Adobe rolls out the annual update to its consumer photo-editing package, but is it worth upgrading?
There’s always an air of suspicion around software products that release a new version at the same time every year. Do they contain a set of brilliant new features, or are they being shoved out to meet an arbitrary deadline?
Last year’s refresh of Adobe Photoshop Elements was certainly no makeweight, bringing the superb Content Aware Fill feature from the full-fat version of Photoshop, allowing photographers to make stray objects disappear as if they never existed. Alas, this year’s refresh lacks any such sparkle.
In fact, fire up Photoshop Elements 10 and you’d initially be hard pressed to spot the difference over last year’s version. The divisive grey-on-black design of the Organizer remains, with Adobe admitting an overhaul is high on its priority list for next year’s refresh. There are, however, new features lurking beneath the surface.
Object search, for example, theoretically allows you to highlight objects in photos, and find others in the library containing the same subject. It’s far from flawless, however: our test search on a photo of a horse returned photos of people, while even searches for a very distinctive lighthouse delivered photos of other objects above those of the lighthouse itself.
A similar feature designed to search for duplicate photos in your library works a little better, allowing you to group the duplicates into stacks so that they don’t consume so much space in the Organizer’s home screen.
The Elements Organizer has been more tightly knitted to popular social networks. Elements can now download your Facebook friends list and use this to tag people in your photos; those tags are preserved when the snaps are uploaded to the site, saving you from having to enter the same data twice. It’s also easier to upload videos to YouTube (with support for Full HD files), although this will naturally be of more use to users of Premiere than of Photoshop Elements.
Elements’ editing tools have also received a minor spruce up. The cropping tools now come with a choice of overlays, including the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio, helping you to deliver more technically adept compositions.
There’s a smattering of new Guided Edits, where the software holds your hand through pre-set special effects. The newcomers include the Orton Effect – a trick originally performed using different exposures of the same photo to give a “dreamy feel” to the image – which doesn’t work particularly well. The Guided Edit for artificially adding a narrow depth of field is more impressive, especially on portraits where the subject looms large in the foreground, although the resulting images do have a rather synthetic feel to them.
Synthetic is also the best way to describe another of Elements’ new features, which allows you to paint on special effects using Smart Brushes. You can, for example, turn the people in the foreground of a portrait into a pencil sketch, leaving the background as nature intended. Why anyone would want to create such a horrific montage is beyond us.
Indeed, the Elements 10 editor is getting a little top heavy on the gimmicks. Another of the new features is a Picture Stack effect, which makes a single photo look like it’s comprised of several different prints laid on top of one another. It’s clever, but an effect you’ll quickly tire of.
And if splashing special effects all over your photographs is your thing, then the final new addition to the editor will be welcome. It’s now possible to draw text paths around objects in your photos, and splash on annotations or captions. It’s the kind of effect most often used by amateurish desktop publishing outfits, but if used with care, it can add impact to photography you plan to use on a website or newsletter.
Overall, then, we’re not exactly blown away by the additions to this year’s Photoshop Elements package. Most of the new features fall into the novelty category, and there’s little that will enhance the work of photography enthusiasts. That said, they’re easily ignored, and the fact that Adobe has made some improvements to general responsiveness and performance is welcome.
If you already own Photoshop Elements 9, then put your wallet away: the money isn't worth the upgrade. But, if you’re new to the Elements family, or haven’t upgraded in a couple of years, Elements remains our pick of the consumer photo-editing packages – albeit based almost entirely on past glories.