Adobe’s Creative Suite 2

In their own language, Adobe claims that Creative Suite is the "powerhouse design environment that revolutionized print and web workflows for creative professionals worldwide." The words that define how Adobe relates their Creative Suite to users is "creative professionals." We can safely assume Adobe is primarily referring to all those who work producing much of modern media's content for print and Internet reproduction and distribution. Photoshop, however, has been and still remains the dominant application for editing and processing digital photographic images. It is a fact, just as certain makes and models of cameras are the overwhelming choice of professional photographers. What I am trying to suggest is that there are potential advantages in using top-rated products made with professionals in mind, although some enthusiasts may or may not be favored by how these products are conceived and designed by the manufacturer.

With the first Creative Suite there was a move by Adobe toward integrating their many graphic applications into one cross-functional, consistent package. Now CS2 takes that functional integration much further on several fronts, such as making the applications in the Suite capable of being synchronized in a single color management scheme. That results in a consistency of color quality across applications like Photoshop, Acrobat, InDesign, and Illustrator. In addition, an added module that is part of the Suite (and an included part of Photoshop CS2, sold separately) is Bridge, a file browser that supports all kinds of graphic format files with extensive useful and independent capabilities of its own. With enthusiasts and professionals now creating documents for print, digital photo collections for presentation and distribution, and websites, Photoshop CS2's value is sometimes further enhanced by using it with other applications like InDesign and GoLive, all part of the full Creative Suite.

Adobe Bridge is much more than a thumbnail browser, but as such does that job exceedingly well. It also provides access to metadata information embedded in files, including the pertinent data describing the image characteristics of the file. It allows adding data significant to the individual photographer and to enhance search and management functions. For digital camera users making raw files the Bridge capability of generating thumbnails from raw formats directly without processing and opening the files provides a convenient and efficient way to post-shoot edit for content and then process a selection of new files as a batch.
All Photos © 2005, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

What's New In Adobe Photoshop CS2?
Photoshop is, as computer applications go, a quite mature product. It is in Version 9.0, each version a major version upgrade. It is a comprehensive program that is fully capable of carrying out its purpose. It fulfills a wide range of image creation and editing tasks and delivers more than satisfying results to a host of different users, from basic image processing to expert powerhouse demands. So, should one really expect a very different Photoshop in this upgrade? Personally, I would prefer that Adobe didn't change much of the core application functions, at least in how I use it everyday. I can't imagine how their doing so would be to anyone's benefit. In the same breath, however, there do remain some features which have continued to need improvement for as long as I have used the product, which began with Version 3.0, or thereabouts.

In addition to improved functionality and added camera support, Camera Raw in Photoshop CS2 provides support for adjusting the parameters for a particular image and then applying those same adjustment settings to a selected batch of raw files for background processing. It also saves the Camera Raw configuration so it may be applied to additional individual images or batches of raw files.

In this latest version there have been considerable improvements of many functions and a surprising number of entirely new features. Some of the new advantages I find most valuable came to my attention not because Adobe brought them to my attention in the reams of PR support documents, but by just setting up and using the application. The first one I noticed, because it is a preference I always set before using Photoshop after installation, involves the on-screen cursor preference choices, which now include a couple more levels of accuracy. You can now establish the center of the brush action with a small cross, and a more precise perimeter of the brush effect. This makes using a brush like the Rubber Stamp to clone image data far easier and more accurate.

The other is at the other end of the image process workflow--the Print With Preview dialog in the Color Management section. Near the bottom of the window there is another choice provided--Color Handling--that allows switching between "Let Photoshop Determine Colors" and allowing the printer driver to assume that task. And next to that drop-down menu is an exclamation mark, which, with the mouse cursor over it, places a reminder message at the bottom. This advises users to turn off the printer's color control by selecting "No Color Adjustment" in the driver's Print dialog when the "Let Photoshop" workflow is chosen. Although this does not really change workflow functioning, it does assist users to set their choices correctly when they want Photoshop to produce color managed printing. And, in that regard, using Epson's new R2400 printer, the color matching and print quality was noticeably superior to past experiences.

Lens Correction is a new added filter in Photoshop CS2 that opens an image in a new dialog window with an adjustable reference grid and slider controls to easily adjust for several types of distortion, including Chromatic Aberration and Vignetting as well as Transform functions to correct for both vertical and horizontal perspective.

