Bridge gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to viewing your image collection. For example, you can use the Sort menu at the top of the window to arrange your images by name, date modified, size, and so on.

The Filter panel, on the other hand, lets you weed out images by displaying those that match a certain criteria, like star-rating, rejections, and so on. If you didn't rate your images when you imported them using Review Mode, you might want to take the time to do it now. That way you can quickly view your Crème de la Crop images on the fly when the opportunity arises. If you're shooting for HDR (High Dynamic Range) or for panoramas (and you're running Photoshop CS4 Extended), you've got a couple of new automation tools to speed your workflow.

You can make Bridge collect your panorama or HDR images for you (by looking at their metadata) by choosing Stacks: Auto-Stack Panorama/HDR. Next, you can send them off to Photoshop to create, save, and show you a preview of the finished panorama or HDR file by choosing Tools: Process Collections. If you want to open several images in a multi-layered document, you can choose Bridge: Tools: Load Files. However, in testing, this feature worked less well with HDR sets than with panoramas, and we've noted that Bridge tries to process HDR sets as panos. Moreover, in testing we find that small quantities of photos work better than large quantities.

Among other improvements are a new Collections pane, which, expanding on the existing collections feature, gives you the ability to group your images into virtual albums. You can build Collections manually or have Bridge do it for you by selecting certain criteria like star-rating, name, keywords, and so on. These Smart Collections will grow over time as new photos with matching criteria are added to the collection automatically. They take Bridge beyond being a mere browser, by giving it some powerful library functionality.

Hotline to Camera Raw

One of the many benefits of organizing and browsing images in Bridge is its integration with the Camera Raw plug-in. There are a half-dozen ways to open your images in Camera Raw from within Bridge with the simplest being to just double-click the file, or Control-click it and choose Open in Camera Raw.

If you've got several images that could use the same edits, you can copy the settings from one and apply them to others right in Bridge. All you have to do is Control-click the image in the Content panel and choose Develop Settings:Copy Settings from the resulting shortcut menu. Select the images you want to apply the settings to, Control-click them, and choose Develop Settings:Paste Settings. Now that's working smarter instead of harder. This feature, too, has been retained from previous versions.

Adobe Output Module

Bridge can also create an instant slideshow of your work, and generate PDFs or a Web gallery. The new Adobe Output Module handles the latter two options through an interface almost identical to the Print and Web modules in Adobe Lightroom. It's extremely intuitive; just select the images you want to export and click the Output workspace button at the top of the Bridge window.

In the Output panel, you'll see a Template pop-up with paltry few presets (though they're fairly customizable) and you have to click the Output Preview tab to see a preview. The galactic bummer is that you can't save any of the options you've painstakingly entered--though it does remember the last settings you used.

The pickins' in the Template menu are shockingly slim and unfortunately, you can't add your own. Plus, as you make changes in the Output panel, you have to click the Refresh Preview button to get Bridge to update the preview.

Final word

With the workspace overhaul and speed increase, Bridge is a real joy to use. The ability to quickly zip through the images on your hard drive is very satisfying, especially for those who have a lot of imagery in their lives. The new Output module is handy for exporting PDFs and Web galleries, but the inability to save your settings as a preset is bone-jarring.

After all, the module feels air-lifted right out of Adobe Lightroom where the ability to save presets does exist. For those mourning the loss of Contact Sheets and Picture Packages over in Photoshop CS4, a little customization in the Output module would have been placating. Though if the public outcry is fierce enough, perhaps we'll see significant improvements in this module in future versions.