Tag Archives: elements

REVIEW: Adobe Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements 10

Elements 10 box

The Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements bundle version 10 has been on the market for several months now but I wanted to review the product and give my impressions of it. Ironically, it has been just a couple weeks since Adobe released the Adobe Creative Cloud, which delivers their Creative Suite applications via a subscription. This is pertinent to the Elements products because, out of all Adobe’s products, they probably have the highest hurdles to overcome in order to convince home users to upgrade.

Photoshop Elements 10

The most game-changing and impressive new feature in Photoshop Elements 10 is the Smart Brush and its variety of effects and pattern overlays. The Smart Brush is comparable to Photoshop’s Adjustment Brush, but instead of adjustments you can apply one of almost 100 artistic effects, filters, adjustments, patterns and color fills. These are applied with a mask based on where you brush with the Smart Brush.

Smart Brush

The Smart Brush does a good job detecting boundaries for masking, similar to the quality masks produced by Photoshop Touch (though not as good as ones you can create in Photoshop). The Smart Brush effects are layer-based, so you can revise your work in the Layers panel or just click on other effects in the drop-down menu to apply them. This is a feature that seems simple but has a lot of usefulness, especially if you enjoy creating fun and interesting images. Users who just want to color correct and polish up their family photos might want to browse the Portrait subset of Smart Brush effects but otherwise won’t have too much use for this feature. There are better tools for color correction, such as Levels and Curves.

Elements’ Organizer has become smarter in version 10 and offers a few new features based on detection algorithms. Duplicate Photo Search, for example, uses a simple algorithm to detect and warn users about duplicate images. The Visual Search algorithm—which is new to Mac users in version 10—is integral to the new Object Search feature, which runs Visual Search on selections of photos in order to detect and display photos with a common object like a building or animal. It does a remarkably good job but the results depend on the clarity of the photos it’s given. Typical tourist photos and photos with a clearly defined foreground are great candidates. There’s not much control over Object Search: you can refine your search to focus on color or shape just like Visual Search.

Visual Search

People Recognition, which has been in Elements Organizer for some time, is still your best option for facial recognition. Adobe has integrated Facebook data with People Recognition to enable users to tag photos with Facebook friends. I think this is a really smart use of Facebook’s API to make photo tagging more fun and less hassle. It’s particularly cool for users moving a lot of photos from Photoshop Elements 10 to Facebook albums.

Photoshop Elements 10 also has three new Guided Edits to steer users through complex effects:

  • Orton Effect provides a soft, dreamy look for portraits and glamour shots
  • Picture Stack will segment an image into individual layered images suitable for a collage
  • Depth of Field produces a bokeh-like blurring of image backgrounds
  • depth of field

    Guided Edits have been a part of Photoshop Elements for a few versions and with each upgrade they release a few new ones. These are fun to use and I am glad two of them are for more professional-looking images—bokeh is a professional term for basically what the Depth of Field edit provides. However, the new features are not groundbreaking. The same can be said for Photoshop Elements’ new “Text on a Path” features, which insert text on a path, shape edge or selection.

    Photoshop Elements 10 Plus hasn’t changed from earlier versions and still provides 20GB of storage—the regular product provides only 2GB—as well as some tutorials and the ability to share photos on iOS and Android devices. Other than the Smart Brush, most of Photoshop Elements 10’s new features are nips and tucks, extensions of existing features or additions that should have been in place already (such as the ability to save JPEG and PDF files).

    Premiere Elements 10

    Premiere Elements 10’s most exciting new feature is the Pan & Zoom Tool, which lets users put together movie clips based on photos and animated with pan and zoom implemented by a framed interface. To use the Pan & Zoom Tool, you use rectangular frames to define where the shot should focus, the duration of the pan/zoom and how long it should hold at each frame position. Animators and anyone who has dabbled with Flash, Edge or web animations will be familiar with the approach. I’m frankly surprised the Premiere Elements team would have considered an animation paradigm to build a video production feature, but it is intuitive and makes sense. I think the user interface might be a little clunky and it can be hard to revise frame durations after the fact, but it’s a powerful little tool as is and I think it’s a nice addition.

