The image-editing landscape is much altered since Adobe launched Photoshop Elements 1.0 in April 2001. Then, it was one of three consumer image-editors from Adobe, Mac OS X had just been launched, and home digital photographers were only beginning to explore the possibilities on offer.
Since then, Adobe has ditched Photoshop LE and PhotoDeluxe, OS X has revolutionized the Mac platform and most of the apps on it, and the digital camera is firmly established.
Elements 2.0 is not only Carbonized to run natively in OS X, but is pitched squarely at the ever-growing millions who own a digital camera. Tellingly, Canon has estimated that by next year, sales of its digital cameras will outstrip those of its film models for the first time. Where Apple is exploiting this trend with iPhoto and .Mac, Adobe is trusting to Elements 2.0.
The update is essentially a Carbonized version of 1.0 with a few extra frills, but the essence of it has changed very little: it’s a boiled-down version of Photoshop that bridges the gap between high-end image-editors and the child-like software bundles that ship with most consumer digital cameras and scanners.
Elements 2.0 now spans this divide better than ever. Version 1.0 assumed no knowledge on behalf of the user, offering a Recipes palette (interactively teaching the user how to perform just about any multi-step process likely to be needed) and a Hints palette (providing context-sensitive diagrams for each tool.) In 2.0 there’s also an exhaustive online Glossary of technical terms and features, into which feeds Smart Recipes. This provides a hyperlink to the relevant Glossary subject within error messages and dialog boxes. Rookies will also welcome the collection of pop-down browsers, giving easy access to files, special effects and filters. Everything sits in pop-down tabbed-folders along the options bar.
Once the stabilizers are off, Elements 2.0 gives the committed user enough functionality to become a quasi Photoshop-expert. For example, much of Photoshop’s muscle lies in Layers, which Elements boasts, too – and to 2.0 there’s now been added a masking tool, in the shape of the Selection Brush. For users with designs on the Web, Photoshop’s Save for Web is also present, as it was in 1.0.
Those features likely to make Elements a draw for digital photographers remain largely unchanged. Its collection of “darkroom” tools – Sponge, Smudge, Redeye Brush and Dodge – all improve shoddy results from under-exposure, over-exposure and poor use of flash. There are also backlight and Fill Flash options under the Enhance menu. Those scanning in slides or photos, meanwhile, will appreciate the useful image-straightening and cropping features.
However, the one glaring omission from 2.0’s tool line-up is Photoshop 7.0’s Healing Brush. Anyone scanning-in tatty family snaps would surely be likely to buy Elements on the strength of this feature alone.
However, version 2.0 does have its wow features. One of the best things about 1.0 was Photomerge, and this is still the case. This natty feature allows the user to stitch images together into perspective-corrected panoramas, and is exactly the kind of thing digital-imaging newcomers love impressing their friends with.
Although not exactly wow features, welcome additions to 2.0 include: the ability to create PDF (Portable File Document) slideshows, complete with transitions; an email image-attachment feature, that automatically resizes and optimizes the file for sending and viewing; and Digital Video Frame Acquisition, which captures individual frames from digital camcorders, and supports common video-file formats, including MPEG, AVI, WMV and QuickTime; and Batch Processing, which instantly changes useless digital-camera file names into meaningful names, can resize piles of images for posting to the Web, as well as changing image file-formats, all in a single click.
There are also interface and workflow improvements in 2.0, designed to make a wide range of editing tasks easy to access and perform. Common tasks such as red-eye removal, cropping and rotating are less intimidating thanks to the new Quick Fix feature.
One high-end Photoshop feature-set almost entirely omitted in 1.0 was colour management. Version 2.0, though, goes some way to remedying this, with Colour Variations, a feature offering thumbnailed real-time previews of any given set of colour adjustments made by the user.
At the price, domestic digital photographers will find much in Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 to commend it. However, even with its improved accessibility, many users will undoubtedly find the learning curve steep, but with some perseverance will discover an exciting new digital world opening up before them.
Although Elements 2.0 does offer a clutch of new features, its best feature is that it runs in OS X, making it faster and more stable. It’s a real shame, then, that the Adobe bean counters have seen fit not to offer a discount of any description to users of Elements 1.0, and owners of the now-defunct Photoshop LE and PhotoDeluxe.