Photoshop Elements Version 11; Still The Best Consumer Image Editor – ‘Book Mystique Review

When anyone asks my advice on which image-editing program to buy, for more than a decade or so my boilerplate short answer has been “Photoshop Elements.” That recommendation doesn’t change with the latest Photoshop Elements version 11 that was released in late September. I’ve used every Photoshop Elements (PSE) version for the Mac since version 2 (that would be versions, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11 — the PSE 5 and PSE 7 variants were skipped for the Mac platform), and it’s not not for nothing that it’s been the Number 1 selling consumer photo-and video-editing software according to the NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service (January 2007 to March 2012).

PSE version 11 is in most respects the best PSE yet, with all of my favorite features from previous versions carried over, and some cool new stuff besides.

A refreshed, user-interface features the same graphics engine as Adobe’s category paradigm-setter Photoshop — the undisputed industry standard for digital imaging.

• Quick, Guided, and Expert editing modes with one-click options and an Action bar.

• Options to organize photo categories based on people, places (via Google Maps geo-tagging) or events.

• New Guided Edits to make pro-level effects like tilt-shift, vignettes and high and low-key easy to create. For example, Guided Edits walks you step-by-step through creating tilt-shift effects that make photos look like miniature scenes.

Another PSE 11 capability is that it lets you cleanly extract people or objects from one photo and put them in another. The program’s enhanced picture editing engine makes it easier to select and refine the edges of hair and other tricky content, so you can add relatives to the family portrait, put a friend onstage with her favorite singer, and so forth. PSE’s Smart Brush lets you paint any of 100 effects and enhancements onto specific areas of your photos. Adobe’s Photomerge technology lets you combine content from a series of photos easily, enabling you to match the style of one photo with that of another or create better panoramas,

Photoshop Elements 11 packs a lot of power to help you fix common photo problems fast. Remove red eye, touch up skin tones, and sharpen blurred images. There are one-step shortcuts for correction tasks like whitening teeth; making blue skies bluer; fixing color, contrast, and lighting — and letting you choose the best result from a selection of adjustment previews. With PSE 11 you can also remove unwanted clutter such as street signs, power poles, and people who wandered into the frame in your shots.

The Photoshop Elements Organizer streamlines and, well, organizes, management of your images, for example by sorting and and manage them grouped in people, places, and events categories using PSE 11’s new Organizer views.The Maps feature lets you view photos (and videos if you’re also using Adobe Premiere Elements) on a map image based on where they were taken.

While competitors in the consumer/hobbyist image editing software arena like the bargain-priced but very capable $15 PIxelmator, Funtastic Photos, and Acorn get better and better, and in some instances could be sensible choices (certainly cheaper ones) to meet your image editing needs, none has yet matched Photoshop Elements for raw power and a deep feature set.

For example, while you can usually achieve similar results using the tools in these competing applications, none of them does what I usually need done quicker or slicker than PSE’s “Lighting And Shadows” adjustment, although Pixelmator’s “Curves” adjuster is nicer and more intuitive to use than PSE’s corresponding tool.

One aspect where PSE 11 has improved markedly is in startup time. the new version takes less than 25 seconds on my 2.0 GHz C2D MacBook running OS 10.8.2 and with 4 GB of RAM. That compares with about 70 seconds PSE 10 took on this machine, although it takes just 10 seconds for Pixelmator to spring into action from a cold startup.

Actually, it’s a bit misleading to categorize Photoshop Elements as a “consumer” program, which kind of implies that it’s somewhat compromised or has training wheels or somesuch. “Prosumer” would be more descriptively accurate. Photoshop Elements is intended to be a complete, end-to-end software solution for anyone using digital photography, whether they be a consumer amateur or even many a professional. It is designed to offer a user-friendly approach to fixing common photographic flaws and in enhancing digital images by way of a few clicks. Suffice to say that Elements is an extremely capable graphics program, with power and a range of features that no other application in the sub-$100 price range can match, and with version 10 it’s even more capable.

Photoshop Elements is by no means perfect. The installation and registration rigamarole is still cumbersome and time-consuming compared with competing image editor products that just let you drag the application file from a decompressed and mounted disk image to the Applications Folder and then enter a simple registration key.

The most visible change in PSE 11 is its completely overhauled Editor user-interface; although in terms of color it’s everything old is new again with a return to the light-gray theme of generations past, after what proved to be an experimental foray into a more Pixelmator-esque black with version 10. The new UI is cleaner and less busy in its design, with larger icons and buttons, and easier-to-read text.