    Pan and Zoom

    The Pan & Zoom Tool might be the most exciting new feature in Premiere Elements 10 but the AutoTone & Vibrance effect might be the most useful. This effect applies high-quality color correction to clips and I know from my experience in color correction with Photoshop that quality color really makes both videos and images look their best. I think color correction is given less attention in home video production so AutoTone & Vibrance is sorely needed. And since the Elements Organizer integrates with Premiere Elements 10 now, the application uses a Project Bin to provide file management for projects.

    AutoTone

    AutoTone & Vibrance’s primary benefit is to punch up color saturation without making skin tones look excessive. I tried this effect on a few clips and generally the performance is very good—colors look snappy but faces and hair remain natural. The effect also makes the shadows darker and richer, which generally improves the contrast. To maximize what you get out of AutoTone & Vibrance, be sure to click Edit Effects after applying it, uncheck Auto under AutoTone and edit the settings manually. There are five settings: Brightness, Contrast, Exposure, Black (shadows) and White (highlights). There’s also a single Vibrance slider to manage color saturation. These settings provide a simple but powerful way to color correct your clips.

    3 Way Color

    Adobe also added one more color correction effect: the Three-Way Color Corrector. Unfortunately, this effect is very complicated compared to the simple AutoTone & Vibrance effect. The Three-Way Color Corrector basically provides a large interface for changing the saturation and balance of highlights, shadows and midtones. You can use an eyedropper to set the balance or drag an anchor point on a color wheel in the effect settings. The results are effective but the user interface is complex, perhaps too complex for average users. The good news is the Three-Way Color Corrector encapsulates aspects of Curves and Levels, the two most important color correction procedures, which AutoTone & Vibrance does not do (that effect is more closely related to Camera Raw). However, I think the Three-Way Color Corrector can be made more efficient and easier to use.

    Premiere Elements 10 has been able to import AVCHD video since last version but now the application can also export and share movies in the native AVCHD format. You can also burn AVCHD footage to a DVD or Blu-ray disc for playback on a DVD or Blu-ray player. And one more note for Mac users: Premiere Elements 10 now includes the SmartSound feature which will let them add music to movie and dynamically adjust the length to match the movie length. This is a really nice feature I like to use, and I’m happy to see it now on the Mac.

    Users who like to post their movies on Facebook and YouTube will be happy to learn version 10 of the Elements Organizer has an interface for posting videos to both social media sites. The uploading process to YouTube is easy and clean but doesn’t leverage all of YouTube’s settings, such as tags. You also can set a video to be public or private (restricted to specific YouTube users) but not unlisted, which I think is more useful in several situations. The interface for sharing to Facebook is more robust but Facebook actually has fewer settings to manage anyway.

    Conclusion

    Adobe deserves praise for staying on top of the photo/video industry’s changes—their support of AVCHD and social media sharing are all important features that needed to be in this release. Both applications have received a worthy upgrade in version 10 but, as with many software upgrades, the necessity of upgrading depends on the user and I think the Photoshop/Premiere Elements 10 bundle has wide appeal but isn’t for everyone. I think many would make the switch just to work with AVCHD footage. Photoshop Elements 10 doesn’t have a new killer feature like Premiere Elements 10 has, but the Smart Brush is quite useful.

    Users should look at the upgrade price, look at their existing and future cameras and camcorders, and make the decision. Upgrading to version 10 offers a lot of new features—particularly for prosumers—but not everyone needs them.

    Photoshop Elements 10 / Premiere Elements 10
    Adobe Systems
    US $149.99 full, $119.99 upgrade
    Rating: 8/10
    Buy from Amazon.com

Adobe Releases Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9

psepre9-boxes

Adobe Systems announced today that Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9 have been released and are immediately available at www.adobe.com, and will be available soon at retailers. The Elements applications are Adobe’s consumer photo and video editing applications and I’ve always been impressed by the amount of advanced features and also the clean organization of the tools and digital asset manager, the Organizer.

Photoshop Elements 9

pse9-photomerge

Content-Aware Fill is used to finish up panoramas and fill in the gaps caused by warped edges.

