Every release of Adobe Photoshop Elements raises the bar a bit more and brings the feature set closer to its big brother, Photoshop CS2. Elements 5.0 is no exception, with a number of enhancements that will appeal to both casual and serious photographers, as well as a new group of users who have avoided traditional digital-imaging software in the past. The latest release (currently Windows only) makes organizing and editing images easier and gives you more control over advanced image corrections than in previous versions.
The Organizer component has been updated to make image sorting and browsing easier. A new feature to group images is Stacks. Similar to a traditional light table and slides, Stacks let you group related images into a single thumbnail that can be expanded or collapsed as needed. Stacked images display with a special icon in the upper-right corner of the thumbnail, along with a darker border and button to expand and collapse the stack. You can set Organizer to stack images automatically based on capture time and similarity, or you can select images for stacking at any time. Unlike Version Sets, which have been in Organizer, Stacks are the actual images rather than different versions of the same image.
Map View allows you to drag and drop images onto a Yahoo! map panel, which creates a pushpin to indicate where you took the shots. You can search based on location and even share images (along with the map), which are created as a web gallery, at your own website or online at the new photoshopshowcase.com, a free service.
The Organizer also makes it easier to access the Creations features of Elements, with all Creations now available directly from a drop-down menu rather than having to launch the Elements Editor.
The Editor brings a few enhancements as well. The User Interface is a more pleasing color, with darker backgrounds and menus that give the focus to your images. A new Adjust Sharpness command works like the Smart Sharpen feature in Photoshop CS2, with a larger preview area and more options for selecting the type of blurring. For reasons unknown, you’ll find this feature under the Enhance menu.
Elements finally has two pro-level tools that users have been asking for. First is Curves, in a modified and easier-to-use format that borrows from the Variations control, letting you select from preset options and then refine your choice with sliders for highlights, brightness, contrast and shadows, all while seeing the results on a curve chart.
The second tool is a real Convert to Black and White. Rather than the simple desaturation of previous versions, this control works more like the Channel Mixer in Photoshop CS2, letting you select a preset style and then fine-tune the results based on a color filter, contrast and intensity. I was surprised at the quality of conversion of which this simple tool was capable.
Elements 5.0 also gives users a number of new output options. In addition to the map publishing covered earlier, there are new web galleries that include Flash layouts and more professional-looking templates and new printing templates designed for scrapbooking enthusiasts. This version greatly expands on the previous versions’ limited selection of book page designs.
You can now output directly to a CEIVA Digital Photo Receiver, SmugMug or Kodak EasyShare Gallery, or order photo greeting cards, along with creating CD and DVD jacket labels and flip books.
All in all, Photoshop Elements 5.0 is a solid upgrade from previous versions and should be considered by anyone looking for an easy-to-use program that also has room to grow. For existing users of Elements, if you’ve wanted better black-and-white output, Curves adjustments or help getting better organized, Elements 5.0 is a terrific upgrade. Windows only. List Price: $89 (full version); $69 (upgrade).
Contact: Adobe, (800) 833-6687, www.adobe.com.