Photoshop Extended CS3 Review

With Photoshop CS3, Adobe took the unexpected tack of releasing a beta version of the software, giving users a trial run of some Photoshop features for the first time since before version 1 shipped. Adobe has made other significant changes in the way that it offers Photoshop to the public, the main one being offering two versions – Photoshop CS3 (similar to the beta) and Photoshop CS3 Extended.

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

Vanishing point, one of the standout features of Photoshop CS2, has received a revamp 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 which 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.

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 options 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.

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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 file formats, created by programs like 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.

As it stands 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 application 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 new 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 new track. Each track contains attributes such as opacity, layer style and text warp which can be animated over time 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 add create multiple effects, with an onion-skinning mode available for viewing before and after frames. When you are finished, clicking on the Render Video dialog enables you to directly 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 anywhere as many features as 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 more favourably against the two more 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.

Creative imaging is not only focus of the Extended features; there has been a lot of work put into making the product fit for scientific and technical applications. You can now obtain quantitative data as well as qualitative measurements by using the tools in the Analysis menu. The process is completely open to customisation, 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, which opens automatically when you select Record Measurements, records the results and offers the ability to export the measurement data to a spreadsheet or database.

On the medical side, new DICOM file support means that you can now open, edit, annotate or animate single-frame or multi-frame radiological images as well as view and edit any 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.

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The Analysis tools have a variety of obvious uses and will be welcomed by a wide range of users, but Adobe’s more scientific offerings, while advanced, have a more limited appeal.

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 the colours in your 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 ability to freely experiment with different filter combinations and settings, without backing up the original image, is a boon to creative image processing.

The large images that Photoshop can handle can finally be viewed on the Web in a more fitting fashion through Zoomify technology. Via a dedicated dialog in both Standard and Extended, this exports a fair preview of the image to a Zoomify box in the browser. This has controls to allow you to zoom in, bringing up fine detail of the selected area when you do so. 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. At the other end of the scale, you can now zoom up to 3200% with Photoshop’s Zoom tool, enabling extreme detail. There are a number of such workflow enhancements across both versions of Photoshop, such as native support for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, though some requests, such as a standardised Flatten Image keyboard shortcut for example, still remain elusive. This however is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.

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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 the majority of users. When compared to the Standard version then, Extended might not win the same ‘must buy’ tag for all designers. However those specialised groups aren’t getting a second rate package by any means, especially with such dedicated tools integrated within Photoshop.

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