Adobe’s Photoshop CS3 Beta; Adobe Opens Photoshop Beta Testing To CS2 Users

Adobe's rationale for releasing a beta version of their next Photoshop CS3 to the public, at least those who are CS2 licensed users, is that they wanted to give support to Apple users with new Intel processor Macs. This would allow those users to have Photoshop running "native" instead of in emulation mode sooner than later. While this does lend support to Adobe's large Apple Mac graphic base audience it also sounds a bit altruistic, so you can probably assume there are more reasons to this beta approach than first meets the eye. That said, there is now public access to the next Adobe CS3 upgrade, or at the least a work in progress.

The first screen many users will choose to open with CS3 is Bridge to locate and organize files or see what they got in raw shots with their digital camera. At first glance you may think you are in the Lightroom beta rather than CS3 because the browser look is very similar. But Bridge for CS3 is just that, with a new style and rearrangement of images and tools and how they are displayed. There's a new graphic showing camera EXIF settings mimicking a camera's top-side LCD screen. Beyond cute, it is more efficient and, if I may, more intuitive. But for serious pro photographers and those who are just inclined to be prolific shooters, Bridge now has "stacks" and filters to make initial organization of a shoot input somewhat automated and easier. The Lightroom look may also portend what's coming in respect to Adobe's rather vague statement about Photoshop/Lightroom integration--we'll see what that means later, I'm sure.

Of course, graphic industry bloggers were already chattering pro and con from day one, and after reading just a few of their posts I was thoroughly convinced to just work with CS3 to form my own impression. That's easy to do if you have high-speed Internet by going to the download URL at: photoshopcs3/, and have a cup of coffee while several hundred megabytes of installer are transferred. Also, look down further on the Adobe download page and you'll find a place to enter your CS2 serial number to generate a new serial number for your CS3 download. Even with all that you'll still have to activate CS3 once installed.

At first glance the Camera Raw interface looks about the same as before. But the stacked pages of slider adjustments have been almost entirely redesigned. Are these controls better? Well, I didn't like the controls in the first version much and this new version, although different, makes little more sense to me photographically. But I'm sure some photographers will find the plethora of adjustments to their liking. What I did find was that the color from the initial conversion to what was obtained with this latest version of Camera Raw is much cleaner. Hooray!

New Features
When my download was installed, activated, and running Photoshop CS3 on my newest Mac mini (Intel), using it quickly confirmed the advantages of CS3 being programmed to run native on Intel Macs; it was almost half again as fast as CS2. Windows users should not despair, as speed tests have confirmed a significant speed boost there as well, and that says a lot for a beta application that usually gets tweaked for speed just before final release. Contrary to what the web chattering class naysayers have blurted out prematurely, there really are many new and useful features in CS3 that will benefit photographers, although of course the gee-whiz features were, as usual, reserved for those pros doing creative graphics for production. So, to provide a basis of experience to write this First Look, I went to work processing raw files, scanning slides, editing, correcting color, cleaning and retouching, and even creating a composite of three scans to make a single image.

The new CS3 workspace design is both familiar and new. Navigating is now a matter of making specialized choice of workspaces. From the far right menu bar tab "Workspace" I select "What's New in CS3" and in the drop-down menu selections the new items are highlighted in blue. Under Image>Adjustments the first new item is Curves, which I opened and explored. For a long time Curves was not included in Photoshop Elements because Adobe believed it too difficult for inexperienced users. So, I would have thought a new Curves for CS3 would be easier to use. Well, it is a little bit with added interactive graphics, but it is also more elaborate with some really esoteric (to me) functions, at least photographically. What would have made sense to me would have been to combine Shadow/Highlight and Curves and provide intermediate sliders (light and dark mid tones) that would, when adjusted, provide what was happening to the image displayed by the curve graph line. This, I think, would have made Curves easier and Shadow/Highlight more uniquely controllable.

The new features I used were easily discovered as CS3 beta has a drop-down list of Workspace options from the main menu bar, including "What's New in CS3," that marks the new menu items with a bright blue highlight. This new Workspace selection feature also has many other options for identifying different tasks, like retouching. By highlighting just the pertinent menu selections it's easier to find the tools and processes needed for that particular task. One of the new highlighted tools and processes are new Smart Filters that are nondestructive, and work a bit like adjustment layers. They preserve the original pixels in your file so you can go back at any time to the original image.

In the past using Channel Mixing to control the conversion of an RGB color file to make a monochrome (black and white-gray scale) was difficult for most and did not easily produce an ideal translation of color values to ideal black and white tonal values. Now CS3 has a Black and White conversion tool of simple color value sliders that is interactive with the monochrome image on screen, making the conversion process almost foolproof. Also included are two sliders to create any monochrome color tone you might want to print, even the many different versions of what is called Sepia. To make it even easier CS3 has at the top of the dialog a drop-down box of Presets, with predefined settings for many common filter colors used with black and white film, like a yellow filter.