Just like its senior sibling Adobe Photoshop,has been for its professional image editing market, Adobe’s Photoshop Elements has been the reference application in the consumer (ie: relatively affordable) image editing app category since its debut nearly two decades ago. First introduced as Photoshop LE (Limited Edition) in 1996, renamed for its release in 2001 alongside Photoshop version 6, Photoshop Elements has always been tailored to address the needs of photography enthusiasts, for example such as red-eye effect removal and skin tone adjustment. PSE also lacks some of professional Photoshop’s high-end features that cater to the requirements of a print production environment. For example, Photoshop Elements doesn’t export files in the CMYK color mode (although that function can be added-on in the form of a third-party plug-in).
A big upside is that PSE’s Mac version has sold for $90 or $100 bucks over the years, which was one-seventh of full-zoot Photoshop’s price of entry prior to Adobe switching to a Creative Cloud subscription-only model with a tariff of $50 monthly for its flagship application earlier this year.
Happily, you can still licence Photoshop Elements in perpetuity for the cost of two months’Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud rental, which I’m guessing will convince many Photoshop CS users who don’t really need Photoshop’s highest-end features, but still want its familiar main functions to switch to Elements.
I’ve used every Photoshop Elements version for the Mac since version 2 (that would be versions, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, and now 12 (the PSE 5 and PSE 7 variants were skipped for the Mac platform), and it’s not for nothing that it’s been the Number 1 selling consumer photo editing software according to the NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service (January 2007 to March 2012). PSE version 12 is in most respects the best PSE yet, with all of my favorite features from previous versions including an array of features like various adjustment tools for attributes like exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, smart brushes, levels, color, sharpen and gradient curves carried over. Yet more returning features are face recognition, geotagging maps, filters, HDR, panoramas, and camera raw. And there’s some new stuff besides.
There have been a wide array of would-be challengers to Photoshop/Photoshop Elements’ dominance over the decades, all of them selling for significantly less than Adobe’s kings of their respective market category hills Photoshop apps. While some of them have been very good tools in their own right, none has heretofore matched Adobe’s Photoshop applications in range, depth, and scope of functions and capabilities.
Consequently, I’ve always considered Photoshop Elements to be worth the extra cost, at least for serious amateur or cost-conscious professional photographer users. So I was interested to see whether the latest Photoshop Elements version 12 has maintained its feature and function superiority lead over up-and-comers like Pixelmator 3($30) Acorn 4.1($50), Corel Aftershot Pro ($25), and Cyberlink PhotoDirector 5 ($60), and even free Web-based Google Picasa, to say nothing of the powerful Open Source GIMP software, all of which have all been getting better and better.
After checking out PSE 12, I can affirm that it’s still out in front, and unless you’re really short of funds, Elements remains the image editor you want if you’re only having one, but by a narrower margin than it used to enjoy over the competition.
One tedious aspect of getting PSE up and running is the relatively lengthy and convoluted Adobe install procedure the Adobe Download Assistant, as opposed to the simple drag and drop into the Applications Folder from a mounted disk image that so many Mac apps use nowadays. However, after I went through the Adobe ID password change drill since I couldn’t recall the password I’d used for my last Adobe install, I filled in the 24-character serial number and was rewarded with PSE 12’s splash screen, which pays homage to photographic history depicting a Rolleicord VB twin lens reflex camera identical to the one I’ve owned for nearly 40 years. I digress.
PSE 12 is slow starting up compared with smaller image editing apps like Pixelmator, presumably due to PSE’s relative ponderousness. However once it’s open, I didn’t notice any particular sluggishness on my late 2008 unibody MacBook with a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, and running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.
The PSE user interface is not changed much from version 11. Still fullscreen and in the neutral gray theme that Adobe says is less distracting, but it’s not terribly attractive to my sense of aesthetics and I’m not a fullscreen app fan. I much prefer Pixelmator’s great-looking piano black theme and multiple floating windows and menu palettes motif for looks even if is is distracting (I haven’t found it to be). As before, there are three different UI modes toggled with tabs – Quick, Guided, and Expert.
Quick includes a limited selection of simple tools for correcting color and lighting, and commands to quickly fix common problems, such as red eye, Brightness-Contrast, Exposure, Sharpen, and so forth.
Guided enables you to edit photos in the Guided Edit mode that walks you through the various touch-up processes and application of photographic effects, containing tools for basic photo edits. Users who are new to digital imaging will find Quick or Guided modes a good place to start fixing photos.
Expert has tools to correct color problems, create special effects, and enhance photos. Users who’ve worked with image-editing applications before will find that Expert mode provides a flexible and powerful image-correction environment, with lighting and color-correction commands and an array of tools for fixing image defects, making selections, adding text, and painting on images. You can rearrange the Expert workspace to best suit your needs by moving, hiding, and showing panels. You can arrange panels in the Panel Bin and also zoom in or out of the photo, scroll to a different area of the document window, and create multiple windows and views.
