Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0
Is It Worth The Upgrade

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0

As digital cameras become increasingly affordable and popular Adobe's new 2.0 version of Photoshop Elements adds new and improved features.

When Adobe Photoshop Elements was first released I was very favorable to what it would do for the digital darkroom user, and found very few weaknesses. Considering that the price of Elements Version 2.0 remains under $100, and $30 less in a rebate for those upgrading from 1.0, it is an even better photo software value. Adobe touts 11 new and enhanced features, many of which are significant to photographers and some of which will be of great help to digital snapshooters. Adobe has not ignored the meteoric increase in popularity and availability of digital cameras and has attempted to widen the usefulness of Elements to include even first-time camera users as well as the photographer enthusiasts.

Regardless of experience, Elements is perhaps the easiest and best path to acquiring the skills and abilities to get the most out of a digital darkroom. This began with PhotoDeluxe and its in your face "guided activities" and how-to information and continues now with Elements. This program is even better, not just as an application but also a well-supported learning resource to acquire the knowledge and skills to use its tools.

An easier to navigate, more efficient and refined File Browser, now with file information displayed including digital camera EXIF data, is likely the first newly improved feature a user will encounter.

Although I look with a jaundiced eye on much automation, some of it will work at least more often than not, and it is a beginning which can be refined by anyone with a critical eye and the curiosity to find a way to get where they want to go. However, much that Adobe thinks are the highlights of this upgrade I don't find all that significant to the digital darkroom. But there are plenty more, less heralded improvements, I found very useful and advantageous. So, I'll skip over a few new things, briefly touch on others, and elaborate on those I think Shutterbug readers will find most beneficial. After you read this you can tell me if I'm wrong. See the accompanying sidebar for the new and enhanced features.

Test Run
To check out all of the new and improved features of Elements 2.0 I installed the application in both Apple Mac OS 10 and Classic OS 9, as well as in Windows. Yes, although I don't have a PC any longer, I run Windows 2000 under Virtual PC on one of my Macs. I then tried each feature in almost every one of the three OS versions. Although there is a small performance hit running Windows under Virtual PC on a Mac there was not all that much difference in the performance of any of the versions, and everything functioned flawlessly and efficiently.

I found the Redeye Brush in Elements 2.0 both difficult to use and ineffective. Doing it manually provides a better result. If you need help with redeye, send me an e-mail.

Improved File Browser
The newly improved File Browser in Elements 2.0 provides more information and easier navigation, but I also noticed that it generates better quality thumbnails more quickly than it did in Version 1.0. Although File Browser is just a convenience, it does make finding, identifying, and opening files much easier and thereby enhances the overall experience of working with the application.

Help Support
The way support information (Help?) is provided and can be accessed is now cross integrated with Hints, the pull-down information that is keyed to any tool you select in the toolbox. Hot links at the bottom of the Hints window opens your Internet browser to a particular page containing additional instructional information, and also includes an Index column on the left to go to associated information if need be. With the addition of Recipes, which has been further expanded, this is now the most efficient and directly available comprehensive support today. This makes the application easier to learn, and anyone who has jumped straight into the full version of Photoshop cold turkey should look at this version of Elements. It makes learning Photoshop much easier.

This scan of a slide on the left had an obvious, strong color cast. Elements 2.0 Auto Color Correction removed most of it. An adjustment in Levels was needed to lighten it. One of the most unsung but valuable tools in Elements, Color Cast Correction was used to remove excess blue evident in the gray rocks midstream and the underbrush in the background.

Minor Gripes
With so many new digital camera users it's easy to understand Adobe's desire to make Elements easy. However, I found that using the Redeye Brush was not easy, and does not produce as fine a result as I would want. It's actually easier and better to do it manually. Here's how: If you zoom in to make the eyes quite large, it is not difficult to use the Lasso set at 2 or 3 pixels of feathering to select the pupils. Once selected with squigglies surrounding the pupils, go to the Enhance/Adjust Color/RemoveColor, and click, and the red is gone. To then make the pupil sufficiently dark again go to Enhance/AdjustBrightness-Contrast/Brightness-Contrast and use the Brightness slider to darken the pupil. At this point you have removed the redeye. I usually do more, especially with children because the eye is a shiny sphere and bounces little light back toward the camera, often making the iris and white of the eye too dark. I usually select each area to lighten and increase the saturation of the iris, and just lighten and whiten the whites. It's no more difficult than writing this paragraph!

Readers of my Photoshop 7.0 report (Shutterbug, July 2002) will remember that I was critical of its Auto Color Correction application. In Elements I found that what it does is helpful but often not entirely satisfactory. But that's no reason not to use Auto Color. If the correction is too dark, as I found often to be the result, the Enhance/Adjust Brightness/Contrast/Levels can then be used to fix it.

The Elements 2.0 tool that I find most effective and easiest to use is Color Variations. It provides a selection of possible adjustments to shift the color balance as well as lighten or darken the image. It also provides an adjustment to increase or decrease saturation. This can be applied to an image actually in the window dialog by trial and error based on a before and after pair of large, side by side thumbnails. It's flexible, intuitive, and controlled perceptually and has a broad range of effective adjustments to three important dimensions of image quality.

Color Variations
Personally, from working with these new and improved "easy automatic" enhancement options, I found that there is one which will do just about any adjustment most images might need, easily and precisely--Color Variations. The Elements 2.0 version is a somewhat simpler and guided version of the Variations tool that has been part of Photoshop for some time. The reason I favor it is that it is manually interactive, providing a side by side visual screen representation of the changes that are applied to an image compared to the original. This supports an easy trial and error solution that is a click away.

