Adobe today released the US$99 Photoshop Elements 1.0 for Mac and Windows. Elements is a consumer version of Photoshop 6 that, unlike the earlier Photoshop LE, has just enough features to stand in for Photoshop itself in certain pro applications, but at a fraction of the price.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 1.0
In fact, with the help of a 3rd party automation utility like QuicKeys (Mac/Win) or OneClick (Mac), some photojournalists will find Elements to be all that's needed to crop, correct, caption and save digital camera images. If I were choosing a version of Photoshop to place on a ream of laptops in a newspaper photo department, and money was tight, Elements would be given serious consideration.
Key image preparation features that made it into Elements from Photoshop 6
- Crop. It's unchanged in Elements.
- Image Size. It's unchanged in Elements.
- The Info Palette. It won't display CMYK and LAB values, but it will show Grayscale and RGB.
- Rotate. The same basic options for flipping and turning a picture exist in Elements, plus an automatic horizon straightener function designed primarily for correcting scans that are askew.
- Auto Contrast, Levels. They are unchanged in Elements.
- Dodge and burn tools. They are unchanged in Elements.
- Lasso tool. It's unchanged in Elements. Many of the basic selection options of Photoshop 6 are in Elements, including the feathering of a selection.
- Hue/Saturation. It's unchanged in Elements.
- Convert to Grayscale mode. It's unchanged in Elements. There is also a Remove Color function that appears to blend the Red, Green and Blue channels of an image equally when making the black and white.
- Multiple undo via the History palette. Most of the key functions of the History palette are in Elements.
- Full support for import modules, including Kodak DCS Acquire v5.9.3 and Canon Digital Camera v3.5. I've tested this only on the Mac; I can't confirm if the Windows TWAIN modules from Kodak and Canon will also be fully-functional. Adobe promises, however, that if a given plug-in or TWAIN driver on either platform is compatible with Photoshop 6, then it will be compatible with Elements 1.0 also. The only exception may be plug-ins or TWAIN drivers that are expecting Photoshop's serial number to follow a certain sequence when completing their own registration step. Since Elements uses a different serial number sequence, some third party software may need to be updated to recognize the new sequence before it can run inside Elements.
- File Info. Only the Caption, Copyright and URL fields are supported, in addition to a new EXIF field. That's the bad news. The good news is Elements will not toss away information from any other IPTC fields when it saves a photo. As a result, it's possible to use Photo Mechanic or a similar application to edit information in any of the IPTC fields, open the picture into Elements, optionally tweak the caption in File Info, then save it out with all the IPTC information intact.
Caption field in File Info
- File compatibility with Photoshop 6. Elements write out IPTC information in the same manner as its full version counterpart. It also retains the EXIF shooting information and EXIF thumbnail found in certain digital camera files, including those from the Nikon D1 and Canon EOS D30.
- Support for must-have digital camera filters and file format modules, including Genuine Fractals (I've had no problems with PrintPro 1.0 for Mac), Quantum Mechanic v1.1.1, Quantum Mechanic Lite v2.1, Quantum Mechanic Pro v2.2, Band Aide v1.1, DCS Photo (part of Photo Mechanic Pro 2.0r13) and Bibble.8bi (part of MacBibble 1.3d). I've not tried any of the above software with the Windows version of Elements, only the Mac. As with import modules, however, Adobe advises that if Photoshop 6 can handle the filter or file format module, so too can Elements 1.0 on either platform. The same potential serial number snafu described earlier applies as well.
- Unsharp mask. It's unchanged in Elements, though with one important caveat: It doesn't appear possible to apply the Unsharp mask filter, then Fade the filtering applied so that an image's luminance is sharpened only. This is a popular Unsharp mask technique that, as far as I can determine, is impossible in Elements. Nor is it possible to sharpen just the L channel in Lab, since it isn't possible to convert photos to Lab from within Elements.
- Layers. The differences between what you can do with Layers in Elements and Layers with Photoshop 6 are too numerous to mention. But, basic file compatibility is there, as is Adjustment Layers.
- Saving as a JPEG with the same range of quality steps, and same top-notch JPEG compression code, as Photoshop 6 (and v.5.5 for that matter). Other key file formats are present as well, including TIFF and the native Photoshop format. Also in Elements is the same range of options for saving thumbnails within files.
Features that are new to Photoshop Elements
- A rudimentary file browser. While no replacement for a standalone browser, Elements' File Browser palette is a quick and dirty way of visually locating a file to open. If the file already has a compatible thumbnail in it, Elements will display that, and fast too. On the Mac side, the thumbnail that Photo Mechanic 2.0 creates, for instance, is in the right place for Elements to locate and display it. If no compatible thumbnail exists, Elements will create one in its memory and cache it for quick browsing during that editing session. It's also smart enough to recognize file formats for which it has third party plug-ins installed. For instance, if the File Browser is pointed at a folder of D1 .NEF files, Elements will ignore them completely unless the Bibble.8bi plug-in from MacBibble is installed. Then, it will display them. The File Browser is handy, no doubt.
File Browser palette pointed at a folder of Nikon D1 JPEGs
- Fill Flash. This simple function does a remarkably good job of opening up shadows present in an image that needed fill flash, but none was used. While a careful user could do the same thing with Curves, the Fill Flash function makes the process easier and more goof-proof.
Choosing Fill Flash from the new Enhance menu (left); the Fill Flash dialog (right)
- Adjust Backlighting. While I'm not sure this function is well-named, it does a decent job of knocking down the extreme contrast in a subject's face when it's lit by too-intense flash.
- Color Cast Correction. Finally! A replacement for the multi-step fuss of trying to remove a colour cast in a photo by clicking on a spot that should be neutral. I'm not yet certain that this function works as well as similar but more complicated procedures one can perform manually, but its ease of use can't be beat.
Color Cast Correction dialog
- Simplified colour settings. If you want to turn colour management off, which ought to be the case on a laptop roaming about with a news photographer, then one click of a button does it in Elements.
Color Settings dialog
- Batch conversion. This one is different enough from a similarly-named function in Photoshop 6 to qualify as something new. The batch function makes it possible to point Elements at a folder of photos and have it optionally resize, rename and save them out in a different file format. While it can save files out as JPEGs, there's no control over the compression rate, just a one-size-fits-all approach that squashes photos too much for subsequent ink-on-paper printing.
There were doubtless hundreds of items removed as Photoshop 6 was morphed into Elements. The one that most news shooters will miss is Actions: there is no way from within Elements to set up custom automation routines. At the beginning of this article I mentioned that QuicKeys or OneClick will need to accompany Elements; Adobe's decision to exclude Actions is why. A small selection of other functions that some users might miss includes:
- Selective Color
- The ability to view or apply corrections to individual channels.
- 16-bit file support. Elements is courteous enough to ask, when attempting to open a 16-bit file, if it should be converted to 8 bit. In this way Elements can at least open a 16-bit file, though it can't do any image processing in 16-bit space.
- Lab or CMYK support. Elements is essentially an RGB or Grayscale program, with a few variations on that to keep folks making web pages happy. If you love to work in Lab, or have the need to do CMYK separations, Elements is not for you.
A 30 day trial of Elements 1.0 is available for Mac and Windows. It's a big download. The US$99 program drops to US$69 if upgrading from Adobe PhotoDeluxe, Photoshop Limited Edition (LE), Arcsoft PhotoStudio, Corel PHOTO-PAINT, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, Microsoft PhotoDraw and PictureIt!, MGI PhotoSuite, Ulead PhotoImpact and PhotoExpress.