Photoshop Elements–a simpler version of the $600 professional-grade Adobe Photoshop software package–is probably the best of the lot. Paint Shop Pro 8 takes some work to learn, but it gives ample help. PhotoSuite 5, however, is easy to operate because it tries to do your thinking for you (not necessarily a good thing).
Among its many features, the $99 Photoshop Elements has a helpful Quick Fix dialog box that displays before and after versions of an image, along with several often-used tools. You can find all of the tools elsewhere in the application, but Quick Fix explains what they do and how to use them–and it gives you a Reset Image button that takes you back to the original image.
As its uncomplicated interface suggests, the $40 PhotoSuite 5 Platinum is intended for beginners. Roxio calls the program “icon-rich”: Instead of toolbars, it has large tabs labeled with text and picture icons, some of which you might find vague.
Another drawback: PhotoSuite 5 wants you to choose an output resolution in its Preferences menu. But to achieve that resolution, the software sometimes adds interpolated pixels–a big no-no for an image editor because the procedure almost always makes pictures look horrible. According to Roxio, this alleviates worry about choosing the resolution. But that’s the problem: The application makes important decisions for you.
The $84 Paint Shop Pro 8 has tools to handle almost any image-editing task, but it also offers lots of help for beginners, including an extensive new Learning Center. Like most image editors, Paint Shop Pro 8 provides several automatic ways to fix photos, including Auto Color Balance and Auto Contrast. And thanks to a new scripting capability, Paint Shop Pro can easily correct batches of images at once. (PhotoSuite is even easier to use on multiple images, but you can use only a small subset of its editing features on batches.)
PhotoSuite 5 Platinum may work for quick fixes on many photos, but it also could make some of them worse. Paint Shop Pro 8 is far more capable, but it takes more effort to learn. Ultimately, if you want a powerful, low-cost image editor, Adobe’s Photoshop Elements is the most elegant.
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