capsule review

Adobe Photoshop CS2

At a Glance
  • Adobe Photoshop CS2

    Macworld Rating

Something for everybody: that about sums up what’s new in Adobe Photoshop CS2. The latest version of the world’s top image editor is peppered with improvements for every type of user. Photographers gain the most, but Photoshop CS2 will also bring smiles to film and video producers, print and packaging designers, and Web publishers.

The new version also has interface and automation enhancements that boost productivity. All of this is wrapped within an interface that will feel pleasantly familiar to Photoshop veterans—and occasionally daunting to new users.

Photo Finish

Photoshop CS2’s photography-related enhancements run the gamut from basic to bleeding edge. The new version adds two tools that debuted in Photoshop Elements 3, but which now work on 16-bit images: the Red-Eye tool does a fine job of fixing that common snapshot flaw; and the new Spot Healing Brush tool simplifies retouching by eliminating the need to first specify a source point—just select the tool and click or paint on the flaw. Adobe has also updated the venerable Lens Blur, Lens Flare, and Liquefy filters to work in 16-bit mode, which is critical to artists working with 3-D graphics and to photographers who shoot in Raw format.

Speaking of raw image files, Photoshop CS2 includes Camera Raw 3, a major update to the software that most photographers use to prepare and optimize such images. Camera Raw 3 still works as a plug-in—a design approach that enables Adobe to release frequent updates that support new cameras. One update has already appeared; at press time, the current version was 3.1.

Camera Raw 3 features several improvements, including new tools for straightening and cropping images. A new Curve tab lets you finely adjust image contrast by positioning control points (pictured right). It works much like the Curves dialog box in Photoshop, and because raw images contain a great deal of highlight data, the Curve feature is particularly useful for bringing out highlight detail that might otherwise get discarded during the conversion process.

Camera Raw 3 adds a Curve tab that gives you fine control over contrast. You can choose from a few predefined curves or create a custom one by adding control points and positioning them as desired. The new Filmstrip pane (on the left) makes it easy to apply the same settings to multiple raw files.
(Click image to open full screenshot)

Camera Raw 3 also works within the new Bridge application, bringing some appealing workflow options: you can make image adjustments without even launching Photoshop—Camera Raw saves your adjustments in a queue for processing later. Busy photographers can quickly tweak a set of images and then get back to shooting while Photoshop crunches through the shots.

Photo Filtering

Photographers will also love Photoshop CS2’s new Lens Correction filter, which fixes many common forms of optical image distortion, such as pincushion and barrel distortion. A set of perspective adjustments makes it easy to fix the converging verticals problem, where a building appears to tilt backward (pictured below right). Also new in Photoshop’s filter arsenal are noise-reduction, sharpening, and blurring filters. The Reduce Noise filter cleans up noisy images, such as those shot at high ISO speeds. It provides far more control than the Dust & Scratches filter—including the ability to reduce noise on individual red, green, or blue channels, and to adjust edge details to avoid excessive softening—while still achieving natural-looking results.

The new Smart Sharpen filter goes well beyond the Unsharp Mask filter. You can, for example, control the amount of sharpening applied to highlights and shadows. Of the three new blur filters in Photoshop CS2, the most interesting is Surface Blur, which creates a diffused, soft-focus look. Used sparingly, it’s surprisingly effective at removing noise and film grain. Used with abandon, it creates a dreamy mood that you’ll be seeing in a lot of wedding albums.

With the Lens Correction filter, you can correct common lens flaws and other problems. Here, the vertical perspective has been corrected to fix the common converging verticals problem. The customizable grid aids in alignment tasks.
(Click image to open full screenshot)

Some of Photoshop’s new filters enable you to save filter settings for later—a valuable addition I’d like to see in more filters.

Broaden Your Range

No camera can match the human eye’s ability to take in a scene containing a wide range of dark and bright areas. Photoshop users employ several techniques to deal with this reality, ranging from tweaking shadow and highlight details to processing a raw file using multiple tonality settings, and then combining the resulting files.

Photoshop CS2 adds another option: the HDR Merge command. HDR is short for high dynamic range. HDR photography involves using a tripod-mounted camera to shoot several photos of a scene, each at a different exposure. Run those shots through HDR Merge, and Photoshop blends them to attempt to capture the full tonal range of the original scene. The resulting file is a 32-bit image that you can convert to an 8- or 16-bit image for printing and displaying.

