Adobe today announced the availability of its Adobe Elements 8 packages, both Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8. Windows versions are available for both Elements, while Mac users will have to settle for the Photoshop Element only.
Adobe says the products fit in the "hobbyist" area of Adobe's mass-market push, the opposite end of a continuum that includes Photoshop CS4 on the high end and Elements at the low end. Still, with previous versions of Elements that we've reviewed, the hobbyist versions hold their own on basic tasks.
During a pre-release conference call, an Adobe spokesperson mentioned that Elements is, essentially, a balance of ease of use with power or "headroom."
"We continuously hear from focus groups that they want software that's straightforward and easy to use," he said, "but they don't want us to limit the software in case the user wants to do more complex edits."
We'll highlight a few key features in each program, demonstrated during the pre-release conference call, and then we'll follow up with a hands-on review. There's also an online component, which we won't address here, other than to note that online albums support video now, as well as photos.
Adobe has spent quite a bit of time updating Elements Organizer, its "Ultimate Media Management Hub." Organizer has been part of Photoshop Elements since version 3, but the company is now shipping Organizer with Premiere Elements 8 for Windows, or as part of the bundle of both Elements.
Adobe's rationale for expanding Organizer is that user capture devices are capturing both photos and videos. This blurring of the lines between photo and video capture devices means management of those two types in the same place is important.
Organizer has an auto-analyzer tool that tags shots and videos for quality and interest, as well as other key tagging examples Adobe gleaned from user focus groups.
Smart Tags will filter down to particular types of content (one face, two faces, small group, etc) and auto-classify the content. Additionally, in terms of quality, the auto-analyze function can find images that are too dark or too bright or other quality characteristics. Scores based on high or low quality, such as blurriness, contrast, provide a subjective quality basis so that images can be rapidly filtered or eliminated.
This analysis also includes "people recognition" as a way to eliminate the need to manually add tags when a person appears within a video scene or a still image. This
people finder works on the principle of finding a face, then prompting for name of person. As the name is entered, Organizer begins to build up information about the person, offering an auto-complete function for names, then moving on to giving suggestions from a list of names.
In one example during the conference call, Adobe demonstrated that the manual cataloging of five shots apiece for two people was all it took before the auto-analyzer began to suggest one name from a list of possible names whenever that person appeared in a shot. The system then moves on to a more definitive suggestion, asking "is this . . . ?"
Keyword tagging for video is a bit more complex, and Adobe acknowledges that tagging isn't always based on the first frame of video.
"Tagging is based on content," the spokesperson said, "so keywords can be added at any time while watching the video. Tags are applied to on a scene-by-scene basis rather than the entire video."
Organizer also contains a full-screen preview, much like iPhoto on the Mac. Users can use full-screen to expand images to a much larger size, making the choice of images or video playback much easier in full-screen mode. To quickly edit particular images a quick edit panel pops up to deal with one-click issues such as rotation or auto-color adjustments. Video tagging can also be performed in the full-screen mode.
Photoshop Elements 8 has three primary new features: Photomerge Exposure, Recompose and Quick fix previews.
Photomerge Exposure offers the user the ability to make extensive light and dark adjustments to specific areas of an image. For example, let's say you have an image of your wife standing in front of the Eiffel Tower at night with the tower lit and fill flash on your wife. Chance are good that the either the tower is too dark, or your wife is too bright. Not that having an overly bright wife is a bad thing. The exposure tool will allow you to adjust brightness on either the tower or your wife to improve the image quality. Photomerge differs from Photoshop's HDR capabilities by only fine-tuning exposure in a single image as opposed to merging multiple copies of the same image taken at different exposures.
Recompose borrows an algorithm from Photoshop CS4 called Content Aware Scaling. This tool allows you to scale an image without distorting the content. If you have two or more people in a scene that aren't close enough together for your liking, this tool will allow you to "squeeze" them together without making them look squished. It also works vertically which can be useful for eliminating unwanted backgrounds. You can specify the areas that you want the algorithm to keep or discard by using a green or red brush and "painting" over parts of the image.
Premiere Elements 8 has a series of "smart" features, including Smart Fix, Smart Trim, and Smart Mix. It has also added motion tracking and newer "instant movie themes," effects, and transitions.
Smart Fix in Premiere Elements performs essentially the same image adjustments to video clips as it does to still images in Photoshop Elements. It performs a quick evaluation of the video content and adjusts characteristics such as brightness and contrast to improve troublesome clips or simply to make an already good clip look even better.
Smart Trim is a particularly innovative new tool in Premiere Elements 8. This tool analyzes a video clip and identifies suggested cut points inside of the clip. One of the ways the algorithm accomplishes this is by looking for motion. Let's say you have a clip of Tiger Woods lining up a 25 foot putt. He may remain stationary for 30 seconds before he finally putts the ball. Smart Trim will look past all of the heightening drama before the putt and suggest an "in" point just before he swings his club.
Smart Mix can also be called an auto-ducking feature for audio. It will find the points in a dialogue audio track that voices are heard. It can then automatically mix the other audio tracks, such as music or sound effects, down so the dialogue stands out loud and clear.
ECONOMICAL MOTION TRACKING
This new version of Premiere Elements ships with a feature usually only found in professional level post-production software, motion tracking. In the Adobe demo that we viewed, this feature performed very accurately and quickly. The tracker can be set to follow a point of interest in a clip; then an object can be assigned to "follow" the parent. Other video clips, titles, animated clip art, or images can all be assigned to follow an object on the screen.
Adobe now offers additional options for output of completed videos. The ability to directly upload to YouTube is a feature included under the "Share" tab. This export option will automatically format your finished masterpiece for optimal viewing on the popular video-sharing site. Also Podbean is a new partner of Adobe allowing users to directly upload vodcasts to their account.
Any purchase of Elements 8 includes 2GB of storage on Photoshop.com. Although the Mac version does not include the Organizer, it does include Adobe Bridge CS4 which can be used in place of another organizer such as iPhoto. Photoshop and Premiere Elements 8 are available immediately as a bundle for Windows computers for $149.99. Photoshop Elements for the Mac retails for $99.99.