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Adobe Photoshop CS3 Software Review

At last a version of the mighty editing program that won’t stick its nose up to Windows Vista. Duncan Evans rubs his hands with glee.

|  Adobe Photoshop CS3 in Adobe Photoshop
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Photoshop CS3 RAW import
The RAW import functions have been expanded and cater for all main brands.

The problems of Creative Suite 2 and Vista have been well documented, and while the decision not to issue a patch because CS3 was on the way attracted no little criticism, that Vista-friendly version is now out. It's available on its own or as part of five different varieties of the Creative Suite, and can be purchased in regular or Extended flavours. The Extended version is something of a mishmash of ideas with bits for video editors, without transgressing into Premiere territory, and other elements for image scientists.


Photoshop CS3 System requirements:

  • Intel Pentium 4, Intel Centrino, Intel Xeon, or Intel Core Duo (or compatible) processor
  • Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise (certified for 32-bit editions)
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 64MB of video RAM
  • 1.5GB of available hard-disk space (additional free space required during installation)
  • 1,024x768 monitor resolution with 16-bit video card
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • QuickTime 7 software required for multimedia features
  • Internet or phone connection required for product activation

So what's new in the standard version then? Well there's a choice of workspaces which highlights some features, hides others, and generally doesn't really help. What's better is to set the workspace up how you like and save that. Palettes are better able to dock with each other and the icon palette, but whereas a palette can be dragged against the icon palette and it automatically docks there, it can't just be dragged off again.

As far as new tools go, anyone looking big improvements over CS2 are in for a disappointment. The Curves tool has been expanded so that there is a histogram overlaid on the display, but this isn't updated as you manipulate the curve. Brightness/Contrast gets a few more options as well.

There's better support for RAW, so all your standard formats from the major manufacturers are covered. These offer a range of tweaks on opening the image from exposure and brightness/contrast to how clarity. There's the distinct suspicion that these are just standard tools available elsewhere in the program anyway. The clarity option produces the halo effect of the Unsharp Mask, but doesn't give the fine control the full tool uses.

Photoshop CS3 Black and white filter
The Black and White filter adds extra colours to enable fine tuning of mono images.

Black and white winner
Filter-wise the Channel Mixer has some new presets, but the new Black and White tool is an extended version of Channel Mixer so that it provides three primary and three secondary colour channels to manipulate. There is a modest range of presets here as well, but the ability to separate yellow out from the red and green channels can make very fine and precise mono adjustments possible. It's certainly the first port of call for anyone converting to mono now. Just like Shadows/Highlights was the must-have tool in CS2, Black and White is a must-have here. The other new tool is the Quick Selection, which is basically a Magic Wand based around edges. Frankly, it's not great.


Photoshop CS3 Smart objects
Smart filters can be undone at any point when applied to smart objects.

Now, you may have made the acquaintance of smart objects previously, well get ready for smart filters and smart object layers. Other programs have touted object-based layering around for years and now Adobe have decided to introduce that here more fully. Layers can be turned into objects, or objects created on their own layers. When they have been you can use almost any filter on them from the existing batch, as a smart filter. This means that the effect, and they can be stacked so that there are lots of them, is adjustable and undoable. It's like the old adjustment layers, but massively expanded. The upside of this is that you can change your mind and remove certain filter effects whenever you like without having to step back through the history. The downside is that it makes the layer system more complex.

Other enhancements for you digital photographers come in the form enhanced Adobe Bridge and better panoramic stitching. Batch conversion options still aren't as fast and useful as they could be, but the other standout features of CS3 is that HDR support is improved and the program can now work with 32-bit images as well as save them.

So, the smart filter options are good, adds flexibility, but what they can do isn't exactly new. Much of everything else is a service tweak and really doesn't justify a whole new version. Certainly for Vista users, after the debacle over CS2, then this is an essential upgrade, and if you're on CS1 or PS7 then it is a measurable advancement and worth an upgrade as well. If you're happy using CS2 and aren't into HDR, where the 32-bit processing really will make a difference, then it's harder to find a compelling reason to upgrade at this point.


Highly recommended

Adobe Photoshop CS3 plus points:
Black and White filter
Expanded Curves
Smart filters and objects
Customisable interface
All your regular PS tools and filters
32-bit support across most functions
Better HDR processing
Increase RAW support

Adobe Photoshop CS3 minus points:
Interface not as interactive as it could be
Objects make layers more complex
Only one new filter and one tool
Painting tools still rubbish
Quick selection not much use





You can buy the Mac or Windows version of Adobe Photoshop CS3 for £569 or upgrade to CS3 from PS7, CS1 or 2, for £159. All available from your super ePHOTOzine shop here.



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