Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 4.0 (Windows & Mac); Is This Latest Version Worth An Upgrade? Page 2

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If you want to use a photograph in a document like a personalized business card, and need to select fonts for the type you want to insert, making the font choice has required knowing what each named font looks like. Now it is much easier with a WYSIWYG drop-down menu display showing each named font.

The program now has new functional features that allow you to use photos in many ways, including multimedia slide shows and one-click printing. You can also view your photos on your TV via Windows Media Center 2005. There are enhanced search features such as face identification or a metadata search. In addition, there have been a host of improvements and refinements that make it both easier and more effective to correct and adjust your photos. Starting with Elements 3.0 I have come to rely on Element's QuickFix manual sliders to make adjustments to contrast and color. In Version 4.0 QuickFix is more refined, and although I still find the Auto button seldom provides a set of image qualities I want, the sliders adjustment control is more refined and effective. Likewise, the Noise Reduction filter is more effective with a wider range of noise and artifacts problems.

Refined Brush Tools

The Spot Healing Brush (and Healing Brush) introduced with Version 3.0 of Elements have been refined and made more efficient. They provide not just an effective tool to clean up dirt and dust in scans but also provide professional-quality retouching capabilities that are easy to perform.

Although the introduction in Version 3.0 of the Spot Healing Brush was a great advantage in cleaning up Kodachrome and black and white scans as well as retouching portraits, its performance was not ideally responsive and there was a tendency for it to produce artifacts. Both of those weaknesses have been corrected and the Spot Healing Brush in Version 4.0 is fast and efficient and produces a much cleaner result. Another internal refinement that may not be noticed immediately is stronger and more accurate handling of profiles, so images with profile tags open are displayed more accurately and with cleaner color.

These kinds of refinements have also been extended to Camera Raw, providing more effective translation of digital camera raw files as well as better control over their adjustment using the Camera Raw tools. You will also find that the Shadow/Highlight tool provides a smoother control with the sliders to produce a more ideal balance of tone separation and contrast in mid tones with good detail in both shadows and highlights. And once you have fully refined and are ready to use an image, the Cropping tool makes it much easier to adjust the framing to standard sizes and formats.

Simple Selections

The new Magic Selection Brush included in Elements 4.0 makes selecting an object or area in a photographic image easy, inclusive, and accurate. This is a great advantage in providing an effective way to copy and paste an image object from one picture to another, as well as to change the attributes of the selected area, like color.

Evaluation & Recommendation
Photographers have always had one major challenge in their work--to get good reproduction values with many subjects. For photographers who did their own processing and printing, black and white offered considerable control over a wide range of subjects and lighting conditions. But with color photography the film and processing was limited, and contrast, or for that matter color temperature differences, could not be readily accommodated. The digital darkroom and applications like Photoshop eliminated the limitations color photography with film imposed. Now, just about any subject recorded by a camera can be color corrected and adjusted to produce an ideal range of output values on screen or in a print.

Although Adobe's Photoshop has provided a powerful set of tools to color correct and adjust color image values and attributes, the application was designed to serve many different masters, not just photographers. But initially with the introduction of PhotoDeluxe, Adobe has increasingly recognized that photographers have particular needs. They have evolved a set of tools and processes tailored to deal with what digital photography demands, now culminating in Adobe's Photoshop Elements 4.0.

Subtle Skin Tones

One of the more challenging color adjustments involves skin tones. Now, in Elements 4.0, there is an easy to use utility that supports identifying the skin tone and also provides two limited color range slider controls to fine-tune the color. There's also an Ambient Light slider to also adjust for color temperature that may be too cool or warm.

One of the most significant functional advantages Elements offers in QuickFix is the ability to make adjustments with large screen before and after views, thus providing a perceptual comparison. Using Elements 4.0 for either raw image files or images from my archives, I obtained improved results, over and above what I have been able to accomplish in the past. My only reservation is that all of the image adjustment tools are not available in QuickFix, particularly a manual Levels adjustment as part of a precise histogram display.

Whether a photographer is just getting into digital or is someone with more experience with an older version of Photoshop, Elements 4.0 provides an advantage. It is easy to learn and use and offers a significantly more efficient work environment. On that basis, the under-$100 ticket price ($10 less for a Mac) makes it a bargain, and even more so for registered users, as there is $20 off for an upgrade.

For more information, contact Adobe Systems Inc., 345 Park Ave., San Jose, CA 95110; (800) 492-3623, (408) 536-6000; www.adobe.com.

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