It's Better Than Ever, Just Don't Tell the Feds
Once upon time there was a company called AT&T, and it was pretty much the only choice for phone service in the US of A. And that was OK because AT&T provided terrific service and their phones never broke - ever. American telephone service was the planet's gold standard and if you traveled the world in the good-old-days you know what I mean.
Then the government got involved, charging AT&T with monopolizing the market, and within a short time AT&T was broken up into a billion little pieces that never quite worked as well as the company they were designed to replace. Adobe's Photoshop is a lot like AT&T in the sense it is the only (serious) dance in town. It works really well and nobody does it better. We can only hope the Feds never catch wind of this.
Adobe Photoshop CS3 ($648.95) is the umpteenth revision of a program that, occasional ditty's aside, only gets better with time, and it reflects a company that listens to the people who spend their work days using it. The format of the interface has been modified to maximize the viewing area of the image(s) you are working on, while allowing you to modify the arrangement of the various editing palates (now called panels) to suit your particular needs. Other big changes in CS3 are refinements of existing editing features along with a few new tricks of its own.
The first change you will note is the tool bar, which is now (sensibly) a long, single column, which allows for more usable image-viewing area. (If by chance you're agoraphobic, the older dual column toolbar is a click away.) In fact, many of the interface changes within CS3 were designed to maximize image-viewing area while displaying the various editing panels in a logical, workflow-friendly format. There's even a "Maximize Screen Mode" that automatically scales your image up as you close or collapse tool panels.
'Camera RAW' features many improvements including a 'Fill Slider' that allows you to finely tweak shadow details, a 'Recovery Slider' for pulling back highlights without clipping image data, as well as a 'Vibrance Slider', that allows you to pump-up color saturation within flatter areas of an image without messing up the saturation levels of the rest of the picture.
Even Curves are easier to use in CS3. 'Parametric Curve Adjuster' incorporates an in-dialog histogram, clipping warnings, and a few other adjustment tools that enable you to adjust curves with a bit more insight than before. If Curves confused you in the past, this new spin on the subject just might make you sit up and shout "ah-Hah!".
'Split Toning', formally found in Adobe's Lightroom, has smartly made its way into CS3 as well, and offers the option of saving custom presets of favored RAW settings for future use. And for those who take details seriously the 'Refine Edges' selection tool panel contains refinements that should make your selective labors less laborious. The most complex of image shapes can be selected or deselected with far less time and effort than with earlier versions of Photoshop.
Though there are numerous imaging enhancements in CS3, perhaps the coolest new feature is the ability to apply RAW-type image enhancements to TIFF and JPEGs. This is a biggie that should prove to be of huge value to most all digital shooters.
Monochrome enthusiasts will be tickled by the inclusion of an awfully good 'Black & White Conversion' tool that features six color sliders (KRGBCM) as well as Tint control for printing neutrally rendered black and white or toned monochrome images.
Aside from the standard version of Photoshop CS3, Adobe is also introducing an advanced version called Photoshop CS3 Extended ($998.95). The extended version is aimed at advanced film, video, and multimedia/web professionals who require advanced 3D and motion tools. With CS3 Extended you can incorporate 3D imagery into 2D composites, use advanced measuring tools for 2D and 3D composite images, as well as easy editing tools for incorporating motion graphics within video layers.
Other notable features newly found in Photoshop CS3 include non-destructive 'Smart Filters' that can be reversed down the pike if you should change your mind along the way, an improved 'Clone & Healing' tool palate that allows you to preview the source of the image you are working on, and a reorganized 'Print Preview' window. If panoramic images are your thing an improved 'Auto Align' makes it easy to combine images. 'Auto Align' also allows for advanced perspective control and makes it extremely easy to merge the best portions of several similar images into a single 'ideal' image.
Adobe Bridge has also been revamped, most notably with the addition of a built-in Loupe for magnifying select areas of the image as well as the ability to compare images side-by-side.
But remember - don't tell the Feds.