At a Glance
Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 adds a few interesting features, but nothing of an oh-wow nature. But Elements 9 remains one of the better consumer-level image handling applications you can choose. (To read more details, please see PCWorld's full review.)
In Photoshop Elements 9's new Guided Editing mode, you'll find a new reflection effect, pop-art effects, and "Lomo" camera effects. Likewise, the new "Perfect Portrait" feature merely steps you through the use of various editing tools, such as the spot-healing brush and the red-eye removal tool, to improve your portraits. If you're familiar with the tools, you may not need the assistance, but if you aren't, the instructions in the sidebar could be helpful.
A new Photomerge Style Match feature lets you specify a source photo and applies its qualities to another photo of your choice--for example, you can use a black-and-white photo as a source to artsy-up a color photo. You can use a few sliders to adjust the effect and two brushes to either remove the effects from portions of the image or add it. I found it useful for converting images to grayscale and then restoring portions of it to color, as you might do by using the history brush in Photoshop CS5 (Elements 9 lacks a history brush).
The spot-healing brush, already a powerful cloning tool for correcting blemishes, now can remove large unwanted portions of images. I also liked Elements's improved panorama feature; now the tool can fill in around the edges of the panorama instead of making you crop to get rid of rough edges.
Unfortunately, the Elements organizer doesn't leave me with a happy feeling. The organizer remains a separate application (it serves in Adobe Premiere Elements, too), and the separateness makes working with multiple photos clunky, even more so as Adobe adds features. When you want to perform substantive edits on an image in the organizer, you must select the image, click on a "Fix" tab, choose which editing mode you want to use, and wait for the editor to load. You'll then have two Photoshop icons in your taskbar--one for the organizer, one for the editor--and both applications' interfaces look very similar (with very tiny text and icons, by the way, even on a 24-inch monitor). Want to add tags to a photo? Use the organizer. Want to create a photo book from multiple images? Use the editor.
Elements 9 has new options to create things: For example, select some images in the organizer, choose Photobook from a menu, get sent off to the editor application, and Elements then prearranges the photos in an attractive layout that can be printed on your own printer or uploaded to Kodak Picture Gallery or Shutterfly. In another new tweak, clicking a button in the editor can switch it to "advanced" mode, which allows you to make edits with any Elements tool. That is, if you can figure out on which layer your image is located--the editor creates many different layers, and it wasn't always easy to work on them.
Adobe offers a "Plus" version of Photoshop Elements; it costs $140 and includes 20GB of space on Photoshop.com (up from the free 2GB allotment), plus access to a larger library of how-tos, artwork, and templates within the Inspiration Browser that comes with Elements. All that is fine--but adding 20GB of space on Photoshop.com costs only $20a year. So you pay $20 not to be annoyed by some of the content being locked in the Inspiration Browser.
Despite some annoyances, Photoshop Elements 9 is a powerful, complete package that has many excellent tools--if you can figure out where they reside.Note: This link takes you to the vendor's site, where you must register to download the software.