Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 Review

by Reads (7,132)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Features
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 9
      • Total Score:
      • 9.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Plenty of powerful editing tools
    • Processing is generally very fast
    • Fantastic price point
    • Easy to use interface
  • Cons

    • Content Aware tool is not as easy as advertised
    • Less robust ACR than past versions and CC/CS6
    • $60 a year for Adobe Revel if you choose it

Quick Take

Whether you are new to photo editing, don't want to pay a monthly fee, or prefer a program that's not too complicated to learn, Elements 12 might be the key to helping you create more dynamic imagery. 

To assume that Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 is only for amateur photo editors, would not be giving enough acknowledgement to the widespread appeal of fairly priced photo editing software with a great amount of functionality. In fact, too many software users have bought into the idea that you have to use the “best” product to achieve great results. This is simply not the case. All basic photo editing can be done easily with software costing under $100. But what about more intricate levels of photo editing? What if you want to use layers, works with masks and edit RAW images? Don’t you need the most expensive software for that? The answer to that is a mixed bag with the newest version of Adobe Photoshop Elements–Elements 12.

We are all looking for a great deal. Finding a capable image editing program is no exception. When Adobe announced their move to make Photoshop a monthly subscription, there was quite a bit of backlash. Many people started looking for other options. Rather than paying a reoccurring fee to “rent” their editing software, users began searching for other options like Corel’s Paintshop Pro, DxO’s Optics Pro and Adobe’s Photoshop Elements.

So how does Elements stack up against the growing competition? Can it be a good replacement for Photoshop CC? Does the program have what it takes to get your images edited with simplicity and ease?

Let’s start with what’s new to Elements 12.

Guided Editing Mode-New Options
The guided editing mode has some new additions in Elements 12. Guided mode sits snugly in between the quick editing mode and the expert editing mode. It gives users an easy way to edit their images without having to understand a lot about levels, hues, saturation, and unsharp masks. The guided mode was designed to walk users though more difficult editing situations with ease and simplicity. This version of Elements has a couple of new editions to this mode like zoom burst and old photo restore. But does the guided mode work well? Overall, I am really pretty impressed with this mode. It educates users on how to adjust the details of their image to create a final version that’s unique and creative. For example, I decided to turn one of my color images into a sepia tone. I clicked on the “Old Fashioned Photo” tab. It brought me to the screen you see below. The screen walked me through the adjustments I wanted to make while explaining the process that was happening. It even allowed me to adjust the hue and saturation of the image (similar to CC) by using the sliders. Once I was done editing the image the way I wanted, I pushed done and it went back to the guided mode screen. The image took only a few seconds to process.   

Here is an image that was edited in the “Lomo” tab.

Content Aware Move Tool (and Removal Tool)
Adobe is touting how easily you can move objects with the new content aware tool. Here’s how it works: simply select the object you wish to move by way of the “crossed arrows” tab on the left side of the screen (under modify) in the Expert screen. From there you can choose specific details like your mode and healing percentage. Now move the image and you’re done. Sounds easy, right? Well, this really depends on your image. In some situations it works and others it’s just a hot mess. But this is the reality for the same tool in Photoshop CC6. This tool is actually more complicated to use than the tutorial shows. The tool needs enough area around the “moved” image to fill in the gaps where it left. If your subject is in front of a busy background, the software has a very hard time figuring out what to do. The key is to use this tool in with a bunch of small strokes. It takes much longer than the tutorial shows, but it works better this way.

The content aware removal tool (similar to the cloning tool and/or healing brush in previous versions of CS) also works best by using small, repetitive strokes. It uses information in your image to determine how to best “cover up” the part of the image you no longer want. Below is a sample of an image before and after the tool was used. Like the move tool, not the easiest tool to use and takes some getting used to. Close inspection of the image will show that I could have done a much better job at this. 