As with Photoshop Elements 8, Photoshop Elements 9 borrows the best technology from its professional counterpart, Photoshop CS5. The Spot Healing Brush has been enhanced with Content-Aware painting, which was a hit with the Photoshop community from the beginning. Content-Aware Fill has also been added to the Photomerge Panorama creator so the unavoidable gaps left by stitched photos can be filled in automatically. I thought this was a great way to make Content-Aware Fill even more useful.

pse9-healing

The Spot Healing Brush has been improved with Content-Aware technology.

Other additions to Photoshop Elements 9 include:

  • Five new guided edits including a Lomo effect, portrait retouching workflow, reflection builder and a step-by-step process for making foreground subjects “break the frame” of the photograph.
  • Photomerge Style Match, which applies the tone and color of one image to another. This reminds me of Photoshop’s Match Color feature.
  • The Photoshop Elements product manager tells me Facebook is now the number-one way to share photos online. Photoshop Elements integrates with Facebook and will resize and upload images, and also create albums.

There’s several more new features in the reviewer’s guide but I want to test them and report back in my full review.

pse9-edits

Five new “fun edits” help consumers create some cool effects without handling advanced tools. Layers are created during the guided edit process so users can dive deeper and tweak things with other tools.

pse9-reflect

Convincing reflections can be created with a new guided edit in Photoshop Elements 9.

pse9-popart

A new guided edit creates “pop art” out of your photos. My first graphics on the computer were colorized clip art in the pop art style, so I have a soft spot for this feature.

pse9-frame

Step-by-step directions help users “break the frame” and make three-dimensional pictures.

pse9-lomo

Lomo camera effects give images a saturated, vignetted look.

Photoshop/Premiere Elements 8: New technologies, same ease of use

pepe_8_boxshot_3in

Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8 are interesting upgrades because some cutting-edge technology from the professional-grade Creative Suite 4 (CS4) has migrated to the Elements consumer lineup. CS4 users like myself who have used this new technology for a year now know that consumers will be excited about the new features because they represent the most jaw-dropping advances found in CS4.

The first basic difference previous users will notice is a change in the interface: Elements 8 applications now use the same panel-based system in CS4. This includes the tabs, buttons and double arrows familiar to CS4 users. This interface was met with some debate a year or two ago but I think people have become used to the interface and I don’t hear any complaints about it. Perhaps this is because it’s easy to maintain the same palette layouts longtime users are used to (including myself). Elements users should feel pretty comfortable with the new interface, though it does function differently.

Auto-Analyzer and People Recognition

One of the major additions to Elements 8 is the Auto-Analyzer, an automatic tagging and rating system that analyzes images upon import. Metadata handling and tagging is probably the most tiresome aspect of digital asset management and professional workflows for products like Photoshop Lightroom have always assumed photographers would be looking at every photo, rating or flagging every one. The Auto-Analyzer and the “Smart Tags” it adds to images is designed to do all this automatically.

pse8-analyzer

I think the Auto-Analyzer works very well: imported images are given quite a few tags and the keyword make sense most of the time. If anything, the Auto-Analyzer can add too many tags to an image, even ones that are debatable. But the Auto-Analyzer generally gave appropriate tags to almost all images and made it very easy for me to separate good and bad photos. When used in tandem with other keyword tags, the Smart Tags helped me find good photos for specific subjects very quickly.

pse8-tagcloud

Quick Tip: It’s easy to miss the Keyword Tag Cloud feature, new to the Keyword Tags panel in the Organizer. An image’s tag cloud can help you differentiate between an image’s major tags and minor tags.

The Find Faces feature in the Elements 7 Organizer has been replaced with a People Recognition feature in Elements 8. Find Faces was simple and easy face recognition but People Recognition is smarter: it finds more faces and it also tags names to images in a more intuitive way. This is done by asking the user who people are—the more people the user confirms, the smarter People Recognition gets and the more images are tagged automatically by the Organizer. It’s an improvement over Find Faces and the “Who’s this?” questions don’t get annoying, but I find that People Recognition can be easily thrown off by a variety of things such as changes in headwear, photo angles, stuff on the lens (like water droplets) and others. The Organizer recognized many more people in still portraits and not many at all in candids and active shots.

pse8-peoplerecog

Quick Fix is surprisingly helpful

pse8-quickfix

I say “surprisingly” because I’m an experienced professional so I am used to seeing sliders labeled “Vibrance” or “Midtone Contrast,” but I still fiddle with sliders often because I’m unsure what modifications a slider will produce. Enter the Quick Fix previews, a set of nine icons that appear below a slider to show potential results (very similar to Variations in Photoshop). Sliders in Photoshop Elements 8 now have an icon beside them that reveal the Quick Fix previews. Click a preview and the modification is applied to the image. You can also click and drag within a specific preview to tweak its settings. This is a great consumer addition, and also helpful for professionals. Photoshop Lightroom could benefit from a similar preview feature.

