Adobe announced the next version of Photoshop Elements 3, its consumer-level image editor, yesterday. This $90 program takes much of the pixel-pushing power of Adobe's $649 pro-level Photoshop CS and puts it in an easy-to-use interface-reducing many of the most tiresome tasks to a mere click of the mouse or a drag of the onscreen slider.
I've been playing with a beta of Photoshop Elements 3 for a couple of weeks now (one of the perks of this job) and I have to say I'm pretty impressed. Here's why:
Some people can look at a bad photo and tell you exactly what's wrong with it-there's too much blue, the highlights are blown, and so on. But the rest of us just see that it looks like a bad, experimental film from the 70s and want it fixed. And this is one of the areas where the new version of Elements really shines.
The update includes a new Smart Fix button that will analyze a photo's colors, lighting, and contrast and attempt to fix all of these problems in one go. Of course, it's more successful on some images than others. But from what I've seen, the feature does a better job than what you'd get by just applying the Auto Color and Auto Levels commands from the previous version. An improved Quick Fix mode gives you large Before and After images so you can decide if you like the results before you apply them to your photo. If you don't, you can adjust a Smart Fix slider to scale back the amount of image correction. So it's not all or nothing, as so many one-click fixes are.
Of course, if you do want to get your hands dirty with color correction, levels, masking, and so on, you certainly can. All of those features are still available through the regular menus and tools. Which means you won't quickly outgrow the program. And this, I think is where Photoshop Elements really gets it right.
There are a large number of Mac users who made the leap from film to digital photography in the last few years and who are now looking to get more from their growing photo collection. "That photo of Sue would be so cute if only the lighting were better," they say to themselves. iPhoto's built-in image-correction tools are great for some of these quick adjustments, but helpless with more complicated tasks. This is where Elements steps in.
Adobe is billing Elements 3 as a complement rather than a replacement to iPhoto. The new version tightly integrates with an existing iPhoto catalogue, so you can quickly and easily move between the two programs-using iPhoto to organize and store your photos and Elements to edit them. And that means that you have room to develop your editing skills at your own pace.