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Adobe Photoshop CS3's Smart Filters let you use any of the app's many filter effects without actually changing the pixels permanently.
Adobe Photoshop has always been a big, complex playground of image-editing and -processing prowess, and Photoshop CS3 introduces some truly excellent new tools and tweaks. Anyone serious about image editing will want CS3. It gets our stamp of approval without hesitation.
If you're using an Intel Mac, the performance benefits of a fully native Photoshop are undeniable. You might not see a quantum leap in performance when you're doing hands-on work with one of the tools, but most functions move between 20 to 50 percent faster in CS3. Your own mileage may vary - for example, the Radial Blur filter (one of the slowest filters in Photoshop) was two times faster in CS3 running on a 15-inch 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro than it was in CS2 running on a Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5. Resizing a large image can be three to four times faster, a rather significant speed bump. All in all, Intel Mac owners will be very happy with the boost, and if you're still working on a G4 or G5 Mac, CS3 feels just about as snappy as CS2.
Filters have always been a major boon to creative work, and Photoshop CS3 finally delivers Smart Filters, nondestructive filters that allow much more freedom when you're trying different filter recipes. You can drag applied filters to different positions in the filter stack, resulting in completely different visual looks. Be aware, though, that performance can get sluggish when you're working with large images sporting lots of layers and stacked filters. We also discovered some limitations. For example, some filters, such as Lighting Effects and everything under the Artistic category, don't work as Smart Filters when an image is in CMYK mode, and you'll need to check with the publisher of your favorite third-party filters to see if they'll play well under Smart Filters.
Color-correction and color-enhancement tools take a significant step forward with the reworked Curves control, perhaps the single most crucial color-correction tool in Photoshop. Histograms are now overlaid in the main editing area of the Curves dialog, giving you a better idea of the brightness values of the pixels located in an image (or active selection) and reducing your need to use the Levels control. If you know about using the Option key in conjunction with the shadow and highlight sliders in Levels, you'll be thrilled to see those familiar sliders right there in Curves. Pressing the Option key while moving these sliders interactively shows you a thresholded version of the shadow and highlight regions in the main image window. And did we mention that Curves now has presets? Our only real complaint with the new Curves controls is that the histogram does not update itself to reflect tonal corrections while you're editing. You have to apply the changes and then go look at the Histogram panel.
The Auto-Alignment and Auto-Blending features will absolutely thrill photographers who create panoramic composites out of lots of individual photos. These tools do a wonderful job of finding overlapping areas of contiguous images and then blending them together with soft masks in a way that requires minimal editing afterward. Serious retouchers will adore the new Clone Sources palette, which provides options for automatically scaling and rotating cloned pixels, as well as an overlay mode that lets you see the clone source overlaid on the painting area as you work. Some artists will love this, although others may find it intrusive.