The coordinated releases of Adobe Photoshop CS3, Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended, and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 are impressive in their scope and depth. The choices can be a little overwhelming when it comes time to place an order. While detailed feature lists for these applications are easy to find all over the Web, it can be a challenge to decipher those specs so that you can decide which of the applications should form the basis of your next digital photography workflow. Adding to the challenge is that at their cores, all of these products include similar features for image processing and organization that are definite improvements over Photoshop CS2.
Assuming that you can’t buy everything in the store, what are the real differences among these applications, and what combination of them is the best for your digital photography workflow? The answer lies both in the kind of image editing you do and which applications you already own. I’ll begin by looking over your options if you’re upgrading from an earlier version of Photoshop, and then I’ll talk about which way to go if don’t yet own Photoshop or Lightroom. I’ll also talk more about differences instead of features that the three products have in common.
Completing the Digital Camera Workflow
Over the last few versions of Photoshop, the photographer’s workflow has changed dramatically. The Photoshop application itself, optimized for editing individual images in its own windows, isn’t the most efficient way to process the high volume of images produced by digital cameras. Recognizing this, Adobe augments Photoshop with the Adobe Bridge file browser and the Adobe Camera Raw converter for raw digital camera formats. Photoshop CS3 comes with Bridge CS3 and Camera Raw 4.0 (ACR 4).
The CS2 versions of Bridge and Camera Raw leave gaps in the camera-to-computer-to-output workflow. Professional photographers fill these gaps by rigging together assorted retail, shareware, and freeware utilities that automate tasks such as backing up, batch renaming, and adding metadata and keywords to images during the process of downloading them from a digital camera. With Photoshop CS3, Adobe fills those gaps.
To streamline the camera-to-computer connection, Photoshop CS3 adds the new Adobe Photo Downloader, which includes many of the preprocessing features found in existing download utilities. In Bridge CS3, you can compare, inspect, and rate images more easily than in Bridge CS2. It’s possible to build a workflow from camera to output with nothing more than Photoshop CS3 and its utilities, although some photographers might still require workflow features available only in more specialized third-party utilities.
Figure 1 Expanded coverage across digital photography workflows
ACR 4 fills a different kind of hole in the CS2 digital camera workflow: images that need to be sent on to Photoshop because they require corrections that Camera Raw can’t perform. For example, in CS2 I would bring some images into Photoshop because ACR had limited control over color correction. That’s less necessary in ACR 4 thanks to new HSL (hue, saturation, and luminance)–based color controls that can precisely isolate colors and edit them. A new cloning and healing tool in ACR 4 means that an image doesn’t have to go to Photoshop just because it has a dust spot.
With the dramatically enhanced features in Bridge CS3 and ACR 4, well-shot images that don’t require pixel-level corrections can conceivably be processed all the way from camera to final files using Photo Downloader, Bridge CS3, and ACR 4. There’s an irony in here for high-volume digital photographers—if you can realize the full workflow potential of Photo Downloader, Bridge CS3, and Camera Raw 4, a big reason to buy Photoshop CS3 is because you can bypass Photoshop more than ever.