If you are a 3D hobbyist with “almost ok” 3D renders, or have a collection of photos that you’ve been meaning to “fix” and distribute to either delight or embarrass friends and family, the latest Photoshop Elements from Adobe is worth a long look.
Also, to be fair to Renderosity readers, you need to know where I’m coming from regarding my perspective of Elements. I work professionally in the 3D, commercial illustration and animation industry, and have a long, long history working with the full professional edition of Photoshop (now Photoshop CS3). So, this review is done with an eye to hobby users, especially 3D and photo hobbiests, that are looking for a smart, effective way to manage collections of images and refine their photos or 3D images.
For the Renderosity audience, if you are considering getting Elements, it’s very important to understand what Elements is and what it isn’t, so you can make a good decision.
What Photoshop Elements Is
Elements is a set of two softwares: 1) the image editing software called Elements based upon the full Photoshop edition, and 2) image management software called Bridge. So, technically, Elements is a suite that offers you surprisingly complete image editing and management tools based on renowned, Pro-level software.
What Photoshop Elements Is Not
Now here, I have to compare Elements to the full Photoshop edition to make the distinction: Elements is not an image creation software, but rather an image manipulation software. There are some tools missing from Elements that the full edition of Photoshop has which allow users to easily generate images in addition to manipulate images. While you can certainly create new images with Elements, there is a ceiling that you will hit sooner or later once you become fluent with the program.
How Does Elements Help Renderosity Users?
Many of you are smarter than I am and have chosen vocations that don’t kill off brain cells as thoroughly or drain bank accounts as quickly as professional creative services do. Instead, image creation is done at your leisure, to explore beauty, adventure and more. But usually that means that you also may not be completely fluent with your 3D software, and haven’t received professional illustration or photography training. This is where Photoshop Elements is an outstanding addition to your toolset. Elements provides its users with an excellent collection of tools to adjust lighting, color, and correct common digital image errors or, as we say in the business, “issues”, easily and quickly.
So, this allows you to rescue and enhance images you have that may be on the fringe of acceptability, and transform them into something great for your collection. Additionally, the Bridge image management software is simply outstanding, letting users collect, label and digitally publish images to printed albums or on-line web pages.
Consequently, I’ve broken the review into two categories, allowing you to easily consider Elements in the context of your interest.
Elements for the 3D User
Nothing is really all that simple in 3D. You have to create your own complete world plus everything in it, light it, texture it and finally render it. Playing God isn’t quite so easy after all.
Suppose that you’re not a software geek and don’t plan to be. You simply want easy, automatic, accurate color correction like taking the weird blue out of images shot in fluorescent light, or that overly yellow look of images shot without a flash with incandescent light bulbs. No problem, Elements delivers. In fact, Elements can fix a host of problems commonly associated with digital imagery in a single click: red-eye, light to dark ratios (gamma), overly dark shadows, etc.
I know that we’ve all had the chance to use software that decides to “play by other rules.” That can leave users scratching their heads while working with it because there is no familiarity to the icons or interface.
Adobe does a masterful job of creating engaging, functional and an attractive interfaces. While using this software, you will know that it’s not the full Photoshop, but it doesn’t look or feel that way. It has the visual interface equivalent of a Rolls Royce. And, to be quite frank, Adobe is the standard for image editing, and the Me-Too softwares have borrowed heavily from the tool icons and tool sets that Adobe has created. All that means is you will probably feel right at home with the interface in about 3 minutes after launching the program.
Change it. Not everybody works the same way. Adobe gives the Elements user the fantastic ability to customize the software interface to match the type of work and organization that best suits you. All software should be so user focused.
Documentation is via .pdf - the new norm. However, it’s logically organized, searchable and easy to understand. Really, everything that documentation should be. All entries are up-to-date with the software.
Upgrading? What’s New?
If you’re already using an older version of Elements, of course you’ll want to know what the new features are. So, I’ll list the enhanced ones as well as some of the new ones:
The new Compositing features are great!
Also there are some new editing modes:
Super Hero Super Powers - Organize and Distribute Like a Pro
Very seldom do you meet creative types that have innate abilities of masterful organization. Adobe Elements will make you feel like an organizational Super Hero. The Elements Bridge (a dashboard type of interface that can connect into other Adobe products or to web sites) is actually the full fledged Pro version with all of the bells and whistles. All image data, meta data (stuff a digital camera records like aperture etc.), plus the ability to keyword your images like “giant dwarf with sword smiting dragon” can be used to help quickly narrow down image searches. You can also rate your images for fast sorting.
Really, it depends on whether you are planning on remaining a hobbyist, or whether you have some professional aspirations.
Yes, for the hobbyist. If you fuss much with your photos, or spend time fixing 3D images, as a hobbyist, the purchase of Adobe Elements will have earned it’s keep in about four minutes. It’s just easy to use and delivers pro-level results without demanding a return visit to Computer School to understand what’s going on. Without question, there are some other good pixel-based, art software tools out there and you may have one of them, like Paintshop Pro or Painter. I love Painter X, but it’s really in a league of it’s own - Painter simply isn’t designed for what Elements does. Paintshop Pro does a pretty good job at pushing pixels around too.
What makes Elements stand apart from some of it’s nearest neighbor, mid-range competitors, is that Adobe is an innovator instead of an imitator. You get pro-level image adjustment tools along with the best in software refinements, while others are playing catch-up. And, at $89 (USD), the competitors really don’t bring any savings into the equation given Elements performance plus the inclusion of Bridge. The real value comes when you start using it. You’ll feel like you’re working with a finely crafted tool built just for you while getting great results at the same time.
No, for Pro. If you are headed in the direction of a visual professional, skip Elements and get the full Photoshop. Photoshop is simply the standard in the ‘business’, and becoming fluent with it’s options, complexity and ability is critical. One of the key areas missing from Elements is Channels - a tool set that you must have when creating complex, layered visuals, which is a requirement for high-end photo retouching, press-ready image production, matte painting or texture generation for 3D software.
I know, I may sound a little like an Adobe Fan-boy. But, for Elements’ miserly price, array of fully matured software tools and elegance of use, there is really no mentionable fault to find.
The only regret that you’ll have after getting Elements is that you didn’t get it sooner.
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Mark Bremmer is a moderator in the Carrara Forum here at Renderosity. He has operated his own commercial studio for 15 years. He’s been fortunate enough to work for clients like Caterpillar, Amana, Hormel Foods, Universal Studios Florida, and The History Channel; producing stills, digital mattes and animations. Mark contracts regularly as an art mercenary with production houses that shall remain nameless by written agreements. His production pipeline is Mac-based. He likes to fly perfectly good airplanes upside down and ride bikes on mountain trails in his native Colorado.
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