This latest PSE’s open documents, layer and tool palettes (“panels” in Adobe-speak), and so forth are all incorporated in a floating, resizable window called the Application Frame, and only the menu bar remaining outside this space.

The Options Bar, which formerly resided above the Editor workspace, has been superseded by an Options panel that lives along the bottom of the Editor window, and there’s a new, hide-able Tool Options panel. The mode buttons, Quick, Guided, and Expert, now live at the top. The gaggle of panels to the right of the workspace window can only be displayed one at a time in the common window space they appear in, but there’s a More button that opens a second category of panels into a floating palette type window.

I’m not blown away by the new interface. Still full-screen — it’s the diametrical opposite of Pixelmator’s minimalist user interface, which I like. Personally, notwithstanding that we’ve entered the era of OS X “iOSsification,” I’m not a fan of full-screen application viewing modes and much prefer to have access to the desktop without being obliged to hide the application. I do really like the tabbed motif of the interface’s workspace, which lets you switch among simultaneously open documents, a la a web browser. However, it’s still less free form than Pixelmator’s attractively piano black themed interface mode that is comprised of floating windows and palettes that leave the Desktop accessible, but it does the job, is functional and serviceable.

A convenient feature for those of us without large amounts of RAM is that you can set PSE 11’s memory usage in the new, more streamlined preferences.

However, despite a few annoyances, if I was only having one image editor, my choice would be Photoshop Elements in a heartbeat. Functionality and power wise, it’s still simply the best. If you’re at all serious about getting first rate results from your digital photography, once you get used to using Elements you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. It’s just plain cool being able to brighten the lighting in muddy and murky underexposed shots or conversely richen the color in washed-out, overexposed ones. Adjusting lighting values is usually job one for me, and no affordable image editor does that better or slicker than PSE.

There is the expected comprehensive array of image editing and correction tools, including some favorites like the Spot Healing Tool, a red-eye fixer, and a Smudge tool that works really well. By default, edited images are saved in Adobe’s proprietary Photoshop PSD format, or you can specify your choice of a wide range of image formats. There’s a handy “Save for Web” option that optimizes images for Internet display.

Photoshop Elements 11 is essentially Photoshop Lite, but there’s no reason to imagine that there’s anything second-rate about it. While graphics professionals and advanced amateurs will continue to appreciate the raw power and esoteric features of Photoshop Creative Suite, it sells for a MSRP of $649.00. Photoshop Elements will pretty much do everything most of us would ever attempt using Photoshop CS, and more, for a much less wallet-punishing $99.99.

Consequently, I’m bemused by people who say they would never bother with “Photoshop Lite,” and that nothing less than full-zoot Photoshop CS will do for them. The irony is that if pressed as to what exactly is missing from Photoshop Elements that’s so mission-critical for them, many will be stymied coming up with a credible answer, and have an even tougher time now that PSE has a layer mask button. Photoshop CS is of course a tremendous powerhouse production tool for professionals and serious amateurs, so if you do need its advanced features, rock on.

But for the rest of us, few will ever test the capability limits of Photoshop Elements, which at $99.95 has to be one of the best value-for-your-money bargains in commercial software.

System requirements Mac OS:
• Multicore Intel processor
• Mac OS X v10.6 through v10.8
• 1GB of RAM (2GB for HD video functions)
• 4GB of available hard-disk space (additional free space required during installation)
• 1024×768 display resolution
• DVD-ROM drive
• QuickTime 7 software required for multimedia features
• Internet connection required for Internet-based services

System requirements Windows:
• 1.6GHz or faster processor (including single-core support)
Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8
• 1GB of RAM (2GB for HD video functions)
• 4GB of available hard-disk space (additional free space required during installation)
• Color monitor with 16-bit color video card
• 1024×768 monitor resolution
• Microsoft DirectX 9 or 10 compatible display driver
• DVD-ROM drive
• Internet connection required for Internet-based services

Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 for Windows and Mac is available at, as well as at retail outlets such as, B and H Photo, Best Buy, Costco, New Egg, Office Depot and Staples.

A Photoshop Elements 11 & Premiere Elements 11 bundle is available for a suggested retail price of $149.99, or upgrade for US$119.99. Photoshop Elements 11 is also available individually for a suggested retail price of $99.99, with upgrade pricing of $79.99. It’s available for $89.99 at

For free training videos on Photoshop Elements, visit Adobe TV at:

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