Tue, Oct 27 2009 06:17 | Reviews
On September 23 Adobe announced the debut of Elements 8. Tim and I posted a pre-release review that highlighted the new features that Adobe incorporated into the “hobbyist” level Premiere/Photoshop combo. You can find that article here. I’ve had some time to work with the Organizer and Premiere on my PC and to see how well the new features worked. Tim will follow up with a hands-on review of Photoshop on the Mac, which incorporates Bridge CS4 as an organizer.
One cannot use Elements 8 without noticing the pervasive presence of Adobe’s Photoshop.com. The software is heavily integrated with web components. Each purchase of Elements 8 comes with a free 2 GB of storage with the option to purchase a “Plus” account with 20 gigs. The welcome screen that launches when you run either Photoshop or Premiere prompts you to log in with your credentials to display some of your account info and helpful tips from the web as seen here.
The new Auto-Analyzer that’s been introduced in Elements 8 pretty much does what one would expect it to do. It can be set up to automatically run whenever new media is imported in the Organizer. It utilizes the files’ embedded metadata along with algorithms to determine Smart Tags to apply to each photo, document, or video. Common examples are high contrast, blurred, shaky, and motion. I imported almost 500 photos and videos into Organizer and let the Auto-Analyzer run on all of the files. It performed quite well, but there were a few understandable hiccups. One photo was a close up of a hand on the end of a guitar fret. It was taken with a long telephoto lens, and there was a lot of background in the image that was out of focus due to the depth of field. The analyzer tagged this as blurred even though the subject was sharp as a tack.
Mac users that are familiar with iPhoto will be interested in Adobe’s attempt at face recognition. Functioning similarly to its Apple competitor, Organizer endeavors to locate people’s faces in images and videos. The user must go through the images, name the individuals, and delete any extraneous face boxes that the Auto-Analyzer mistakes for people. As people are named, the software builds a database of characteristics present in the faces. After it “learns” what someone looks like, it will automatically suggest and fill in names of people that it thinks it knows. This sounds great in theory, but in practice it falls short of perfection.
“Portrait” style photos where the subjects are looking towards the camera are easy for the face finder. It didn’t have any trouble finding all of the individuals in my photos. If faces were not upright in the frame, the analyzer didn’t seem to recognize them as a face at all. It also had trouble with people not looking directly at or near the lens. Faces that were partially obscured due to looking different directions were sometimes discovered and sometimes not. There were a few photos that tricked the analyzer into putting faces where there were none. For some reason, it seemed to single out several hands in different photos, thinking they were faces.
Whenever the software finds a “face” that isn’t really a face, you need simply to click the “x” on the box to remove it. However when you click the “x” it always asks for confirmation to remove it saying that, “this person will be excluded from people recognition.” This wouldn’t be so bad if you could disable this dialog screen, but for now you can’t. This can really slow down your progress when the algorithm finds lots of “non-faces” in some of your images. Having to click twice each time you want to remove a box is very frustrating.
The “learning” of individuals worked fairly well. It recognized most of my family members quickly and began suggesting their names with their faces within three or four photos. It even found the face of my son in a portrait hanging on a wall.
Tagging and Editing made easy
Keyword and face tagging as well as performing basic photo enhancements have been taken to a new level of efficiency in the new Organizer. When browsing your library in full screen mode, you are faced with several panels around the screen. At the bottom is a pop-up panel with the main controls. Here you can toggle the other panels, move up and down throughout your library, and exit the full screen mode. On the left are two panels: one for making quick edits of your images, the other for keyword tagging. At the right is an optional filmstrip view allowing you to quickly jump to any photo or video in your library.
The quick edits are everything you would find in the regular quick edit portion of Organizer, but using these commands in this display allows you to view your changes at maximum size, letting you better scrutinize your changes. You’re also given the ability to mark for printing and to rate a photo.
The tagging panel shows a familiar “cloud” display popular on many websites and blogs. All of the available keywords are displayed with the most popular being larger in size. Not only does this make it easy to spot your most used keywords in the list, but it simply makes it easier to click on them since they become larger “icons.” The tagging panel also displays any albums that you’ve created and allows you to add images to those as well.
In my opinion, the Organizer portion of Elements is what makes it stand above the competitive products available, even more than the editor and Premiere. Most of the editing functions of Photoshop and Premiere can be had in software from other manufacturers, and some can even be found in freeware applications such as Gimp and Picasa. Although Adobe specializes in making these very “amateur-friendly,” they’re not offering a completely unique product. When it comes to a day-in, day-out piece of software like Elements, I look for something that will make the mundane task of importing, repairing, and organizing my personal photos and videos as easy and straightforward as possible. The Elements Organizer has always met my expectations, and version 8 raises the bar in ease of use making it worthy of your consideration.