REVIEW: Photoshop/Premiere Elements 9 for Mac

Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements are sometimes difficult for me to review because I use Photoshop Extended and Premiere Pro—the professional versions of these prosumer products—and I inevitably compare the two. I can also see how Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements often borrows technology and features from their pro counterparts, and I’m not sure if this is real innovation or simply providing existing pro features to the prosumer market. In any case, it can’t be denied that prosumers appreciate getting the hottest features in Photoshop Extended or Premiere Pro, albeit some months after they are released to the professional market.

Both Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9 are good upgrades—but not necessarily great. Premiere Elements 9, like Adobe’s eLearning application Captivate 5, is notable just for being available on Mac for the first time. Both Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9 have some smart new features. However, not much innovates beyond what we’ve seen in Photoshop CS5 and Premiere Pro CS5 and some new features are improvements to features that were new in version 8. Let’s go through both applications and outline the new features.

Photoshop Elements 9: “Nips and tucks”

There are a couple existing features that are new for the Mac: the Organizer asset management solution and synchronized image and video storage through Photoshop Elements 9 Plus, which provides 20GB of online storage, templates and stock art. Plus is not new but until now it was included only with Premiere Elements and the Photoshop/Premiere Elements bundle.

Similarly, the Organizer has been a Windows-only component of the Elements family until version 9. I still really enjoy using the Organizer as a small and lean version of Adobe Bridge, which the Creative Suite products still use and was used by Photoshop Elements for Mac until now. All the Organizer’s features are available for Mac now, including People Recognition and the Auto-Analyzer auto-tagging feature. I don’t really see any major differences between this Organizer and the version 8 Organizer, other than Flip camera video importing which is helpful for Premiere Elements users.

Like I mentioned earlier, many of Elements’ new features often come from new features developed for Photoshop or Premiere Pro. The best new feature to show up in Photoshop Elements 9 is the Spot Healing Brush’s Content-Aware mode, which was initially revealed in this Adobe MAX 2009 video and first released with Photoshop CS5. Content-Aware technology has been with us since CS4 but applying it to the Spot Healing Brush came in CS5 and now is available to Photoshop Elements 9 users.

The Content-Aware Fill makes a big improvement in the Spot Healing Brush.

I use Content-Aware mode on the Spot Healing Brush all the time, and it does a great job. It’s one of the great new Photoshop features that I can remember in a long time. For prosumers, it’s great for taking people out of photos and also restoring old photos that need some blemishes fixed. The great thing about it is you can make major fixes quickly and still get a good result—usually, the more time you put into retouching or restoration the better off you are. The Spot Healing Brush has changed that, though I have to say it’s not perfect either. Sometimes I’ll still pick up unwanted details or oddball colors the brush has decided to pull from elsewhere in the photo and add to the brushed region. I have to say that I’ve gone back to the Clone Tool sometimes to manually clone what I want in the area. But I still think it’s an excellent retouching tool to have.

Content-Aware Fill will auto-fill the blank areas left behind after Photomerge is used to build panoramas.

Content-Aware Fill also seems to come into play in a minor improvement to the Photomerge panorama-building tool. When photos are merged together there’s usually some blank areas around the photos that until now have been cropped out. Now Photoshop Elements 9 will fill in those areas with Content-Aware Fill and duplicate whatever’s around it. It makes perfect sense because most of the time those areas need some sky or foliage, which is ideal fodder for Content-Aware moves.

Elements users already know about Guided Edits but there’s a new Fun Edits section with some neat ready-made effects:

  • Lomo Camera Effect duplicates the color saturation, dark shadows and vignetting you typically get from a Lomo camera. I personally don’t enjoy a lot of lomography and would prefer to see a Polaroid Effect that duplicates the old Polaroids from my youth!
  • Out Of Bounds is my favorite Fun Edit: it pulls a selected part of the photo onto its own layer and adds a drop shadow and white stroke so it looks like the photo is “breaking the frame,” with elements protruding outside the edge.
  • Perfect Portrait adds some basic portrait-enhancing filters and contrast improvements to your portraits. Simple but effective.
  • Pop Art is something I would have loved as a kid, when I was making pop art with bitmap clip art (yes, I am from the 1990s). An image is duplicated in a 2×2 grid and color can be added to create a Warhol-esque image.
  • Reflection is another winner, creating a decent reflection of an image below it. I think users have to be careful—water and other natural reflective surfaces are not mirrors—but it produces a nice result if used subtly.

The Lomo Camera Effect.

The Out of Bounds Effect.

The Pop Art Effect.

The Reflectino Effect.

One new feature that I didn’t really like is Photomerge Style Match, which applies color and tonal qualities (black/white values) to photos in a way Match Color might in Photoshop. I think it’s good for applying major color changes, like sepia on a photo, but there’s better ways to add sepia (the Old Fashioned Photo effect in Photoshop Elements comes to mind). The problems often show up when the tonal changes are added to the mix—colors can become dingy and the worst thing is changes can be applied in patches or in a hazy grain on the image. It might be improved by controls separated for color and tone, but in Photoshop Elements 9 there are only controls for how much change is applied. Ultimately the Photomerge Style Match is something to play with but I don’t see improving my photos much with this. Maybe the next version of Elements will improve upon it—I hope so, because it does have some promise.

There are some big changes to the ways people can share and publish photos out of Photoshop Elements. The first is a Share To Facebook dialog box that lets you push photos and albums to your Facebook profile for easy sharing. Adobe did a really good job making the process easy—once you’re logged into Facebook, it’s just a matter of adding your photos and tags and publishing to your page. This feature is built into the Organizer so both videos and photos can be shared.

The other major change is Basic and Advanced layout modes for building layouts to print in a book or just as an image. The Basic mode will build a simple layout with the photos you provide it, which is similar to what iPhoto would do for you. iPhoto has some other tools for you but they’re all basic changes to font, background and more. Photoshop Elements 9 does pretty much the same thing.

The Advanced mode is where Photoshop Elements 9 separates itself from apps like iPhoto and lets its editing tools work on the layout, including images from the layout theme. The sidebar remains on the Create panel so you can’t really use edits from the Edit panel, but the toolbar and menu items are all available. I wouldn’t even bother with the Basic mode unless you only have five minutes to build a greeting card or photo book—use the Advanced mode to really make something unique.

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