of focus is located, where the blur starts in front of and behind this point, and how quickly focus falls off in each case. You can also specify the overall amount of blur and you can rotate the direction of the blur from vertical to horizontal or any angle in between. Most of these parameters are adjusted by clicking and dragging on the appropriate controls overlaid on the image but there is also a pair of sliders to adjust Blur and Distortion.
The adjustment of these parameters is pretty straightforward. The solid lines define where the blur effect starts and the dashed lines define how quickly the blur increases as you move from a solid line toward a dashed line. Shift-dragging prevents the lines from rotating as you drag if that’s your intention. The central bulls-eye target defines the point of zero blur. It can be dragged to any location on the image. The outer circle of the bulls-eye allows you to dial in the overall amount of blur.
Multiple Tilt-Shift Blur Instances
One interesting feature is the ability to apply multiple instances of the tilt-shift filter. This could be useful to provide greater control over the in-focus region. When you add a second instance of the effect the second one overrides the blur area of the first. This means that if you add the second blur instance in an area which is already blurred that second area becomes sharp again near the second bulls-eye. You can then adjust the two sets of lines independently to define the overall areas of sharpness and blur. You can also rotate one or the other (or both) sets of lines to further fine-tune the blur.
It looks to me like the most useful aspect of this multiple-blur-instance feature is to provide tighter control over the in-focus region and how precisely the blur effect falls off outside that region. In most cases, it seems like a single instance of the filter would be sufficient to provide the necessary amount of control but it’s nice to know that you can add more instances if you have special needs for a particular image.
FocalPoint 2 also provides the ability to have multiple in-focus/blur regions and it seemed to me like it works more usefully in this regard.
Bokeh Light Effects
You can add bokeh light effects to any of the three new blur filters, including the tilt-shift filter. Here’s an example of the tilt-shift filter applied with and without bokeh light effects:
Photoshop CS6 Tilt-Shift Blur Effect without Bokeh
Photoshop CS6 Tilt-Shift Blur Effect without Bokeh
Multiple Blur Effects
You can also include any combination of the three blur effects (tilt-shift, iris and field) by selecting the appropriate checkboxes within a single blur panel. However, this doesn’t seem like it would be very useful for common photo editing tasks.
No Smart Filter Capability
Unfortunately, the new blur filters cannot be applied as Smart Filters. Other Photoshop filters can be applied to SmartObjects non-destructively and edited later. This ability to create Smart Filters that can be repeatedly modified is a boon to the creative process. But, at least, in this beta Photoshop does not offer this feature for the three new blur filters.
onOne Software FocalPoint Blur
With the new tilt-shift blur effect in Photoshop PS6 Adobe is playing catch-up to onOne Software’s excellent FocalPoint 2. FocalPoint delivers sophisticated depth-of-field blur features which provide greater control along with an easy-to-use interface. The list of features includes:
- Choice of either a round or a rectangular in-focus area
- An innovative “FocusBug” control which makes it easy to quickly reposition, adjust the size, amount of blur, feathering, rotation and vignetting of the blurred area
- An opacity option which allows you to add a specified amount of blur to the “in-focus” area
- Multiple focal point areas
- Ability to adjust the “optic quality”
- The ability to adjust several parameters related to the “aperture”
- Adjustable highlight bloom—the equivalent of Photoshop CS6’s bokeh lighting effect
- Brightness & contrast adjustments
- Ability to add film grain
- A focus brush to allow manual editing of an opacity mask with the ability to use Wacom tablet pressure sensitivity
- Ability to set the color (black or white) of the vignette effect
The above is an extensive list of options related specifically to the creation of depth-of-field effects and provides a wonderful amount of creative control. The features are pretty intuitive and easy to understand and apply.
FocalPoint has two different shapes for what onOne Software calls the FocusBug which is the on-screen control that you manipulate by clicking and dragging. Before adjusting the FocusBug you’ll want to choose a shape for your bug. The two shapes, round and planar, define the shape of the in-focus and the blurred regions. At first, I assumed that planar really just means rectangular but then I noticed that the grid used to represent the plane narrows from the bottom of the image to the top. I wondered if this was some sort of perspective effect and thought maybe that’s the reason why they called it planar. I switched the FocusBug to round and noticed the same narrowing toward the top so I guess that’s not the reason. Either way, I’m not clear how or why perspective would apply to a blur effect.
