Photoshop CS2 Review - Updated Features and Great New Tools

Photoshop CS2

Adobe Photoshop, the godfather of graphic design software, has added new features and improved old ones in Photoshop Creative Suite 2.  Updated photo-editing features include automatic perspective controls and improved "Camera Raw", and new tools like "Smart Objects" and "Warping".
You may not notice a lot of changes at first, the Photoshop CS2 interface remains almost identical to previous versions, so you won't have to struggle with new keyboard shortcuts or re-arranged tool palettes.  There are, however, plenty of subtle changes spread throughout the application.

new Font menu, for instance, displays the font name in a generic-looking typeface, with a sample of the type off to the side, instead of showing the font name in the actual font, which doesn't work so well with symbol fonts or dingbats.

New and Improved Font Picker

CS2's new Warp filter provides vector-based warping similar to the Warp Text effect, but with far more control.  You can apply Warp to layers or selections. The Warp dialog gives you several control points to warp and distort your image, and doesn't stretch the surrounding area, which makes it possible to create the illusion of a rip in your image.  Because it's vector-based, you can easily change and tweak your warp vectors to get them just right.  Once you accept your change, the warping is rasterized and committed, so you can't edit it later.

Photoshop's new Vanishing Point tool is amazing. Click to define planes matching the planes of the image perspective. Then copy and paste image data from one plane to another, or make other edits.  Photoshop automatically flips, distorts, and alters your pasted data to match the perspective of your destination.  Adobe included Healing technology in the Vanishing Point tool, which automatically blends pasted imagery into its new background.

Photoshop CS2 Screenshot

You can now select multiple layers in the Layers palette by shift-clicking (or command/control clicking to select non-contiguous layers). Linking is still available in the Layers menu, but some link-dependent processes have changed.  To constrain an adjustment layer to a particular set of layers, group the layers with the Adjustment Layer and change the group's blending mode from Pass Through to Normal.

Adobe greatly improved the locking facility, which now lets you lock content and positioning separately.  Instead of a Lock icon, as in previous versions, you now lock a layer by selecting it and toggling the lock controls at the top of the Layers palette.

The Layers palette also provides access to the new Smart Objects feature. A Smart Object can be a piece of vector artwork you've imported into Photoshop, or any group of raster or vector layers you've created within Photoshop.  Select a layer containing a logo and a layer containing some text, then group them into a Smart Object. The two source layers disappear, and a new Smart Object layer takes their place.

Smart Objects work just like any other layer: move or transform them, change their opacity and blending mode, even apply Layer Styles.  No matter what you do to them, you can always open them in their original state and edit them, allowing for non-destructive editing.  None of the changes you make affect your original data. At any time, you can rasterize your Smart Object into a normal layer, thus committing your operation.

Photoshop's Guide feature now has Smart Guides, dynamic snapping guides that pop up when you drag layers around. When the boundary of one layer gets near another, Smart Guides automatically appear to help positioning.
Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in integrates raw file support directly into Photoshop, and offers excellent highlight recovery capabilities, letting you shoot to your digital camera's strengths. The basic Camera Raw interface and feature set have remained the same in CS2, but the new version can open multiple raw files simultaneously.

Photoshop CS2 "Photo Raw"

Multiple images are displayed as thumbnails along the left side of the Camera Raw dialog. Select an image to define its raw development settings, just as you could before. If you select multiple images, any changes to the raw sliders are automatically applied to all of the selected images. A new Synchronize button lets you transfer any or all of your current raw settings to the other images in the current batch. This facility makes it significantly easier to process an entire shoot's worth of raw files quickly and efficiently.

The Exposure, Shadows, and Brightness and Contrast sliders now each include an Auto option that calculates what Photoshop thinks is an appropriate setting.  For tricky images, though, you'll want to manually define raw settings, which the new Curve tab makes much easier. Just like a standard Curves dialog, the Camera Raw curve lets you define a Tone Curve by placing control points on an editable curve. For making precise edits to a particular range of colors, Camera Raw's Curve lets you do things that would be impossible with the basic sliders.

Camera Raw now includes a Straighten tool, which you use by simply dragging along any line that should be horizontal. The Straighten tool not only rotates the image to straight, but can automatically crop the image to the largest crop that can contain your newly rotated image. Photoshop's Camera Raw plug-in is becoming an indispensable photography tool.

The new Lens Correction filter provides effective controls for dealing with distortion. A single slider lets you distort the image inward or outward to correct for whichever type of distortion you're facing.  Adobe also added sliders for reducing chromatic aberrations and vignetting. The same Straighten control that's provided in the Camera raw plug-in is included in the Lens Correction Filter.

Though there are techniques for fighting noise in previous versions of Photoshop, they weren't always effective, and were often a lot of work. Adobe addressed the issue with the new Reduce Noise filter, which attacks luminance and chrominance noise. Photoshop CS2's Reduce Noise filter strikes a decent balance between eliminating noise and preserving image detail, with controls for processing individual color channels. The Reduce JPEG Artifacts option does a fair job of reducing the boxy patterns caused by strong JPEG compression.
The new Spot Healing Brush is a simpler version of CS's Heal tool. Rather than requiring you to select a source point for healing, the Spot Healing brush samples surrounding pixels automatically. Sometimes it works great, perfectly eliminating complex objects. Sometimes it's not so successful. For eliminating spots or lens grunge, it's a quick, effective tool, but for more complex healings, use the Heal and Rubber Stamp tools.

Vignette Tool

Photoshop CS2 has an array of other changes and additions. You can customize the keyboard and menus and re-define keyboard shortcuts.  You can show, hide, and even add color to menu items. You can also alter palette menus, and change the size of text in the options bar, palettes, and Layer Styles dialog, and create a more streamlined interface by eliminating commands you never use.

Photoshop still isn't perfect. It's still not fully 16-bit, at a time when many film professionals are working at even higher bit-depths, and its filters are still destructive, but CS2 is still one of the most impressive upgrades in a long time. 

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