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Other New Features

Smart Sharpening

The Filter -> Sharpen -> Smart Sharpening palette is an advanced unsharp mask. Just like unsharp mask it has amount and radius but besides the conventional unsharp mask algorithm, you can specify the removing lens blur or the removing motion blur algorithms. You can also independently specify the strength of the sharpening in the shadow and the highlight areas, giving you much more control over the sharpening halos. The only downside is that there is a bit of a learning curve in getting used to all the sliders and their effect on the image.

Smart Sharpen (Shadows Only)
Unsharp Mask

The first image is the original before any sharpening is applied. The second image is the first image after applying smart sharpening to the shadows only, while the third image is the first image after applying the conventional unsharp mask. Compared to the third image, the second image has initially more sharpening in the darkest shadows, then about the same, and then sharpening becomes gradually weaker as you move to the highlights. The above exaggerated theoretical examples were sharpened twice with sharpening parameters which are not recommended in order to make the differences between the two methods more visible.

This theoretical example shows the difference between the Smart Sharpen "Gaussian" algorithm, (which the regular Unsharp Mask uses) and the new "Lens Blur" algorithm. The graph translates the brightness of the pixels into heights. For the same radius, Lens Bblur affects pixels in a tighter range. The "squeezing" of the affected pixel range from 13 to 9 pixels does not result in the pushing down of the "shadow valley" or pushing up of the "highlight peak". Instead, the peak before the shadow valley (red arrow a) is pushed up and the valley after the highlight peak (red arrow b) is pushed down. This way a similar perceived sharpness is created with tighter halos. Bear in mind that the above example was exaggerated to illustrate the differences by pixel enlarging it to 200% and by choosing the usually not recommended parameters of Amount 200% and Radius 2.

Now wouldn't it be great to have this available as a Smart Sharpening Adjustment Layer?

Shadow/Highlight in CMYk

The Shadow/Highlight command introduced in Photoshop CS now also works in CMYk mode. The Shadow/Highlight command should be used with caution as it can lead to posterizaton and halos around the edges between shadows and highlights. There has been no improvement in this regards compared to Photoshop CS.

Tools Inherited from Photoshop Elements 3

Just like Photoshop Elements 3 inherited features from Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS2 has inherited some features from Photoshop Elements 3 which was launched about one year after Photoshop CS.

Noise Reduction Filter

The new Filter -> Noise -> Reduce Noise command which works also on JPEG images performs less well compared to the excellent noise removal in Camera Raw and manual noise reduction methods, as shown in these (50% downsampled) red channel crops. A more detailed noise analysis can be found on my personal website.


Photoshop CS2
Reduce Noise Filter

Photoshop CS2
Camera Raw 3.1

Manual method

The filter also allows to make per channel adjustments and has a JPEG artifact removal option (which has a tendency to reduce sharpness).

Spot Healing Brush

For those of you unfamiliar with Photoshop, the Healing Brush is a tool that makes retouching (e.g. removing wrinkles) much easier than using the Clone Stamp tool as it blends or "heals" the correction into the image, so the correction becomes virtually invisible.

Introduced with Photoshop Elements 3, the Spot Healing Brush makes retouching even more easy as no reference point needs to be specified. It's a great addition to the retouching toolbox. However, just like the regular Healing Brush does not make the Clone Stamp tool redundant, the Spot Healing Brush does not make the regular Healing Brush redundant as it does not work in all situations.

Red Eye Removal Tool


After Red Eye Removal Tool

Original After Red Eye Removal Tool

After further adjustments

The Red Eye Removal tool is also inherited from Photoshop Elements 3. You only need to click in the neighborhood of the red eye and the correction happens automatically. The tool works well, but as with all "Auto" methods, sometimes further manual tweaking is required for optimal results, as shown in the second example.