But, that aside, once you pick a shape the fun begins when you start tweaking the controls on the FocusBug. In the screen shot below you can see the FocusBug:
In this screen shot I’m adjusting the width by pulling on the control on the right side of the bug. The blue dot shows the point where I’m clicking and the tooltip shows the current size and rotation of the elliptical (round) FocusBug. The grid shows the approximate extents of the in-focus region. This is the area that is completely in focus when feathering is set to 0. Normally, of course, you’ll use a non-zero value for feathering. The grid shown above is only displayed while you’re in the process of making an adjustment. Once you release the mouse button the grid disappears so that you can see your image clearly.
The other lines/dots around the FocusBug provide handles for adjusting the various parameters described in the previous section. These all work very conveniently and make quick work of creating a depth-of-field blur effect exactly as you want it.
I had originally planned to go into more detail about some of the other features listed above. However, while testing I ran into several serious bugs which forced me to reconsider my plans for using FocalPoint, in particular, and Perfect Photo Suite 6 in general. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog I’ve encountered numerous problems with PPS and I was disappointed to find more problems in FocalPoint. As a result, I have shortened this review of FocalPoint 2. A description of some of the problems I experienced follows.
Before I could even get to FocalPoint I ran into problems just getting my image opened properly. In Perfect Photo Suite 6 when you open an image that needs to be rotated from landscape to portrait it’s easy to do—but it chops off the top and bottom of the photo by default. While playing around with the transform tool trying to figure out how to overcome this problem the app crashed without a trace. One second I was in Perfect Photo Suite and the next second I was staring at the Photoshop CS6 window which I had open just below PPS. I was disoriented for a couple of seconds and then I figured out what must have happened and restarted PPS.
Once I was back in PPS I found that you can shift-drag the corners of the image to resize it to fit but then you have the letterbox/pillarbox problem. In an attempt to overcome this I tried manually changing the height and width by typing in the correct values but that didn’t work as I expected. I was getting frustrated and since my main goal here was to compare the blur effects I gave up trying to solve this problem and simply rotated the image in Photoshop before opening in PPS6.
Another problem I encountered was the sort of thing you might expect to see in a V1 alpha product. After starting with the Perfect Photo Suite 6 window maximized I later decided to click the restore button to make the window smaller than full screen. Unfortunately, when I did this I found that the main image window failed to redraw or add scroll bars. This made most of my image inaccessible. (The scroll bar you see in the screen shot below is for the tool panels, not for the photo).
Similarly, if you start with a reduced window and then increase the window size FocalPoint fails to redraw. When I tried working around the problem by clicking the Fit (Zoom) button it did redraw the photo but it did so incorrectly with the result that part of my photo was again inaccessible.
Worst of all, when I clicked the red X box at the top of the FocalPoint window to return to the main Perfect Photo Suite application, FP did not ask if I wanted to apply my changes. It simply exited without doing so.
FocalPoint 2 wins the features contest with Photoshop’s new blur filters, hands down. That makes the product potentially very attractive. Other products in the Perfect Photo Suite have similar attractions. For these reasons, I have really wanted to like the overall Perfect Photo Suite but onOne Software keeps making it hard to do. From the initial serious bugs in the V6 release (see my post from December, 2011) to the ongoing crashes and quirks it keeps throwing up roadblocks that keep me from just getting where I want to go. It’s a real shame because some of these features are unusual or unique and would be very useful.
In contrast, even as beta software Adobe Photoshop CS6 was nearly rock solid. I did encounter a couple of minor glitches but the reliability of a beta of Photoshop is significantly better than a six-month-old release of Perfect Photo Suite 6.
At this point, I feel like I’ve spent too much time trying to work around the problems in Perfect Photo Suite 6. My plan is to leave Perfect Photo Suite 6 installed use it occasionally only specific features that cannot be easily done in Photoshop. Otherwise, I’ll plan on honing my Photoshop skills or trying out other tools.
Photoshop CS6 Beta Resources
Russell Brown’s Top 6 Photoshop CS6 Features on Adobe TV (there’s a number of other Photoshop CS6 videos here, too)