capsule review

Adobe Photoshop CS

At a Glance
  • Adobe Photoshop CS

    Macworld Rating

At the core of Adobe's Creative Suite strategy is the unity, integration, and simultaneous release of its major design applications. Photoshop CS (version 8) is a broad and deep upgrade to the company's anchor image editor. Despite its low-key presentation -- its interface is almost the same as version 7's -- it has amazing new tools for Photoshop's traditional users. New features, subtly sprinkled throughout the program, dramatically enhance those users' capabilities and control over their images. Photographers, artists, graphic designers, Web designers, and video specialists will see significant improvements in their images and in the imaging process, but there's no burdensome learning curve.

Powerful New Tools

In version 7, Photoshop's File Browser was an innovative central repository for images, but it was a mere palette. The new File Browser is a self-contained image-management system with swift, flexible controls and its own menus. It lets you preview, search, sort, and flag images. You can edit metadata and keywords for a single image or across images, and you can create metadata templates to apply to groups of images in a single click. You can adjust the size of thumbnails and previews, as well as drag and drop images around the window in light-box fashion.

The new Histogram palette's improvements are a revelation. It shows you tonal and color information for an image, a layer, or a selection, and it shows you channels in color with a dynamic view of how filters, levels, curves, and other adjustments will affect tonal range and bit depth. When you're making certain adjustments, the old histogram appears in gray behind the current histogram so you can see what's happening to your image. While the histogram appears to function in real time, it actually uses the image cache to produce comparative views. A click on the Cached Data Warning icon or the Uncached Refresh button will display the real update of all pixels in the image.

Much-needed new interpolation controls -- Bicubic Smoother (for upsampling) and Bicubic Sharper (for downsampling) -- improve the detail of resampled images.

In the Darkroom

Photoshop's support for 16-bit images will help with editing and color-correction tasks involving layers, brushes, text, effects filters, shapes, and drawing and painting tools. Video-oriented users will like this feature for its rich color-palette preservation. This version of Photoshop raises the image-size limit, from 30,000 by 30,000 pixels and 24 channels per file to 300,000 by 300,000 pixels and 56 channels per file. To accommodate such heft, Adobe has also introduced a large-image file format, PSB. However, PSB is not backward compatible with earlier versions of Photoshop.

Buried inconspicuously in the Adjustments menu is the miraculous Shadow/Highlight command. With its multifaceted controls, you can improve contrast while preserving midtone balance; it's a cure-all for horrendous exposures. Its default settings can do more to fix over- or underexposed parts of an image than hours of tinkering with masks and curves. The Match Color command, another addition, provides an intuitive method for giving photos shot under different lighting conditions consistent color, or for achieving artistic effects by blending colors and textures between images.

Now that Photoshop has a new spectrum of modifiable photo-filter adjustments, it's hard to figure out why Adobe took so long to add them. The package includes two versions of warming and cooling filters, and you can create your own filters with the color picker, or adjust filter density.

Tucked inside the Blur submenu, under the Filters menu, is the new Lens Blur command. Used directly on an image or in an alpha channel, it simulates genuine optical blurring and offers a natural-looking way to alter depth of field.

Adobe has built Camera Raw, previously a plug-in, directly into Photoshop CS. This feature will help a wide spectrum of shooters by giving them access to their digital negatives -- a camera's proprietary raw image format. The Camera Raw feature supports many camera brands. You can also manipulate and adjust settings such as color calibration, chromatic aberration, and vignetting across multiple images in the File Browser. Camera Raw is not for everyone, but it gives unparalleled control to people who need it, especially professional photographers who can now apply custom Camera Raw settings to selected images before batch processing.

Inspirational Elements

Several new Photoshop features have already debuted in Photoshop Elements, Adobe's consumer imaging program. A new Filter Gallery features a series of thumbnails that illustrate various effects. The large preview window is especially welcome, as is the ability to view stacked effects without having to fly blind inside version 7's small filter previews. This gallery is snappy, responsive, and conducive to experimentation. Too bad it doesn't include all the filters. But then, too bad there aren't more filters -- period. It's time for new ones.

Other Elements-inspired additions include red-eye removal as part of a new Color Replacement tool, and Photomerge, a powerful, easy-to-use panorama tool.

Designer Workflow

Photoshop's new Layer Comp palette is a simple but sophisticated solution for presenting, within a single file, different design versions to clients. A separate palette combines the layers of each presentation and lets you view them or export them to a Web gallery or a PDF presentation. PDF Presentation is another intuitive new utility, complete with professional transitions, for designers who need a program- and platform-agnostic way to showcase their work. The Layers palette, too, has undergone a metamorphosis. You can now nest layer sets as deep as five layers.

This version also includes a straightforward text-on-a-path feature and customizable keyboard shortcuts.

For Web designers, ImageReady sports interface updates such as the improved selection and handling of multiple objects. Adobe replaced the old Rollovers palette with a slick Web Content palette that can create remote rollovers via a targeted click-and-drag interface. It's now easy to output animations to Flash format, or import QuickTime movies as single images and then export them as a QuickTime movie.

Video pros will applaud Photoshop's support for nonsquare pixels. Using this feature, which is as easy as choosing from the Pixel Aspect Ratio pull-down menu, you can view accurate video previews, complete with preset standard video sizes and automatic action and title-safe guides.

One disappointment is the electronic guide. The lack of context-sensitive help means that when you have a question, you must search the general menu, which can involve time-consuming clicking. And after upgrading to OS X 10.3 from Jaguar, we could no longer open files with a double click, but reinstalling the program solved it.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Photoshop CS is an awesome upgrade for every type of Photoshop user. Its slick, user-friendly new features make a huge difference in both productivity and image quality. This version is too good to pass up.

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To determine whether the functionality -- and cost -- of the full Adobe Creative Suite is right for you, read " It Doesn't Always Add Up."

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Visually informative Histogram palette
    • Layer Comp feature makes it easy to show clients different versions of files
    • Amazing Shadow/Highlight tool
    • Import of QuickTime movies as single images in ImageReady
    • Illustrated Filter Gallery
    • Support for nonsquare video pixels
    • Significantly improved File Browser
    • Easy Flash export in ImageReady

    Cons

    • May need to reinstall it after upgrading to Panther
    • Same old filter set
    • No context-sensitive help
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