Stealing from CS4, Part 1: Photomerge Exposure

I believe it was Picasso who said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” and I have no quarrel with products that borrow great features from other products. Photoshop Elements 8 has borrowed two great features from Photoshop CS4, both of which were exciting when released over a year ago and still excite CS4 users.

pse8-exposure

The first is Photomerge Exposure, which borrows technology from Photoshop CS3 and CS4’s Auto-Blend Layers feature. The original feature was designed to composite images with different depths of field but Photomerge Exposure uses it to automatically composite images with different exposures. The user marks the foreground object with the Pencil Tool; Photomerge Exposure transfers it to the image with the good background. The result avoids the poorly exposed images that are hard to avoid at night or in odd lighting situations.

Stealing from CS4, Part 2: Recompose

pse8-recompose

Photoshop Elements 8 offers Recompose, which Photoshop CS4 users will immediately recognize as Content-Aware Scaling. Content-Aware Scaling predicts which objects belong in an image’s foreground and manipulates the background for seamless stretching and resizing. The end result is magical. Recompose uses the same technology and even offers a couple improvements:

  • Protect and Remove brushes help fine-tune the Recompose process: paint over objects you want to keep or lose and Recompose will get a better result. This gives Elements users the added ability to remove people or objects during the process.
  • Select a print size from the Preset pull-down menu and Recompose will make the image the proper size, removing and protecting pixels where needed. This feature makes Recompose even smarter.

pse8-protect

The only downside to Recompose is its interface, which you have to use in order to apply Recompose to an image. I’m not used to it because Content-Aware Scaling in Photoshop CS4 doesn’t have one—it’s built into the general editing interface. However, Photoshop Elements has always been designed around multiple interfaces for things like this so I’m not surprised, and regular users of Photoshop Elements will only be blown away by Recompose.

Premiere Elements now integrated with Organizer

In the past, the Organizer was exclusive to Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements had a different organization tool built into the application. Adobe has moved away from that arrangement and Premiere Elements 8 now shares the same Organizer as Photoshop Elements 8. I think this is the right approach and now Premiere Elements users can organize assets, auto-analyze clips and more. The Organizer can also do a few nice tricks with video clips, such as full-screen previewing with sound and transition options for quick and dirty slideshows. It didn’t make much sense for Premiere Elements not to share the Organizer with its still-image counterpart, so I approve of this change.

Making things easy with Online Albums

pre8-album

The Premiere Elements team really focused on making things easy and “smart” in version 8. One of the new features designed to make things easy is Online Albums, basically online templates for building simple video albums. They’re easy to produce and the album designs remind me of iMovie’s album designs. There are a lot of designs to choose from (and more on the way for Plus members) and in the usual categories (fun, family, travel and more) but while iMovie merely makes designs difficult to modify it seems Online Albums can’t be customized at all. Users select their images or videos, select an Online Album and then publish to FTP, hard drive or a couple other options. It always surprises me how users almost always want to use canned designs like this but then modify the heck out of it, so I am disappointed Online Albums have no customization options.

A suite of “Smart” adjustments

Premiere Elements has gone “Smart,” introducing three adjustment features with the “Smart” moniker and one, motion tracking, that could have been. These four new features are designed to “make video editing less work” for customers.

  • pre8-smartfix

    SmartFix is basically an automatic exposure and camera shake adjustment tool. Premiere Elements will change brightness and contrast levels in a clip for optimum exposure, highlights and shadows, and it will also reduce camera movement. Exposure adjustment is often hard to pull off realistically so I found that SmartFix worked well for minor cleanup of video clips or to increase contrast, but caused some unwanted effects when handling very underexposed or overexposed clips. These effects included murky or shifted colors, plugged shadows and other problems. I think SmartFix does as good a job as it can but it shouldn’t be counted on to save bad clips.

