This review appears in the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

Any hint of an update to Adobe's Creative Suite sparks frenzied speculation in design circles. Adobe has piqued excitement by offering a beta of the suite's star component, Photoshop CS3, the full version of which is due for release this spring. And if this beta is anything to go by, the suite will be an impressive upgrade.

Despite a lack of competition in the professional image-editing field, Photoshop isn't scared to change its appearance. Its tool palette has been relegated to a single column and palettes have been shorn from the toolbar – now organised as dockable tabs marked with chunky icons. The result is more screen space and an improved, logical interface that will be shared throughout the CS3 suite.

The biggest change in Photoshop answers the prayers of a legion of digital artists: filters are now non-destructive. Select an image layer and, after converting it into a smart object, filters applied to it can be subsequently adjusted, re-ordered or removed.

Squeezed in alongside other improvements, including Camera RAW 4 support, a better photo-merging tool, automatic layer alignment and a more powerful vanishing point feature, is another feature on many wish lists: Curves and Levels control in one palette. The Curves dialog box integrates a Levels histogram, complete with clipping controls, which shows your adjustments' effect on shadow and highlights.

CS3 offers other neat tricks, including a black-and-white conversion utility that can be finely tweaked via a batch of sliders and an export tool for images from handheld devices. But in the end, CS3 will be judged on its performance. It feels at least as sprightly as its predecessor and we noticed reduced startup times.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 beta: Specs

  • Pentium 4 processor
  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 320MB RAM
  • 1GB hard disk space
  • Pentium 4 processor
  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 320MB RAM
  • 1GB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

The appearance of non-destructive filters alone make this a must-have upgrade, but the happy marriage of Levels and Curves mean an end to the head-scratching dilemma of which is the best way to enhance an image.

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