Adobe Photoshop Elements 11: Easier on the eyes

While there are a handful of new capabilities in the update to Adobe's entry-level image editor, the most noticeable is a more readable interface intended for middle-aged eyes.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
3 min read

The latest version of Photoshop Elements has 3 new filters, including this one, Comic. Lori Grunin/CNET

According to Adobe, more than half of its current Photoshop Elements users are over 50; so, like some of those users, the product has gotten a face-lift for version 11. The result is a relatively lightweight, streamlined interface that should appeal to the company's core users. (Note: I've only played around with it a bit, so this falls somewhere between a preview and a full review.) The interface changes also carry over to its sibling application, Premiere Elements 11.

The $99.99 image-editing program retains its central architecture -- an organizer plus editor, the latter divided into three basic modules of Quick, Guided, and Expert. Tool options have moved to the bottom of the screen as part of the Action bar. But the first thing you notice is how BIG the text and icons have gotten, as well as the retreat from the dark-gray interface that has swept through most the Adobe's latest-generation applications. A nice byproduct is that the program is now a lot easier to use on a smaller laptop display.

You can tell how big the text and icons have gotten by virtue of the fact that you can read the text in this small screenshot. Lori Grunin/CNET

In the Organizer, you can now arrange photos by people, location, and event, with albums, keywords, tagging, and metadata hidden by default. You can scrub through stacks -- scroll through the contents in place by mousing over them -- which is very nice. Overall, the module is a lot faster; scrolling zips along almost too fast, but my system also got bogged down occasionally by simply switching to it. You can group people and assign profile photos to a stack of photos of a person. Unfortunately, I find the operation of the face recognition utterly baffling. I could swear that for an earlier version of the program you could simply select a bunch of photos and say "Identify people."

These are the two faces I identified from the selected photos in the toggled Photo view. Before I accidentally figured out how to do that, all it presented was a page of those default icons, with no clue how to turn them into faces. Lori Grunin/CNET

The program now has integration with Google Maps, allowing for drag-and-drop geotagging and filtering by map. It generates events automatically by date or time, and you can adjust the time interval interactively.

Version 11 adds four new Guided edits, automatically generated special effects with some minimal interaction: high key, low key, vignette, and tilt/shift. There are four new filters as well, Pen and Ink, Comic, Graphic Novel, and Lens Blur -- the latter lifted wholesale out of Photoshop. Another feature lifted directly out of Photoshop is Expert mode's Refine Edge, used for fine-tuning the edges on selections. It's a very powerful tool, but also confusing and difficult to master (they always make it look so easy in the demos). The interface for the feature really needs to be reworked for Elements.

The Pen and Ink filter. Lori Grunin/CNET

Quick mode offers another potentially confusing interface. To lighten shadows you slide from left to right and to darken highlights you slide from left to right; darker should be right to left. And I had to laugh at a bug in the midtone adjustment: it starts in the middle at 0, but sliding right darkens and left brightens, which is the opposite of what it should do (exposure works correctly). This was a bug in the first release of Lightroom 4.

As expected, PSE ships with some new templates and a nice photo collage editor. The export options have expanded to include Adobe Revel and online albums.

I like the new interface -- the look and feel of it, at least -- but the way some operations are less than obvious may frustrate newbies. Because I tested before the program shipped there was no online help available, which might have alleviated some of my frustration. I'm not optimistic about that, though, since Adobe's online help generally isn't too helpful. The results of the new special effects filters are quite nice, though there too it felt as if the adjustment options were designed by engineers. I guess my overall impression is that it feels unfinished; you might want to wait until 11.1 ships to upgrade or buy.