Buyer's Guide 2006: Image-Processing Software
The digital darkroom keeps getting better with improvements in features and ease of use in software programs
The big news this year is the new version of Photoshop, CS2, of course, but Adobe isn't the only one at work to make our digital darkroom work better, more efficient and easier. Corel has put its own touches to the venerable Paint Shop Pro, offering a fresh version that keeps all the old features, but puts them in a photographer-friendly interface, while Microsoft has made significant upgrades to its Digital Image program.
The busy folks at nik Multimedia continue to put out superb plug-in programs for Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro, introducing a great new version for its sharpening software. Digital Film Tools upgraded its 55mm plug-in with more useful features, and Kodak's Austin Development Center (ADC) has made upgrades to all of its plug-ins. I've used them all, so here's an overview of each program.
Adobe Photoshop CS2
Adobe Photoshop CS2 is part of a well-integrated suite of programs that includes Illustrator CS2, InDesign CS2 and more. This integration shows up immediately in the program's new browser, Adobe Bridge, a stand-alone program that allows you to view, organize, rename, edit and sort images and files from any of the CS programs. Plus, you can view images full-screen in a special slideshow that allows you to tag files as you go for sorting and editing.
Camera Raw has been upgraded in this version of Photoshop and now offers a Tone Curve (which is the same as Curves in Photoshop), a much better control of contrast and midtones than what the original Camera Raw offered. You also can crop within Camera Raw (nondestructively), process multiple files at once and even synchronize specific adjustments over several files.
There are a few terrific manipulation tools added to CS2: Vanishing Point and Warp. In the Vanishing Point filter, you can create a perspective grid that influences how cloning is applied or elements are added to a photo; for example, if you clone a window from the front of a building to its back, the window will automatically change to fit the perspective change from the front to the back of the building. Warp allows a great deal of flexibility in warping an image to fit a coffee cup, for example (I used it to give the "print" shape in "The Better Print," PCPhoto, October 2005).