Adobe Photoshop Elements 13 review
OS Support: Windows 7/8, Minimum CPU: 1.6GHz with SSE2, Minimum GPU: DirectX 9 or 10, Minimum RAM: 2GB, Hard disk space: 5GB
Photoshop Elements has been our top recommendation for photo editing since it first appeared in 2001. By combining the core functions of full-fat Photoshop with a range of consumer-oriented extras and a sub-£100 price, it caters for a wide spectrum of people and tasks, from managing and optimising snaps to ambitious graphic design projects.
The biggest challenge for Adobe hasn't been seeing off its opponents, but more about finding ways to convince existing users to upgrade - most recently from Adobe Photoshop Elements 12. Updates have tended to offer very little for advanced users, presumably because Adobe doesn't want to make it too powerful and damage sales of Photoshop CC. This has led to a steady expansion of more home-oriented features, such as the simplified Quick mode and the wizard-based Guided mode.
The new Facebook Cover function is another example of this home-oriented bias. It's located in the Create drop-down menu that also includes photo calendars, CD labels and greetings cards, and helps users design images for their Facebook cover and profile. Various templates are provided, two of which use a single photo that spans both the profile and cover images. Others use two or more photos, arranged in a collage.
^ Turn a photo into a Facebook profile picture with a neatly integrated cover image
The templates are attractive and it's easy to rearrange the individual elements. Importing photos isn't so elegant, though. It's fine if you already have photos open in the editor, as you can simply drag them into position from the Photo Bin at the bottom of the screen. However, it's more likely that you'll want to choose photos as you go. This involves clicking a placeholder and browsing the hard disk. Bizarrely, there's no option to use the Organizer module that's a key part of Photoshop Elements. Attempting to do so resulted in an error message that said the Editor is already busy.
Photoshop Elements can upload to Facebook but it can't remotely assign these photos to be profile and cover photos. There's a video that explains how to do this manually, but following the first instruction, which instructed us to click the box marked "I know what to do in Facebook", made the video disappear before we'd had a chance to watch it to the end.
The new Photomerge Compose function aims to make a complex task more accessible by turning it into a step-by-step wizard. It's a shame that it doesn't appear alongside all the other wizards in Guided mode, though. Instead, it's tucked away in the Photomerge submenu in the Enhance menu. It starts by helping you make a selection around a person or object in one photo, and then pastes it into another photo. Next, there are options to resize and reposition it, and to add to or subtract from the selection. Behind the scenes, the software is using a masked layer so unwanted pixels are hidden rather than deleted. Finally, an Auto Match Color Tone button attempts to match colours for a convincing photomontage. This last stage didn't perform particularly well in our tests, but there are manual colour correction controls available too. Adjusting colours, either automatically or manually, caused the pasted layer to become pixelated. Hopefully this bug will be remedied soon.
^ Photomerge Compose helps you move subjects from one photo to another.
Regardless, as with so many of Photoshop Elements' wizards, Photomerge Compose is a missed opportunity. It repackages existing functions to make them more accessible, but hides the controls for the underlying techniques. As such, it's no help for users who want to progress to performing these kinds of edits manually. We'd much rather be guided on how to use the normal editing controls available in Expert mode.
Various other functions have been tweaked and repackaged. There's a new Refine Selection brush that automatically adds to or subtracts from the selection depending on where it's used, letting the user nudge the selection border without having to switch modes. The Crop tool now provides four crop suggestions, although they don't seem to be particularly inspired. The Organizer module has had a makeover, and we particularly like how dates are shown while scrolling through the library at high speed. However, Organizer still can't show photos any larger than reducing them to fit the screen, so it's not possible to check for focus except by opening photos in the editor. We found Organizer's performance to be temperamental, sometimes responding quickly but at other times being very slow to react.
^ The Organizer module has been spruced up, but performance was temperamental in our tests.
Photoshop Elements is still an excellent editor for ambitious users, but now that you can pick up both Photoshop CC and Lightroom for £105 per year (as the Creative Cloud Photography package), paying £66 inc VAT to upgrade Photoshop Elements every year doesn't hold much appeal. We'd recommend sticking with an existing version of Elements or taking out a subscription for Photoshop CC and Lightroom.
There's more here for casual users wanting to have some fun with their snaps, but Photoshop Elements is too unwieldy and expensive for light use. There are lots of free and cheap alternatives, from Google Picasa for photo management to a multitude of apps and web services for editing. Even so, there's no single application that displaces Photoshop Elements as our favourite consumer image editor. You'll be hard pressed to find a more reluctant recommendation, but there you have it.