Beta is the new black for Adobe, and it fits them well. In the 72 hours after its surprise announcement, Adobe reportedly had more than 100,000 downloads of the Intel-native beta of Photoshop CS3. As a result, the Web has been abuzz with first looks and tutorials (Ben Long wrote a CS3 first look for us last Friday.) I have been playing with the beta for a while now, and it’s been a blast. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning with a new toy.

While I’ve been playing, the guys in the Macworld Lab—Jim Galbraith and Brian Chen—have been busy testing Photoshop CS3 on a few Intel Macs and some of the last generation of PowerPC-based Macs. As you would expect, Photoshop CS3 shows some pretty significant speed increases over the Rosetta-emulated CS2 on the Mac Pro and MacBook Pros.

We ran three basic tests:
• Launching Photoshop CS3 with a 50MB file;
• Running our standard suite of 14 scripted tasks on that 50MB file; and
• Running a batch suite that executed three tasks (rotate, resize and save) on 100 stock photo images.

In all the tests. the Intel Mac (Mac Pro and MacBook Pro) beat its corresponding PowerPC cousin (Power Mac G5 and PowerBook G4), although the four PowerPC cores on the Power Mac G5 kept that machine pretty close in overall speed to the newer Mac Pro.

Adobe Photoshop CS2 and CS3 Tested

Adobe Photoshop CS3 Adobe Photoshop CS2 Adobe Photoshop CS3 Adobe Photoshop CS2 Adobe Photoshop CS3 Adobe Photoshop CS2
Mac Pro 2.66GHz Intel Xeon 0:15 0:32 0:31 1:02 2:11 4:04
MacBook Pro 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 15-inch 0:26 0:42 0:51 1:26 2:25 4:42
Power Mac G5 2.5GHz Quad 0:19 0:16 0:45 0:54 2:31 2:22
PowerBook 1.67GHz G4, 15-inch 0:32 0:32 1:43 1:52 4:24 4:14
<Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better


All tests were run on Adobe Photoshop CS3 Beta and Adobe Photoshop CS2 version 9.0.2. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.4.8 with 1GB of RAM, with processor performance set to Highest in the Energy Saver preference pane when applicable. The Startup test involved opening Photoshop with a 50MB file. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. The Batch test executed three automated tasks on 100 stock photos.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Brian Chen

It’s obvious that the real performance benefits of the CS3 beta will be felt strongest among portable users. I’ve definitely noticed an improvement, especially when running operations like complex sharpening tasks on big images. But I’ll be honest when I say that, aside from launch times, Photoshop CS2 was pretty usable for me on my MacBook Pro. But then again, I really wasn’t spending the majority of my imaging time with Photoshop.

The point that I hadn’t been spending that much time in Photoshop has fascinated me as I have used the CS3 beta. I have spent so much time using Apple’s Aperture over the past year that I actually went for long periods of time without using Photoshop at all (I have also been playing quite a bit with Lightroom, another solid Adobe beta). I’ve had conversations with other photographers about whether the rise of products like Aperture and Lightroom—which are much more focused on asset management than deep image manipulation—mean that Photoshop will ultimately become a product with a more limited appeal.

After a few days with the beta, I’m realizing that this really isn’t the right question to ask (I know, it's kind of silly, actually). The question is really, “How are all these applications going to work with each other?” I know that, for the foreseeable future, Photoshop will be a better place for image manipulation beyond simple tonal correction. Add to that the fact that neither Aperture nor Lightroom have any selection tools, and Photoshop remains a must have. But what Aperture and Lightroom have shown us is something that I have been arguing about for years: the real task is managing our digital assets. In the end, for the vast majority of photographers, industrial-strength image manipulation is a secondary (but no less important) function. It does mean, though, that we're not going to pare down the number applications that we use. I'll take that over bloated software any day.

Over the next year, it will be interesting to see what develops as Adobe and Apple continue to revise their key applications. Apple really does need to mold Aperture to fit better as the center of a workflow with Photoshop. It’s satisfactory right now, but it still needs work; sometimes it seems as though Apple would just prefer that Photoshop went away, and that’s not going to happen.

For Adobe, the strengthening of Photoshop, as evidenced by the CS3 beta, raise some issues about their whole Lightroom strategy, especially with the improvements in Bridge CS3 (which is part of the Photoshop beta). Is Lightroom really Bridge, or vice versa? I know the Lightroom team is working hard to produce a really great application for photographers, and I really don’t want a bloated “PhotoLightroom” (excuse me, “Photoshop PhotoLightroom”), but I think there needs to be a bit more depth to Lightroom if it wants to compete with Aperture (I know, I know. It’s beta!).

As I noted in November, this competition in the photo space is a great thing for users. I like the fact that the old warhorse, Photoshop, can still show a few new tricks, and make us realize why it's such an important application in this space.

[Dec. 20, 12:09 p.m.: fixed typo in benchmark chart, adding correct speed of Power Mac G5 Quad system.]

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