Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 Review

Photoshop Elements
Adobe began shipping Photoshop and Premiere Elements 9 in September of this year for both Mac and PC, and Amazon is running a great deal on it through the Christmas holiday.

What’s new on the Mac side of things? For one, the addition of the Elements Organizer.

For those unfamiliar with Photoshop Elements, there have been two components to the PC version: the Elements Editor and the Elements Organizer. The editor handles the obvious “Photoshop” capabilities expected in a product by that name, while the Organizer handles the importing, cataloguing, and sorting of the user’s library. If you’re thinking, “That sounds like iPhoto,” then you’re getting very warm.

The Editor has been given some nice new features, primarily in the area of special effects. Two standout new features are the “Lomo camera” effect and “Out of Bounds.” The Lomo feature allows you to recreate the look of the iconic Lomo cameras. Wikipedia has this to say about “Lomography”: “Lomography emphasizes casual, snapshot photography. Characteristics such as over-saturated colors, off-kilter exposure, blurring, ‘happy accidents,’ and alternative film processing are often considered part of the ‘Lomographic Technique.” In the tradition of this photography style, you can add cross-processing to the color and a darkened vignette to the corners.

The “Out of Bounds” effect allows you to select a portion of the image and make it pop out of the frame. Some careful selecting and creative perspective can give your average image a 3D look. You can see my two samples of these features below.  Greater layer effect control, matching photo styles across multiple images, and easy optimizing for and uploading to Facebook are also new additions to PSE 9. The power and versatility of Photoshop Elements continues to amaze and surprise me, even as a long-time user of the full version of Photoshop. Its resourcefulness constantly makes me question who, outside of professional power users, really needs Photoshop when Elements has so many of the same capabilities at a fraction of the cost.

The Lomo effect is displayed in the image on the right.

The "Out of Bounds" effect gives your 2D images a 3D look.
The real splash that Elements 9 makes is the addition of the Organizer to OS X.  Previously, Mac users were left out in the cold of iPhoto for their photo organization and tagging. Several years ago I transitioned from PC to Mac. One of my top three missed programs in moving to OS X was the Elements Organizer. You can see my review of Elements 8 Organizer for PC here. To say that I was happy to hear about Adobe adding the Organizer to the Mac version of Elements this year would be a gross understatement.  For years I’ve been plagued by the woeful inadequacy of iPhoto in almost every area.  Face tagging is terribly inaccurate, painfully slow, and the most quintessential element of the software, organization, is severely lacking.

Upon receiving PSE 9, I immediately installed it and used a very straightforward “import iPhoto library” option in the menu. It worked flawlessly and quickly, maintaining my keywords, face tags, and converting iPhoto “events” into Elements “albums.” I then let Elements have a go at finding faces, and found that the redesigned face-finding portion is even quicker and easier than before. The biggest fault in most face-finding algorithms is that they struggle with infants and young children. No matter how cute and unique your kid looks, chances are a mathematical formula can’t really tell the difference between yours and your sister’s kid. I’ve faced this problem with both Elements and iPhoto and expected to see the same issue in this version. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see noticeable improvements in this area. It did a remarkable job discerning our 18-month old’s photos from our 3-year old’s baby pictures. In the past, I’ve found that young faces seemed to get mixed in together very easily. Now we can only hope that Adobe works on an algorithm for family pet faces.

I have few complaints about the Organizer’s functionality on the Mac. Diehard Apple fans will still have a hard time pulling away from iPhoto for their digital photography editing and organization. The integration and synchronizing with iOS devices is hard to beat, but Adobe’s Photoshop.com can allow mobile users to enjoy their cloud-stored photos and videos on a range of devices via mobiles apps for Android and iOS. Other device users can gain the same access via their web browser. Each purchase of Elements comes with 2GB of free storage on Photoshop.com, and “plus members” can purchase 20GB of storage for $49.99/yr.

Other complaints would include the fact that scrolling through the library and enlarging photos to full-screen is not as smooth as I expected. I also had a problem importing images from my camera. The images were downloaded and put into folders on the hard drive, but failed to show up in the library even after closing and re-opening the program.  I eventually had success by manually importing them from the folders on the hard drive.  This is an issue that should be resolved in software updates. The slideshows are also a bit clunky, but I’m not a big fan or user of slideshows anyway.

Mac users, rejoice! The bonds of iPhoto have been torn asunder! There is a new choice for you to organize and tag photos in OS X. Since iLife ships with all Mac purchases, Adobe’s Elements requires a greater financial investment than iPhoto, but the features included in the software make the $99.99 investment well worth it. PC users have quite a few new features to look forward to even if they’re only running version 8 as version 9 offers lots of improvements and additional features to appeal. Any way you slice it, Photoshop Elements 9 truly is a great upgrade.
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