Adobe Photoshop CS (v8)

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, January 2004, send e-mail
Published by: Adobe Inc., go to the web site
Requires: Windows 2000 SP3, Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.2.4
MSRP: US$649.00, UK £ 605.13 incl VAT (full version); US$169.00, UK £ 146.88 (upgrade)

I recently attended the Adobe Creative Suite roll-out in London, England and I was treated to a full day of feature showcases for the entire Adobe Creative Suite product line. My main interest in the event was a look at Photoshop CS and was I in for a treat. Unlike recent releases which have really been relatively minor upgrades, Photoshop CS contains major improvements and additions to the feature set alongside broad integration with its digital siblings.

Before I jump into the application itself, I'll mention a feature which Adobe has used to tie together all of its CS tagged products: Version Cue. It is in essence the glue which holds together the entire suite, allowing the users to find, track and control assets to a fine degree. This tool is very powerful and on its own gives anyone who is interested in project and workflow management a great tool for handling assets in graphical projects. Version Cue is currently only available as part of the Creative Suite. The other nice feature common to all applications in the suite is a common interface which makes jumping from application to application very easy and helps to ease the learning curve.

Photoshop CS is impressive. There are many enhancements to this new version which make the decision to upgrade a no-brainer. The package contains 2 CDs and a printed manual, the second CD being a video-based Training Workshop. The Photoshop CS program has many new features so that graphic designers, photographers and web designers alike have plenty to aid and entertain them. The addition of features such as non-square pixel handling and aspect ratio correction are clearly aimed at film and video folks and are also very welcome.

File Browser

This is a substantially improved tool which allows you to quickly preview, tag and sort your images. You can also search for files using metadata and keywords and also add and edit the information and metadata. The Browser also allows you to apply various batch commands and functions to images with greater ease than was previously available. This only covers a small part of its extended capabilities but I'm certainly impressed.

This Browser is also the interface through which the acquisition of Camera RAW files is facilitated. The Camera RAW interface which was previously a separate plug-in purchase has now been integrated and again improved with features to correct for problems like chromatic aberration and vignetting as well as allowing for digital noise reduction. One of the nicest features is that you can now fine tune your parameters for how RAW files are handled with the Browser.

Comprehensive 16-bit Implementation

The enhancement of 16-bit support in CS should give users greater confidence in Photoshop's future as an imaging application. It allows you to edit and retouch with more control in an enhanced color space. There is still room for improvement as not all the functions in Photoshop yet address 16-bit mode but again this indicates future directions.

Larger File Sizes

Photoshop CS has also been enabled to handle files that are an incredibly massive 300,000 pixels in each dimension - the only issue here is memory. We need more RAM addressing; about 1 Terabyte to really use this feature.

Crop & Straighten

This is an automated function for adjusting photos that have been batch scanned. It will automatically separate the scanned photos and straighten them for further editing.

CS PDF Presentation

This feature is nice. Create a slide show or presentation of any images you select in PDF format. The presentation can be defined using a number of selectable transitioning effects. This feature provides a very nice and easy way for making portfolios of your work.

Intelligent Dialog Handling

Much of Photoshop's dialog handling has been enhanced with some intelligence applied to the units of measure, numerical entry fields and the facilitation of custom document presets. One of the nicest new features is the 'scrubbing' method for changing units, which has been ported over from Adobe's video products.

Editable Keyboard Shortcuts

Using this option you can personalize Photoshop to your own preferences and then save and print a summary of your custom shortcuts.

The Filter Gallery

This new tool is quite lovely as it allows you to test several filters at the same time before you apply them. Not all filters work through the gallery, but it is a first step toward a feature lots of Photoshop users have been crying out for: Filter Layers. Let's hope this is the next step, but until then Filter Gallery does the job quite nicely.

Photo Filter

This Image Adjustment filter emulates traditional photographic filters. As with all filters, this one also allows you a great deal of control through the use of adjustment layers.

Fiber Filter

This is a new filter that generates fiber-like textures. It is very well suited to creating organic looking backgrounds.

Lens Blur

A powerful new feature aimed at the digital photographer, which quite nicely emulates a shallow depth of field.


This new feature is specifically designed for stitching together photos for the creation of panoramic images. It works very nicely. The stitching logic is well defined and the results with properly shot photos is excellent.

Shadow/Highlight Correction

This function allows the user to apply adjustments to over or underexposed images. A great tool for restoring lost or blown-out details in these images while also doing a good job of maintaining midtones. I still feel that there is some room for improvement as the images quite often lack a certain punch, but it’s a good start in this direction.

