Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 review
“It can’t go on like this.” So ended our preview of Photoshop Elements 14, having rounded up the sparse list of new features added over Elements 13. Adobe’s annual upgrade to its flagship consumer-grade editing application is so regular that you can set your watch by it, and our complaint – similarly regular – is that Adobe manages to find fewer and fewer new features to add each year. With Adobe’s Photography Creative Cloud plan – which includes Lightroom and Photoshop proper – costing just £103 per year, the argument for a less well-featured application gets weaker every autumn.
The annual slog through Elements’ new features begins with a few welcome additions. Dehaze, which offers to sort out atmospheric distortion in the background of landscape images, is a pleasing inclusion. It worked well in our tests, adding punch and clarity to areas of middling contrast, without ditching too much detail in areas of shadow.
For twiddlers, there’s the option of a pop-up Dehaze screen with amount and sensitivity sliders, as well as a before-and-after toggle so you can see what you’re doing. However, I was generally unable to improve on the effect offered by using the fully automatic tool. Landscape photographers, particularly those too lazy to set their alarm clocks to hit the good light, will love it.
Camera shake reduction is another inclusion likely to appeal to beginners. The promise is that images taken with too much movement from the photographer can be salvaged. I tried shake reduction on Adobe’s suggested targets – a series of rather blurred holiday selfies – and was disappointed by the results, particularly compared to Adobe’s very optimistic marketing shots.
Shake reduction simply applies a very heavy-handed round of sharpening to an image, clearing up the blurred edges, but leaving a mosaic-textured mess of artefacts in their place. Manually taking over allowed us to make a slightly more pleasing result, and it could be argued that an artefact-riddled shot is better than a blurred one, but first time photographers would be well advised to get their shots right in the camera rather than rely on this.
Photoshop Elements 14: Learn as you edit
Where Elements excels is in its ability to teach. A new eLive tab at the top of the application gives users a curated selection of YouTube videos, step-by-step guides and demos. These run the gamut, from walkthroughs on effects for printed posters, to guides and better photography. For those without a favoured selection of hints and tricks sites, it’s a great place to start.
The Guided Edits panel makes a return – a selection of as-you-go tools allowing you to achieve particular effects, such as tilt-shift style photos or old-timey sepia effects. New to Elements 14 is a Speed Effect, which attempts to replicate rear curtain sync shots with laughably implausible results. Still, Elements’ attempt to educate photographers to new tools and workflows, rather than simply supplying a group of one-click effects, makes it a potentially powerful learning tool for those daunted by the full version of Photoshop.
Photoshop Elements 14: Other upgrades
There are other, smaller improvements. Open the Organizer and Adobe claims to have improved facial recognition: importing several hundred images of people produced zero false positives, but the system did seem to be a little conservative, often asking us to confirm the identity of the same face in several different groups.
Adobe has also revamped the Places section of the Organizer, making it easier to define a location for images whose EXIF data doesn’t include one. It’s easily done: images lacking GPS coordinates are grouped together by time, which means all your holiday snaps appear in roughly the same stack. Select them and search for a place on the map on the right-hand side of the screen, and you’ll be asked if you want to define your chosen location for the photos at hand.
Photoshop Elements 14: Verdict
Photoshop Elements’ malaise is now several years old. Sure, the Guided Edits are a nice feature for beginners, but arguably nothing that you couldn’t find (for Photoshop) on YouTube. Similarly, Dehaze is a useful feature, but one that also features in both Photoshop proper and Lightroom CC. And if have a previous version of Elements, the upgrade price of £66 is deeply unappealing for the relatively sparse selection of new features: Dehaze and the smattering of new Organizer features are good, but not worth the money.
If you don’t have a previous version of Elements, the £80 price is too close to the £103 asked for subscribing to Photoshop and Lightroom for a year, both of which knock spots off Elements for features. Elements is, undeniably, a “proper”, per-pixel photo editor: if you’re on a tight budget and want layers, a decent clone brush, masking and so on, it’s still far superior to anything else on the market at this exact price. I just wish that was as exciting as it sounds.
- Fancy something more powerful? A subscription to the full Photoshop isn’t as expensive as you think. Here’s our full review.