Adobe Bridge is much more than a graphic file browser made into a stand-alone application. Besides having a direct functional link to all of the Creative Suite applications, it supports a number of capabilities and processes that can be applied to both individual files and batches of files directly from Bridge. First of all, beyond the browser function, Bridge has much of the functionality of what is often called an asset management application. It is capable of recording, organizing, and searching text and numerical information (metadata) associated with stored files, even that located on external drives and media like CDs and DVDs (read only). Besides providing the ability to attach new data to files and manage them, Bridge also provides a highly accessible viewer for initial editing functions based on content. At the bottom right are buttons so the user can toggle through several presentation modes, including a page of thumbnails adjustable to size, a filmstrip mode, and an enlarged view of a single image, sufficient for a photographer to see the facial expressions in a series of portraits without opening the image in Photoshop. This latter capability is particularly significant to digital camera users reviewing files saved in raw format. With Bridge a photographer can edit the images from a shoot, make critical selections on the basis of content, and then highlight the selection to be batch processed by Camera Raw, outputting the results of the processing as a set of .TIF or .PSD files ready to use, without ever opening Photoshop.

The new Smart Sharpen filter provides more effective and easier user control, while reducing the potential for creating artifacts associated with Unsharp Masking. In addition, the dialog's advanced features support limiting sharpening with slider adjustments to protect highlights/shadows from sharpening and enhancing noise like film grain.

Camera Raw processing is not the only edit/process function which can be initiated directly from Bridge. You can also batch re-name files, batch process using Photoshop functions and processes, produce Contact Sheets from selected files, merge a selected set of bracketed exposures to HDR, create a PDF Presentation from a selection of files, PhotoMerge, print Picture Packages from selected files, or create a Web Photo Gallery, all from Bridge without opening Photoshop.

Although digital camera users will probably find that the most valuable feature is the new Bridge, there is a serious flaw. When Bridge makes thumbnails of raw camera files it applies auto-correction to the thumbnail image generation, including exposure correction. So, if you did a set of takes bracketed at different exposure levels, the thumbnails may all look identical or close to it so there is no perceptual way to choose which of the bracketed shots is the best one. So I ask, Adobe, does your team of programmers ever talk to real photographers?

Adobe's Photoshop takes digital imaging beyond the capabilities of photography with 32-bit HDR. This new facility allows using bracketed exposures of the same still subject (using a tripod) to expand the dynamic range in a blend of the bracketed frames into a 32-bit file. Detail can now be reproduced across a brightness range neither film nor digital sensors could encompass without burning out highlights or losing detail in shadows.

As I delved deeper into this I found that although not in Bridge itself, there is a switch to turn off the auto-adjustment processing. A user has to select a raw file and launch Camera Raw. Then at the top of the dialog on the right there is a Camera Setting window which, in default mode, reads: [Camera Raw Defaults]. To the right of that is an arrow, which when clicked opens a dialog menu. About halfway down the menu is: Use Auto Adjustments. If you uncheck this option and then go down and click on "Reset Camera Raw Defaults," the next time Camera Raw is launched the four Auto Adjust functions will be off with no check mark in the associated boxes. In addition, thumbnails of Camera Raw files in Bridge will be generated without any exposure or other auto-adjustment, so a bracketed series of exposures will actually reflect the different exposures of each shot. Why Adobe chose to put the auto-adjust on/off switch in "Camera Settings" in Camera Raw makes my head itch. I wonder why it is so hidden rather than being in General Preferences.

Vanishing Point is like a small application that is a satellite to Photoshop. But unlike the standard work space in Photoshop, Vanishing Point establishes a surface structure that follows the perspective suggested by the underlying image and defined by the user. Then all of the edit actions applied to the image within those perspective planes assumes the same perspective as the established plane. Thus, an image object pasted into a defined plane will be shaped and sized to conform to the defined perspective of the plane and will be consistent with the perspective of the underlying image.

Some of the new and improved features are maybe less sensational, but they may also be the most useful and valuable. One is that Adobe has extended 16-bit support to more of its filters. Another is the addition of Smart Sharpen to the Filters menu. Smart Sharpen produces better sharpening of image detail while not exaggerating apparent graininess, as well as providing a selection between motion, lens, and Gaussian blur, which in the end produces a more effective sharpening. In addition, Smart Sharpen now provides a selectivity of effects relative to highlights and shadows. This helps avoid adjustments that exaggerate shadow noise, for example. A related factor, with digital camera files, is that noise can also be greater if high ISO settings are used. Photoshop now deals with these problems with a new Noise Reduction filter.