I don’t usually test the entry-level end of creative professional software, but I was intrigued by the Photoshop/Premiere Elements bundle since Adobe had tied the Photoshop products into one big “family” and Photoshop Elements wasn’t just a dumbed-down version of Photoshop. And now that I am getting into video and have some experience working with Premiere CS3, I was excited to try out Premiere Elements 4 for the first time. Note to Mac users: Premiere Elements 4 is only for Windows, so you can either run the applications in a virtual OS (like I did, using Parallels Desktop) or leave Premiere Elements out of the equation and purchase Photoshop Elements 6 separately.
Compared to Apple’s direct competitors, iPhoto and iMovie, Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements are more robust, provide a more professional user experience, and offer very powerful and easy-to-use tools to organize, retouch and publish photos and movies. With that being said, this bundle doesn’t compete with Apple iLife when it comes to creating music (iLife has Garageband) and Web sites (iLife has iWeb). iLife also has iDVD and .Mac Web Gallery, both of which are covered by Photoshop/Premiere Elements’ publishing features.
Photoshop Elements’ Organizer is an excellent combination of the old Photoshop File Browser, Bridge and Lightroom. In the Organizer you can maintain your photo and media archive, create albums and smart albums to organize material, tag elements with keywords, filter, rate, sort and use Quick Share to quickly share photos with people, and from the Organizer you can take images through the fixing/editing process and on to publishing or sharing them electronically, just like in Lightroom. The interface is deceptively simple, which to me is actually a relief: Bridge is basically a more robust Organizer for all your computer’s files, but it is a good deal more complex and (I would say) so complex it can be daunting. The Organizer, in contrast, is much more accessible and easy to use. I think Bridge would benefit if its development team looked to the Organizer for ideas to simplify it. The Organizer also borrows Lightroom’s integrated color-correcting and editing tools, but not in the same way Lightroom does: Lightroom has many simplified Camera Raw controls available right in its Library module’s Quick Develop panel, while the Organizer only offers quick one-button fixes (Auto Smart Fix, Auto Levels, Auto Contrast, Auto Red Eye Fix and more) and access to the Quick Edit, Full Edit and Guided Edit screens. Photoshop Elements’ Quick Edit screen is comparable to Lightroom’s Quick Develop panel, but is even more simplified and clearly explained for those who aren’t familiar with Camera Raw settings. You can even bring up a map (based on Yahoo! Maps) and stick photos in their geographic locations. You’ll see pins on the map, and when you click one later you can see which photos are associated with the area. I think Lightroom in particular would benefit from a similar feature.
The Organizer will be familiar to users of Lightroom and Bridge, but it’s leaner and packed with useful prosumer features. Click to enlarge.
For the prosumer or general consumer with a little point-and-shoot camera, the Organizer is perfect. In today’s era of digital photography I believe organization is as essential as creativity and technical skill with the camera and Photoshop, and Adobe has several good organizers in Bridge, Lightroom and the Organizer. They do different things and focus on different people’s needs (Bridge for file management, Lightroom for digital photography, Organizer for consumer and prosumer media) but the Organizer stands out from the other two for its ease of use and simplicity.
Editing is as robust as you want it
It must have been quite a dilemma for the Photoshop Elements team when deciding just how close Photoshop Elements should get to Photoshop’s robust features: some users will want to play with every Photoshop tool to be had, while others would simply get confused by the plethora of tools. The end result is something of a tiered editing system that can be as robust as the user wants it to be:
- Auto adjustments are a cinch to use (one click and you’re done) and surprisingly good. There are Auto buttons for smart fix, color, levels, contrast, sharpen and red eye fix as well as a Crop button that brings up a nice walkthrough of the process and an interface that makes cropping easy.
- Quick Fix brings up the Edit screen with a simplified Photoshop interface (Zoom, Hand, Wand, Crop and Red Eye tools only) and sliders for general fixes, lighting, color and sharpening. The Quick Fix is perfect for those wanting some creative control over how their pictures look without needing to know Photoshop’s tools and adjustments.
- Guided Edit has even less Photoshop tools than Quick Fix (Zoom and Hand tools only) but shows a list of actions in the sidebar (“Crop Photo,” “Remove a Color Cast,” “Correct Skin Tone,” “Guide for Editing a Photo” and much more). Click one and Photoshop Elements will walk you through the process and give access to Photoshop’s tools as needed. Select “Guide for Editing a Photo” and the interface will guide you through cropping, lightening/darkening, touch up and sharpening, offering sliders or tools as needed. This is wonderful for those new to digital photography who want to improve their pictures without learning the technology.
The Quick Fix window. Click to enlarge.
The Guided Edit window. Click to enlarge.