Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 review

£59
Price when reviewed

We put all the leading photo-editing applications through their paces in a group test this month (it’s exclusively available as a downloadable PDF – see www.pcpro.co.uk/links/149photo), with Google Picasa, Corel Paint Shop Pro and many more fighting it out. But Photoshop Elements was the clear winner.

Elements is built around a cut-down version of the industry-standard Photoshop, but the secret of its success is the separate Organizer module for image management. This is built around a central photo browser, into which all imported photos are added as smoothly resizable thumbnails. With thousands of images to manage, it would be easy to get lost, but the Organizer offers a timeline to quickly narrow your search, as well as a superb Date view that lets you visually locate photos via a calendar. A new Map view allows you to view photos by where they were taken; this is either automatic from a GPS-enabled camera or configured manually. You can also view images by folder and import batch.

Adding new photos to your collection is straightforward. By default, Adobe Downloader copies all images to a new folder, while an advanced mode lets you see thumbnails, rotate images, apply author and copyright information, and automatically split your photos into subfolder groups based on when the images were taken. Particularly useful is the ability to set the downloader to automatically remove red eye, but don’t expect it to pick up all cases.

The downloader can also now be used to suggest Photo Stacks. These uniquely let you group similar photos – with, say, different exposure settings – under a single representative image. You can expand or collapse any or all stacks in situ in the Photo Browser – this is also true of Version Sets, which are the stacks Elements creates when you edit files.

Stacks allow full control over your images, as does Elements’ ad hoc Collections, which let you create arbitrary groupings of images, say, for printing or further work. What makes Elements stand out, though, are its tagging capabilities, which let you set up hierarchies of keywords – family, friends, events, places – and then quickly apply them to your photos for future retrieval. In other applications, this tends to be a thankless task, but Elements makes it visual and simple. A face-tagging feature analyses images, isolating faces that are then presented in a dedicated dialog ready for tagging.

In terms of editing power, Elements’ Organizer is now limited to automatic red-eye removal and a single Auto Smart Fix command. If you need more than that, you have to open your photo into the separate Editor module’s Quick Fix window. This provides cropping, red-eye removal and selection tools to the left, a large before-and-after preview in the centre, and the most important colour-correction controls as sliders to the right. In the Adjust and Filter menus, options include control over levels, hue/saturation and skin colour. New options include Adjust Sharpness and Correct Camera Distortion.

Switch to Full Edit mode for full editing power. There’s a range of retouching tools, such as the Healing Brush tool for removing unwanted spots and objects, and the ability to apply colour corrections as non-destructive layers. The Layers palette also opens up the possibility of advanced creative compositing, while the Artwork and Effects palette lets you apply artistic filters, backgrounds, shapes, text effects and frames.

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