Not everyone who's getting serious about image editing wants to spend $700 on software, at least not right away. That's where Adobe's $100 Photoshop Elements steps in. Still the best place for beginners to start, it will help you learn Photoshop basics such as Layers, Adjustment Layers, and Selections.
But the latest upgrade of Elements (Version 8) is much more than just an introduction to Photoshop. It's a whole package of tools aimed at nonprofessional photographers who want to do more than just fix and print their pictures.
Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, a video editor, also come as a $150 bundle for Windows users. If you use your DSLR (or compact) to shoot HD video, consider buying them as a package-you'll also save $50 over the cost of buying them separately. (There's a new version of Elements for Mac, too, but no Premiere or Organizer. It does come with Bridge-convenient for Elements users who shoot a lot of RAW files.)
The Organizer is now the hub of both Elements and Premiere Elements, and this update introduces new ways of organizing.
For instance, face recognition helps you find and tag the people who appear in your pictures most frequently. It works decently, but like most face-recognition software, isn't always perfect. One of the coolest new capabilities is Smart Tags' ability to sort your photos. The program can now recognize images and videos of lesser quality, helping you weed out the ones that have crazy color casts or nothing in focus.
Using the Organizer, you might suspect that Adobe wants you to sign up for its online service. It can't hurt to take advantage of the free 2GB of storage, but the encouragement to upgrade your account can get tiresome if you're not interested. Also, the software makes it easy to upload to Photoshop.com- and, under a More Options menu, to Kodak EasyShare Gallery, Flickr, and SmugMug-but sharing to Facebook works only via Photoshop.com.
In the Full Editor, the upgrade includes versions of tools borrowed from Photoshop CS4: Photomerge Exposure combines two nearly aligned images of different exposures to create a single one, sort of like HDR imaging. And the Recompose tool is similar to CS4's Content-Aware Scaling, which lets you crop without losing critical information.
For video, Premiere Elements can automatically trim out or fix overly blurry or shaky footage. It can also trim clips to keep the moments with the most action. A new motion tracker lets you add cartoons such as birds or thought bubbles that follow your subjects as they move through the frame. And the company has added flashy new transitions.
Such extras are a strength or a weakness, depending on your viewpoint. They're great if you want to make a collage of baby pictures against a backdrop of teddy bears or to create an instant movie of a kid's birthday party, complete with animated cupcakes. But photographers who want to get to the most powerful tools as quickly as possible must plan accordingly.
So despite the addition of some great features, the thought occurred: The program could be divided into two versions. It would be great if serious photographers could opt for the Full Editor, the streamlined Adobe Camera RAW (currently included), and a simple organizer/ browser-without all the bells and whistles of the guided edits and cute greeting cards that can get distracting. In fact, that's more or less what Mac users get when they choose Elements.
Still, the program for Windows is one of the best consumer-level photo and video editors out there. You just might also get a lot of stuff you don't want along with it.