Photoshop Elements 4.0 full review

With an eye toward its core audience of non-professional photo enthusiasts, Adobe has made improvements to its fourth version of Photoshop Elements that make it easier than ever to edit, organise and share digital photos. Despite its consumer-level price tag, Elements 4.0 sports some new tools that many gurus wish the full-blown Photoshop had.

Indeed, this release, which adds a snappy red-eye fix and simplified extract tool, continues to blur the distinction between those who really need the power of Photoshop CS2 and those who could live contentedly in the land of Elements.

Aside from a couple of new items in the toolbar, the workspace and interface appear unchanged, which is a good thing. A welcome addition is the descriptive icons sprinkled throughout the menu system – a terrific visual cue for newcomers to digital photo editing.

Bridge for better organisation
Elements users now enjoy nearly the full power and organisational prowess of Adobe Bridge, which is derived straight from its Creative Suite 2.

Bridge is a separate application and feels very similar to Apple’s iPhoto 6. Within Bridge you can manage, sort, delete, and view your image collection in a number of different ways. Bridge also displays file properties such as name, type, size, dimension, resolution, creation date, modified date, bit depth, colour mode, camera, and whether the flash was on or off, to name a few.

A new partnership between Adobe and Kodak lets you print photos or greeting cards and share your photos online, all within Bridge’s built-in browser.

Bridge also lets you apply an iPhoto-like star-rating system, assign colour labels, and attach keywords to individual photos or batches for easy sorting and searching. However, unlike iPhoto 6, you have to manually rotate vertical shots. Bridge also allows users to view files shot in Camera Raw format (the highest quality setting on digital cameras, which is sometimes referred to as a digital negative). Despite those advantages, however, Bridge’s performance felt a bit sluggish.

Just like magic
With the new Magic Selection Brush tool you can scribble on an object and Elements will select it for you, if there’s enough contrast between the object you wish to select and its background. Chances are that you’ll need to scribble more than once to get a good selection. You’ll also need a little patience, as it takes Elements a few seconds to calculate each new selection attempt between scribbles. Once you select an object, you can do cool things, like change its colour.

The new Magic Extractor is perfect for plucking objects from backgrounds and, by itself, could be worth the software price. And here’s the kicker: it works better than the Extract filter in Photoshop CS2. Because the Magic Extractor allows you to mark as much (or as little) of both the area you want to retain (the foreground) and the area you want to discard (the background), you get a more accurate selection.

Nestled under the Image menu, the Magic Extractor is easy to operate and completely amazing. Simply scribble on the area you want to keep with the Indicate Foreground brush, and scribble on the area you want to discard with the Indicate Background brush. Unlike the Magic Selection Brush tool, the Magic Extractor doesn’t try to calculate the selection until you’ve finished marking both areas. Adobe wisely includes a Preview button, allowing you to see the results before accepting the change.

Skin tone fix and more
Elements 4.0 boasts a new retouching tool called the Skin Tone Adjustment. The logic is that improving the colour of skin tones often improves the colouration of the entire photo. This tool works by removing weird colours that it knows are not found in any colour skin. Whatever colours lie beneath are supposed to come shining through, thus eliminating odd colourcasts. As you can imagine, your success with this tool will vary.

Other additions include an improved Red-Eye Fix, which can zap several pairs of devil eyes in the same photo, and the ability to straighten (and crop) crooked photos by drawing a new horizontal or vertical edge onto the photo with the Straighten tool.

Before you eject the installation CD, do yourself a favour and copy the Goodies folder onto your hard drive. It’s packed with backgrounds, frames, and embellishments (scrapbooking, anyone?).

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