Adobe subtly updates its consumer photo editor for Elements 14

It inherits haze reduction and shake reduction from its big sister.

Lori Grunin
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
4 min read

There aren't a ton of new features in Photoshop Elements 14 over the previous version , but it does incorporate some useful one-click improvement tools inherited from its Creative Cloud sibling and refinements to existing capabilities that make it worth the $80 (£50 , AU$115) upgrade price.

The full fare for this new installment is $100 (£80, AU$100), or $150 (£100, AU$150) for the bundle with Premiere Elements 14. Upgrading the bundle is $120 (£80, AU$170).

What's new in Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements 14 (pictures)

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What's new

  • Smart Looks: The software analyzes the photo for characteristics such as content and color, then accesses a lookup table with 2500 effects options and presents you with its top 5 suggestions. They really are "looks," though, rather than effects; the suggestions seem to be variations on white balance, contrast and saturation. That's not a bad thing, but I almost wish it had been granted a panel of its own in the interface, with bigger thumbnails. I wish all the thumbnails were larger in the effects panel, to take advantage of larger, high-resolution displays.
  • Updated Organizer: Adobe claims the Organizer has faster, more accurate face-recognition capabilities, and it is faster and more accurate, but still a little unsure of itself and requires some confirmations. You can quickly scrub through stacks of faces, and view all the photos attached to them. Map view displays thumbnails that you can scrub though as well and the program will automatically map photos taken on a mobile device and that are tagged. Finally, it provides suggested Event groupings as well. All of these updates are pretty much catch-up features.
  • Refined edge selection: Now there's a Refine Selection brush which -- theoretically -- lets you simply brush over complex edges like fur and hair and the software isolates the appropriate edges. In practice, it sometimes works and frequently doesn't. For instance, I tried the easiest shot I could find: a cat's ear against a white wall. It worked okay for part of it, but then it couldn't isolate the next section of gray fur against a slight shadow on the wall. Creating selections is a difficult task in general, but I felt this tool made it only slightly easier and not a lot less frustrating. It needs some refinement.
  • New Guided Edits: Another two Guided Edits -- Adobe's interface for walking you through some common (or not-so-common tasks) -- debut in PSE 14. (The first is for resizing photos. While it takes you through choosing an output device and aspect ratio, it doesn't explain, at all, how it's making decisions, so it's not educating you. And unfortunately, it doesn't address the main point of confusion about resizing, which is how many dots- or pixels-per-inch does the image need to be for your particular use. So when you go to resize a cropped 72 dpi image with a long edge of 3,511 pixels, the GE tells you that it's 48.8 inches, which sounds pretty big, but on a typical 300dpi printer that's 11.7 inches (because 3,511/300 = 11.7).

    So you never learn how to use the program's own Image Size dialog box. Also, when you enlarge an image it doesn't tell you why it might look at best soft and at worst jaggy. Or that if it's a low light shot, enlarging it will exacerbate the noise. Furthermore, if you crop it in Elements first, it sizes up the cropped area to be the same as the original, which will make an upsized image look even worse if you run it through the resize GE. Only the crop problem is Adobe's fault, but given the interface for the Guided Edit you'd probably end up blaming the company for everything else anyway.

    The second GE helps you create a motion blur called Speed Effect. It's a pretty good effect: the software walks you through the process of selecting the object, adding a blur, and refining the mask. You really need to take it into expert mode afterwards to alter the opacity of the mask for best results, though.

    The GE interface has been updated so that you can see before and after treatments on its big thumbnails. All of the tasks now end with a choice of what to do next, such as continue editing, saving or uploading to a few popular services like Facebook.
  • One-click tools: PSE inherits the Haze Removal and Shake Reduction features from its big brother. The Haze Removal works quite well, and since it predominantly performs tonal corrections (as opposed to mushing the pixels around), the results don't look overprocessed. The shake reduction works reasonably well in photos that have just a little shake, but it can't do anything with serious movement. Plus, you have to be able to tell the difference between shake, motion blur and simply out of focus (or any combinations of these) to effectively use it, and the photos which would benefit most are generally low-light photos -- but they usually have a lot of noise.

My take

Photoshop Elements remains a solid photo editor for most consumers and enthusiast photographers. Its major advantage for enthusiasts over similarly priced rivals is the quality of its algorithms for operations like raw editing and selections rather than its breadth of features.

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