Adobe’s entry-level image editing software has had an update, but is it enough to tempt existing users to upgrade?
Photoshop Elements, which sits beneath Photoshop CS6 and CC in Adobe’s photo-editing line-up, has long represented the best entry-level option for photographers and image-makers. The package is tailored to most levels of experience, catering for everything from novices who want to make simple, automated, tweaks, to more experienced users who want complete control of more manual editing tools. However, the big question for existing users is always going to be “Is there enough new in this latest version to justify an upgrade?” So, we downloaded a copy fresh from Adobe to find out.
Elements is a stripped-down version of the professional Photoshop package, with fewer high-end tools, and that’s been the case since Version 1 in 2001 (and Photoshop ‘LE’ before that). Over time however, more and more features have been borrowed from Photoshop and there’s now very little that Elements can’t achieve, albeit via a simplified interface. As versions have gone by, important tools like Layer Masks, Color Curves and Lens Blur have taken root in Elements, but Adobe’s still not made room for other juicy features. There’s no Pen tool, or ability to make use of Curves via an Adjustment Layer, or any of Photoshop CC’s whizzy new features like the Shake Reduction filter. A few more crumbs have fallen onto Elements from Photoshop’s platter, including Content Aware Move and Content Aware Fill: the first allows you to transplant subjects from one part of the picture to another and have them automatically blended in; and the second fills in the gaps at the frame’s corners when you’ve used the Straighten tool.
There’s also a brand-new feature called Auto Smart Tone which makes photo-editing a more freeform process and which also learns what you do, so that the next use of the tool will tailor adjustments to your previous edits. Alongside this is Pet Eye Correction which removes the ‘white eye’ effect, similar to red-eye in humans, that occurs when you shoot certain animals with direct flash. The number of Guided Edits has also increased to 25, now including Zoom Burst, Photo Puzzle and Restore Old Photo effects, and in the Quick mode there are Effects, Textures and Frames presets which let you add various lighting, colour, toning, and creative treatments to your shots with a single click.
In terms of RAW functionality, Elements 12 comes preloaded with the Adobe Camera Raw 8 plug in, so you’ll have all the benefits of the Process 2012 sliders via the Basic tab on your RAW files, just as you did in Elements 11. Elements 12 will also let you update to new versions as they’re released. These upgrades will support new cameras as they go on sale.
Finally, the Elements Organizer, which comes alongside the Editor as part of Elements 12, now has a Mobile Albums function that lets you sync your catalogue of images with those taken on your mobile devices. Any updates you make to those images will be uploaded back to your phone or tablet, and you now have access to everything in your Mobile Album. This requires the Adobe Revel app, which is currently free, and while it’s only available on Apple devices, there is an Android downloader to bridge the gap. Adobe has also improved the Organizer’s ability to intelligently categorise photos by location or subject. In short, Elements 12 offers all you need for a dizzying array of imaging tasks.
Interface & Performance
Photoshop Elements 12 has a lighter and cheerier interface than CS6 or CC and looks much the same as Version 11, with the same large, colourful icons and spacious layout, including more labelling for novice users. As before, the Editor is split into Quick, Guided and Expert modules, and if you’re serious about your editing, it’s the module where you’ll spend most of your time.
The two other options are designed to give less experienced users, or those who just want a quick fix, a simpler route to image enhancement, and both work just as well as ever. After an image is loaded in Quick mode, you use a series of presets at the right of the screen – Smart Fix, Levels, Exposure, Colour, Balance and Sharpen – to instantly see how your image would change with those adjustments.
Each preset has nine variations, and a ‘before’ and ‘after’ can be displayed to help you assess the improvements you’re making. In the Quick module, you’ll also find the new Auto Smart Tone feature under the Enhance menu (see the panel on the previous page).
The tabs within the Quick mode work slightly differently from those in Elements 11, and now feature Effects, Textures and Frames that can be added with just one click. The Effects mainly mimic antique film styles, giving results similar to the ‘creative filters’ found on many cameras. In Elements 12 your chosen image can be a bit sluggish to update when these filters are applied, and you can only alter their strength or location if you click through to the Expert module. They don’t work with the limited Selection tools within the Quick module.
Guided mode walks you through popular effects and, offers an excellent gateway into more involved techniques, with each step of the process explained. Once you’ve completed the walkthrough you can take the image into Expert mode and see how it’s been made using Layers. This is a useful learning tool, and the new modes on offer – Zoom blur, Photo Puzzle and Restore Old Photo – all give a good taste of what’s possible with your pics.
In its Expert mode, Elements 12 operates smoothly, and although there aren’t any vital new additions to its set of tools, it really offers almost everything you could require when enhancing an image. If you’re new to Elements it’s well worth persisting with the Expert mode, as it’s ultimately the most rewarding and offers the greatest flexibility in your adjustments. Changes to your pics are made almost instantly. When moving the sliders in the Levels palette, we did notice a small lag and a slightly flickery look to the real-time adjustments. That said, neither interfered with the process.
As with Elements 11, the Options bar is found at the bottom of the screen, and grouped tools, like the Quick Selection tool, Selection Brush and Magic Wand, are now chosen from here rather than via flyout menus in the Toolbox. Options in the Layers palette have also been moved to the top, so upgraders from version 10 or earlier may take a few days to get used to it, but these changes don’t adversely affect your editing.
Finally, it’s now possible to upload pics to sites like Facebook and Flickr straight from the Editor, rather than via the Organizer, thanks to a new Share option which sits next to the Create button – a welcome addition.
Value for Money
There’s no doubt that Elements 12 is a great package and a superb purchase for enthusiasts. Considering it’s around 10 percent of the cost of Photoshop CS6 it offers outstanding value, considering that many of the features exclusive to Photoshop are for professionals, and are not things most people use, day to day. Elements 12 also presents a compelling choice when you compare its cost to the subscription fee for Photoshop CC (£17.58 per month). With Elements 12 you’re unlikely to need to pay for an upgrade for some years.
True, Photoshop’s extra Camera Raw options aren’t in Elements 12. This can be addressed by twinning Elements 12 with Lightroom 5 (at £100) to form a formidable partnership. For those with Elements 11, there’s probably not enough here to justify an upgrade, but if you have version 10 or earlier, Elements 12 is well worth having.
True, Elements hasn’t evolved much with this update, but Elements 11 was a Digital Photo Gold Award winner, and really didn’t need much tweaking. Inevitably this means it’s not an essential purchase if you have the previous version, but for everyone else it’s the best entry-level photo editing package.
- Price: Discontinued
- Free trial?: Yes (30 days)
- Operating System: Windows XP with Service Pack 3 (limited RAW support), Vista, 7, 8 or Mac OS X 10.7, 10.8
- Processor: 1.6GHz or faster processor (including singlecore support), Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support (Mac)
- Memory: 1GB RAM (2GB Mac)
- Hard Disk: 4GB free space
- Display: 1024x768 with 16-bit colour video card
- Internet connection: Required for registration
- DVD-ROM drive: Yes, for boxed copy
- Visit: www.adobe.com/uk
This review was first published in the January 2014 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.