  • pre8-smarttrim

    Smart Trim is a very convenient tool for trimming boring or poorly shot segments of a clip, or trimming to fit a specific duration. Thanks to the new Organizer and its Auto-Analyzer, Smart Trim can use the clip’s Smart Tags to decide what to cut and what to keep. The result is a more interesting video, and it does a really good job. I like to use Smart Trim to cut clips to a specific duration. Smart Trim also handles fade transitions around each cut so the automatic trimming is seamless.

  • pre8-smartmix

    SmartMix maintains a healthy volume when sound and video tracks play together. This is probably the easiest of the “Smart” tools to apply: Audio Tools > SmartMix > Apply will take care of it, and it does a great job of reducing the audio clip volume so it doesn’t drown out audio brought in with the video clip. There’s also a SmartMix Options window for fine-tuning the results, but I didn’t need to really use it to get a good result.

  • pre8-motiontrack

    Motion tracking should have been named “SmartMotion” or “SmartTrack,” because it’s another new feature that automatically analyzes and applies effects to your video clips. In this case, motion tracking finds movement in a video clip, defines the moving object and then will track another object to the same motion path for synchronized motion. Premiere Elements 8 has new libraries of clip art that make this easy but I prefer to add color keyed video that has had its background removed. In any case, it works well and it’s a very exciting addition for consumers. As with Photoshop Elements 8, Premiere Elements 8 has outdone itself in terms of the intelligence and jaw-dropping effects of its new features.

Now synchronize content across multiple computers

The Elements Organizer has had a backup/sync feature that takes advantage of the 2GB of space offered for free with Photoshop.com membership, included with Elements 8. 2GB isn’t much space anymore but it can be helpful and it can be upgraded to Plus, which provides 20GB.

pre8-sync

With Elements 8, backups can now sync across multiple computers—this is handy for multi-computer families and users with multiple computers such as a laptop and a tower. There’s also a new Backup/Sync icon at the bottom of the Organizer. It’s at the bottom of the interface and not very visible, but it gives access to all the backup and synchronization preferences, allows manual syncing and resolves conflicts manually among other things. Handling backups is one of the major pain points of consumers, who don’t often see the need for backups until personal photos are lost for whatever reason. Any tool that helps make backups easier and personal photos safer is a major benefit.

Pricing and conclusion

The cost of Elements has remained the same:

Standalone products (Photoshop Elements 8 or Premiere Elements 8)

  • $99.99 full
  • $139.99 full, includes Plus

Bundled product (Windows only)

  • $149.99 full
  • $179.99 full, includes Plus

There are also some holiday deals coming soon, see below!

Black Friday (Nov 23-30)

Holiday – North America (Dec 7-21)

There aren’t a whole lot of new features for either application, but what’s been added are major advances in organization and in ease of use for consumers. In particular, cutting-edge technology that Adobe has acquired or developed is now paying off for Elements users as much as CS4 users—Recompose and the “Smart” tools in Premiere Elements 8 are prime examples.

Some of the new technology, such as People Recognition and SmartFix, are solid but not foolproof, and I’m not sure they can ever be foolproof. I do think they can and should be improved in the next release. But both Elements applications are excellent consumer choices and a good value for the money.

Photoshop Elements 8
Adobe Systems
Rating: 9/10

Premiere Elements 8 (Windows)
Adobe Systems
Rating: 9/10

Photoshop/Premiere Elements 8 Bundle (Windows)
Adobe Systems
Rating: 9/10

Welcome, Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8

ele8-boxshots

Today Adobe announces the upcoming release of Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8, available now at www.adobe.com (Windows only—Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac will be available in October 2009). I enjoyed working with the previous version of both applications (you can see my review of Elements 7 here) but version 8 looks like it might be an awesome upgrade. I’m also very happy to report that Mac users no longer need to wait to upgrade Photoshop Elements: Adobe has fast-tracked development of the Mac version and it will now be released almost at the same time as its Windows equivalent!

