Photoshop Elements 5.0

Adobe Photoshop is the undoubted heavyweight of the digital world and, if you’re a professional, it’ll probably be what you’ll use because it offers the ultimate in control over every pixel in your pictures.

All that control comes with a pretty steep price tag, currently around R7000, however, and there is a steep learning curve to get past before you can begin to be productive with it. It is not the ideal solution for organising images and it has few features to make it easy to produce layouts using your pictures, or to share them with others.

Adobe knows very well that the program is too much for most people with an interest in digital photography and that’s why, several years ago, they introduced a lightened version of Photoshop for the amateur market.

It was called Elements and it has apparently done very well with V5.0 having been launched in the last couple of months. A 30-day free trial version is available on the Adobe website at www.adobe.com and, if you download it like I did, you’d better have broadband, because its something 450Mb in size and it’ll take you a month of Sundays.

Elements installed smoothly and then it decided that it wanted to have a look through my pictures folder and take notes about all it found there. I left it to its task and went out to supper so I don’t know exactly how long it took, but the cataloguing speed slowed right down when it came to my raw picture files.

The program comes in two sections, namely the organiser, which downloads pictures from camera or memory cards onto the computer, and catalogues, print and archives them. The other section of Elements is the editor which is used to edit and manipulate pictures and create layouts; there is an easy quick-fix mode and a more involved one, similar to Photoshop’s, but more friendly.

Inevitably, Elements does lack some of Photoshop’s more advanced features, including quick mask mode, layer masks, and channels, but most users will never even miss them. For its quite reasonable R900 price tag, it is astonishing capable and, in many ways, has a nicer interface than its surly big brother.

I was amazed to find that it has the feature of allowing you to make changes to a whole series of pictures and waiting until you’re finished before doing the actual processing and saving of the pictures. This sort of feature is usually only built into more professional packages and it is a big bonus.

The layout facility allows you to combine pictures with a wide selection of frames, themes and backgrounds for print or in electronic format on disc or the Internet. I reckon you could play for hours creating scrapbook pages, DVD and CD sleeves, or just combining a number of pictures on the page

Elements is similar enough to Photoshop in operation to make it viable to learn on because of its price and because you can use the myriad of free Photoshop tutorials available on the Internet or in magazines. It is easier than Photoshop to learn and use and that knowledge will hold you in good stead if you ever need to make the transition to Photoshop.

I’m very impressed with the program but I did find it a trifle slow on my two-year-old machine, even though it does exceed Elements’ requirements.

Other slight problems include the fact that the initial selection of layout sizes is rather limited and that some of the layouts, such as calendars and photo books, have to be uploaded to a service in the USA for printing, with all the postage costs that that would involve. The good news is that you can add templates and layouts to the original ones provided and there are bound to be a lot on the Internet.

One place where they are available is through the Elements User magazine website which you get access to from the Adobe site when you subscribe to the magazine.

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