Photoshop Express First Impressions

Photoshop Express is a rich Internet application (RIA) developed with Flash and Flex and designed to bring the Photoshop experience to the masses. According to John Nack’s blog, a sneak peek was given at Photoshop World in September 2007 (here is a screenshot of that demo) and it was officially released in beta form last March. Terry White also has a good blog post here upon its release.

Photoshop Elements Express Lite? What’s its niche?

Back in the good ol’ days there was just Photoshop, and you either needed it or you didn’t. Of course times have changed and now we have Photoshop, Photoshop Extended, Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom and now Photoshop Express. With Elements and Photoshop CS3 Standard the trend has been to make Photoshop more accessible and pare down some of its more advanced niche features. The question now is whether there will be overlap and competition between Elements and the new Express, because I see some similarities between the two. Photoshop Express touts a very well-constructed “My Photos” browser that reminds me a lot of the Organizer in Photoshop Elements, and in my review of that product I also commented the Organizer reminds me of Bridge CS3, yet another digital asset management application. The “My Photos” browser in Photoshop Express is the most bare-bones of them all, and it works well. I uploaded some photos and was able to do some simple organizing and viewing with ease. For those whose photo management experience has only been Flickr and Picasa, Photoshop Express will be a huge improvement. The quality and power of the Flash/Flex application is tremendous!

The big question on people’s minds is, what niche does Photoshop Express serve? I think it’s fairly clear that the niche is made of general consumers who don’t necessarily have powerful hardware but do have an Internet connection, and also take and share a lot of digital photos with similar users. Flickr users are in this category. What Photoshop Express is attempting to do is to combine the management and sharing of photos with basic image editing.

The most basic of image editing

The editing capabilities of Photoshop Express are basic but also very slick to handle. There are only 17 editing options, some of which are self-explanatory:

  • Crop & Rotate
  • Auto Correct
  • Exposure
  • Red Eye Removal
  • Touchup: a cloning tool without the controls you’re used to in Photoshop; it works very similar to the Touchup tools in Lightroom.
  • Saturation
  • White Balance
  • Highlight
  • Fill Light
  • Sharpen
  • Soft Focus
  • Pop Color: Photoshop Express will give you options to “pop” a selected color in the image.
  • Hue
  • Black & White
  • Tint
  • Sketch: one of three actual Photoshop filters to make it into Photoshop Express.
  • Distort: a combination of Photoshop’s Pinch and Twirl filters.

The cool thing about editing in Photoshop Express is that every move is non-destructive, just like in Lightroom. Checkboxes next to each active editing option will allow you revise or remove your previous edits. Photoshop Express often works like Variations in Photoshop: select “Hue,” for instance, and you’ll be shown several thumbnails of possible hue shifts to choose from. There’s also a slider so you can fine-tune your editing (though no fields to enter specific numbers or values). You can always view the original photo with the “View Original” button, but the edited version is what shows up in your galleries and photo collection. If you download your edited images, they will come out as JPEGs so you can’t edit your photos further with Photoshop.

Once again it’s all about community

kuler, the other high-profile Flash application that Adobe has released, is big into community: users have profiles, saved color schemes and sharing is emphasized right on the main page. Photoshop Express continues this with “My Gallery,” a public page each user can use to show and share photos. Users have to first create an album in their “My Photos” browser. One really cool thing about the galleries is the fact that Adobe gives you not only 2GB of free space but a subdomain on their photoshop.com domain (mine is jeremyschultz.photoshop.com, but you won’t find anything there yet!). The gallery experience is excellent, with fluid motion and multiple setups for thumbnail views (try the 3D views!). I think there’s still a little work to be done with the controls (hint: use the arrow keys!) but this beta application already feels like a 1.0 release.