Adobe’s strategy

I haven’t seen the actual software yet—this article is not a review—but I did see a demo by Adobe’s Bob Gager and Mike Iampietro. I was able to cull some of Adobe’s strategy from their presentation and comments:

  • Adobe’s consumer division, which controls the Elements product line, makes it clear their mission is to empower customers to “tell their stories.” The Elements products are therefore designed for personal media, such as photo collections and home videos.
  • Bob mentioned they are looking with version 8 to strike a balance between ease of use and “headroom,” allowing users to get creative and produce more “wow” moments.
  • Bob also said, “Intelligence enables ease of use.” This is reflected by the integration of some smart technologies we’ve seen in other products in the past year, such as Content-Aware Scaling (Photoshop CS4) and face recognition (iPhoto ’09).
  • Mike, who presented on Premiere Elements 8, said their objective was to “make video editing less work” for consumers. The development team’s focus on “smart” editing tools makes this obvious, and in fact such tools comprise the bulk of the improvements in version 8.

Photoshop Elements 8: Leveraging new technology

It looks like Photoshop Elements 8 is using new technologies to add new features that will make consumers ooh and ha. One is the Auto-Analyzer, which will add Smart Tags to photos upon import so you don’t have to manually tag photos. Another is People Recognition: the Organizer can recognize photos of faces and will ferret out other photos of the same people. It works best when the user can devote a little time telling the Organizer what it gets right and wrong, but after looking at a couple batches the Organizer gets uncannily good at finding people, even in older photos. The other thing I notice in my reviewer’s guide is a new keyword tag cloud feature, which will be appealing to users of services like Flickr, who have had tag clouds for some time. Click here to download a demo of the Elements Organizer (Flash video).

It’s important to note that Mac users will get Bridge CS4 instead of the Organizer. Bridge is a good file management application with some features above and beyond the Organizer, but I’m actually a fan of the latter with its leanness and ease of use, and Mac users don’t get any of the cool new features in the Elements Organizer.

ele8-exposure

There are a few new editing features, most of which look very exciting for consumers:

  • Quick Fix previews have been added to the Quick Edit controls. Clicking on the icon beside each control will bring up a 3×3 matrix showing what the control can do. This addition is based on user testing that showed users were far less likely to use a control if they didn’t know right away what it would do. Photoshop users will recognize it as a variant of the Variations command.
  • Photomerge Exposure (see the image above) lets users combine photos with different exposure levels. This is ideal if you have two photos of the same subject but with different exposures, and you want to use the foreground of one and background of another. It’s similar to HDR but is designed to be more functional and less artistic. Click here to download the demo (Flash video).
  • The Recompose tool (see the image below) is basically Photoshop CS4’s jaw-dropping Content-Aware Scaling, but does have a couple improvements including size presets and brushes to protect or remove objects during scaling. Click here to download the demo (Flash video).

ele8-recompose

I’m really looking forward to reviewing Photoshop Elements 8, and I expect consumers will really get a thrill out of the new features. Professional users have had these tools for awhile now but the consumer market is quite different (though they are converging). It stands to reason that their software would as well.

Premiere Elements 8: Everything’s “Smart”

ele8-smarttags

There are two big news items for Premiere Elements 8: it now uses the same Organizer (now dubbed the “Elements Organizer”, see the image above) as Photoshop Elements 8, and there’s a suite of “Smart” features designed to make video editing easier. Premiere Elements 8 sports all the new Organizer features such as the Auto-Analyzer and People Recognition, and I noticed during the demo that you can apply tags to video at specific points in the clip.

The “Smart” features analyze your clips and apply global adjustments or trims them as needed. It’s unclear whether these are non-destructive edits or not—I will learn more after I look at the software. For now we don’t have a whole lot more than the descriptions of the Smart features:

    ele8-smartfix

  • SmartFix, which will correct light or dark video.
  • ele8-smarttrim

  • SmartTrim, which can automatically detect bad video or segments with no action and suggest what to trim out. This feature can be used to simply improve a video or to trim to a specific duration. Click here to download the demo (Flash video).
  • SmartMix analyzes the sound in a video project and makes sure speech isn’t drowned out by noise or music.

ele8-motiontrack

The last feature that was demoed was motion tracking: Premiere Elements can define and track a moving object in video, and align and move graphics, text or effects with that object. Premiere Elements 8 also comes with a library of artwork, and in the demo a bird from the library was linked to a girl skating across the stage (see the image above. Motion tracking allowed the bird to follow the girl’s motion path. Out of all the new features shown in the demo, motion tracking was the most exciting! Click here to download the demo (Flash video).

