Today, Adobe announced the pre-release of Adobe Creative Suite 6, their newest version of their digital creative applications, including Photoshop, InDesign, and Dreamweaver (all products I use often). The new thing about this release, however, is Adobe’s “Creative Cloud.” For a monthly subscription price, you can get access to everything Adobe offers, plus some options not available in the stand-alone software packages.
If you are a Photoshop user, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of upgrading (Adobe Buying Guide). I know many photographers who still use Photoshop CS3 and are happy. With every release, Adobe offers many new features that will appeal to some, but not others. For example, if you rely on Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) via Bridge or Photoshop, then you sometimes need to upgrade to get compatibility with current cameras (sigh). The Nikon D4 and D800, for example, are supported in ACR 6.7 (currently in release candidate beta), but if you want to use the new 2012 processing engine (available in Lightroom 4), you’ll need ACR 7 in Photoshop CS6. Photoshop CS6 includes some new content-aware features (useful if you do heavy cloning and retouching), auto-saves, and new blur tools.
As a creative photographer, Photoshop offers a few significant advantages that I really can’t get in other products (Lightroom/Aperture/Capture NX2):
- Layers/ Layer Masks
- Smart Objects (lets you use plug-ins and other effects non-destructively)
- Comprehensive retouching tools (clone/healing/patch) with content-aware fill options.
- Unique lighting and blur tools
- Perspective Correction
Sure, there’s a ton of other things you can do in Photoshop (like text/borders), but from a strict photography point of view, the above list are things that I am fundamentally unable to do in the mainstream image processing/management applications like Lightroom or Aperture.
Cost of Ownership: Cloud vs. Stand-alone Apps
The other thing to consider is pricing. Typically, Adobe have released major increments roughly every two years. I upgraded to Design Premium CS5 in 2010, and it cost me about $600. This go-round, that same upgrade will run $749 (I chose not to upgrade to CS5.5 last year). When you purchase the stand-alone product or bundle, you get a software license that lets you use the application for as long as you wish, provided that your computer is capable of running it.
New this year is the option of a subscription-based model for individual products, or a complete suite. Called the Adobe Creative Cloud, you can get everything in the Adobe Creative Suite, plus some extras, for $49.99/month. You can also get subscriptions to individual products; Photoshop CS6 Standard will run $19.99/month (if you purchase a 12-month subscription).
With the myriad of options, what should you choose? Let’s take a look at the five-year cost of ownership for several of these packages, with the assumption that you’re purchasing for the first time this year, and will make one “full version” upgrade in two years. I’m also going to assume that the 2014 upgrade pricing (CS7?) will be the same as this year (unlikely).
What you can see in this table is that the Adobe Creative Cloud is a great value over five years, if you intend on owning every Adobe product. Plus, the Cloud offers some extra features, like cloud storage and sharing, that you can’t get with the other products as-is. However, if you are just using Photoshop Standard, you’ll save about $300 assuming that you get the $19.99 annual subscription rate over that time (the month to-month plan is $24.99). In my view, the subscription plan benefits small businesses who need to use one or more of these products on a short term or project basis; as you don’t need to spend heavily on software that will be sitting around idle between jobs.
Should you upgrade?
The comparison above makes the assumption that you’ll be upgrading every two years. Adobe have typically been fairly generous with their upgrade pricing policy, although they did come under fire earlier this year for trying to exclude versions earlier than CS5 from the discounted price. At least for now, you can still qualify for discounted pricing if you own Photoshop CS3… which came out in 2007. In fact, you can still get Photoshop Standard CS6 as a $199 upgrade from Photoshop CS3. That could spread your software costs out significantly, especially if you don’t rely on the new features.