Photoshop CS2 is another step forward towards digital photography:

  • All new features such as
    • 32 bit floating point High Dynamic Range images
    • Vanishing Point
    • Warp
    • Barrel and pincushion distortion corrections integrated with other adjustments
    • Smart Sharpening
  • Improved features
    • Bridge (improved version of the File Browser)
    • Shadow/Highlight in CMYk (but halos and posterization risk remain)
    • Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 3.1 with Curves and minor enhancements
    • Selecting and linking layers
  • Features for JPEG images inherited from Camera Raw
    • Vignetting (equal but different performance compared to ACR)
    • Chromatic Aberrations (lower performance compared to ACR)
  • Features inherited from Photoshop Elements 3
    • "Auto" check boxes in Camera Raw
    • Spot Healing Brush
    • Red Eye Removal tool
    • Noise Reduction Filter (lower performance compared to ACR)

Potential Areas of Improvement

Here are just a few things on my wish list for Photoshop CS3:

  • Improved Bridge startup speed, Windows shell integration, and larger image previews
  • Speed up Bridge JPEG performance via an "Use embedded JPEG thumbnails" option
  • Improve noise reduction and chromatic aberration correction for non-RAW images
  • More accurate barrel and pincushion distortion correction
  • Linear RAW conversion (ability to eliminate the tonal curve)
  • Improved RAW conversion (White balance, Moiré reduction,...)
  • Dockable toolbox like in Photoshop Elements 3
  • Improved Shadow/Highlight command that avoids halos and posterization
  • More adjustment layers (e.g. Smart Sharpening, Shadow/Highlight, Noise Reduction)
  • Display more sample characters in font selection menu of the Type tool
  • Better panoramas (integrating warp, lens correction and vanishing point)
  • More powerful slideshow features including ability to specify individual slide transitions
  • Pushing the envelope: "Intelligent" HDR that takes into account moving subjects?

Worth Upgrading?

The Healing Brush, introduced with Photoshop 7, was so revolutionary that once you got used to it, there was no turning back. This was because of its excellent performance in so many situations. Without it, you'd be wasting a lot of time trying to achieve the same results with other tools. Photoshop CS was an upgrade targeted towards digital photography with the introduction of the histogram palette, full 16bits/channel support, a greatly enhanced Camera Raw, Match Color, Shadow/Highlight, and several other goodies. Although there was no true killer application like the Healing Brush, the combination of all the new features was definitely worth the upgrade for any digital photographer.

Photoshop CS2 offers again a range of very impressive features, with HDR, Warp, Smart Sharpening, and the Lens Correction filter being my personal favorites. However, many of the new features are only applicable to a narrow range of images. For instance, HDR is interesting but only applies to static high dynamic range scenes, while Vanishing Point is not something you will find yourself using as frequently as the Healing Brush or Shadow/Highlight, or the histogram palette, unless you are into architectural photography. Likewise, barrel and pincushion distortion do not need to be corrected frequently and can be corrected (even more accurately) by freeware plug-ins like PTLens. However, the upgrade still offers a very attractive bag of goodies if you add things like the Spot Healing Brush, improved Camera Raw, and the many other workflow enhancements not mentioned in this review which focused mainly on the photographic aspects.

At US$149 or 25% of the US$599 price of the stand-alone full version, this upgrade comes at a reasonable price tag, preserving most of your original investment in an earlier version of Photoshop. If you are still running Photoshop 7 (or an earlier version), it is certainly worthwhile upgrading to Photoshop CS2 now as you get two (or more) upgrades at only US$149.

Unfortunately for digital photographers who previously bought Photoshop CS as part of the Creative Suite, there is no upgrade path from Photoshop CS to Photoshop CS2 only. They either have to upgrade to the Creative Suite 2, or buy Photoshop CS2 at the full price.

Highly Recommended
(for Prosumers to Professionals)

This article is written by Vincent Bockaert, author of
The 123 of digital imaging Interactive learning Suite featuring
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 & 3 and Photoshop 7, CS & CS2
Click here to visit
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