10 Top Imaging Applications
Our favorite software for photographers, from beginners to pros
The last year has been a big one for photo software, with several of the top applications getting significant updates and the introduction of new software alternatives for photographers. The big news most recently is the latest update to Photoshop, but perhaps even more significant is Adobe's introduction of Photoshop Lightroom. Lightroom, along with Apple's Aperture (which made big waves in late 2005), are particularly interesting in that they represent a new approach to imaging software. These applications make a break from the traditional interface, replacing deep menus with streamlined, workflow-based interfaces that are more adept at working with multiple images at once.
While a lot of attention is paid to the professional-level, cutting-edge applications, there are plenty of alternatives to them. These programs offer many of the same tools and feature sets of the big names, but without the big price tags, and are worthy of your consideration, particularly if you don't feel you need all of the controls and tools found in professional software.
We've compiled our top 10 imaging applications that you'll want to know and consider when selecting the right software for you. To give you an idea of what's available today, we've included both professional-level software as well as applications designed to be easy and accessible for beginners.
Adobe Photoshop CS3
The latest upgrade to the venerable standard of image editing adds significant enhancements in the workspace and tools photographers use most. The first thing you'll likely notice is the new palette dock, which organizes all of the control palettes (History, Layers, Info, etc.) into an icon-based, single-column display that can be expanded or collapsed—giving you more room on your desktop for your image without sacrificing quick access to the tools you need.
Another big enhancement is the addition of nondestructive Smart Filters. Now when you apply your favorite filters, such as Unsharp Mask or Gaussian Blur, the effects of the filter are kept separate from your image, leaving your original pixels unaffected. You also can make changes to each filter's settings at anytime.
If you spend a lot of time making selections to isolate adjustments, the new Quick Selection tool is a big leap forward in speed and accuracy. Simply paint on the areas you wish to select, and the tool automatically outlines your subject. For tricky edges, use the Quick Selection's Refine Edge feature to get a perfect selection via slider controls.
These are just a few of the many enhancements and tools in Photoshop CS3. Improved Camera RAW, advanced compositing tools, a terrific black-and-white conversion tool and better asset management with Adobe Bridge CS3 are also worth noting. And for Intel Mac users, the long wait is over-Photoshop CS3 is a universal app, meaning it runs natively on both Intel and PowerPC-based Macs. List Price: $649.