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Every fall, you should set the clock back an hour, change the battery in the smoke alarm, and determine whether it’s worth paying for the annual update to Photoshop Elements.
This year, Adobe hits the lucky number eight with the popular photo management app and finally adds the Holy Grail of photo organization tools: face recognition technology. Face recognition software is a boon to those of us who like to push the shutter button but aren’t organized enough to tag the photos with anything useful. With face recognition, the promise is that you won’t have to search through gigabytes of photos anymore, you’ll just ask Elements 8.0 to find all the pictures of Susannah taken in 2009. Elements 8.0 combines the face recognition technology with its smart tagging, so you could also tell it to find all pictures of Susannah that are in group shots that are in focus. Again, the feature goes a long way toward taming our vast gigabytes of digital images.
But Adobe wasn’t the only company to introduce a face recognition feature this year. Google rolled similar technology into its freebie Picasa 3.5. To find out which app was better at faces, we imported 20GB of photos into each organizer. The verdict? We found Photoshop Elements 8.0 to be more accurate, especially with children. However, the recognition process was tedious compared to Picassa 3.5, which would automatically recognize all of the photos and then ask you to approve them. Photoshop Elements 8.0 required us to select the photos we wanted recognized. But since Picasa isn’t as accurate, you might end up spending more time sorting out the misses.
Performance was also an issue. While Picasa 3.5 felt snappy, Elements 8.0 felt slow on our 2.66GHz Core i5-750 box. Disappointingly, neither app was optimized for quad-cores.
Elements isn’t just about face recognition, of course. It’s also a powerful full-scale photo editor with RAW support for the latest cameras. As always, it’s almost like a wrapper for the full version of Photoshop. In complexity terms, if Photoshop is Flight Sim X, Photoshop Elements 8.0 is HAWX.
Other new features in Elements 8.0 include a really handy exposure merge for combining photos. For example, you can take a night photo where the foreground is well lit by flash and merge it with one where the background is well lit. Also borrowed from Photoshop CS4 is the ability to intelligently “squeeze” photos together. This lets you easily move objects, such as two people standing too far apart, closer together.
There are a few other small updates to the app, such as thumbnails of changes before you apply them, but for the most part, the Elements package isn’t radically different from its predecessor. So, unless face recognition is a feature you’ve been pining for, Photoshop Elements 7.0 users will be fine skipping the update. For folks who are currently on the hunt for a photo editor, it’s a worthy choice and still our top recommendation for tyros.
Accurate face recognition and merge features are well worth the ducats.
Needs multicore optimization and an easier way to recognize more photos.