Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 review
OS Support: Window 7 (SP1), 8, 10, Mac OS X 10.9 or 10.10, Minimum CPU: 1.6GHz with SSE2, Minimum GPU: DirectX 9 or 10, Minimum RAM: 2GB, Hard disk space: 5GB
Photoshop Elements has stood head and shoulders above the consumer-priced competition since version one, thanks to its similarities with the full version of Photoshop. However, for years it has been coasting with minimal improvements. It was only a matter of time before something overtook it, but we didn’t expect it to be an inside job. With Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC now available on a subscription for £102 per year, the prospect of paying around £50 to upgrade Photoshop Elements each year is decidedly less appealing.
Adobe has hit back against itself Photoshop Elements 14, an update with the usual smattering of new features, tutorials and interface tweaks, but it’s questionable whether it’s enough to tempt existing users to upgrade – many may be better off sticking with an older version, or moving up to a Creative Cloud subscription.
^ The Dehaze tool (applied to the right half of this image) boosts the contrast only where it’s needed
The new Haze Removal tool will be familiar to Creative Cloud users, and it makes a welcome appearance here. It analyses the image and boosts the contrast of parts of the image that have less contrast to start with, while leaving more heavily contrasted areas unaffected. For landscape shots, this processing tends to be applied towards the horizon where atmospheric haze pushes tones towards grey. There are two modes, one of which is fully automatic, while the other has two controls to adjust the amount of processing and the threshold beyond which areas of the image are deemed to be hazy.
One thing it can’t do is process RAW files directly -- unlike Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC, Elements’ Haze Removal is limited to JPEGs (or RAW files after converting them to 8-bit colour). It’s not a huge limitation, but it does mean that images are more likely to suffer from noise and colour banding after heavy processing, especially when bringing out details in skies.
Shake Reduction is a common feature for video-editing software but it’s more unusual for photo editors. It’s also pretty tricky for software to deliver. It attempts to clean up blurry photos by analysing the shape of blurry streaks in the image and then applying a complex sharpening algorithm to counteract this blur. Sadly, it’s not as impressive in practice as Adobe would have us believe. Processed images looked like they had undergone some heavy-handed digital sharpening, with halos around high-contrast lines. Noise was heavily accentuated, too, so this filter is little use for smartphone pictures. We had reasonable success with photos from a high-quality camera taken at ISO 100, but the old Unsharp Mask filter proved to be quicker, more controllable and, to our eyes at least, gave better results.
^ Shake reduction (centre) is an ambitious challenge, but I prefer the results given by the Unsharp Mask filter (right)
I really like the Guided Edits in Premiere Elements, as these interactive tutorials do a great job of revealing how to use the more advanced functions the software has to offer. Photoshop Elements’ Guided Edits are less successful. They repackage various techniques in a simplified interface, so they’re useful if you want to achieve the exact effect on offer, but not so good if you want to transfer similar techniques to create other effects.
The new Speed Effect Guided Edit brings this problem sharply into focus. It applies a motion blur to a selected area in a photo to suggest high-speed motion, but the results look fake and amateurish. Behind the scenes, the software is doing some sophisticated edits involving masks, but users don’t get to see how these are used when they follow the Guided Edit.
I didn’t get along at all well with the Refine Selection Brush, which is apparently enhanced in this update but still gave inferior results compared to the Refine Edge dialog box, available via the Select menu.
The Haze Removal tool is the only thing in this update that I can muster much enthusiasm for, and I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to fork out the £65 upgrade price for it. To give it a more positive spin, if you own a recent version of Photoshop Elements, you can save yourself £65 without missing out on essential features.
For new customers, it’s a trickier decision choosing between this and Creative Cloud Photography Plan. The Creative Cloud subscription is more expensive, and customers must keep paying or lose access to the software. However, for anyone with more than a passing interest in photography or graphic design, the Photography Plan makes a lot of sense and is tremendous value. Meanwhile, casual users are likely to be satisfied by free software such as Picasa, or free apps such as Snapseed.
There is a market for Photoshop Elements, though. If you want to design invitations, create photo montages and process RAW files, but don’t want to commit to spending £102 a year, this is still the best consumer image editor around. Upgrade every two or three years and you've also made a huge saving on Photoshop proper.