Adobe's software cycles are so predictable that, if it's autumn, then it must be time for new versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements (PSE) and Premiere Elements (PRE)! Indeed, Adobe has now released version 11 of its enthusiast photo and video editing software applications for Macs and Windows PCs. Both software programs are lighter and definitely simpler-to-use versions of their more powerful siblings, Photoshop Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and Premiere Pro CS6.
PSE11 and PRE11 each offer first-time-for-Elements features, including a couple that have trickled down from Photoshop CS6, while other features have been enhanced since PSE 10 and PSE 10. The big news, though, is the brighter and cleaner user interface (UI) for both applications. The new UI is easier to navigate, especially for newcomers to the Adobe family. Meanwhile, current users of PSE and PRE needn't worry about switching; the transition to the new UI is painless.
Although also compatible with Microsoft Windows Vista, Windows 7, and the forthcoming Windows 8, PSE and PRE still run on Windows XP, too. However, since Adobe already announced that CS6 is the last edition of the Creative Suite that will support XP, the same may be true for Elements as well.
On the Apple Mac side, PSE 11 and PRE 11 run on Mac OS X 10.6 through 10.8. I tested PSE and PRE on a several-months-old, 2.6GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro, with 8GB RAM running Mac OS X v. 10.7.4.
According to Adobe, one of the reasons for overhauling the UI is that about half of Elements users are 50 or over -- and as everyone knows (whether you've experienced it for yourself or not), your vision is affected as you get older. Yet, the new UI benefits more than just half the user base.
With the lighter and brighter grey background, working in PSE/PRE is much easier on the eyes regardless of age. Icons and text are larger, adding to fairly straightforward navigation throughout the applications. Tools and functions have been conveniently moved to a context-sensitive Action Bar at the bottom of the screen, so current active tools are clearly evident and quickly accessible. The end result is a visually simplified and uncluttered UI that offers a smoother workflow.
Moreover, both applications seem to work faster. Granted, my previous reference point is Elements 10 on a four-year-old Mac with 4GB of RAM, where it took forever to switch between Organizer and Editor modules. On the other hand, PSE 11 imported a folder of 400 images in record time. Opening an image from the Organizer into the Editor was so much faster than before that it can't be just the newer laptop and OS that made the difference.
The Organizer is the hub of both PSE and PRE. As in previous versions, this is the digital asset management module of the software where you can view, sort, tag, rate and generally organize and locate images. Across the top of the screen, you'll find Import, Media, People, Places, Events, Create and Share.
Importing is simple. You just click on Import to open a drop-down menu and choose the image source (files/folders, camera/card reader, Adobe Revel, iPhoto, or a search of your drives). You can also set up Preferences to automatically download images when a camera or card reader is connected. In Preferences, you can designate whether you want Elements to perform certain tasks such as automatically fix redeye or automatically suggest photo stacks (grouping images together according to the time/date they were shot).
You can view all imported files (including video) by clicking Media and then narrow down the scope with the People, Places and Events "buttons" (which are not actually buttons, but clicking on the words has the same effect). The latter three are empty until you tag images in their respective categories, e.g., face identification, geo-tagging, and time/date association. Images can also be accessed by clicking on the albums and folders on the left panel.
Create, which is also available in the Editor, allows you to seamlessly move into the PSE or PRE Editor to make a greeting card, CD/DVD jacket, instant movie, and more.
The Share function in the Organizer offers a long list of options including Facebook, SmugMug, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, email, PDF Slide Show, and burning a video to DVD, among others. (But sorry, Twitter users! There's no option to post an image with your tweets.)
The new context-sensitive Action Bar at the bottom of the screen is one of my favorite new features because it's so convenient. It provides quick access to functions and tools available for the current mode. In the Organizer Media view, for example, you can rotate images, identify people, geo-tag individual or groups of images, tag image(s) by time/date/place, put together a slide show, apply an Instant Fix, view EXIF data, etc.
A drop-down Editor menu is part of the Action Bar. It also allows you to open an image or video clip in one of several editors, including an external editor of your choice: Photoshop and PSE or PRE editors.
People - Face Identification
The face identification is a useful -- if still imperfect -- feature. In my experience, it quickly placed frames around faces, even a few where the face was turned sideways, so that I could type in a name or associate it with a Facebook friend. On the other hand, it also thought that a model's hand resting on her hip was a face; however, this was easy enough to correct by simply closing out the frame. Once you've identified a person, the software can help you find untagged images of the same person. Again, the technology isn't foolproof but it will get you close enough to make life easier.
