Photoshop CS3

When my wife told me that Adobe was putting out the Adobe Photoshop CS3 beta last Friday a few weeks ago (yes, I know – she knew before me), I had a Pavlovian response. So, I kept checking all last Friday day to see when it would (finally) be ready to download. Then, late in the afternoon, it was there and I grabbed a copy. It should be noted that those without a current CS2 license can only try CS3 for 2 days, what is 30-day limit, but those with an authorized copy of CS2 get it for free until the actual release in the spring. Pretty sweet deal, actually.

Upon first glance, I didn’t see the dramatic interface changes that had been hinted at on some of the rare literature I saw pre-release. Then, I looked a little closer and saw some of the subtle but important changes to the way the workspace is managed. The toolbox can now be shrunk to a single column of only the more common tools. Likewise, the way that the palettes are managed is much more flexible. You can minimize any or all of them to icons, or enlarge them to a usable size. Functional (Mini) palettes now extend out from the main palette in much the same way as they did before in the (now missing) dock. The overall effect is a great amount of flexibility with your workspace.

PHOTOSHOP CS3 - Normal Palettes PHOTOSHOP CS3 - Minimized Palettes PHOTOSHOP CS3 - Open Palettes

New and Enhanced Tools

One of the best new features are the Smart Filters, non-destructive filters that can be edited after they’ve been added – and can have their order moved and blending options altered after they have been applied. Additionally, if you decide that you suddenly don’t want that Guassian blur, you don’t have to lose the last 15 processing steps – simply delete that 1 filter and everything else stays in place. One drawback to these cool filters is that you have to convert your image to use smart filters (basically making it a smart object), which limits many things you can do to it later that AREN’T smart filter related.

Photoshop does have a few other new tricks up its sleeve. Now, in addition to the Magic Wand tool, there is a tool called Quick Select which allows you to select areas of an image even quicker by simply dragging the tool across certain areas of an image. By default, it automatically adds to the previous selection. It’s a step in the right direction, but I haven’t really found a way to control just how sensitive it is, and it tends to grab more than you want. But it’s great for pulling highly-contrasted colors from each other.
Other great new features that I haven’t explored that much are:

  • Auto Align: Allows you to automatically line up similar shots to help with layers (similar to HDR)
  • Auto Blend: Attempts to blend different layers together, say those that you used Auto-Align on previously. A great example is a group shot where you want to combine a couple versions into a single picture.
  • Refine Edge: This tool helps you get a better selection when you use the general selection tools like the Magic Wand or the new Quick Selection tool
  • Zoomify Function: Incorporating a function created by Zoomify, this allows you to take a large hi-res image and automatically create a flash-capable zoom image via Photoshop.

The Bad

Not all is perfect with the new Photoshop – and I don’t even me the new icons. Granted, this is a beta, so lots of things could change or be fixed. But since this is what I had to work with, here goes.


First of all, the install is not small – almost 380MB on Windows and a whopping twice that on Macs. But worse, if you wanted to save some room by doing a custom install, you’re going to be hard-pressed to figure out what you’re doing. There’s more documentation out there to help now, but when I installed this there was little to no extra information about the features you were installing. And the install doesn’t provide ANY help at all in telling you what certain elements are. It turns out that I could have saved about 1/4 of the install if I had known what the heck Adobe Bridge Start Meeting and Adobe Bridge Device Central were when selecting what to install. Aside from that, the install was pretty easy.


Not much has changed in how you work with files – however, in the [fit image] mode, when you open a file, it becomes difficult to switch between multiple open files, even using the windows menu. I kept clicking my file name and it wouldn’t switch to that file. It took CTRL + TAB to allow me to switch between files, which is annoying but not a huge problem. More annoying was that when I opened multiple files from Bridge, I couldn’t see them at all in Photoshop – until I a) chose them from the windows menu or b) changed my workspace. Hugely annoying. Lastly, when working with filters, some of your plugins will not work, which is kind of tough. But I’m sure that will be fixed by final release. However, one thing NOT improved is the Filter Gallery, which still seems slow and fairly clunky. It would benefit from a Bridge-like treatment. A personal peeve is something that I always found annoying about Photoshop was the fact that that you can’t preview your files in a browser without going through the “Save for the Web” dialog. I would love to have a simple View File in Browser command that you could preset to show as a specific file-type (.jpg, .png, etc.).


There are some things that I found somewhat trying while I was using it. For one thing, the program tends to crash quite often – in fact, I had it crash on me four times on the same file before I gave up and switched to CS2 to get back the stability.

