Adobe Bridge CS3 (Creative Suite 3) is much more than a file browser, but much less than Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom - see our review here.
The new version of the Creative Suite's command-and-control center provides far more features for managing photos and other digital assets, and gives you lots of flexibility for viewing and organising data, but it stops short of being a fully fledged photo-management tool, such as Apple's Aperture or Lightroom.
Of course, Bridge isn't intended to be a complete photo workflow and data-base-style library-management program. But because it does provide some similar features, some comparisons are appropriate. And although Bridge brings benefits to each member of the CS3 family, it's most useful to Photoshop users.
New ways to browse
Bridge's improvements begin with a new look: the Bridge window is dark and muted, like that of Aperture or Lightroom, to provide better contrast from your images. You can customise the window's shading and, as with Bridge CS2, you can rearrange panels and create workspace settings that configure Bridge's window for specific tasks - such as reviewing photos, assigning metadata, browsing folders and so on.
Adobe has also added viewing modes that let you browse assets in various ways. A new Vertical Filmstrip view, for example, displays a vertical row of image thumbnails. New controls in the lower right corner of the Bridge window let you quickly switch between your favorite views.
A Filter panel lets you quickly narrow down the list of items that appear in the Bridge window. Adobe has provided an impressive selection of criteria by which you can display images. Of course, you can show only photos taken or modified on specific dates or to which you've assigned keywords. But you can also filter the display according to ISO (ISO 400 shots, for example), orientation (say, horizontal shots), and even aspect ratio (for instance, shots cropped to 4:3 proportions). The criteria that appear in Filter panel change depending on what kinds of files are displayed in the Content panel.
You can display up to nine images in Bridge CS3's Preview panel - handy for comparing multiple versions of a shot. Bridge CS3 also provides a new Loupe tool that, like its counterpart in Aperture, lets you magnify part of an image.
Importing, stacking, and viewing
Bridge CS3 lets you do more than just browse - you can also import photos. A companion utility, called Photo Downloader, lets you bring in photos from a camera or media reader. An impressive set of importing options lets you automatically convert imported photos to DNG (Digital Negative) format, apply metadata, rename files and even save copies to another folder or hard drive. You can also choose to import only some images from a camera or memory card. You can't, however, assign keywords at import time - an organisational convenience that Lightroom provides.
Like Aperture and Lightroom, Bridge CS3 lets you group related shots into stacks to unclutter your display. But Bridge's stacking system isn't as sophisticated as Aperture's or Lightroom's: you can stack photos manually by selecting them and choosing the Group as Stack command, but you can't have Bridge stack them for you based on the time interval between exposures.
If a stack contains 10 or more images, Bridge CS3 adds a control to the stack that lets you play back its images at a frame rate that you can specify. It's great for animators and video artists, but it's also a handy way to see the images within a stack without having to open the stack.
Adobe also greatly enhanced Bridge's Slideshow mode, adding a selection of image transitions (Bridge CS2 provided none) and an automatic pan/zoom display via the Zoom Back And Forth checkbox (better known as a Ken Burns effect). Cinematically speaking, the pan/zoom display falls short: an image should continue zooming through a dissolve transition, but in Bridge slide shows, zooming simply stops when the dissolve begins. This gives the slide show a somewhat hokey look.
Like its predecessor, Bridge CS3 provides a Tools menu that lets you quickly send assets to various members of the CS3 family - for example, you can select a set of photos and then send them to Photoshop for Photomerge stitching or batch processing. Bridge CS3 also provides a home base for browsing and buying from the Adobe Stock Photo service, and adds Bridge Home, a new CS3 portal that Adobe has created containing links to tutorials and more. You can also use a new function called Start Meeting for real-time group conferencing.
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Jim Heid specialises in digital media and is the author of The Macintosh iLife '06 (Peachpit Press, 2006) and its companion website