Some Sleepers
A sleeper that Adobe did not promote and should have is Contact Sheet. This utility allows the automatic generation of page(s) of thumbnails made from a collection of files in a folder or the contents of a CD. What has been improved is the size of the thumbnail relative to the page and the number of thumbnails per page, thus improving their visual quality. I print my Contact Sheets made from archived CDs to put in binders for easy flip-through location of image file names and the CD the file is stored in. And, because it is so much more effective now I'd pay the price of the upgrade for this improvement alone.

Contact Sheet is an automatic function used to generate pages of thumbnails with the file name imprinted under each from any folder, disc, or other storage media containing image files.In this new improved version it is immensely valuable and advantageous, and I believe many other photographers discovering its potential will agree.

Another sleeper is PDF Slideshow. Yes, I know Adobe is promoting their Web Photo Gallery improvement, but this Acrobat PDF slide show utility produces a really high quality, full screen slide show. I made a quickie just from one CD of a dozen 50+MB TIFF files, and then played it back on my 21" Sony E540 monitor and was blown away. Unlike Web Photo Gallery, this PDF slide show is not something you can send by e-mail. A 50-60 image show will probably fill a CD with a very large .PDF file. But blank CDs are inexpensive and easy to send by snail mail, and almost every computer today has an Adobe Acrobat Reader on it, whether PC or Mac. If they don't it's a free download from Adobe. What a way to send out a digital portfolio!

Easy Mail
Photoshop Elements 2.0 has a new facility for e-mailing. If you have an image on screen in the application, you can make one click with the mouse and it automatically sizes and compresses a copy that goes directly into your e-mail application, ready to be sent out over the Internet. Unfortunately, the two Macs I use to work with products I am evaluating are not hooked to the Internet, so I couldn't send a picture to myself. But, in lieu of that easy option, Save For Web in the File menu opens a simpler version of what is Image Ready in the full version of Photoshop. This allows you to re-size and compress an image open in Elements and is fully adjustable for both sizing and compression rate. Most significantly, it provides a side by side comparison of your original next to what the reduced and compressed file looks like with a readout of the file size it will be. I have found Image Ready a convenient and ideal way to reduce images to fit into and attach to e-mail. In Elements 2.0, Save For Web is even simpler and quicker for getting a custom, quality controlled file copy for e-mail.

One last feature I think anyone who makes prints of portraits or wedding photos, or family pictures to distribute to relatives, will appreciate is the Elements 2.0 version of Picture Package. Besides being really slick and easy to use, with selections from many more combinations and paper sizes, you can now use as many different images in a single combination as you like.

Elements 2.0 now has the latest version of Picture Package that allows printing a combination of different sized images on a single sheet of paper. Now,in addition to a greater selection of different size combinations, as well as paper sizes, the utility supports mixing different images in one picture package.

Evaluation And Recommendation
The bottom line is that Adobe Photoshop Elements in Version 1.0 was a great value, providing most of the tools in the full version of Photoshop that all but the most sophisticated digital photographer would need, and at an affordable price. Version 2.0 adds a lot of the refined and new features of Photoshop 7.0, like its new brushes, and a few more items just for Elements alone. Adding to the value is the addition of tasks and the improvement in many other popular functions.

The first version of Adobe Photoshop Elements was way ahead of its competitors, offering the very powerful and refined Photoshop processing engine, plus a simpler to set up yet equally powerful internal color management capability of the full version of Photoshop. Elements 2.0 remains a close parallel to the full version and, other than 48-bit file support and no CMYK support, the only significant tool missing in Elements 2.0 remains the Curves tool. Apparently, Adobe believes photography enthusiasts find it too difficult to use. Well, Ansel Adams invented a solution in the 1930s to the problem of the unintuitive curve interface, replacing a graph representing densities with Zones!
So, is Elements 2.0 worth the upgrade? In my mind the answer is an unqualified affirmative. Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 remains way ahead of anything else available at anywhere near the same price. I find it is one of the best software bargains out there.

For more information visit the Adobe web site at www.adobe.com.


Elements 2.0, New Features And Enhancements

New Features
· Quick Fix Dialog--Make a variety of color and exposure adjustments to your photographs with just a few mouse clicks.
· Selection Brush--Precisely and intuitively mask areas of a photo with the new feather-edged Selection Brush. It's never been easier to precisely select areas for copying, cutting, or masking.
· Frame From Video--Capture individual video frames from downloaded files with support for common video formats; compatible with files supported by Microsoft Windows Media Player for Windows and QuickTime for Mac.
· Attach To E-mail--Easily attach edited photos to an e-mail message using your existing e-mail program. Photoshop Elements can automatically re-size and optimize the file for sending and viewing.

Enhanced Features
· File Browser--Preview, open, rename, rotate, and organize all of your photos, as well as view important image metadata about each photo, without opening the files.
· Color Variations--Bring out the best in any photo by previewing various color adjustments to your image and applying your choice with a single click.
· Comprehensive Help System--Get immediate answers to your questions simply by typing a keyword in the new Help Search field. Hints, tutorials, online resources, and the new Glossary provide all the information and guidance you need, without getting in the way of your creativity.
· Recipes--Inspirational Recipes spark your imagination and describe how to perform complex editing techniques.
· Photomerge--Automatically assemble multiple photos to create seamless panoramas. Photomerge now has enhanced support for larger files and better fine-tuning controls.
· Picture Package Printing--Lay out multiple images in various sizes on the same page for high-quality prints from your home ink jet printer. Picture Package Printing saves time, effort, and money.
· Web Photo Gallery--Quickly and easily create a web photo gallery of your images. Choose from a variety of web page themes to celebrate and show off your images.

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