Hands On With Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements 2018

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Any photographer struggling with the heavy-duty interfaces of Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop, or who simply doesn’t want so sign up for a subscription, is a good candidate for their lighterweight sibling, Photoshop Elements. The same goes for videographers unwilling to sign up for an expensive Creative Cloud plan and might be well-served by Premiere Elements. The good news is the Elements product line becomes more powerful each year. Today, Adobe has unveiled version 18 of the applications, skipping 16 and 17 to line up with the calendar with a new name of 2018, and they’re both chock full of new features. I’ve been working with early versions for a few weeks now, and continue to be impressed by the steady progress Adobe has made.

Elements 2018 Is Faster and Smarter

Adobe is always working on performance, and says Elements 2018 offers more of it. In testing, edit operations certainly seemed responsive, and some Organizer operations also seemed quicker. But with huge catalogs, things can still be sluggish.

Just as with its Creative Cloud offerings, Adobe is working hard to add artificial intelligence to Elements. It had already added some great facial recognition technology, but version 2018 builds in some exciting new AI-enabled features including Auto Curation, the ability to open closed eyes, and automated object selection. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

Auto Curation May Be the Biggest Time Saver of 2017–If You Trust It

Without a doubt, the headline feature of Elements 2018 is Auto Curate. It attacks the problem every photographer has of choosing the best few images from a large group. No longer will it be okay to post 300 photos from your family trip to a social media site because you’re too busy or lazy to pick out the best 20. Elements can do it for you.

Auto Curate lets Photoshop pick what it thinks are the top photos from any folder or collection and gives you a head start on sharing or creating a slideshow

Auto Curate lets Photoshop pick what it thinks are the top photos from any folder or collection and gives you a head start on sharing or creating a slideshow

I tried it on collections of image from a number of my recent trips, and it did quite a good job of at least picking out a variety of images that had good technical elements and conveyed different parts of the experience. However, it isn’t a magic bullet. In many cases it picked several nearly identical images, so at a minimum you’ll need to go through the results to weed out excess. Conversely, it often left out some of the key scenes or family portraits. So for now I’ll give it a solid “B” as a tool that should help you save some time, but still requires manual intervention.

This new intelligence doesn’t come quickly. Auto-Curation can take a long time if you bulk import a lot of files, and facial recognition can take even longer. While they both run in the background, you aren’t able to use Auto-Curate until it has processed your entire catalog of images, so give it plenty of time.

Saving the Almost-Perfect Photo

One of the more unique features in Elements 2018 is an extension of its current capability to modify facial features. Last year, Adobe added the ability to reshape smiles and other parts of the face, but with Version 2018 they have added the option to “open someone’s eyes.” No, it isn’t magic: You need to have a photo of them with their eyes open. From working with the new feature, it’s also clear that for best results, both images need to be shot under similar lighting, and in similar poses:

Elements 18 can literally open someone's eyes, but substituting those from another image -- It's pretty slick but you can see here, not perfect

Elements 2018 can literally open someone’s eyes by substituting those from another image — It’s pretty slick, but as you can see above, not perfect.

If you use images from similar light, though, the results can be quite good:

If you use images from similar light the results can be quite good

Other new Guided Edits let you Swap Backgrounds in your images, create Double Exposures, add Artistic Overlays, and turn them into Watercolor-like versions.

Premiere Elements adds Candid Moment and Smart Trim

While the updates to Premiere Elements–the video editing portion of the Elements suite–aren’t as impressive, they’re definitely nice to have. The first is Candid Moments, which selects a number of frames from your video and creates still photographs from them. When it works, it can help you decide whether to capture an event with video or photos. Of course, you’re not going to be getting the same resolution you would with stills. But if you simply want to grab a few highlights to share online, it provides a quick way to do that.

Smart Trim helps with video somewhat the same way Auto Curation does with still images. It aims to take your long, and probably sometimes boring, video and pull out the best bits. I was excited to try it out with drone footage, which is inevitably mostly boring if you leave the drone on record all the time. Unfortunately, in my tests, the software picked out the portions where the scene changed the most quickly–which typically was when the drone was turning or re-positioning itself for another scene. It did a much better job when I tried it on more typical footage captured during a family trip.

Premiere also has some nifty tools specifically designed for editing action camera footage, allowing you to reduce the fisheye effect and other lens distortions, as well as designate freeze frames to use for showing titles mid-clip.

Elements is Now Aimed Directly at “Memory Makers”

Historically, Elements has been simply the lower-end, easier-to-use, less-expensive alternative to Photoshop. With Elements 2018, Adobe is explicitly aiming the products at a group it calls Memory Makers. Roughly, it describes them as the people responsible for keeping and sharing family memories. In line with that, in addition to adding productivity tools, Adobe has been beefing up Elements’ sharing capabilities. Its slideshow functionality has also been greatly enhanced, with more support for themes and music in particular.

Is Elements 2018 For You?

With leading cloud vendors Google, Facebook, and others pouring billions into spiffy, free, cloud-based photo and video sharing and editing, dedicated desktop alternatives aren’t for everyone. It takes some investment in time and money. But once you make that investment, you get full control over your images and freedom from stressing over whether your cloud vendor will start charging you, or lose your images, or go out of business.

PhotoDirector's workflow echos a combination of non-destructive edits followed by any needed heavy-duty edits and layering

Cyberlink’s PhotoDirector 9 is another option

Once you decide to take control of your own images, you have a few options. You can plunge in all the way, get a Creative Cloud photo plan for about $120/year, and learn Photoshop and Lightroom. That gives you the most powerful, but hardest-to-use solution. It also doesn’t give you video editing unless you pay up for the more expensive full Creative Cloud plan. Alternatively, purchasing Elements each year works out to about the same amount of money, but provides a more user-friendly interface and set of features.

Another increasingly interesting alternative vendor is CyberLink, which offers both a PhotoDirector product that competes directly with Photoshop Elements, and PowerDirector, which competes with Premiere Elements. CyberLink’s products don’t have all the fanciest bells and whistles that Adobe’s massive investment makes possible for Elements, but they provide an interesting mash up of the features of Adobe’s entry-level Elements and full-fledge Photoshop and Premiere offerings. If you really wish you could just get Adobe Photoshop for less money than a Creative Cloud plan, Affinity Photo is another possible choice.

Pricing and Availability

Photoshop and Premiere Elements 2018 are available now, with similar pricing as previous versions. Each Elements product is $100 standalone, or $80 for an upgrade. The suite of both Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements is $150, or $120 for the upgrade. Either product includes the Organizer. Overall, the pricing seems fair for what you get, but personally I wish Adobe would give more of a break to upgraders. For an annual upgrade, something closer to a 50 percent discount might encourage more people to stay current and be able to take advantage of all the new capabilities.

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