Photoshop Elements 6 (Mac) reviewed

After a two year absence Adobe Photoshop Elements makes a welcome return to the Mac. Was it worth the wait?

“Gone is the bright, shiny, big-buttoned workspace, replaced by professional-looking understated charcoal”

It’s been a long time coming, but Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac is finally here. There was no Photoshop Elements 5, for the Mac at least, this is the first new Mac version of Elements to be released since early 2006, and the first universal binary version to run on Intel Macs.

So it’s no surprise that Photoshop Elements 6 looks radically different from its predecessor. Gone is the bright, shiny, big-buttoned workspace, replaced by professional-looking understated charcoal.

One thing the Mac version lacks is the Organizer application that ships with the Windows version. Instead, Mac users are treated to a fully-featured version of Adobe Bridge, the image organiser for Adobe’s Professional Creative Suite applications.

In one sense this is a real coup. Bridge provides pro-level image management features including powerful metadata and keyword handling, searching, stacking and comparison as well as support for Raw image processing in conjunction with Adobe Camera Raw.

The Organiser has been omitted from the Mac version in recognition of the fact that Mac Users will be doing all their photo organising in iPhoto. While Bridge is nice to have, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t use it alongside iPhoto, it would have been even better if Adobe had gone the extra mile and integrated it, so that, for example, you could look at your iPhoto library from within Bridge. You can at least do this from within Elements itself if you’re running MacOs X 10.5 Leopard.

The workspace

The Elements workspace is organised into three task-based tabbed panels for photo editing, creative projects and sharing photos via email, the Web, discs and printing. The Edit tab itself is further divided into three modes; Full Edit, which provides unfettered access to all the editing tools that Elements has to offer, for those with the know-how and confidence to get on with the job unaided.

Then there’s Quick Fix which provides a selection of auto fix scripts with  adjustment sliders for added tweaking. This is a half way house for people who have an idea of what they want to achieve, but perhaps aren’t a hundred percent sure about how to get it.

The Quick Fix  panel is divided into four sections – General Fixes, Lighting, Colour and Sharpen. The nice thing about these is that you can press the Auto button and let Elements get on with the job, then, but if you’re not that impressed with the result you can get busy with the sliders.

Often with one-click fixes like these, the manual controls are just window dressing, but Elements gives you real control. The Lighting pane, for example, has Auto Levels and Contrast buttons, but also provides sliders for lightening shadows, darkening highlights and adjusting midtone contrast.

A guiding hand?

The Guided Edit mode provides a little extra help, but often not nearly enough. Guided editing is divided into basic photo edits -like cropping and rotating – Lighting and exposure, colour correction, retouching and Photomerge – more about this new feature in a second.

When you select a guided task the panel provides the tools you need and tells you how to use them. Sometimes the advice is concise and to the point, like with sharpen photo, where you’re given a sharpen slider, told not to overdo it and to view the results at 100 percent.

Often, you feel that a little more explanation might get you a lot further. Enhance colours, for example, simply provides you with Hue, Saturation and Lightness sliders with a terse description of their functions.

One excellent feature of the Guided mode is that it provides huge before and after previews so you can see exactly what effect your adjustments are having. Disappointing in equal measure is the ‘tell me more’ button which held out the promise of context-relevant advice, but merely linked to the help file home page.

Full Edit mode is where you get access to all the toys in the Photoshop Elements box. A lot of these are from Photoshop CS3, in some cases they work in almost exactly the same fashion, often they are tailored to suit users with less of a technical or commercial mindset. In other words they’re easier to use.

Layer it on

Like Photoshop, there’s a Layers palette with sophisticated Photoshop features like blend modes, opacity control and locking. You can also add adjustment Layers in Photoshop Elements. These allow you to make adjustments like Levels, Brightness/Contrast, Hue/Saturation and to apply Photo Filters non destructively. Adjustment layers can be faded by reducing their opacity and you can apply Layer masks to them to restrict their effects to certain parts of the image. You can go back and adjust them, or remove them altogether at any time in the editing process.

Elements has some exciting new features including the addition of Photoshop’s newest selection tool the Quick Selection tool. When the Quick selection tool Appeared in Photoshop CS3 is was hailed as the most effective and easiest selection tool yet devised, two attributes that make it perfect for Photoshop Elements.

Elements also has a couple of brand new tricks. In group photos there always seems to be someone with their eyes closed, looking the wrong way, or just not looking good at all. Photomerge group shot allows you to merge the best bits from several group photos so everyone is looking their open-eyed, smiling best.

Photomerge faces uses the same compositing magic to combine features from different portraits. So if you’ve ever wondered what you’d look like with Angelina Jolie’s mouth you need wonder no more. Just don’t tell your wife.

Other new stuff includes a special tool for converting photos to black and white, tonal adjustment using curves, lens distortion correction (a direct copy of the Photoshop filter of the same name) and a new Adjust Sharpness filter.

If cost or complexity have put Photoshop beyond your reach, Photoshop Elements 6 is really the only way to go. To call it the next best thing to Photoshop doesn’t do it justice. For people who don’t need the complexity of Photoshop, Elements is actually a much better fit. This new Universal binary version is packed with new features that will please everyone from point and shooters to serious amateurs and semi-pros.

Photoshop Elements 6 Info

Typical price: Price £57.58 (Upgrade £45.82)

Superb selection and editing tools
Slick professional workspace
Easy to use

No Bridge integration
Guidance could be a lot more helpful

Verdict:  The Quick Selection tool is fast, accurate and easy to use. Quick edit mode provides one-click fixes with additional controls. Photomerge Group combines the best bits of your group photos. Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 is the next best thing to Photoshop at a fraction of the price. And yes, well worth the wait.


Photoshop Elements 6 screenshot
Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac screenshot

More info: Adobe Photoshop Website
N.B. Photoshop Elements 6 includes the full version of Adobe Bridge CS3