When Adobe Photoshop Elements debuted last year, many longtime Photoshop users–including this reviewer–were amazed at how much of Photoshop’s power Adobe was offering at a fraction of its price (Reviews, August 2001). Because Elements was intended for digital-imaging newcomers, Adobe tacked on several help-related features meant to alleviate Photoshop’s notoriously strenuous learning curve. Elements’ successor, version 2.0, is even easier to use, and it introduces powerful new features. Elements 2.0 is also fully compatible with OS 9 and OS X, making it the ideal companion for anyone who owns a digital camera and is looking for an inexpensive and easy-to-use, while at the same time sophisticated, program for sprucing up photos.
Like the first version, Elements 2.0 offers standard Photoshop features such as a History palette, adjustment layers, the Warp Text and Liquify commands, GIF animations (actually inherited from Photoshop’s significant other, ImageReady), and a full complement of effects filters. But the centerpiece of Elements’ new easy-to-use features is the Quick Fix com-mand. Quick Fix lets you quickly adjust an image’s brightness, color, focus, and rotation, all from within one window. Two large previews show the before and after states of your image, and a Tip section gives you pertinent advice as you go. Newcomers will immediately see an improvement in their images, but for advanced users, Elements also has more-powerful ways, outside of Quick Fix, to accomplish many of these tasks
Creating selections to isolate portions of an image is easier than ever in Elements 2.0. The new Selection Brush lets you simply paint a selection onto your image. In the Selection Brush’s Mask mode, you paint a translucent red overlay; for the first time, it’s possible for Elements users to actually see soft-edged selections and partially selected areas.
Once you’ve made a selection, you can save it within the image file to use later. It’s no longer necessary to painstakingly reselect complicated areas of an image if you need to adjust them later. And the new 1-H keyboard shortcut quickly hides potentially distracting selection outlines.
Selection Brush aside, there are plenty of useful new Elements-exclusive features. With just a couple of clicks, Attach To E-mail shrinks your image, turns it into a JPEG, fires up your e-mail program, and creates a blank e-mail with the JPEG attached. And Frame From Video lets you import stills from precaptured QuickTime files or even raw iMovie footage. The PDF Slideshow command lets you easily turn a group of images into a slick presentation, though the promised flashy transitions are incompatible with Acrobat Reader 5.0.5. (Adobe says a fix for Acrobat Reader is coming soon.)
Elements 1.0 introduced the File Browser, an iPhoto-like palette that displays thumbnails of the image files in any given folder. Adobe transplanted this idea into Photoshop 7.0 and developed it into an indispensable tool for viewing and organizing images. Now almost all of Photoshop 7’s File Browser capabilities are included in Elements 2.0. You can rotate thumbnails without actually rotating the corresponding images, reorganize images by dragging the thumbnails into different folders, view embedded data from digital cameras, and even automatically rename a batch of files.
Several other Photoshop 7.0 features have trickled into Elements 2.0. For example, the Brush tool gives you a taste of Photoshop’s new painting engine, with scores of brushes designed to simulate natural and unnatural media. The Picture Package command lets you combine multiple images for printing on a single page (though adding images is just as clumsy as it is in Photoshop). The new Auto Color command often produces respectable results with one click. And on a more mundane but still welcome note, you can now rename a layer simply by double-clicking on its name in the Layers palette.
Get a Clue
Of course, if you’re new to image editing, you’re probably concerned with whether Elements has inherited Photoshop’s difficult learning curve. But the good news is that Elements’ strong Help system has been made even better. There’s an ever-present Search field located on screen. Type in a word that’s baffling you, and the Search Results palette appears, offering one-click access to related topics in the online Help. The How To palette gives step-by-step instructions for accomplishing many common tasks. Even the program’s error messages offer hotlinks to technical words; clicking on one takes you straight to the built-in Glossary for a quick definition. And if you like to receive help the old-fashioned way, you can always turn to the 240-page printed manual.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
For newcomers, Elements 2.0 makes it easy to correct images, providing excellent, time-tested tools. For Elements 1.0 users, it offers myriad new features and improvements in a perfect upgrade. And those who have Photoshop experience may just conclude that Elements 2.0 has all the digital-imaging power they need, at a much more affordable price.