First Look
Adobe Photoshop Creative Suite

Photographers, as a group, are far from united in their view of the role Adobe Systems' Photoshop plays in the imaging process. Some believe that many of Photoshop's creative tools are designed for "photographers who don't know how to take pictures correctly" or to fix mistakes. I see Photoshop as just another imaging tool, although a particularly powerful one, for expressing our vision. If you agree, then you're going to love what they've done with the latest version.

File Browser is like "another" program tucked inside Photoshop, and Adobe likes to characterize the newly expanded and improved version as an "on-screen light box" but the description is far from accurate. You cannot, for example, move the images around like slides on a light table, but you can sort, compare, and flag images without opening them and Photoshop CS now displays high quality previews instead of the mostly useless, highly pixelized ones found in Photoshop 7.01's File Browser. Exif metadata, some of which can even be edited, is also visible.

All of the comments that I make here are based on working with a late, but by no means final version of Photoshop. It was code-named "Dark Matter" but the official name looks like it will be Adobe Photoshop CS. The "CS" stands for "Creative Suite" and hints at an even stronger integration between all of Adobe's graphics software in the future. I tested the Mac OS X version and this new product will only be available for Windows XP and 2000 and Mac OS X 10.2.4 and later. Users of older operating systems have to ask if they feel the productivity increases are worth it. The short answer is that they are and, besides, don't you want to get the maximum performance from your imaging software?

Like early versions, Photoshop CS includes ImageReady and if you're like most photographers I know, you've never tried it. Now, one of my favorite Photoshop features, Save for Web, is "Powered by ImageReady" and there's a button in the lower right-hand corner of the interface to take you to the newly updated ImageReady.

Productivity And A Whole Lot More
The first thing I noticed about this beta version was how fast it loads. Users of all previous versions of Photoshop--Mac OS or Windows--have sat there slack-jawed while the interminable program loads, especially if you have more than a few plug-ins installed. (OK, I plead guilty to that one.) Even on my older Power Mac G4, Photoshop CS loads right now. I like that. And speaking of plug-ins, every one that I had installed, and that's quite a few, worked perfectly, requiring none of the conflict-avoiding strategies required by Photoshop 7.01 to make them peacefully coexist.

One new feature is the Photo Filter tool that is not found in the Filters menu where you might expect it. Instead it's tucked away under Image>Adjustments>Photo Filter, which might be corrected but I don't think so. It not only gives you access to "real" filters, but gives you control over the intensity, allowing the application of real world filters in a better than real world way. The set of filters also includes an "underwater" filter to remove some of the weird colors that plague diver's photographs. Here, an 85 filter is being used to warm up an afternoon shot of Classic American cars.

Tools Rule
This new version at last achieves parity with Photoshop Elements by including a way-cool redeye tool. It's called the Color Replacement Tool and is tucked in with the Healing Brush, which, like many tools in CS, has been expanded and improved. In addition to redeye removal, you can change the color for any part of an image while maintaining that area's original texture and shading. PhotoMerge, one of my favorite tools found in Elements, has been updated, improved, and turned into a professional tool for Photoshop CS, making it possible to paste together large image files, not the tiny ones Elements forces you to use, to produce really big panoramas. Also stolen from Elements is Filter Gallery, a one-stop shopping dialog box that lets you apply and preview the images, as well as stack them on top of one another, like adding multiple filters to a Cokin filter holder, to create all-new effects.

If there is one "secret weapon" in the program, it is shadow/Highlight(Image>Adjustments>Shadow/
Highlight) and has enabled me to create images that were otherwise impossible. Unlike similar shadow tools that blow out the highlights and emphasize noise in the shadows, Photoshop CS's Shadow/Highlight keeps the noise where it is, and when shot at a low ISO with some cameras, that means there isn't any. Shadow/Highlight is an indispensable tool.

Interface Upgrades
Like PhotoMerge, the Photoshop CS version is slicker, more complete, and has more capabilities. Adobe has also raised the bar by improving the interface on each of its existing filters by adding subtle improvements, like the Movie option in Lens Flare, to make them all more capable and versatile. All of the third-party plug-in manufacturers are going to have to work hard to beat what's built-in.

Raw Compatibility
Raw fans rejoice! All of Photoshop CS's main features, not just some of them as before, are 16-bit compatible. That includes layers, painting, text, and some, but not all, at least as of this writing, filters. The same is true for third-party filters, some but not all are 16-bit compatible to start with, but my guess is that this new version will light a fire under the more responsive companies. On top of that, the formerly extra cost, Camera Raw plug-in is part of Photoshop CS and has been improved with a simplified, tabbed interface (no more long confusing lists of sliders) that also makes you more productive. Camera Raw now includes new color calibration controls, batch processing when used with the expanded File Browser function along with support for "major digital cameras." (That'll help you find where you stand with that DiGiMate 20XL bought on eBay.)

The new Camera Raw plug-in is built into Photoshop CS and includes not just the stuff you might think but sliders for Chromatic Aberration, Vignetting, Noise, and so much more. And the histogram is constantly visible, not just plunked down on top of the image. Camera Raw's a true "Power Tool" now.

Bokeh Filter, Too
Got bokeh? That's a Japanese word that describes how out of focus areas are rendered. Purists value lenses that give good bokeh, and typically dislike lenses, especially mirror lenses with their donut shaped highlights. These perfectionists will pull their hair out when they learn that Photoshop CS's Lens Blur (Filter>Blur>Lens Blur) lets you control highlights and out of focus areas by taking on the lens aperture's shape, and this filter gives you plenty to choose from with lots of sliders to yank. Like all filters, Lens Blur can be applied to an entire image or selection. I can hear the photo forum chats on this one: "Is there nothing sacred?"

Borrowing, but improving the filter tools in Photoshop Elements 2.0, Filter Gallery gives you access to all of Photoshop CS's built-in filters in one location and lets you stack filters for combined effects in the menu area in the lower right-hand corner.

Productivity Plus
Other productivity enhancements include the ability to simultaneously view an image and its histogram; apply the color scheme from one image to another or even one layer to another; and you can use the new Crop and Straighten tool to digitize multiple images on your flat-bed scanner at the same time and automatically straighten and save each one as a separate file. Also built into the program is the ability to send your image files directly to online printing and sharing services, but that seems more like a feature for Elements instead of Adobe's flagship product.

On the surface, Photoshop CS looks similar to the last version, but there are many differences that include tools that make photographers, web designers, and graphic artists more productive and creative at the same time. I think that this is the most significant upgrade in Photoshop's product life.

Text Upgrade
Photoshop has moved from miserable text handling to almost mediocre with 7.01, and CS threatens to toss out this one Achilles' heel in the program for people who work with words as well as pictures. Now you can place text on a path or inside a shape for fetching typographic designs. There's also lots of stuff for graphic designers, videographers and filmmakers, and web professionals, not just photographers, but you'll need to read Web Daily or whatever to find out about them.

OK, so what didn't I like? There were a few things but since this was not even a "Golden Beta" I passed them along to the development team to see if they could fix them. Photoshop CS has far too many improvements and such capable performance even on average performing computers for me to beat up on it. I'll leave it to the players who are batting "cleanup" to point out any failings--if they can find them.

If you wanna join Cap'n Ahab in his quest to harpoon a perfect photograph--in camera--be my guest, but for the rest of us more pragmatic imagers, there's Photoshop CS.

For more information, visit the Adobe Systems Inc. website at