Help files that explain all this and much else in detail are available on the Web, and like the program itself are slow to open, but reasonably comprehensive and helpful once they do.
New features in PSE 12 include:
• A new way to easily move objects with the Content-Aware Move tool that has crossed over from Photoshop CS. Just circle, drag and drop an object you want to move or remove and let Elements do its stuff automatically, as opposed to manually using multiple layers to achieve similar ends. In any case, it will likely be necessary to do some touching up using PSE’s Healing Brush tool, but the program does the tedious heavy lifting part for you.
• Crooked photo correction with the new Straighten Tool. Rather than trial and error adjusting by degrees or using the free rotate command, you can now just drag the new straighten tool crosshairs across the photo to adjust an off-horizontal horizon. Content Aware fill will fill in the missing edges automatically instead of you having to crop your photo smaller, although that works better with some subject matter like landscapes, than with others that contain a lot of detail at the corners.
• Photomerge lets you combine two or more photos into one composite image for panoramas or combines group shots.
• Pet-Eye Correction, similarly to Red Eye Correction removes green, yellow and other “pet eye” discolorations from animal shots. Just position the crosshairs over the center of the critter’s off-color pupil and click.
• You can personalize your photos with new one-click special filters such as vintage photo effects, textures (eg: canvas or flaking paint) and frames in the in the Quick Editing mode.
• Enhanced Learn As You Use helps novice users produce professional creative effects with more than 25 Guided Edits such as the new Zoom Burst.
• The new Photo Puzzle features lets you turn shots into jigsaw puzzle effects, automatically cutting your shot into puzzle pieces you can move around.
• PSE 12’s new dedicated Old Photo Restore feature automates fixing damaged, aged or worn photos.
• Expert mode’s Auto Smart Tone applies automatic colour correction and automatically fine-tunes your photo’s brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. with a single mouse click, but also supporting user adjustability that isn’t possible with straight Autocorrect or Smart FIx.
Organizer module: A big new marquee feature of PSE 12 is Mobile Albums that upload to Adobe’s Revel cloud service. You can then view them in a web browser or with dedicated Revel apps for iOS, Windows 8, and Mac OS X. Revel also works the other way, with photos taken on iOS devices automatically uploaded to the cloud and downloaded to a Mobile Album, and you can you can decide what to upload on a file-by-file basis. A new left-panel Mobile option in the Organizer app lets you access any photos in your online galleries, create new ones, and drag and drop photos into them. There’s also a Revel Importer app for Android that handles this sort of uploads. However, there’s a big caveat: Adobe Revel is free for 30 days, but after that it’s limited to 50 photo and video uploads per month. And your mobile bandwidth allowance for iOS apps can suffer, since there’s no option to restrict uploads to Wi-Fi only. Personally I find Dropbox more flexible and appealing, with 2 GB of free content upgradable by referring others to the service. However, if you’re already a Revel user, or are favourably disposed to paying an ongoing service fee after 30 days in order to become one, this PSE feature will be a convenience.
Another thing that distinguishes Photoshop Elements in comparison to most of its competition in the sub-$100 image editor category is that it’s huge. On Mac systems it specifies 7GB of available hard-disk space to install applications, and an additional 5GB to install content, which may be a significant factor for users with current base spec. 128 GB MacBook Airs and 13-inch MacBook Pros on which disk capacity is at a premium. Another is that Elements is available for both Mac OS X and Windows, so if cross-platform file transparency and features are something you require, that could be a clincher since Pixelmator and Acorn for example, are Mac-only software.
Photoshop Elements at Version 12 is still the most comprehensive combination of power, feature-depth, and user-friendliness in the sub-$100 image editor class and is still the one to have of you’re only having one if your photo-editing and management needs transcend the basic functionality available in all modern image-editor applications.
Photoshop Elements 12 For OS X System Requirements:
64-bit multicore Intel processor
Mac OS X v10.7 through v10.9
2GB of RAM
7GB of available hard-disk space to install applications; additional 5GB to install content
Graphics card with the latest updated drivers
1024×768 display resolution
DVD-ROM drive (compatible DVD burner required to burn DVDs; compatible Blu-ray burner required to burn Blu-ray discs)
DV/i.LINK/FireWire/IEEE 1394 interface to connect a Digital 8 DV camcorder
QuickTime 7 software
Internet connection required for product activation
Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 (Mac and Windows) is available for purchase at http://www.adobe.com for US $99.99, and also available at retail stores such as Amazon, Best Buy, Costco, Office Depot, Office Max and Staples among others.