Adobe Elements is my kind of program — it’s easy to use. The new product — which replaces Photoshop LE for “midrange users” — offers all the features of Photoshop that I need, but without the steep learning curve.
Don’t get me wrong. Photoshop is a fantastic program. And in my newspaper days, I used it frequently. But now that my career involves more writing and editing than graphics manipulation, it’s simply more powerful than I need. And there are plenty of non-graphics pros, hobbyists, amateur photographers, and business users who will doubtless agree. Especially since the feature-packed Elements — which is based on Photoshop code — costs US$99 while Photoshop 6.0 is six times that price.
Targeted to the prosumer space, Elements is packed with tools that allow you to manipulate graphics and photos captured with digital cameras and scanners and prepare them for print, e-mail, or posting on the Web. It has flexible image-capture options and versatile delivery features. Other strong points include an informative, easily accessible, built-in help system; a Recipes palette that offers template commands for complex Photoshop instructions; a nifty Filter Browser; Previews features; and drag-and-drop filters and effects.
When the application is launched, the Quick Start screen lets you quickly open or create a file, acquire an image from a scanner or digital camera, and more. A Hints palette provides context-sensitive illustrations and tips that explain how to use Elements’ tools. For instance, if you click on “more help,” the Hints palette jumps to the online help on the subject in question.
The Recipes palette interactively shows you how to perform a variety of multi-step tasks, such as adding gradient effects, yet still gives you full control throughout each task. The File Browser lets you find photos simply by viewing thumbnails.
Elements sports a variety of color correction and image retouching tools. The Variations command automatically generates multiple color-adjusted versions of an image and displays them side-by-side so you can easily identify the best color adjustment to make. The Red Eye Brush Tool lets you remove the red eyes that result from camera flashes.
Levels and other controls enhance color and dynamic range without sacrificing picture detail. In Elements, which has the color management engine from Photoshop 6.0, Color Cast Correction provides numeric and slider-bar adjustment controls over the entire color range. You can get accurate color when outputting to a desktop printer, but the color settings dialog is pretty simply and straightforward.
Plus, Elements software can correct common photography problems caused by improper lighting with just a few mouse clicks. The Back Light command lets you darken images to correct for the kind of overexposure typically caused by a camera flash, while Fill Flash instantly lightens images that suffer from inadequate exposure. And you can automatically straighten and crop scanned images with a single command.
Tools such as Dodge, Burn, and Sponge simulate traditional darkroom techniques and let you adjust the tone of specific areas in a photo. And Element’s Photomerge technology automatically resizes, skews, and blends portions of multiple images into panoramas.
The layering in Elements is beefier than I expected. You can drag and drop an object (including text and images) from one file to another to create composite images. Because these objects exist on separate layers, you have the flexibility to move or modify the objects without affecting the rest of the image. Along the same lines, you can adjust and store color correction choices in editable layers without altering your original image layer. And you can specify layer settings such as drop shadows and bevels and save them.
You can add graphic elements to photos or create Web buttons and banners by choosing from a library of shapes and symbols and applying effects to them. Choose from a variety of brush libraries to add paint strokes or use the Impressionist tool to give photos the look of a painting. You can add and change text, fonts, and type effects (such as warping) without having to use restrictive dialog boxes.
The Filter Browser lets you visually scan 95-plus special-effects filters. You can then drag and drop the desired filter onto an image to apply it. Previews let you immediately see the effect of a filter on an image.
Elements’ History palette lets you quickly view your most recent editing operations and use multiple undo levels to correct mistakes and experiment without worry. The Background Eraser lets you remove the background of a photo without affecting the foreground.
The Liquify filter lets you distort an image by interactively twisting and pulling it as if it were made of putty. You can use Liquify as a touch-up tool to make enhancements as well. And you can import or create GIF animations using layers and interactively preview the results before saving.
Photoshop Elements software provides flexible image capture and output options. The Save for Web command compresses files for posting on the Web, using interactive compression options that let you preview and tweak the results before you save. And Web Photo Gallery lets you produce photo Web pages automatically without having to learn HTML.
When it comes to printing, the Picture Package feature automatically generates multiple copies of a photo in different sizes on a single page to maximize the use of photo-quality paper. You can create and print a contact sheet of your images for easy reference. And there’s built-in Adobe color management to ensure the colors you see on screen match what you get in print. You can open, save, and print all major graphics file formats, including layered Photoshop files.
One of my favorite features is Photomerge, a function that collects images from a folder and assembles them into panoramas. It not only works, but it works well. You can use it to resize and skew an image portion to fit together into a single image.
Elements doesn’t come with Photoshop’s Actions palettes, but does include batch commands, which is useful for digital camera users. For instance, you can choose a new file format, naming scheme, and size for re-sampling images as part of a batch and them save out under a new name.
So what else is Elements missing from its high-end cousin? Photoshop’s Curves and CMYK color space, masking features, the Pen tool, and the Paths palette.
But I don’t miss these features. If you think you will, then the application isn’t for you. What iMovie is to Final Cut Pro, what iDVD is to DVD Studio Pro, that’s what Elements is to Photoshop.
Photoshop Elements has a street price of US$99. Mac system requirements are a Power Mac running Mac OS 8.6 or higher, 64MB of RAM (with Virtual Memory on), 150MB of available hard-disk space, a color monitor with 800×600 or greater resolution, and a CD-ROM drive.
Now when Adobe releases a Mac OS X version, I’ll be really happy. Adobe says one is in the works, but I’m not expecting it before fall. For now, however, it runs fine in the Classic mode of Mac OS X.
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