Adobe Photoshop Elements 2

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Little new functionality but the underlying power and budget price mean that Elements still makes an attractive proposition.

Adobe Photoshop has dominated the world of photo-editing since its first release and is undoubtedly the best choice for professionals. But what about the average user just looking to edit and control their digital camera images? For these users Photoshop is too technical, too powerful and too expensive. The obvious solution would seem to be to adapt Photoshop to produce a dedicated mid-range solution, which is exactly what Adobe has tried to do with Photoshop Elements.

For Elements to be successful, it needs to be far more accessible than its big brother. The emphasis on providing assistance to hand is clear when you first load the application. The context-sensitive Hints palette gives feedback as you move your cursor over tools, the Recipes palettes provides step-by-step guidance to common tasks and there's a new Help Search field embedded in the main toolbar. Sadly the Hints panel adds little that comprehensive ToolTips couldn't have done better, the selection of Recipes is still meagre and the online help system expects too much technical knowledge.

Photoshop Elements help is very visible but it's still not the easiest package.

Essentially Photoshop is a high-end solution and half-heartedly grafting on some extra help can only go so far. If you're looking for a simple package look elsewhere but, if you're looking for power, Elements has a lot more to offer. In a way Elements has an unfair advantage here and, as you'd expect, version 2 sees a number of features imported from its big brother. The two headline selling points in the recent Photoshop 7 were the visual file management and advanced brush handling offered through the File Browser and Brushes palettes and I expected this to be the case for Elements too.

In fact the File Browser was first introduced in Elements 1 so this improved implementation represents much less of an advance than it did for Photoshop. However the new support for EXIF data and the ability to Batch Rename files are welcome improvements especially for digital camera owners. Surprisingly the Brushes palette hasn't been imported at all - but it's not quite as bad as it seems at first. Although Elements doesn't offer the phenomenal brush control offered by Photoshop 7, it does provide the full range of presets as eleven brush libraries ranging from Calligraphic through to Wet Media.

Elements 2 doesn't offer the headline features of Photoshop 7 nor others like the Healing brush, but there are several other smaller improvements targeted at the PC photographer that have made the transition. The updated Create Web Photos Gallery command now offers 14 different styles of output - though most would have to be ruled out on taste grounds. Much more significant is the revamped Picture Package command which now offers a print preview and the ability to output different images on the same page. It's a big step forward but the macro-based nature of both these commands is still clunky.

That's just about it for power imported from the latest Photoshop, but Elements 2 also offers its own range of expanded functionality again aimed squarely at the PC photographer. The Attach to E-mail command makes it simple to send any open image and this can be automatically resized and optimized. Alternatively you can combine multiple images into a slideshow ready for sending. The slideshow is created as a PDF so can be viewed by anyone with the freely available Acrobat Reader, though personally I would have preferred the ability to present slideshows on the fly from within Elements. If you have a digital camcorder you can also use the new Import Frame from Video command to select any individual frame from any video format supported by Windows Media.

PC photography enhancements include the ability to output different images to the same page.

Photoshop Elements' PC photography features are workable if not exactly state-of-the-art compared to a more modern dedicated package like MGI PhotoSuite. Where Elements clearly has the advantage is in terms of core editing power. Here there has been some minor reworking rather than a major overhaul though there is one new tool, the Selection Brush tool, which lets you interactively paint onto your image to create a selection for copying, cutting or masking.

In terms of colour correction, rather than high-end features such as Photoshop's Curves and Channel Mixer commands, the focus is on getting good results quickly. In addition to the one-click Auto Levels, Auto Contrast and Auto Colour commands there's a new Quick Fix command which offers fast access to a whole range of adjustments under the Brightness, Colour Correction, Focus and Rotate categories. The Variations command has also been revamped with smaller thumbnails but larger Before and After previews to help you visually hone in on the desired effect.

The Quick Fix dialog offers fast access to most image enhancement options.

Overall it's difficult to get too excited about this latest release of Elements as the new additions are all relatively minor and there's certainly little reason for existing users to upgrade. However, if you don't already have a photo editor, Elements makes a much more attractive proposition. There might be little that's new but Photoshop's great strengths, such as its layer-based photo-compositing, artistic filters, adjustment layers, history states, vector shapes, text handling and excellent Web optimization, have all been built up over its long history. Photoshop Elements' great selling point is that it offers access to the vast majority of this power at comparatively little cost.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Photoshop Elements
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System Requirements :  Pentium II 300MHz, Windows 98, Me, 2000 or XP, 128MB of RAM, 150MB of hard disk space, SVGA, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

August 2002

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