Pet-Eye Correction
This tool is designed to fix pet-eye in the exact same way you would fix red-eye on people. The tool is located in the quick section on the left side of the screen. Adobe shows the tool as super easy to use and they are not kidding. It took me just a few seconds to fix my dog’s eyes from looking super creepy to normal. 

Adobe Revel
Alright, Adobe’s Revel is not a new feature, but the expandability of the program has grown quite a bit. I was excited about trying this updated feature. I jumped on my phone, downloaded the app and was ready to start enjoying the ability to access my images when I found out I was only allowed 50 photo uploads before I had to start paying for an account. What? Yup! In order to really make use of this service you are charged $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year for unlimited uploads. So, I crunched the numbers and decided that I would rather pay $40 per year for SmugMug and get a beautiful way to display my photos to the public instead of going the Revel route. If you do decide to do Revel, you can use both iOS devices and Android devices. Revel offers web galleries that can be shared with your friends or your clients.

If you are new to photo editing or are thinking about giving up the full version of Photoshop you will be happy to know that there are plenty of ways to edit an image in Elements 12.

We’ll start with the newbies. Photo editing can be overwhelming. Adobe Elements has made learning the nuances of editing software easy to digest–especially while using the Quick mode and the Guided mode. It allows users to ease into editing by offering tutorials and text blocks that describe what the edit does. This functionality can also be seen in Corel’s Paintshop Pro. The two programs go about it a little differently, but they both do a good job of guiding the user.

But let’s say you have had your fill of Adobe’s CC program and have no intention of paying a monthly fee. However, you do have experience with photo editing and don’t plan to use the quick fix mode for your pictures. Will Elements 12 actually be able to fit your needs? If you are a JPEG shooter, then I would say you will easily be able to use the expert mode in Elements with little trouble. Yes, it will take some getting used to. The buttons are arranged differently and the dropdown menu is not as elaborate, but for most editing this software will suffice. In fact, Elements 12 can create layers, adjust opacity, sharpen objects, and remove stray hairs. However, if you are a RAW shooter you might get frustrated with the editing capabilities of Adobe Camera Raw in Elements 12 compared to its predecessors or when compared to Photoshop CC or CS6. ACR in Elements 12 is simply not as robust as ACR in CC/CS6. If this is important to you it would be wise to do a trial of Elements 12 first or decide to go with CC instead.

As we circle back around to our initial questions, it’s important to remember that just because a product is not “top of the line” does not mean it’s not fully capable of meeting our needs. The vast majority of casual and enthusiast photographers would be able to enjoy the user friendly Photoshop Elements 12 without missing CC or CS6’s extremely robust features.

If you have a prior version of Elements and are thinking about upgrading to 12, then take a look at the features we mentioned and decide if you need them. Also, come to a decision if a less robust version of ACR is acceptable to you.

If you are comparing Elements 12 to Corel PaintShop Pro or DxO Optics Pro it’s worth checking out the reviews. DxO Optics Pro 9 is more expensive than Elements 12, but it also has an immense database of cameras and lenses at its disposal. It is able to fix chromatic aberration, lens distortions and adjust your levels based on your specific camera. On the other hand, it does not have the full image editing capabilities like layers and cloning. Optics Pro was never designed to be a complete image editing package. If you are simply looking to enhance your images and correct camera/lens issues, DxO’s Optics Pro is really great.

PaintShop Pro X6 is more easily comparable to Elements 12. It has similar modes and guided tutorials. The software is also priced very similarly to Elements 12. So, this decision boils down to which user interface you prefer. The RAW editing power is not fantastic on PainShop’s side of the fence either.

Photoshop Elements is currently available for as little as $65. Now, that’s a great deal for this much editing power!


  • Plenty of powerful editing tools
  • Processing is generally very fast
  • Fantastic price point
  • Easy to use interface


  • Content Aware tool is not as easy as advertised
  • Less robust ACR than past versions and CC/CS6
  • $60 a year for Adobe Revel if you choose it
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