During that conversion process, you have a few options for shoehorning the broad dynamic range of a 32-bit image into the narrower range of an 8- or 16-bit image. But it’s a tricky process, and it’s easy to end up with unnatural-looking photos.

Reality Distortion

One of Photoshop CS2’s flashiest enhancements is the kind of feature you may not use often, but it will save hours of effort when you do. The new Vanishing Point tool lets you draw perspective grids over the flat planes in an image, and then paint, retouch, and perform other modifications within them.

As you paint or move and clone elements within a plane, Photoshop scales them to match the plane’s perspective (pictured below right). Activate the healing options in its dialog box, and Photoshop adjusts the color, texture, and lighting of elements as you move them.

The Vanishing Point tool is a blast to use, and it’s spectacular for architectural applications (moving windows or applying different textures to a building), package design (conforming text or an image to the sides of a box), or general retouching (removing an ugly garden hose from a wooden deck).

Another new reality-distortion tool is the Warp transformation, which lets you warp imagery by dragging Bézier control points. It’s ideal for package design and illustration.

Working Faster and Smarter

The rest of Photoshop CS2’s enhancements may not show up on your images, but they will show up on your wristwatch: several new features let you get more done in less time.

For starters, you can designate a layer or group of layers as a smart object and then transform it nondestructively: move, resize, or duplicate it; change its blend mode or opacity; or apply layer styles. Click on a button in the revamped Layers palette, and the smart object opens for editing in a new window. Make changes and choose Save, and the object is updated.

Smart objects are ideal for creating buttons for Web pages or DVD menus. You can even use smart objects to combine multiple copies of a raw image to increase dynamic range. It’s an updated version of a technique Photoshop users have employed for a while now, and it’s ideal for times when the stiff constraints of HDR shooting—mounting your camera on a tripod and shooting several exposures of a motionless subject—aren’t workable.

The Vanishing Point tool lets you retouch and edit within perspective planes. After drawing the planes, I used the Clone Stamp and Marquee tools to give the lighthouse a second-floor window and a fifth window on the side. I also pasted some text above the doors.
(Click image to open full screenshot)

Unfortunately, you can’t apply filters to smart objects—a capability that would have greatly streamlined many imaging tasks.

Other time-savers in Photoshop CS2 include the ability to customize Photoshop’s menus to remove commands you don’t use and even color-code commands to have them stand out. Photoshop also provides smart alignment guides that appear when you drag one layer near another—much like the alignment guides in Apple’s DVD Studio Pro and Motion.

Video producers will love Photoshop’s new ability to output the current document to a video monitor via FireWire: you can preview how your graphic will look on TV without having to save it and import it into a video-editing program. Adobe hasn’t forgotten about hard copy, either. It has fine-tuned Photoshop CS2’s Print With Preview dialog box, to clarify some of the confounding color-management options.

Adobe’s new Bridge application adds depth and flexibility to Photoshop and reinforces its integration with the other applications in the Creative Suite (see “View from the Bridge”).

Room to Grow—and Learn

For all of the improvements in Photoshop CS2, there’s room for more.

Some of Photoshop’s features and most of its filters still don’t work on 16-bit images. Photoshop CS2 provides broader 16-bit support than its predecessor did, and I hope this trend continues—especially now that filmmakers and photographers are beginning to work with 32-bit images.

Next on my wish list is the ability to apply filters nondestructively, similar to adjustment layers. Being able to sharpen, blur, and apply other filters without affecting actual pixel data would greatly simplify many photographers’ workflows. Smart objects are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go quite far enough.

And finally, Adobe’s documentation is inadequate, especially given Photoshop’s complexity and capabilities. Adobe could take a lesson from Apple, which supplies superb documentation with its professional-level applications.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Photoshop CS2 is a tour de force, packed with innovations that will make your images better and get you home faster. Bridge is far superior to the File Browser; smart objects and all the productivity enhancements are great; the new Lens Correction and Vanishing Point features are dreamy; and video preview is glorious. This is the most significant Photoshop upgrade in quite a while, and if you’re serious about digital imaging, you need it.

[ A Macworld contributing editor since 1984, Jim Heid is the author of The Macintosh iLife ‘05 (Peachpit Press/Avondale Media, 2005) and its companion Web site. ]

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Increased 16-bit support
    • Innovative HDR Merge and Vanishing Point features
    • Excellent productivity and automation enhancements
    • Broad spectrum of improvements

    Cons

    • Still can’t apply filters nondestructively
    • Poor documentation
    • Difficult to learn some features
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