Photoshop Elements 4
Sunday, June 4, 2006 / Software
When I was a child, my father often used much more powerful tools than he needed. He used a chainsaw to cut twigs for kindling. To mow the lawn, he used a tractor fitted with a brush cutter. If there were more than one tool for the job, my father would always choose the biggest one… sometimes with disastrous consequences. The chainsaw threw dirt all over the yard as it went through the twigs, the lawn, and anything else that happened to be in the way. The tractor once rolled over on him. He is living proof (no, he hasn’t killed himself yet) that the biggest tool isn’t always the right tool for the job.
This lesson is also true for software. Most of the time, people don’t need Photoshop CS2 for editing their photos. The software’s excessive options can make it difficult to wade through to get to the simple correction you’re trying to make. Photoshop Elements 4 is the right-sized tool for most jobs.
Photoshop Elements has been around for many years, but it is often ignored. The $500+ price difference between Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CS2 would lead you to believe that the CS2 version is vastly superior. In addition, Apple provides a host of photo editing features in iPhoto 6, which is given free to new Mac buyers. So why plop down eighty bucks for Elements?
In many ways Photoshop Elements is equivalent to Photoshop CS2. They both support RAW file formats for working with high-end digital cameras. Filters, layers, level adjustments are all available in Photoshop Elements. Other than some minor differences in the workspace, both the versions of Photoshop behave and look similar.
Photoshop Elements is designed for the experienced and casual user alike. That’s one of the key differences between the two versions of Photoshop. New Photoshop users can become lost in the endless menu options of the Photoshop CS2 version. Within Photoshop Elements, you can chose to work in the “Quick Fix” mode that changes the work area to show fewer tools and just focus on simple picture corrections. In this mode there are many automated adjustment tools to fix lighting and red eye. There are sliders for color adjustments. You can also crop the image or erase portions of the photo. Most of these features are directly comparable to the features available in iPhoto 6. But what iPhoto doesn’t have and the Quick Fix view does is the ability to view the original side-by-side with the edited version. This is extremely helpful when adjusting color levels and trying to gauge your improvements. The Quick Fix mode is a decent starting place to begin to work with your photos, but you will also quickly want to move beyond it. Photoshop Elements allows you to start working with a photo in the Quick Fix mode and then push a button and move those edits into the “Standard Edit” mode.
Most of the work you do in Photoshop Elements should be done in the Standard Edit mode. This is where previous Photoshop users will feel most comfortable. At first, the workspace layout looks more rigid than in Photoshop CS2, but it is easily customizable and soon a user will get his or her bearings.
The bottom line is that unless you are a power Photoshop user, it will be difficult to find the features in Elements that are missing.
Appearance-wise, Photoshop Elements 4 is visually different than Photoshop Elements 3. Version 4 also has a few touchup and selection tool enhancements over version 3. The major enhancement missing from this new release of Photoshop Elements is its native support for Intel Macs. Although released long after the announcement that Apple was switching to Intel processors, Photoshop Elements 4 is not a Universal application. This is another in a long line of disappointments from Adobe when it comes to supporting Mac advancements. Those who remember the switch to OS X will remember how slow Adobe was at releasing native software for that OS. Once again Adobe is late to the party. Photoshop Elements 4 will work on Intel Macs, but will not be faster than an older copy of Photoshop. Without being Universal, Photoshop Elements 4 is a program for people without any copy of Photoshop already. The addition of features does not justify the upgrade price, albeit very small. This is not a good upgrade version and should be treated accordantly. Elements 3 users should wait for the Universal release of Photoshop.
Where Photoshop Elements 4 shines is for new Photoshop users or iPhoto users wanting to do more. Probably the most useful feature included in the Photoshop Elements 4 box is the manual. It may seem strange but a well-written manual can make a program better by unlocking all that it can do. Many companies skip the printed manual these days, and I can think of at least a half a dozen good reasons why that was a logical choice. Paper is expensive and it inflates the cost of software. The application changes faster that the manual can be reprinted. Paper can’t be searched as fast as a PDF. Manuals get separated from the software. Inaccuracies can’t be fixed in a printed manual. And probably the best reason of all is that people do not read manuals. Knowing all those things, I still found that I enjoyed reading the printed Photoshop Elements 4 manual. I appreciated taking the manual to locations away from my computer. It taught me things I did not know about any version of Photoshop, and it didn’t bore me when it covered tools I have used for years. I am confident that after reading the manual nearly any new Photoshop user could edit their photos without trouble.
Being the son of my father, I have always used the biggest and most advanced version of Photoshop available to me. I have distorted photos past recognition and destroyed beautiful sunsets by over-filtering. I now know there are better tools out there for what I do with my photos. There are simpler ways to edit without sacrifice. After many years, Photoshop Elements 4 is now the only Photoshop I have on the computer at home and my pictures are better for it.