Photoshop Elements 4

Photoshop Elements 4

There's no sleight of hand with the new Magic Extractor tool. It works wonderfully.

 

Photoshop Elements 4 is Adobe's latest venture in the quest for the consumer-grade-image-editing Holy Grail, which lies somewhere between the increasingly versatile iPhoto and Photoshop CS2. Adobe's efforts have resulted in an elegant balancing act of novice-friendly simplicity and full-flavored Photoshop power. Photoshop Elements 4 is replete with advanced Photoshop features, meaning it will be plenty for many users and provide a fertile training ground for those who eventually want to upgrade.

 

One such trickle-down feature that shows up in the new Photoshop Elements is Adobe's powerful file browser, Bridge. It doesn't offer the full capabilities of the CS-level Bridge - Elements users don't have access to Adobe Stock Photos or scripting, and Version Cue is limited - but the scaled-down version does provide easy access to full-screen slide shows and the ability to do searches by keywords or other metadata. You can save search results as collections, which update automatically when new photos are added. Bridge also provides a direct link to upload photos for free online viewing at an Adobe/Kodak Web site. It also offers a built-in interface to order prints, books, and calendars.

 

Elements' basic interface is essentially unchanged from version 3. You can edit in either Quick Fix or Standard Edit modes, the former with a much smaller toolbar (only five tools are available) and lots of auto-fix buttons, including Smart Fix, Red Eye Fix, Lighting, Color, and Sharpening. While our results varied in quality when using the Smart Fix button, the other quick fixes often did an admirable job of cleaning up photos. You can view your results in a convenient before-and-after side-by-side setup, and the interface makes it easy to accept or reject the Auto changes, or to tweak them a bit using sliders. Standard Edit mode, as you might surmise, provides access to the full range of tools Elements has to offer.

 

To simplify potentially time-intensive tasks such as object selection, Adobe introduced a couple of Magic tools with this version of Elements: the Magic Selection Brush and the Magic Extractor tool. The Magic Selection Brush determines selection paths based on colors, contrast, texture, and patterns. Theoretically you can drag a fat brush across the middle of an object you'd like to select and then sit back and let Elements do all the selection work for you. In ideal situations - say, when you'd like to select a purple flower against a green grass background - the Magic Selection Brush works like a charm. In practice, we often found the brush had a hard time selecting our intended objects, even after we attempted to tweak the selection by designating foreground and background areas. Its processing was sluggish, even on a 1.5GHz G4 PowerBook, and when the final selection failed to match our intentions, we saw little magic in the process. Fortunately, other less-automated selection techniques are still available.

 

The Magic Extractor, on the other hand, was magically delicious. When we needed to extract a subject from its background, the Magic Extractor walked us through a simple process of indicating foreground and background areas with strategically placed dots, giving us the opportunity to fine-tune the selection afterward. Simple and effective, Magic Extractor can save loads of time.

 

Elements 4 introduces a few more important features, including effective automated skin-tone-correction and red-eye-removal tools, as well as more-advanced Camera Raw processing (closer to the capability offered by Photoshop CS2).

 

The bottom line. Photoshop Elements 4 is an important upgrade to a powerful image-editing app.

 

COMPANY: Adobe
CONTACT: 800-833-6687, www.adobe.com
PRICE: $89
REQUIREMENTS: G3, Mac OS 10.3 or later, 256MB RAM, 750MB disk space
Packed with features. New Magic Extractor is way cool. Includes Adobe Bridge.
No CMYK support. Color management limited to sRGB and Adobe RGB. No editing by channel or with curves.

 

 

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