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Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 - Enough Features to Be Called "Photoshop Lite"

written by: Sara Morgan•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/19/2008

Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 is the much cheaper baby brother to Photoshop, the huge, complex, and expensive image manipulation tool of choice for professional graphic designers. Yet Photoshop Elements is no inept infant: it has a full set of features, worthy of a package several times its price.

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    Photoshop is a powerful tool for professional photographers who need all kinds of image creation and manipulation features. Photoshop Elements, on the other hand, is aimed squarely at the amateur photographer, from the casual digital snapper who simply wants to correct for poor exposure or color balance, to the photography enthusiast looking for advanced post-production or digital darkroom features on a tight budget.

    Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 has three main goals: to enable you to edit, correct  and be creative with digital images; to help you manage and back up your image collections; and to enhance your ability to display your work using decorative themes, slideshows, and online publishing.

    All this functionality is integrated into a single application. From here, you can import images from cameras and scanners; tag and organize them; edit and enhance them; create slide shows, photo albums, and other projects; and then output to print, CD, DVD, TV, or the Web.

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    Price to Value

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    You get a lot of features for your money, and you have the added advantage of working with a cut-down version of the de facto standard photo-editing tool. Elements also gives you access to thousands of third-party Photoshop plugins.

    What's Not: 
    If terms such as gamma correction, Wratten filter emulation, and lens vignetting mean something to you, then Elements is more than capable of delivering what you need. But you may find that the more “fun" aspects of the product tend to get in the way a little and reduce the sense that you’re working with a professional tool. On the other hand, if you simply want an easy-to-use photo organizer and image optimizer, you may find the powerful editing features of Elements a bit daunting; you’d be better off with a freeware product such as Google’s Picasa. But for the all-around, reasonably technically competent user, Elements strikes a good balance.
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    Installation & Setup

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    Photoshop Elements installs cleanly and without fuss. It also includes an automated update system, which checks for updates for Elements (along with those for any other Adobe products you may have installed, such as Acrobat Reader). The license permits a second copy to be installed on a laptop as long as it is for your exclusive use.

    What's Not: 
    The only downside (and this is to be expected in a modern product of this kind) is that the system requires a whopping 1.5 GB of hard drive space. You don’t have the option of only installing the parts you need, either.
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    User Interface

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    Aside from the camera download utility, which sits in your system tray, everything is accessed from the one application. This is divided into an organizer workspace; various windows for creating slideshows, photo galleries, etc.; and the main editor workspace.

    The organizer is comprehensive and has some nice features. My favorite is the ability to stack similar photos so that only the best of the bunch is showing (see Image 1). The user interface is slick and fairly intuitive.

    The main editor window has two views, accessible through tabs: the first is a simplified interface for making quick adjustments to tone, contrast, sharpness, etc. using sliders. The view can show “before" and “after" shots side by side, making it easy to judge your improvements (see Image 2).

    The second tab reveals the full editing toolset. The layout is deceptively simple for such a rich feature set, and it is quick and easy to un-clutter the screen and maximize your work space.

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    Product Features

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    Given such a low price, Photoshop Elements has just about everything you need for manipulating photos, whether you’re correcting for shooting errors, performing a sophisticated compositing job, or just being creative. For serious work, perhaps the most time-consuming and important task is selecting portions of the image (for instance, so that you can blur the background, lighten a shadow, or remove an unwanted object). Elements scores very highly here, with a wide range of selection tools and the ability to make fine adjustments to the selection margin. Especially nice is the Magic Selection brush. Simply scribble over the part of the image you wish to select, and the software will figure out where its boundaries probably lie (see Image 3). The Magic Extractor takes this one step further: you show the software examples of both foreground and background, using a few brush strokes, and it will intelligently separate the one from the other.

    For retouching a photo, Elements has the usual clone tool and brushes for local adjustment of sharpness, contrast, etc. The editor has special controls for adjusting skin tone, which can be great for warming up a subject shot on a grey day or “improving" your holiday tan (see Image 4).

    Filters vary from the subtle to the avant garde. At the subtle end, if you wish you’d dropped a Wratten Number 85 warming filter over your lens before taking that sunset, you can do it now instead. Converting color images to black and white is especially nice, because you can choose the filtration used in the process. Those of us old enough to remember black-and-white film will know that the best way to bring out clouds against a blue sky is to add a yellow or red filter to the lens. A red filter will also make trees look dark, while a green one will lighten them. Elements lets you do all this and more, and has a useful set of presets for producing good black and white portraits, landscapes, or urban shots. Rediscover the impact of monochrome!

    Like Photoshop, Elements also has comprehensive support for layers, allowing you to isolate parts of an image and manipulate them individually, matte one image onto another, or add filters that can be readjusted or removed at any stage in the workflow. At the more creative end, you can add distortions, convert photos to paintings (the artistic filters are quite impressive, compared to some), or paint over images using semi-natural art brushes to produce your own masterpiece in watercolor (see Image 5).

    Once you’ve created the perfect image, you can use it to make a CD label, add it to a musical slideshow, publish it to a web photo service, make your own postage stamp or calendar, or even, if you insist, print it out. A nice feature for today’s happy snapper with a zillion-GB memory card is the ability to automate the processing of multiple images (see Image 6). These can be resized, auto-enhanced, and renamed and/or converted from one file format to another as a single batch.

    What's Not: 
    Although it has some suitable tools, Elements is not geared towards creating original artwork from scratch, for which you should consider an application such as Painter. Nor is it ideal for serious design tasks like creating posters or package art. If that’s your ball game, you need to invest in a full-scale graphics program or suite like Photoshop or Corel and be prepared to pay a lot more money.
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    Organizer lets you stack imagesThe Editor includes before and after images for comparisonThe magic selection brush discovers image boundariesYou can adjust skin tone to warm a subjectFilters allow you to convert photos to paintingsYou can easily process multiple images
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    Suggested Features

    I personally found the CD labels, slideshows, photo albums, and even to some extent, the image organizer a bit of a distraction, and I would have preferred something a little more focused. These seemed a bit like features put in to appeal to a mass market and I think they may be unnecessary for such a product as this.
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    Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 is no toy when it comes to photo retouch and manipulation, but it doesn’t pretend to be an all-around bitmap-and-vector art package like Corel; it’s squarely aimed at the home photographer, who maybe produces the occasional greeting card. All in all, you get a lot of nice toys to play with and some serious editing and enhancement tools that will add great value to your photographs. Photoshop Elements is well worth the price in terms of the features you get.
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