Adobe obviously pays attention to what's hot these days. And online photo sharing is more popular than ever, with sites like Flickr and Facebook and programs like Apple iPhoto keeping people connected through photos, blogs, and blurbs. With Photoshop Elements 7 ($100, or $150 when bundled with Photoshop Premiere Elements 7 video-editing software; in private beta, due in October), Adobe provides ties to its forthcoming online service, Photoshop.com, and adds enough new features to the desktop app itself to make version 7 a worthy upgrade.
The big news here involves the Photoshop.com service, which due to launch in October as well. Adobe says that the service will supplement its existing Photoshop Express. However, it wasn't accessible at the time I tested this beta version of Elements 7; we'll update this review with more info on the service when it launches.
According to Adobe, Photoshop.com will have two levels of membership: a free, basic membership; and a $50 per year Plus membership. The free membership provides 5GB of storage and automatic backup of your images to Photoshop.com's servers. You can also access your account and online galleries from any Web browser. When you edit your pictures, the changes you make will be synced up with your home PC-and similarly, changes you make on local photo files will be uploaded and synced to your Photoshop.com storage. Adobe is also working on a mobile uploader that will let you post photos from your cell phone. With the Plus membership, you get 20GB of storage, as well as the option to have Adobe send you design advice, new tutorials, tips, seasonal artwork, and templates as these are developed throughout the year.
Even though the Photoshop Elements 7 software that I tested was still in beta form, I found much to like. New to version 7 of Adobe Photoshop Elements is a Smart Brush tool borrowed from Photoshop, as well as a handy Scene Cleaner that has been added to the Photomerge tool. Disgruntled users of Photoshop Elements past will be pleased to learn that this version lets users adjust the background tint from charcoal all the way to stark white. More good news: Photoshop Elements 7 has FTP settings, so you can upload galleries directly to your own Web site.
Unfortunately, Elements 7 still lacks the Fade slider tool available in Photoshop that lets you adjust the intensity of a filter immediately after applying it, so you can get exactly the look you want. Considering its many impressive creative filter options, Elements 7 would benefit from such a tool.
The application continues to straddle the line between novices and more seasoned users, offering three levels of editing: Full Edit, Quick Fix, and Guided Editing. You can switch between the levels by clicking on tabs, and after a while I became familiar with which options are available at each level. Still, the three-level structure feels a bit clunky at times, especially when you're forced to blunder through a combination of menu options and tabbed screens to find more-advanced options such as editing color curves.
Full Edit provides essential controls similar to those in the full-fledged Photoshop, with advanced editing tools, filters, and layers. Quick Fix offers sliders for common tasks such as brightness, saturation, sharpening, color balance, and red-eye reduction. A "touch-up" panel makes Smart Brushes available, including a toothbrush for whitening teeth, a brush for saturating dull skies, and a high-contrast black-and-white tool for applying effects to selected areas in your photo. As in Photoshop, you can customize the brush's size, hardness, and spacing. The program's selections were impressively accurate at whitening teeth; and you can also use the "add" or "subtract" tool or adjust feathering to refine your selection.
If you're new to image editing and not up for all of this complicated stuff, Elements 7's Guided Editing is for you. In this panel you'll find text-based guidelines that you can select from a list. Guided Editing shows you how to adjust specific image properties such as contrast; or it can walk you through the process of antiquing a photo, showing you various effects. Guided Editing can be a useful educational tool for people new to image editing and for more-seasoned photographers who are learning to use the program. It's also fun to play with.
Photoshop Elements' Photomerge capabilities are a boon to anyone who's ever taken a snapshot. With its new Scene Cleaner, the program does an excellent job of removing unwanted interlopers in a photo of your brother in front of the "Rocky" statue. As it could in Elements 6, Photomerge can fuse subjects from several photos into one, creating a scene where everyone is looking at the camera, eyes open. Such compositing used to take hours, but now you can do it in just a few seconds.
For anyone seeking a combination image editor and organizer that doesn't break the bank, Photoshop Elements 7 is a powerful contender. The program's new online components permit you to do more from within a familiar interface, and its new tools alone make it worth the upgrade.