Photoshop CS3 Extended Review

As Macworld has covered the Photoshop CS3 beta in depth already – and many readers probably have had a chance to play with it – here, we’ll concentrate more on the features of the Extended version, and give our verdict based on these new features of Photoshop CS3 Extended.

Vanishing point, one of the stand-out offerings of Photoshop CS2, has been revamped to make it more flexible. In CS3, you are no longer restricted to adding planes at 90-degree angles. Instead it’s possible to create multiple planes in any image, connected at any angle. As well as context-sensitive brush strokes, Vanishing Point can also heal and clone as you paint over the planes. Extended includes two additional features in Vanishing Point that are designed for specialist designers, especially in the CAD and product design markets: the ability to measure in perspective and the ability to export created perspective grids as 3D models in formats like DXF or 3DS. Additionally, you can export grids as a 3D model in the VPE format for animation in After Effects CS3 or, by using the Return 3D Layer to Photoshop command, open it in a new 3D document directly within Photoshop. This is thanks to one of the most innovative features in Photoshop Extended – support for 3D visualisation and texture editing.

3D import bonus
This support allows you to import 3D objects in common file formats and manipulate the models in 3D space within a Photoshop document. In 3D mode you can spin, scale, and edit the 3D object, as well as roll it vertically and slide it horizontally from front to back. A dedicated bar offers quick button access to all these options, as well as some that will be more familiar to 3D modellers. These include options for different lighting settings, render modes that allow the object to be viewed in various display styles (wireframe, smooth shaded, and so on), settings for an interactive cutaway/cross-section tool, as well as options for the 3D camera. Crucially you can also apply 2D textures, in what has to be one of the simplest procedures in mapping to 3D models around.

Revolutionary though it undoubtedly is, there are some downsides this early in the game. Apart from models generated by Vanishing Point, 3D support is restricted to the following file formats: u3d, .3ds, .obj, .kmz, and Collada, created by programs such as the highly-priced Acrobat 3D Version 8, 3D Studio Max (Windows only), Maya, and Google Earth. You’ll need Acrobat Professional if you want to convert many CAD file formats to the universal .U3D format that Photoshop understands, but we were unable to achieve this with the build of Acrobat we were provided with.

The aim of this feature seems to be to export a composited mix of 3D models and textures as a 2D image or back to 3D applications that support layered .PSD files. That’s ideal for some areas, but like Vanishing Point, it will be interesting to see how much 3D professionals make use of this feature. Implementing 3D support in Photoshop is thus an excellent and welcome move by Adobe, with many useful features, but the door is wide open for future improvements.

Another new feature of Extended is the video format and layer support. This means you can edit a video file on a frame-by-frame basis, or add a layer to the video and create edits that will appear on every frame. A timeline is on hand to control the animation, with each new layer being assigned a track, each of which contains attributes like opacity, layer style and text warp that can be animated by adding keyframes at edit points.

Also available is a form of rotoscoping called MoviePaint – basically applying the Photoshop CS3 painting toolset to any or all frames of a movie file. For example it allows you to use the cloning tool to transpose objects from previous frames to later ones. An extra Frame Offset control in the Clone Source palette provides another quick way to create and add multiple effects, with an onion-skinning mode available for viewing before and after frames. When finished, clicking on the Render Video dialog enables you to output video footage for use by other applications – even in 32-bit HDR format for film work, with the advantage of consistent colour management to boot.

Given Adobe’s experience with motion graphics, it’s hardly surprising the video layer support works so well. It doesn’t provide the features of Premiere Pro (now on Mac OS X) or After Effects, but to have such functionality within Photoshop might make you balance the cost of Extended favourably against these two dedicated apps.

Extended also enhances 32-bit HDR image support, offering a much broader range of Photoshop features, without the need to reduce the image to lower bit depths. This welcome expansion means that you can edit 32-bit HDR images with brushes, layers, filters such as Hue/Saturation and Levels, as well as the Auto Levels, Auto Contrast and Auto Color features.

Appliance of science
There has been a lot of work put into making the product fit for scientific and technical applications. For example, you can now obtain quantitative data as well as qualitative measurements by using the tools in the Analysis menu. The process is fully customisable, allowing you to assign your own measurement scale to an image to measure length, area, perimeter, density, or other values in accurate scale units. The Ruler and Count tools measure distance across an image, or count features in an image or in a selection manually, automatically, or via a script. The Measurement Log palette records the results and offers the ability to
export the data to a spreadsheet or database.

On the medical side, new DICOM file support means you can now open, edit, annotate or animate single-frame or multi-frame radiological images as well as view and edit metadata stored in DICOM files. An image stack processing facility means that you can combine multiple medical images, such as a series of scans.

These composite images can be enhanced with advanced rendering options to eliminate noise or unwanted content. You can also access Photoshop from the MATLAB (Matrix Laboratory) environment’s command prompt, run image-processing routines, and view the results in Photoshop.

Some new features in both Standard and Extended are worth mentioning to put this application into context. Black and white conversion has been made much simpler, with improvements to the Channel Mixer, as well as a new Black and White Adjustment command that helps you quickly remap colours in an image to monochrome. The standout feature, however, has to be the non-destructive Smart Filters, which remain live and re-editable at all times.

The large images that Photoshop can handle can be viewed on the Web in a more fitting fashion through Zoomify technology. The preview works well, but wider images are cropped to fit the Zoomify web box by default, so you’ll have to make a judgement on the size when setting up the export functions. You can also now zoom up to 3,200% with Photoshop’s Zoom tool, enabling extreme detail. There are other workflow enhancements across both versions of Photoshop, such as native support for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, though some requests remain elusive.

OUR VERDICT

Many of the features found only in Photoshop CS3 Extended are aimed at specialised applications, some of which will never be used by most users. When compared to the Standard version, Extended will not have the same ‘must buy’ tag for all designers. However, specialist groups aren’t getting a second-rate package by any means, especially with such dedicated tools.

Find the best price

Best prices today

Retailer Price Delivery

Price comparison from , and manufacturers