Tag Archives: software

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

REVIEW: Sibelius 6 Is Close To Perfect

In 1997, I was a student at an Iowa college that offered no courses in graphic design or web design beyond basic HTML—which at the time was advanced enough. I was more of a musician than a designer then, and I loved composing with an Alesis QS8 synthesizer and an application called Encore. Finale was the industry standard at the time, but I also heard about an upstart application named Sibelius, named after the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and several major composers who used it (the most notable was Steve Reich). I never did see the application.

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12 years later, I heard that Sibelius—now the industry standard—was owned by video powerhouse Avid and had just been updated to version 6. I use music in my multimedia work and so I was curious to see what Sibelius 6 can do for composers, and I came away with an unbelievable experience.

The best production values

Any application that plays a phrase from a Jean Sibelius piece when starting up is obviously designed for those who appreciate and produce good music. Many little touches and attention to detail make Sibelius a refined application:

  • Music is laid out on parchment paper with a striking blue background. This is much improved from the plain white backgrounds I’m used to.
  • Sibelius ships with an easy-to-use handbook and a huge reference guide, making this the first application I’ve reviewed with a printed manual since Adobe’s CS3 Production Premium. Online help manuals are nice but having it in writing on one’s desk is helpful.
  • Sibelius does an outstanding job laying out notes and other marks in the cleanest and most logical way. This is not really a concern for designers who just want to get their music in a digital format but it’s necessary for composers who print their music. Users can’t view music in any format other than standard score layout but I wouldn’t expect Sibelius to offer a radical format such as a Flash-like timeline layout.
  • Music can be inputted and performed without a device such as a synthesizer or other MIDI device. It takes a little setup but it’s really quite easy to put together multi-instrument compositions. The instruments are synthesized so they’re not perfect (though the new piano sound is extremely close), but proper dynamics and markings help make compositions sound authentic. The one ding I would give Sibelius is in its exporting feature: full audio can be exported but only in AIFF format. Converting AIFF to MP3 requires a third-party converter, which is readily available.

Interface

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I find Sibelius’ interface a little harder to master because it doesn’t use the panel-based interfaces that Adobe has so successfully applied to its Creative Suite applications. Palettes such as the Navigator and Keypad are helpful but can’t be docked to the side of the window or hidden easily. I think this is because average Sibelius users are musicians and composers, and they are most likely using an instrument for input—few people would find it very productive to use just the keypad for adding notes and markings.

Sibelius is an exceptional tool for these users, partly due to the success of the new Magnetic Layout feature that lays notes out perfectly when taking input from an instrument. Back in 1997, I was moving notes around staves with my mouse and instrument input was usually not quite right. Magnetic Layout helps keep layouts clean and orderly, and a combination of Flexi-time™ input and the Renotate Performance plug-in do a good job of taking clean input from a performance on a synth or other MIDI instrument.

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What’s new?

Since I’ve never used Sibelius before, I can’t really comment on the value in the Sibelius 6 upgrade. I can say that Sibelius 6 is light years ahead of anything I was using in 1997, but that doesn’t say much. Instead, let’s look at the new features in Sibelius 6:

  • Magnetic Layout, which is described in the previous section. I am really impressed by the smart technology behind this new feature—this is what makes composing on a computer easy for musicians and other performers.
  • sibelius-versions

  • Versions is a tool for storing and comparing drafts of a composition, similar to Adobe’s Version Cue but without the hassle that application demands. Versions are easily saved (there’s no keyboard shortcut for the Save Version command, but one can be created in Sibelius’ preferences). Versions can also be compared to one another and differences can be seen in the score on in a written list. The one thing I would want is an auto-save feature: Sibelius will offer to save a version when closing a score but doesn’t actually save versions automatically during use.
  • Sibelius 6 offers Keyboard and Fretboard windows that display a virtual piano keyboard or guitar fretboard. I’m surprised these are new additions: Encore had a keyboard window even in 1997.
  • sibelius-cccontrol

  • New classroom control features help teachers control copies of Sibelius 6 being used by students in a lab setting. Scores can be sent to and from any or all students, and the teacher can suspend students’ applications when lecturing or demonstrating. This obviously does not help the designer or the composer, but it goes to show that Sibelius is for the music education market as well as the composition market.
  • sibelius-rewire

  • Sibelius 6 now uses the ReWire standard to record audio from Sibelius to an audio application or workstation—everything from Pro Tools and Logic to Apple’s Garageband. This might be the best new feature for designers, though it’s most appropriate for performers working with a digital audio workstation (DAW).
  • sibelius-audioscore

  • Sibelius 6 ships with the Lite version of AudioScore, an application that lets singers input music via microphone. It’s always been easy to hook up a synth with MIDI or an electric guitar with a cable, but voice has been tough to capture. AudioScore does a good job with it, though the $249 AudioScore Ultimate is required if you want to create multiple tracks or display pitch.
  • As with most other companies, Avid is looking for ways to leverage online communities with its software products. The end result for Sibelius is SibeliusMusic.com, a community where Sibelius users can post, share and sell scores. I’ve not used it yet but there’s some good material there already—almost 100,000 scores!—and it could end up being a great source for music for multimedia and video.

Conclusion

It is amazing how far music notation software has come since I used Encore and Finale in 1997. Encore is now owned by gvox and looks like it hasn’t been updated in some time; Finale is still regularly updated and is probably Sibelius’ strongest competitor. However, I can only speak about my experience with Sibelius 6, which is exceptional. There are a few things I would suggest improving, mostly with little things like the audio exporting functions, but it is a phenomenal product for composers and also for music educators. Sibelius 6 ships with quite a bit of educational materials such as worksheets and exercises, and there are a few well-done scores that new users can learn a lot from.

I’m excited to review Sibelius 6 because, in my industry, there are many designers who can create visuals with Photoshop or animations with After Effects but don’t necessarily have control over the sound required for great multimedia. Applications like Soundbooth and Garageband are good tools but Sibelius 6 is a different kind of application. Designers looking to produce music for their projects should try it out.

Sibelius 6
Avid Software
US$599
Rating: 10/10