Many image editing applications claim to offer the power of Adobe Photoshop but at a far friendlier price. Nearly all fail. But in an ironic twist, Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 6 adds beginner-focused features that seem very similar to those in one of its main competitors, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2. Elements 6 has a couple of new features for people who have used the software before, but the main focus of this update seems to be a serious attempt to attract new, novice users–a strategy that rival image editors such as Paint Shop usually pursue. Elements 6 is a better choice for novices than Paint Shop, but if you’ve used Elements before, you may be disappointed with this version of it.
The latest editions of Elements and Paint Shop cost the same: $100. Like Paint Shop, Elements 6 has a darker default interface than its predecessor, though Elements 6 won’t let you adjust the shade to your preference. But the most striking similarity between this program and Corel’s is in the packages’ lead-you-by-the-nose editing modes, Express Lab in Paint Shop and the new Guided Editing in Elements 6. You can perform more functions in Elements’ mode, including lightening shadows and darkening highlights, touching up scratches and blemishes, and removing color casts, and it provides helpful text describing each adjustment’s function. But it lacks the Preview box found in most Photoshop functions (it does offer an option to see before and after versions of your image, but I prefer the Preview button because toggling it shows your changes on the same image–you don’t have to look left and right).
Unlike Express Lab, Elements’ Guided Editing lets you edit multiple images at a time: Just highlight as many images as you want, and select a fix. However, if you decide you like the effects on one image but not the others, you have to undo your work on all of them.
Of course, if you don’t find Guided Editing sufficiently powerful, you can choose Full Editing, which gives you all of the application’s tools with no hand-holding. And in case you find neither Guided Editing nor Full Editing to your liking, you can choose Quick Editing, which has four general editing areas that overlap with features from the other modes. Adobe says the revised interface is “streamlined,” but I think the multiple modes add to the clutter.
Adobe has added the Quick Selection tool it first made available in Photoshop CS3 to Elements 6; the tool can make creating a selection (a roped-off section of an image to which fixes are limited) pretty easy, but since it has no tolerance (sensitivity) setting, it can be useless on some images. On the plus side, the Refine Edge feature I loved in Photoshop CS3 came along, too. It isn’t quite as sophisticated as CS3’s, but it does a fantastic job of cleaning up the edges of selections so you don’t have to spend as much time handling stray pixels.
Elements 6 still has no photo-blogging conduits, so to post images on your blog, you must export your image using a ‘Save for Web’ command, and then manually upload through your blogging platform’s tool. Adobe says its surveys indicate that its users aren’t interested in blogging–but how would they know if they haven’t tried it?
My overall impression of Elements 6 is similar to my impression of Adobe’s new Premiere 4 video editor; Adobe expended great effort trying to make the application accessible to novices who have never laid hands on it, and in doing so, diluted some of the program’s power and flexibility. I think that move will likely irritate users of older versions who have already learned how to use the app. Personally, I’d be perfectly happy using the previous version.