Places - Geo-Tagging
Organizing images by place is quite simple. Elements uses Google Maps with options for a map view, hybrid view, and dark or light views. Locations can be added via GPS data from cameras/smartphones or manually. For the latter, you can zoom in on a map to select a location or search for a specific place or landmark. Associating images with a specific locale is fairly intuitive.
Events - Time/Date
Using EXIF data, the Events view will organize images by the times and dates when images were captured. For those of us who are less than diligent about labeling photos from various occasions, this is a real time-saver.
In PSE11, the new UI carries over to the Editor, as well. The PSE Editor offers an easy-on-the-eyes view similar to that of the Organizer. Images can be ported over from the Organizer or opened directly from within the Editor via a drop-down Open menu at the top of the window or the Photo Bin drop-down menu in the Action Bar. These are all pretty convenient, so the choice is up to you and how you work within the software.
As in the Organizer, the clean look extends to the top of the window where you'll find the previously mentioned Open drop-down menu to select an image. Quick, Guided and Expert editing modes are available with a click of the mouse at the top of the window, with a Create drop-down menu on the right panel. Again, a context-sensitive Action Bar is located along the bottom of the screen.
Quick Edit Mode
There's nothing really new here. It's a quick and simple way to enhance your images either automatically via Smart Fix (let Elements do the work) or by selecting one of several adjustments (Exposure, Levels, Color, White Balance, Sharpen). Within each, you can make manual or automatic adjustments, viewing the latter with a mouseover of thumbnails. Only one adjustment option can be open at a time, though, so you'll have to switch back and forth to make multiple changes.
Guided Edit Mode
This is where Elements provides step-by-step help to retouch images by adjusting parameters such as brightness/contrast, skin tone, and white balance and removing scratches and blemishes. There are also two categories of special effects: Photo Effects and Photo Play.
New to the Guided Edit Mode are several additional Photo Effects including Tilt-shift, Vignette and High-key and Low-key. Tilt-shift might sound familiar to you since many digital cameras now offer this option. It simulates a miniature look, with parts of the image out of focus. This feature is not as smooth to use as one would hope -- either in-camera or in Elements 11 -- because you need the right type of image for it to be effective. A view from above looking down a street filled with traffic might work, for example, but a photo of a person will not. It's fun to play around with, but don't expect too much.
The Vignette effect is much easier to use than Tilt-shift and you'll probably get great results straight away. Choose from a black or a white vignette, adjust the intensity and -- if you have an extra few seconds -- click the Refine Shape option. The latter provides slider bars for adjusting the amount of feathering and the roundness of the vignette. One thing to keep in mind for the Vignette effect is that the intensity slider bar is counter-intuitive. From your own experience, you probably associate moving a slider bar to the right to increase an effect or adjustment, but here it's just the opposite. When I moved the Vignette increase intensity slider bar to the right, it decreased the effect while I expected it to boost the visibility of the halo.
High-key and low-key are common photographic terms to indicate how lighting is used to basically either brighten highlights or darken shadows and increase contrast. High-key brightens the highlights of an image almost to the extreme while low-key darkens shadows and increases contrast for a seriously dramatic look. Both effects can be used on color photos or black and white, with an option to convert an image to b&w from within the PhotoEffects panel. These are simple to use, but it's easy to go overboard, so I made good use of the Undo and Redo tools in the Action Bar.
Expert Edit Mode
Like previous versions, PSE11 offers an advanced Expert Edit mode where you get access to many of the same tools and features available in Adobe Photoshop CS6 including Refine Edge, layers, special effects and filters.
Refine Edge is used when making selections. Let's say that you want to select a person from a photo and use it in a collage but there are too many fine details (wispy hair, part of piece of clothing) for any of the standard selection tools to identify all the edges. As the name implies, Refine Edge allows you to fine-tune the selection. While this is certainly an improvement to the Quick Selection tool it comes with a learning curve, so be patient. This feature requires some practice and patience in order to master it.
On the other hand, PSE11's new filters are highly intuitive and quite fun. These can be found on the top toolbar under Filter>Sketch.
All three new filters -- Comic, Graphic Novel and Pen & Ink -- deliver the styles that their names imply. Comic offers four presets, plus a number of slider bars to modify the look. Graphic Novel, my favorite of the three new filters, creates a stylized black-and-white image. Pen & Ink images are also stylized, but they can be adjusted to have a color tone.
