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11th February 2011
Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 review
by Ian Burley
7797: Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 review

Photoshop Elements continues to improve, especially for Mac users

The ninth edition of Photoshop Elements in almost ten years since version 1

Adobe Photoshop Elements is the affordable consumer version of the all-singing and all-dancing professional version of Photoshop that is now branded the Creative Suite (CS) version. Photoshop CS5 will set you back around £600, while Photoshop Elements 9 is around a tenth of that price. You can also buy Photoshop Elements 9 bundled with Adobe's consumer-targeted video editing suite, Premiere Elements 9. We'll be reviewing Premiere Elements 9 soon. Both are available for Windows and Mac operating systems, and in the same box. Mac users, will especially be interested in PSE9 as there are more updates to the previous version of PSE for Mac than the Windows version, increasing parity between the two versions.

Photoshop Elements 9 can be purchased in a bundle with Adobe's Premiere Elements 9 video editing package

Harnessing some of the power of the professional version of Photoshop

Under its skin Photoshop Elements 9 (PSE9 for short) relies heavily on the professional version of Photoshop. This is an excellent thing as much of the well-matured power of Photoshop is available to PSE9 users, including layers, full support for colour management, powerful aids like the quick selection tool, refinement of selections, spot healing tool, and countless image adjustment and correction tools. Some even more ambitious tools introduced in recent versions of Photoshop CS have found their way into PSE9, like selected content aware fill tools. One Photoshop feature much missed in the Elements version has been layer masks, a very flexible and powerful way of blending images in layers without altering the originals. A fully adjustable tone curve tool is still not included but you can install add-ons from third parties that provide such functionality. Compatibility with pressure-sensitive pen tablets and tablet PCs is also provided.

So what don't you get that's in Photoshop CS5? It's a long list, but mostly things that non-professionals won't miss. Headline features include 3D support, perspective cropping, actions (although a simplified batch process system is included in PSE9 for working with multiple files), more advanced applications of Content Aware Fill like Puppet Warp, for example. I often find Quick Mask on Photoshop very useful, but this is not included in PSE9.

Split personalities

PSE9 continues the tradition of several PSE generations in being a solution with two personalities. On the one hand it is an organisational tool for your photos (and videos) and this is linked to, but separate from, the more familiar editing environment, or workspace, that experienced Photoshop users will recognise. In fact when you start PSE9 you are offered the choice of going in to the Organizer or the Editor. PSE9 marks a change for the Mac version which, until now, has been supplied with the Bridge application from the full-fat Creative Suite instead of Organizer, which was developed specifically for PSE and has been standard on the Windows version for years. Bridge is more powerful than Organizer, but much less friendly for novices.

When you start PSE9 you must choose whether you wish to organise your photos or edit them. In fact, you can switch between the two fundamental modes fairly easily.

Above is a typical view of the Organiser, with a flexible thumbnail navigator, plus options to rate and tag your photos. You can also select an image and open it in the Edit workspace.

And here is the Edit workspace, with image editing toolbox bar on the left and option tabs for applying special effects and sharing and distributing your work on the right.

The RAW factor

While many will be interested in PSE9 for projects like making photo calendars, applying interesting effects to their photos, and even creating art that is partially or wholly non-photographic, a key attraction to some photographers will be access to Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) conversion. PSE9 is compatible with ACR generation 6, which is a substantial improvement over previous generations, including much improved noise and sharpening tools. You may even find yourself forced to invest in PSE9 if you have a very new camera that produces RAW files not supported in earlier versions ACR. The previous version of PSE is only compatible up to ACR 6.2, while PSE9 is, at the time of writing, compatible with ACR 6.3 and will probably be compatible with future releases for at least a year or so. Of course, if you aren't convinced PSE9 is worthwhile because you run a reasonably recent earlier version, you can use the free Adobe DNG Converter and convert your RAW files to the portable DNG format that will be compatible with earlier releases of ACR, and therefore earlier versions of PSE.

Speed and performance

If PSE9 has a weakness, it's in its need for computer power. Although PSE9 does feel slightly less hesitant, especially starting up, than earlier versions, you will be doing yourself few favours in running it on weak hardware like power-miserly netbooks. Even on a typical dual core affordable Windows 7 laptop switching between Organizer and Editor can involve irritating waits.

Exploring PSE9

On the next two pages we explore some of the key features of PSE9's Organizer and Editor...

 

Check the latest price or purchase options for the Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 (Win/Mac) via
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Check the latest price or purchase options for the Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 & Premiere Elements 9 bundle (Win/Mac) via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
Buy Photoshop Elements through DPNow and help finance this site!
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.


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