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Photoshop Elements is now the market leading photo-editor. It's ideal for serious photographers on a budget
on 2 October 2010
Adobe Photoshop Elements is the number one consumer photo editor in terms of licence sales, outstripping Adobe's professional flagship: Photoshop CS5 Extended - largely because of its power and cheaper price. Expensive to upgrade perhaps, but there's no denying Elements 9 is an impressive package for the serious home or semi-professional photographer. As ever, increasing complexity within Elements makes the package ever harder to fully master, but all the basic tools are simple enough and the use of image layers, `Photomerge' panaramas and tranforms can be investigated later. There is plenty of on-line help at Adobe and other sites, although worryingly some of that Adobe help [`How to' guides] is slipping towards `annual membership fees' and of course much of the video help is Adobe Flash based and invisible to Apple users. But Elements 9 is still superb software for those new to image editing and PC photo databases, and you can download a 30-day trial from Adobe now.
New to Elements 9 is the enhanced 'spot healing brush' that wowed Photoshop CS5 users. Just go over a background object in the photo with the 'Content aware' brush tool and hopefully the unwanted item vanishes by blending information in from nearby - ideal for removing things like a car, person, lamppost or seagull [it works well for natural scenes]. This 'content aware' healing brush doesn't always get it right though, but often results improve with fresh attempts. There's also a new guided edit tool that can create pop art, startling graphics and reflections. Photomerge [the superb panorama stitching tool] has been `enhanced' [the blending works better]. Interestingly layer masks have been introduced, one area that lagged behind Photoshop CS5. There's now a tool to transform your new photo into a similar style to an older one [i.e. apply it's contrast and colour vividness] so the photos look good next to each other. There's also some new minor stuff [for me] like quicker uploads to Facebook, an improved editing interface within creation layout, the ability to create and print calendars and suchlike, and create virtual photo-album's scrapbook style [Serif's Scrapbook Artist 2 is more fun for this]. There's also new support for Apple Mac's `multitouch' hardware. The `Plus' version of Elements 9 offers 20Gb of on-line storage rather than 2Gb and a years subscription to `Plus' downloadable content [Flash video help and templates] - but the 20Gb storage is for US users and with upload speeds being a fraction of download speeds not many would wish to use on-line storage anyway.
The old Elements tools are also there, like one step `teeth whitening' and `Sky more blue' tools streamlined to make colour, contrast and lighting adjustments even quicker [actually useful for old faded slide scans or to give your boss a fake tan and make them look ridiculous]. 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/tones. Standard tools include crop and adjust image size (pixels) and you can just edit selected areas of the photos using various object selection tools. 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 essential for bringing out detail in shadows from any slide/negative scan. Plus Elements can handle large RAW camera images. You can correct lens barrel distortion using the specific tool or various generic `Transform' tools. You can recompose [shrink] photos without loosing detail. Once installed Elements 9 auto-updates itself.
Elements 9 offers complex image database features [which work better than PhotoShops CS5's]. Although all this takes a while to do, within the photo-organiser you can now quick-edit images 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 you can add location information to the photo via Yahoo maps and satellite GPS if your camera supports it.
System requirements are similar to Elements 7: DVD drive, 1Gb RAM, XP, Vista or Windows 7, Mac 10.5.8+, 1.6GHz processor, 3.4Gb harddrive space, internet access, and a Direct-X9 16-bit graphics card. Those with a modern multi-core PC and 4Gb system RAM will find the program far more responsive though. Elements 9 perhaps isn't a crucial upgrade from Elements 8 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 healing brush and layer masks are enough to convince me to upgrade to v9, but then my workplace pays for my copy [Adobe upgrade prices are steep].
Adobe Elements 9 has only two real competitors at the price: Paint Shop Pro X3 and Serif PhotoPlus X4 [worth investigating]. Professional users will head towards Adobe's semi-automated PhotoShop Lightroom 3.0 and the fantastically expensive Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended, although at work we have Adobe Elements 8/9 on a few imaging workstations for casual users, where the cost of PhotoShop CS5 Extended isn't justified. That said experienced Photoshop CS5 users will find Elements 9 lacking key features they are used to. Photoshop CS5 users won't find Elements 9 immediately easy to use; it's evolved into a very different program and it annoyingly hides identical tools in different menu locations.
Overall a useful and desirable update to Elements 8. Plus you can buy Photoshop Elements 9 as a cheap double pack with the excellent Adobe Premiere Elements 9 [video editing] - and Adobe offer educational discounts for schoolkids/teachers/students.