No, you still can't create actions in Elements. However, Adobe has added a number of preset actions that you can supplement with those created in Photoshop. These are kind of hidden in the Action Bar, along with other options, way over to the right under a drop-down menu that says "More."
Preset actions include Borders and Lose Weight, along with some special effects (Faded Ink, Sepia) and two Instant Snapshot options that resize images to 240ppi and 300ppi. Lose Weight is supposed to slim down a body by 2% or 4%. It actually works pretty well, although the difference is subtle. Click on the arrow for each option and drill down to see exactly what steps each one will let you take.
New templates for projects such as greeting cards have been added to Elements. And, if you like to share, check out the new online interactive photo/video album features.
Premiere Elements 11 has benefited from many of the same enhancements as PSE11. PRE uses the same Organizer as PSE, and it can similarly be tagged and organized according to People, Places and Events. The UI for PRE's Video Editor has also been simplified so that it's much easier to read and navigate.
The Video Editor offers two editing modes: Quick and Expert. The Quick Mode, although pared down, provides the ability to either make a single-click Smart Fix adjustment or to use the automatic and manual options for Color, Lighting, Temperature and Tint. Under these headings, clickable preset thumbnails show how they will affect the video, while slider bars allow you to make more fine-tuned adjustments. Of course, you can simply click Auto within each category to allow PRE to analyze and make its own adjustments. Volume and Balance can also be tweaked in the Adjustments panel.
The Expert Edit Mode offers all of the same options (Instant movie, Tools, Transitions, Titles & Text, fx Effects, etc.) as the Quick Edit Mode but it's equipped with a more advanced timeline and several additional adjustments. For example, Expert Edit adjustments include the ability to adjust color by channels (RGB Color) and Gamma Correction. On the audio side, in addition to Volume and Balance, you can also tweak Treble, Base and Audio Gain. The timeline is more advanced as well, allowing you to work with multiple video and audio tracks.
Also important are several new additions to Premiere Elements 11, especially the very cool Time Remapping feature. This feature alone may be worth the price of PRE since it allows you to slow down and speed up video clips with just a couple of clicks and it can add creative edge to your movies or to just a couple of frames.
Some of the most impressive slow motion videos making the rounds on the Internet were captured with a Phantom movie camera that costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. Yet other slow motion videos have been made with compact digital still cameras equipped with a slow motion movie option. (Faster frame rates can be played back in slow motion.) The video files that are produced by these digital cameras are extremely small and can only be recorded without sound.
But that's where PRE comes into play. It gives you an affordable way to work with full-sized video files (with sound) and turn them into slow motion footage.
The Time Remapping user controls are extensive. You can specify different speed levels: slow and fast. If timing is critical, specify the amount of time the footage should run and the software will calculate the appropriate speed. You can even run frames backwards if you'd like.
Other new additions for Premiere include a trio of film looks: Old Film, Pandora, and Red Noir. Old Film is a sepia-toned effect that simulates old film footage. Pandora is reminiscent of the film Avatar because it tints skin tones blue. Red Noir converts footage to black-and-white while retaining all the reds in the scene. As with all of the other film effects, you simply drag-and-drop to apply.
Interestingly, PRE11 now offers the same blending modes as Photoshop. In Expert Edit mode, you can essentially layer two videos and adjust how one shows through the other. I was also able to achieve a similar effect in Quick Edit.
PRE has more depth to it than one might think at first glance. So you're a first-time user, be sure to explore all the options. Current users will definitely want to check out Time Remapping and the new film effects.
When you're done creating a video, there are plenty of sharing options built into the software.
Although the new version of Elements brings cool new features, it won't give you revolutionary bells and whistles that will make you gasp in awe. Yet the new UI is a real bonus for everyone. It makes the programs easier to work with, especially for first-timers. Current users of PSE may gripe about the change, but the transition to the new UI should be easy and it's likely to actually speed up your workflow.
Although the programs have a few quirks, overall my experience has been very positive. Transitions from one mode to another are much more seamless than in the past -- and most, if not all, of the new features will most likely find their way into your photo and video repertoire.
Core System Requirements
Adobe Photoshop Elements $99.99 (full); $79.99 (upgrade). Photoshop and Premiere Elements bundled: $149.99 (full); $119.99 (upgrade).