And Plus…

In version 7, Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements came with a basic Photoshop.com membership and 2GB of online photo/video storage, upgradeable to Photoshop.com Plus membership. It’s still available but it’s now called Photoshop (or Premiere) Elements 8 Plus. There’s a yearly fee to upgrade to Plus and with it you’ll get:

  • 20GB of storage instead of 2GB
  • Access to seasonal artwork, templates, movie themes, special effects and more, delivered to the applications
  • Tutorials for photo and movie projects

Pricing and Availability

The pricing looks like it will not change from the previous version:

  • Standalone products (Photoshop Elements 8 [Mac or Windows] or Premiere Elements 8 [Windows only])
    • $99.99 full
    • $79.99 with mail-in rebate
    • $139.99 full, includes Plus
    • $119.99 with mail-in rebate, includes Plus
  • Bundled product (Windows only), available only at Adobe.com
    • $149.99 full
    • $119.99 with mail-in rebate
    • $179.99 full, includes Plus
    • $149.99 with mail-in rebate, includes Plus
  • Plus membership alone is $49.99/year.

Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8 for Windows are available today, but the Mac version of Photoshop Elements 8 will be available next month. Both products will be available soon at retail outlets such as Amazon.com, Apple (Mac only), Costco.com (Windows only), Best Buy, Office Depot and OfficeMax.

Stay tuned for the review!

REVIEW: Serif PhotoPlus X3 Adds New Features, Still No CMYK

photoplusx3

Last year I published a lengthy review of Serif’s suite of desktop publishing, art and photo software. Serif is based in the UK and this suite was its initial foray into the American market. I found the suite to be intriguing, with some polished gems (PagePlus X3 Publisher Professional was a good product) and others that had promise but could be improved. The first of these products to be improved was DrawPlus, which was upgraded to X3 and reviewed earlier this spring.

PhotoPlus has now graduated to X3, and it boasts several improvements. In my previous review of X2 I lamented the total lack of CMYK image support and compared PhotoPlus X2 to Photoshop Elements rather than Photoshop. PhotoPlus X2 did not have the necessary professional-caliber tools but was a fair product for photo hobbyists and amateurs. PhotoPlus X3 makes some welcome additions for pro users as well as some for amateurs, but one thing still bothers me….

No CMYK support

PhotoPlus X3 has exactly the same weak CMYK support as its predecessor. CMYK images are automatically converted to RGB, and the application doesn’t seem to handle the black channel effectively because the resulting RGB image doesn’t much depth in the shadows. RGB and grayscale are the only two available color modes. Lab isn’t an option either. However, a look at the image modes will show one of the major additions to PhotoPlus X3: support for 16-bit images. 16-bit images can carry more data in each channel so the resulting image can capture a greater tonal range and make High Dynamic Range (HDR) images possible. The downside is that these images naturally have more data and thus more file size, plus some industry leaders argue that the extra bits don’t result in any noticeable differences to the eye. It’s also not quite as advanced as Photoshop, which supports 32-bit images.

Serif was smart to include an HDR Merge function with X3, now that it can support the necessary images. HDR Merge works pretty well but I am used to Photoshop’s Merge to HDR feature which only has a few simple controls; PhotoPlus X3’s HDR Merge offers six sliders. Some users might like the added control but I prefer to fine tune HDR images with Photoshop’s other tools. Nevertheless, HDR Merge is a welcome addition to PhotoPlus.

Raw Studio is raw indeed

I know of only one point-and-shoot camera that writes Camera Raw files; they usually shoot JPEG alone. This explains why PhotoPlus has not supported raw files—until X3 arrived. Now it boasts Raw Studio, a module for processing raw images. The price of cameras keeps dropping and the camera manufacturers have many more SLR models available now, so a lot more prosumer cameras (and raw images) are out in the world. Photoshop and Photoshop Elements both have their own Adobe Camera Raw modules for handling raw images.