Adobe Bridge

One of the best things about the CS3 improvements isn’t even in Photoshop itself. Bridge has been vastly improved over its previous incarnation. Widely regarded as slow and cumbersome, the newer version is sleeker, faster and ultimately more useful. First off, they improved the visual aspects of it to resemble the betas of Lightroom that I’ve used (up through the 3.x versions – I haven’t played with the supposedly-improved v4.x). Unlike Lightroom, whose interface I found nearly unusable, Adobe seems to have found a meld of some of its good features, those of the recently-purchased Raw Shooter and the old Bridge and combined into a satisfying amalgam. The design aspects of the new Bridge are fantastic, but that’s just window-dressing on the improvements under the hood.

Adobe Bridge CS3 - Default View (Metadata)

Aside from noticeable improvements in speed (which are significant), there are better views to choose from: Default, which features a side-nav, a set of adjustable-size thumbnails, a preview pane and metadata/keywords panel; Filmstrip, which offers a larger view of the images and a filmstrip view along the bottom; and Metadata Focus, which focuses on – what else – the metadata and keyword info at the expense of some of the visibility options. And all of the views are remarkably customizable.

Adobe Bridge CS3 - Default View (Keywords) Adobe Bridge CS3 - Filmstrip View Adobe Bridge CS3 - Metadata Focus View


The changes to the look and feel are nice, but you really start getting a good idea of how much better it is when you select some files. Now, when you select an image you get a preview and the loupe tool which allows you to magnify sections of the image to a fantastic degree. And if you select multiple images, all of them show in the preview pane, and each is in turn ‘loupable’. The loupe does need some tweaking – it’s tough to get used to and control – but a major step in the right direction.

Adobe Bridge CS3 - Default View (Mutliple Selected Images) Adobe Bridge CS3 - Filmstrip View (Multiple Selected Images)


Management of your metadata and keywords is [remarkably] better than before. Whereas metadata management was fairly rudimentary before, it’s actually usable and efficient now – the ability to add, remove or edit keywords on multiple images at once is a much-appreciated feature. Previously, trying to edit a single keyword in the metadata of several images resulted in over-writing any existing keywords (essentially losing your previous data). Now, you can non-destructively add, edit or remove it with the keyword list. You can also create permanently stored keywords so you can quickly add common ones to images on the fly.

One small problem is the removal of the Batch Rename function from the right-click menu. It’s still in the main menu, but it was much more convenient to be able to right-click and access it. But, on the flip side, there are a myriad of other new functions in the right-click menu.

Adobe Camera Raw 4.0

Another great improvement is the newest version of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

PHOTOSHOP CS3 - Adobe Camera Raw 4

Much faster than the previous version, the interface also includes some great enhancements, the top two of which are the Recovery and Fill Light tools. Fill Light is another item seemingly brought in from Raw Shooter, and works remarkably well at adding light to shadowy areas without increasing the brightness in the rest of the pictures. Recovery, on the other hand, does almost the opposite, pulling back blown highlights to avoid clipping. Other new/enhanced features include:

  • Black Slider: increase the blacks on the image (obviously), an enhanced version of the old Shadows slider.
  • Vibrance Tool: dynamically increased the saturation of colors on an image, increasing more where colors are shallower and leaving already saturated colors more in balance.
  • Enhanced Curves Control: The new curves tool is fantastic, allowing you to do curves the old way, or now use Parametric Curves that give you more control over elements of the image (highlights, midtones, shadows, blacks) and create a curve from the sliders
  • Split-toning: Allows you to affect tones in certain parts of the picture differently – so you can selectively desaturate your landscape, but keep the sky a silky blue, etc.
  • Preset Tab: You can save presets that can be accessed with 1-click. I haven’t really used this, but studio artists might find this very helpful when going through a lot of similar shots.

However, as much as they have improved ACR 4, it still has a few faults that I hope they fix before final release. Whereas the “Auto” settings were decent – at least decent enough to get a baseline to work with, the new presets seem to be further off from what I would expect. When clicking on the actual “Auto” link, the results are often ghastly – and you can’t recover back to what you started without unless you close ACR and open the image again. The “Default” link is just as bad, but since all it does is zero out most of the sliders, I didn’t exactly expect much.

Final Thoughts

I had thought that CS2 was a marginal upgrade – there were some nice features but there wasn’t a whole lot of major upgrading. But I had still done the upgrade because there were a bunch of ‘nice to have’ features. CS3 actually offers some new functionality that makes the upgrade seem worth it. The upgrades to Bridge are almost worth it alone, but Photoshop has some great ones, too. There are some bugs to be fixed, but as far as betas go, this is a nice one to play with. I don’t know what the future holds for products like Illustrator, InDesign or even the old Macromedia programs, but first signs are promising.

Note: You can see bigger screenshots on my Flickr Adobe Photoshop CS3 Beta Set.


One Response to “Photoshop CS3

  • I think I’ll wait for final release candidate before I make my decision to buy. I’d like to get it on the Mac, but wow that’s a huge install!

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