So what does Elements 8 offer over Elements 7? Well there's the `resize' tool that `resizes' your photos via a mouse drag but keeps all the key features, e.g. people and buildings, at the correct proportions. There's also an extension to the PhotoMerge's `combine elements from a sequence of photos', where you can add the face of people lit up by a flash to the background of another where the exposure's made the background far brighter, i.e. ideal for night shots. You could already do this PhotoMerge stuff, like drop in a smiley face over from another photo in the sequence, with Elements 7, and to be honest the old shadow/highlight command works as well in many cases. Plus all these semi-automatic editing features are totally reliant on you taking a sequence of fairly identical photos from exactly the same perspective, move the camera too much and the PhotoMerges won't work that well.
Elements 8 also adds in more complex database features, where the auto-database now analyses every photo and grades it, so that good ones can be quickly found. Plus there's image recognition, where say all the photos of your son can be located, Adobe Bridge style [and it works better than PhotoShops CS4's version]. Trouble is, like Adobe Bridge, this all takes a while to do, which can be a little irritating, so I prefer to stick to logical folder names instead. That said, within the photo-organiser you can now quick-edit images fast while viewing them and you can sync your photo collection across PCs to ensure the same photos are on all of them [useful for backup protection].
Plus some of the one step `teeth whitening' and `Sky more blue' tools have been streamlined to make colour, contrast and lighting adjustments even quicker [actually useful for old faded slide scans or to give Great Aunt Maud a fake tan and make her look ridiculous . As with Elements 7, you also get the `free' 2Gb of on-line storage to `protect your precious photos' [just not that many of them], although this increases to 20Gb for those buying the more expensive `Plus' version of Elements 8, that also offers artwork scrapbook features, Serif Digital Scrapbook Artist style [however Elements 8 Plus is only available in the US]. And that's about it, new features wise.
And all the old Element 7's tools are there as well. For editing you have a set of 'quickfix' options or you can load the full image editor for greater manual control: such as adjust sharpness, correct camera distortion, levels, hue and skin colour. Naturally you have standard tools like crop and adjust image size (pixels) as well. Plus there are step-through guides [guided edit] to help you get there. The software will also integrate with scanners twain interfaces if you are into scanning film, and the Fill Light [shadow/highlight] tool is pretty essential for bringing out detail in shadows from any slide/negative scan. Plus Elements can handle large RAW camera images, although I use TIFF/jpg (Elements can save in any common image format). Fortunately the horrible dark grey interface from Elements 7 can now be modified [lightened] in preferences, although you can still have trouble working out which photo window is active. Also, once installed, be sure to keep Elements 8 updated with the latest Adobe patches as software of this type can be very buggy on first release.
System requirements are actually lower than Elements 7 [if you are a rather patient sort]: CD drive, 1Gb system RAM, XP, Vista or Windows 7, 1.6GHz processor, 2Gb hard drive space, and a Direct-X 9 16-bit graphics card [and Adobe installers can reject systems that don't meet the minimum spec]. Those with a modern multi-core PC and 4Gb system RAM will find the program far more responsive though. Elements 8 perhaps isn't a crucial upgrade from Elements 7 or even 6, but for new home users, or those with older versions, it's very powerful photo editing and image database software from the market leaders. The new `PhotoMerge Exposure' tool is touted as the 'killer app' for those considering upgrading, but it is little more than Elements 6's old PhotoMerge Group application and it requires that series of photos where one has the background free to copy across.
Adobe Elements 8 has only two real competitors at the price: Paint Shop Pro X2 and Serif PhotoPlus X3. Both these programs are also excellent and worthy of consideration, with PhotoPlus's strength being it's about as powerful but rather cheaper to buy and upgrade. Likewise Corel Paint Shop pro X2 occasionally offers a bit more than Elements [layer masks, and curves], is also cheaper and a tad easier to use, although it can be buggy [not Adobe's strong point on first version release either - so install those patches]. Professional users and some SLR enthusiasts will still head towards Adobe's semi-automated PhotoShop Lightroom 2.0 and the fantastically expensive Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended, although even at work we have Adobe Elements 7/8 on a few imaging workstations for casual users, where the high cost of PhotoShop CS4 Extended simply isn't justified. That said experienced Photoshop CS4 users will rapidly find Elements 8 lacking many key features they are used to [if you really want to significantly upgrade Photoshop Elements 7, then Photoshop CS4 Extended is certainly that]. Be warned though Photoshop CS4 users won't find Elements 8 immediately easy to use, it's evolved into a very different program and in particular it can take quite a while to realise the CS4 tool you are looking for in Elements 8 simply doesn't exist.
Whether all this is worth the very high upgrade prices for Adobe Elements 7 users is rather debateable, although with a large educational users discount the price becomes more tempting [for schoolkids/teachers/students]. Plus you can buy Photoshop Elements 8 as a cheap double pack with the excellent Adobe Premiere Elements 8 [video editing] - and this also attracts an educational discount