Raw Studio is underpowered compared to Camera Raw. There’s not many sliders, other than a few for exposure, black point, noise reduction and chromatic aberration. The White Balance menu does not have most Camera Raw options, such as cloudy or tungsten white point. I also seemed to pick up color noise in the shadows of my test image (a DNG shot with a black background). Camera Raw and Lightroom produced excellent blacks with the same image. Still, I am impressed Raw Studio was even able to read a DNG file (Windows had no idea what to do with it) and with some tweaking of the controls I was able to get decent results. It’s ironic that I complained about the excessive controls in HDR Merge and minimal controls in Raw Studio, but I use a lot of sliders when working with raw images. It’s surprising how often I use Camera Raw’s minor controls like Fill Light and Clarity. But the most important control for any raw photo is Exposure—exposure control is one of the killer features of raw photos—and Raw Studio has that covered. For those who haven’t shot raw before, this is a big step forward.

Noise reduction?

PhotoPlus X3 sports a new Noise Reduction feature, found in the Raw Studio and also in the Effects menu and QuickFix Studio. I tested the feature with my noisy DNG file but the results were average. Before I even began, I was frustrated by not getting any results in the QuickFix Studio. The Noise Reduction effect was also grayed out in the menu. I eventually realized Noise Reduction does not work on 16-bit images. After I converted down to 8-bit RGB I tried Noise Reduction and the algorithm seemed to blur the color while retaining the details. The resulting image had poor color (almost like sepia tone) and the black/white noise remained.

If you need to use Noise Reduction and are shooting raw images, I recommend using the Noise Reduction control in Raw Studio. It seems to knock out both color and black/white noise, though I’m not quite satisfied with its results either—it blurs important image details as well as noise, and my images often ended up with the soft blur you see in glamour shots.

Print multiple photos much easier

Serif has replaced the Print dialog box with the Print Studio, which gives much greater printing control and enables printing of contact sheets and photo packages. Photoshop used to print these as well but the features were jettisoned with CS4; Lightroom prints both and does a wonderful job. The Print Studio doesn’t have the flexibility Lightroom does when printing photo packages but the contact sheet capabilities are excellent. The photo package (called Print Layout) capabilities are also quite good and easy to use with many presets available immediately. Some users may wonder how to reach the Print Studio since it doesn’t have its own button, but once they learn how easy it is to reach they’ll start using it immediately.

Other improvements

Serif’s has a few other improvements in PhotoPlus X3:

  • The How To panel has a new “Black and White Studio” to make grayscale conversion easier for novices. It walks users through a series of options for producing good black and white images, and it’s handy for new users but experienced users will not need this tool.
  • As with DrawPlus X3, PhotoPlus X3 supports Microsoft’s HD Photo file format.
  • The QuickFix Studio has several new adjustments besides Noise Reduction: Hue/Saturation/Lightness, Exposure and Black And White Film are all new features and work well. It also has a histogram that makes things easier for Photoshop users and others who know how to read histograms. I suspect a lot of PhotoPlus users will sooner use the image itself as feedback.
  • There are five new effects: Film Grain, Kaleidoscope, Page Curl, Plasma and Shear. They all make nice effects and are easy to use, and Shear and Page Curl are particularly useful. Plasma is basically Photoshop’s Render Clouds filter, and is good for producing textures. Film Grain works well for high-resolution images but it was hard to get a small enough grain on web-resolution images.
  • 3D effects now support mapping of reflections, bumps, patterns and other attributes for 3D image creation. This is not true 3D like Photoshop is supporting nowadays, but manipulation of light sources and maps to make 2D images look 3D. The 3D layer effect process seems kind of complicated but it can produce some fun results.

Conclusion

If Photoshop Elements did not have Camera Raw, I would have considered PhotoPlus X3 to be a compelling substitute. However, Camera Raw is in that product and Raw Studio needs some maturation before it’s comparable. Serif made all the right additions—Raw Studio, 16-bit and HDR support, noise reduction, contact sheets and photo packages—however, users spoiled by Photoshop and Photoshop Elements might be disappointed in their execution. I would recommend Photoshop Elements over PhotoPlus X3, though if you’re already a Serif customer and like using their products then you will enjoy PhotoPlus X3.

PhotoPlus X3
Serif
US$79.99
Rating: 7/10