Adobe‘s new Creative Suite 2 is a big, expensive collection of powerful–yet increasingly complicated–applications. The Standard edition ($899) offers Photoshop for image editing, Illustrator for drawing, and InDesign for desktop publishing; the Premium version ($1199) adds GoLive for Web authoring and Acrobat for PDFs; and in both versions a new Bridge asset manager ties everything together. Mastering just one of the applications in CS2 should qualify you for some sort of medal.
We tested a beta version of the entire $1199 CS2 suite, but it’s much too large to cover in detail here, so we’ll concentrate on the granddaddy of the mix: Photoshop. Our reviews of the other applications are also online; see the box at the end of this story.
The latest edition of Photoshop adds some impressive features. Take, for example, its new Vanishing Point tool, which adds powerful perspective correction. To duplicate an object or add text, you draw a grid and then copy and paste from either a selection or another file onto your background image or a new layer. The tool adjusts the object’s dimensions to match the perspective that the grid defines. It also draws on Photoshop’s “healing” feature to adjust color and levels to make the object match its surroundings. Tip: If you want your results to appear on a new layer, you must create that layer and highlight it before you start up Vanishing Point.
A new spot-healing brush acts much like the healing brush introduced in the previous version, but you don’t have to <Alt>-click to set a reference point; instead, it analyzes the area around the tool as you use it. Occasionally, the new brush works magically well, but most times the results are less than compelling. The plain old healing brush (which is still available) gives you more control, and for us it performed the task far better most of the time.
Say No to Noise
Even the best digital cameras can produce images with noise, or color artifacts, so photographers may consider the new Noise Reduction filter worth the cost of upgrading. However, the filter’s controls are insufficiently labeled: For example, it has a ‘Strength’ adjuster and a ‘Reduce color noise’ adjuster, which ought to be the same thing. But it does a phenomenal job of reducing any artifacts in low-light shots. Likewise, the lens-correction filter is great for fixing barrel distortion.
Too Many Tools?
While Adobe has added tools, it could jettison some, as well. For example, the new Smart Sharpen is supposed to work even better than the Unsharp Mask that has become the default sharpening tool–and it does, by letting you control sharpening in shadows independently from sharpening in highlights. So why do we still need Unsharp Mask and three other sharpening items on the menu?
In this version it’s easier to group layers in the layers palette and to apply multiple transformations within layers without linking them. You still can’t change the layer blending mode of a group of layers, however. You can copy a layer style and apply it to other layers, but that style may include attributes you don’t want in other layers.
Yet you can group elements into a “smart object” that you can save and then reuse in other graphics. All the instances of the smart object change when the original one changes, so you don’t have to spend time re-creating multiple versions of the same object–for example, custom bullets or a logo. Vector graphics created in Illustrator are editable (to a point) in Photoshop, and edits in one app appear immediately in the other.
Another new tool lets you combine multiple bracketed images into a single 32-bit High Dynamic Range (HDR) composition to achieve perfect exposure in both shadows and highlights. It sounds fantastic, but in our lab tests the Photoshop beta took forever to process HDRs, and we got better (and quicker) results by setting up the shot as well as we could and then adjusting later with other tools.
Photoshop’s file browser is now history, having been replaced by Bridge, a separate asset-management application that handles files among all the applications in the Creative Suite. It can quickly zoom thumbnails from tiny icons to large previews, and it will even display all the pages of a PDF. Longtime Photoshop users will likely have mixed feelings about Bridge: It’s powerful, but it’s also resource hungry–and it’s one more application running in your system taskbar.
Bridge lets you browse and purchase stock photography online, as well. For the most part, finding and buying new images is easy, except that the tool lacks a needed “search within these results” feature.
Some of the added features in Photoshop CS2 seem a bit experimental, but we have seen other tools become indispensable as Adobe has refined them. They are certainly fun to play around with, and Adobe’s Photoshop-only upgrade price is pretty friendly: $149 to upgrade to the Standard version from any previous version. The stand-alone version sells for $599; upgrading from Creative Suite to CS2 Premium costs $549. It’s still pricey software, but this upgrade gives you plenty for your money, and lots to learn before the next update.
Adobe Systems Creative Suite 2Beta software, not rated Adobe piles on the features, but some still need refinement. Price when reviewed: $899 Standard, $1199 Premium Current prices (if available)
More CS2 Reviews
Adobe’s Creative Suite 2 brings together a handful of powerful programs into an increasingly cohesive package. For a closer look at CS2’s other apps, see our separate reviews. Editor in Chief Harry McCracken conducts an in-depth review of Illustrator CS2. Senior Associate Editor Dennis O’Reilly reviews GoLive CS2 and Adobe Acrobat 7 Pro, and freelancer Katy German dives into InDesign CS2.