After frequent updates to Elements have made it more like older versions of Photoshop itself, Adobe have decided to shift the goalposts and go more all-in-one photo friendly package for beginners.
The initial loading screen lets you organise, edit, share and create things. It can be set to default to any of the group.
Sort of. It starts with a Lightroom-esque interface, which, in other words, is a drear grey with a blue line round the outside. Vista users won't be impressed with the lack of transparency effects and there's no little irony when the operating system looks nicer than an application produced by a graphics company. However, completely at odds with this grey-day in Grimsby look are the garish tabs and the giddily coloured tool icons. The tabs don't replace the tabbed menu well which has now been filled in, but rather offer instant access to the other components of the package. You're in the orange tab of Edit, you can click on purple Create or the green world of Share. In fact, when the program starts up there's the choice of whether to start with the launcher or one of these individual components. Strangely, there's also the Organizer on the startup menu, but this doesn't get its own coloured tab, it's a tawdry icon above them all.
Photoshop Elements 6 Modes and features
The interface then places loaded images in the sea of battleship grey in the middle, while along the bottom a project bin shows what's open and enables easy chopping and changing between images. It also has a couple of neat tricks like being able to save all the images in the bin as a group so that the Organizer can easily find and process them. Otherwise, everything else will be familiar to Photoshop users with toolset down the left, drop down menus along the top, and floating palettes to the right.
The tools are all what you might expect with selection tools but no Bezier curves of course, though there is a quick selection tool. There's clone stamp, healing brush, spot removal, eraser, sharpen, dodge and burn, the regulars in other words but then there's the nod to this being photo-orientated and entry level. Here you get red-eye removal, a straighten tool, cut out shape stamps and an impressionist brush.
The drop downs cover Edit, Image, Enhance, Layer, Select and Filter in the main. The image modes cover RGB, greyscale and indexed colours, but there's no CMYK support still and there's a noticeable lack of options for other bit-depths beyond the standard 8-bit support and the 256 colour web-orientated palette. Put it this way, Paint Shop Pro has always had far better choices in this department. Elements does have a Save for Web option so I guess Adobe are covering their main bases with photo editors and web people. Colour profiles are kind of supported, in that you can have none, sRGB and AdobeRGB, which is pretty much the target audience for the program anyway.
A lot of the image enhancement options are present as automatic fixes. For the beginner market this is a good idea, though the program still, sits rather queasily between being a poor-man's Photoshop and a family-friendly photo editor. However, I feel there's probably a little too much automatic choice, which is then not presented as forthrightly as it should be. For standard image enhancement you get Levels but no Curves with it. There's Highlight/Shadows, like on Photoshop CS3, but slightly better and that is a handy thing to have.
The sharpness fixing is a second cousin to CS3's Smart Sharpen feature and is an excellent feature.
On the colour front, recognising that there's digital photos to process, there are plenty of high quality tools. As well as adjusting Hue and Saturation yourself, there are also options for removing single colours, colour casts, adjusting skin colours which is really useful and what's this... Colour Curves? Yes, it's your friend and mine, Curves but done for colour, not tonality. This is like Adobe have hit it across the knees so it hobbles in comparison to the CS3 version. The curve is present, with shadow, mid-point and highlight carats, but you can't drag and move them yourself, you have to adjust sliders. A range of presets help out, but it's obviously been done this way to differentiate it from CS3. The kicker though is that it affects colour only, which is okay in itself, but it would have been far better to have proper Curves!
Where there is no cause for complaining is in sharpening images, which is a de rigueur requirement for digital images. Not only is there Unsharp Mask, the traditional tool, but there's Adjust Sharpness, which is a dead ringer for CS3's Smart Sharpen tool and really packs a sharpening punch.
While most of the rest of the filters are easily recognisable as those from Photoshop through the ages - some therefore being useful while others are largely useless, it really has to said that PSP has grasped the initiative in terms of fixing up digital images. PSP can sort out chromatic aberration and clean up JPEG artefacts as well as tackling out distortion in a number of ways. Elements is lagging at the back, like some well-fed public schoolboy racing whippet-thin kids from the local council estate. When the Correct Camera Distortion filter is run, it's like a maths lesson with graph paper and perspective control. Now, I'm not knocking the feature, this is great to have and does a good job, I'm just rapping Adobe on the forehead and shouting hello, who are you aiming this program at?
There's plenty of filters of course, including old fan favourite the Diffuse Glow to add brightness and grain.
Once you've finished playing with images, they can be saved in a multitude of formats, and also grouped for the Organiser at the same time, which shows some thought. The Create options for making collages, photobooks, slideshows and an online gallery sit there nervously hoping someone is going to come along and use them. There are further features like creating greeting cards, making CD/DVD jackets and burning a VCD with a menu, and the Share options. The order prints online option is a clever one to put in and firstly loads the Organizer, then the Create Account dialogue for joining the EU-based Ofoto print service. Nice touch, advert offering 10 free Kodak prints, though an asterix says the offer expired on Dec 31 2006. Clicking on See offer details shows that it started in 2004 and expired in 2005. Nice attention to detail here shows how much use this gets. In any case, I'll find my own print supplier thanks very much.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 Verdict
There are a lot of very good tools in Elements 6 and they work with all the speed and precision that their counterparts in CS3 have. Most of what's here will do the job of fixing and organising your photos quite happily. If you want a good quality photo editing package then this is it. What's also apparent is that the interface and feature set has made a significant move away from being a poor-man's Photoshop towards being a family-friendly photo editor. Unfortunately it hasn't got there yet and the strange mix of gaudy icons and deathly dull interface, is like bank managers trying to get down with the kids to attract the student bank account. There's a little too much automation for a program that doesn't actually do very much hand holding or make some of the very good features very friendly. Paint Shop Pro Photo X2, packs a much heavier punch now than Elements, there is clear water between the two, and if only Corel could make it work better and faster it would hammer Elements like a sixth former picking on first year student. If you want endless features, then PSP really is better. If you hanker for the good old days and want a poor-man's Photoshop then have a look at Serif's Photo Plus X2. If Adobe want to continue to make in-roads into the family-friendly photo editing market that MGI so successfully blazed a trail for a few years back, then there's still plenty of work needed. Otherwise, this is a safe bet in the world of photo editing.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 Plus points:
Familiar set of tools
Good sharpening tool
Lots of quality filters
Fast and works well
Lots of extra components
Good organisational capabilities
Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 minus points:
Drab, Vista unfriendly interface
No Curves for tonality
Lacks correction tools that PSP offers
Extra of dubious value
VALUE FOR MONEY:
Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 costs around £70 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.