Match Color Command

This function facilitates consistent looks when creating images for fashion spreads and projects which require a unity in look & feel. It works by allowing the user to select a reference image and then applies its values through a control interface to the target image.

Healing Brush & Patch Tool

Both these features have been vastly improved with new capabilities. The Patch Tool facilitates a preview of the sample areas before application for more effective selection of sources. The Healing Brush can now paint onto separate layers allowing for preservation of the original image.

Color Replacement Tool

This tool facilitates the replacement of colors while retaining the original tonal values. I played with this tool for hours and enjoyed how much control I had. It does its job rather well.

Histogram Palette

It's been enhanced, allowing you to interactively view changes to an image's histogram while applying commands like curves or levels.

Text Enhancements

The Text capabilities of CS have been enhanced with support for text on a path and text inside or outside of shapes. This feature is quite simple to use and provides a good deal of flexibility and control for editing the resulting type. There are other enhancements for text in the addressing of Opentype fonts and some of their features.

Layer Comps

This is one of the most impressive new features and one which has been on the wants list for many production artists and designers. You can create and save design variations for clients and recall them for presentations, all within a single Photoshop file. It's a very useful tool which has been a long time coming.

Layer Improvements

More layers are allowed and nested layers are now supported (layers within layers).

Other Enhancements

You can create custom layouts for Picture Packages; there are more templates for the Web Gallery. Contact Sheet has been enhanced to allow for more detailed file information and greater control over output. There are new routines for Texture Extraction, a Color Fill type for your canvas, many more document presets and a savable History Log for tracking changes and modifications. A match zoom feature which allows you to set all loaded images to the same zoom level. Bicubic interpolation has also been improved with the addition of 2 new modes: one designed for enlarging and the other for reduction.

ImageReady CS

This already powerful web tool has not been left untouched. Adobe have added some very powerful features which aid in the integration with Golive and even supports export of animations to Flash SWF files. Import of video files is another great boon to web graphic animation. The ability to preview rollover animations inside ImageReady is another joy to see. All in all, there are many improvements and additions to these already powerful tools. No wonder that they provide a video tutorial disk. It's really needed, as there is so much you will miss if you just start playing (as I did initially).

Cons: Some filters and plug-ins need updating to support 16-bit. Curves need enhancement. Online product activation (I can understand the reasoning behind this but I don't have to like it). Not compatible with older operating systems. My biggest gripe with this and many other programs is that despite quantum leaps in processing power, all seem to be getting slower or not showing relative improvements. This should not be the case. Developers should make more of an effort to optimize performance. To give Adobe their due, some performance enhancements were made, but not enough. Some of these slowdowns can and should be placed largely in the camp of the OS makers, but it is ridiculous that we are still left to sit staring at our monitors watching effects and filters take as long as they do.

Pros: New features abound: Intelligent dialog handling, excellent educational support through video tutorial CD and extensive manual, added benefits to productivity due to major application improvements, extended file browser and improvements to ImageReady.

There is still room for improvement and new features, especially in the area of addressing 16-bit with existing filters and plug-ins. There really is no facility yet for the correction of lens barrel or pincushion distortion, which, if Adobe is trying to court digital photographers, it really should address. The Curves feature could also do with some enhancement as it's still quite primitive at the moment and hasn't really improved in quite a long time. What I would like to see is the ability to save libraries of curves, the addition of new types of curve definition, and a curve clipboard with a built in preview.

It would also be nice to be able to expand or compress existing values in an image so that you could remap luminosity values numerically. The Levels Adjustment goes some way towards addressing this, but not far enough. With this in mind I would like the levels dialog to be much more powerful with the ability to be able to expand an image's tonal mapping beyond what is currently displayed. It would be very much like combining the functionality of the Shadow and Highlight tool with the Levels Dialog. This expanded functionality could also allow the use of more control points for finer adjustments. I'm very happy with most of what has been achieved thus far, and I look forward to the next version with enthusiasm.

Photoshop has for years been the tool of choice for imaging and design professionals. With this new version, many powerful, useful tools and features have been added which make the choice of upgrading from earlier versions easy. The high retail price point of this version will no doubt deter all but the most committed and serious of artists, designers and photographers. We hope Adobe starts offering competitive upgrade incentives to users of rival software. However, the bottom line is that Photoshop CS is indeed worth every penny and a must buy.

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