Adobe Photoshop CS2 Review
Vincent Bockaert, June 2005

In a Nutshell

The ninth version of Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop CS2, is part of Adobe's Creative Suite 2 and brings a new range of interesting features for digital photographers. The objective of this review is to highlight the new and changed features compared to Photoshop CS. As usual, we will focus on those features which are useful to digital photographers.

Review Notes

This review of Photoshop CS2 is based on the final version for Windows with Adobe Bridge 1.0.2 (the current version is 1.0.1, but 1.0.2 should be available in the very near future). This review also links to the glossary and my Photoshop CS and Photoshop Elements 3 reviews on this site.


Following the Adobe Photoshop tradition, each new version is a smooth evolution from earlier versions which makes it easy to switch versions and allows you to benefit from your earlier learning curve. Apart from a few exceptions, most of the commands and shortcuts are identical to earlier versions.

Perhaps A Little Too Evolutionary?

I see no reason why besides the current "classic" Photoshop view, there is no optional "modern" view based on the progress made with Photoshop Elements 3 which has a toolbox and expandable palettes which are integrated into the window itself. As far as the palettes are concerned, it matters less as we still have the palette well. But we are still stuck with the floating toolbox which cannot be docked anywhere. Its odd shape takes up valuable real estate and often gets accidentally hidden behind other palettes. I hope this is the last version of Photoshop we have to put up with this rather trivial inconvenience.

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A long awaited improvement is the display of a sample word next to the font name in the font list of the Type tool so you have an idea what the fonts looks like. Unfortunately the word "Sample" is not much to go by as it exemplifies only 6 sample characters and no numbers.

Layers Palette

Photoshop CS Layers Palette

Photoshop CS2 Layers Palette

Multiple layers can now be selected in the same way you select multiple files in Windows. If you select one layer you can select/deselect additional layers while holding down the "CTRL" key or a range of layers by holding down the "SHIFT" key. This makes linking much less necessary. However, you can still link or unlink the selected layers by clicking on the new "Link" button at the bottom of the Layers palette. Although this is overall an improvement, some people may miss the link layer icon column, which is still present in ImageReady CS2.

Adobe Bridge

The File Browser which was introduced in Photoshop 7 and improved in Photoshop CS is now called "Adobe Bridge" because it can be accessed via the other Creative Suite applications as well. Just like the File Browser, Bridge's integration with Adobe Camera Raw 3.1 allows you to preview, adjust, and process multiple raw files at once. Moreover, the processing can be done in the background while performing other tasks in Photoshop. Bridge can also run independently from Photoshop as a standalone application. New features include scaleable thumbnails, many types of image review modes, and improved rating and labeling features. We will now have a closer look at the performance.

Test System Specs

Performance tests were done with on a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 machine, with 3GB RAM, 30" Mac LCD driven by a Nvidia Quadro FX3400 graphics card, four 200GB serial ATA disks (one for with the OS and CS2, one dedicated scratch disk, two for data), with Windows XP SP1, and no other applications running or installed. Test results with other hardware configurations will of course be different. So you should mainly be looking at the relative numbers.

Application Startup Speed

Application After Reboot Subsequent Times
Startup Photoshop CS2 10 sec 6 sec
Startup Bridge from within Photoshop CS2 6 sec 1.5 sec
Startup Bridge as a standalone 6 sec 2 sec
Startup Photoshop CS 9 sec 5 sec
Startup File Browser from within Photoshop CS 1 sec 1 sec
Startup ACDSee 7 2 sec 1 sec

Starting up Photoshop CS2 and then Adobe Bridge 1.0.2 for the first time after a reboot took about 16 seconds. Subsequently, it took about 8 seconds. Very similar to Photoshop CS and the File Browser. However, you can launch Bridge faster as a standalone application without opening Photoshop. The first startup after reboot is at 6 seconds, slower than the 2 seconds ACDSee needs. For subsequent launches, the difference is only about one second.
Unlike ACDSee, Bridge is not part of the Windows Shell Extension and does not allow for file associations during installation (this can be only achieved through a manual configuration in Windows by right clicking on the image and selecting "Open With").
Also note that the above numbers depend not only on the system, but also on the number of other applications installed. Startup times on a more "heavy" Windows system with a lot of other applications installed will be higher.

Thumbnail Generation Speed - JPEG Images

100 Nikon D2X 12 megapixel JPEG images (total 476 MB) Time
Generate all thumbnails with File Browser in Photoshop CS 1 sec
Generate all thumbnails with File Browser in Photoshop CS, including parsing image data 92 sec
Generate all thumbnails with Adobe Bridge in Photoshop CS2 4 sec
Generate all thumbnails with Adobe Bridge in Photoshop CS2, including parsing image data 82 sec
Generate all thumbnails with ACDSee 7 4 sec
Generate all thumbnails with ACDSee 7, including parsing image data 27 sec
Generate all thumbnails with Windows Explorer 14 sec

The above tests were done with the upcoming Bridge 1.0.2 which performs much better than the current version 1.0.1. The embedded JPEG thumbnails appear in about the same time as ACDSee. However, the building of higher quality thumbnails based on the full image takes much longer than in ACDsee 7. More importantly, in ACDSee 7 you can choose between viewing the embedded JPEG thumbnails and building the thumbnails based on the actual image data via "Tools -> Options -> File List -> Use embedded JPEG thumbnails". Unfortunately, Bridge does not have such an option to speed up things. Bridge allows for thumbnail and image preview sizes of up to 1,024 x 1,024 pixels. In ACDSee 7, the thumbnails are limited to 240 x 240 pixels, but there is no limit on the image preview size.

Thumbnail Generation Speed - RAW Images

100 Nikon D70 6 megapixel RAW images (total 520 MB) Time
Generate all thumbnails with File Browser in Photoshop CS 9 sec
Generate all thumbnails with File Browser in Photoshop CS, including parsing RAW data 92 sec
Generate all thumbnails with Adobe Bridge in Photoshop CS2 17 sec
Generate all thumbnails with Adobe Bridge in Photoshop CS2, including parsing RAW data 52 sec
Generate all thumbnails with ACDSee 7 60 sec
Generate all thumbnails with Windows Explorer 2 sec

The File Browser in Photoshop CS and Bridge in Photoshop CS2 use Adobe Camera Raw, so an additional pass based on the actual RAW data is done to build more accurate previews. Here Photoshop CS2 with Bridge is faster than ACDSee 7 (for RAW images, selecting the earlier mentioned "Use embedded JPEG thumbnails" option does not make a difference). Microsoft Windows Explorer showed the embedded JPEG thumbnails almost instantly.

Bridge Conclusion

Performance for RAW files has improved compared to the Photoshop CS File Browser and the tight integration with Camera Raw offers clear RAW workflow benefits. However, now that Bridge has become a separate application from Photoshop, one would have expected a Windows shell integration and a JPEG performance which is at least on par with applications like ACDSee 7 (which could easily be achieved by having an "Use embedded JPEG thumbnails" option).

The pages that follow will discuss the new Photoshop CS2 features that are useful for digital photographers. Click here to continue.

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
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If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this review (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

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