December 2017 - Digital Group - Photoshop CC vs Elements

Meeting Notes March 2009 to 2018.
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December 2017 - Digital Group - Photoshop CC vs Elements

Post by spb » Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:57 pm

My new HP laptop has a 4K display and the graphics capability to drive the club’s projector with its larger-than-HD vertical resolution (1600x1200 pixels). It turns out that support for high resolution displays by Windows and application developers is still a work in progress and I have had quite a few problems with display switching and scaling. It is often necessary to log out of the Windows user account and log back in again to effect a change of resolution.

One benefit of having new hardware is the opportunity to demonstrate my own copy of Photoshop Creative Cloud (see below) and I also took the opportunity to update Photoshop Elements to the new 2018 version. I was seduced by the offer to buy this from the Microsoft (MS) Store for 2/3 the Adobe price. MS also allow installation on 10 computers instead of the usual 2 from Adobe. I turns out that Microsoft install software in a virtual ‘container’ within the computer rather than the usual full installation and integration with the operating system, registry etc. This allows for instantaneous installation (and deletion) but has some less attractive implications; firstly it means that you can’t ‘send’ an image to Elements from another application such as Faststone (although it can still be the default application to open image files), and also that you are dependent on MS to keep Elements updated and working. There was a period recently when Elements 15 just stopped working for everybody who had bought from the MS Store. You are also only ‘subscribing’ to the software and only for 3 years. Altogether, I found these restrictions to be too severe and I was able to get a refund from MS fairly easily via their text chat service. I then had to buy the upgrade from Adobe at the full price (grrr).

DpReview have recent updates to their excellent Buying Guides which compare and recommend cameras, lenses and other photographic equipment in 18 different categories. Highly recommended.


I always recommend Photoshop Elements (PSE) but I use Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC) at home, so it’s a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’! In a poll of attendees last month, a third said they use Photoshop CC so I began to wonder what I would miss if I had to move to PSE exclusively. This is the result of that analysis.

Cost. Photoshop CC is £10 per month or £100 per year if bought from Amazon. By comparison PSE 2018 is £80 for a one-time license or £70 for an upgrade. With Creative Cloud you also get two new versions of Lightroom and some cloud storage. With PSE you get the Organizer. Bear in mind that if you prefer Bridge as a viewer, it can be downloaded free of charge (yes - something free from Adobe!). The necessity for a subscription is driving many photographers away from CC and either towards PSE or third-party alternatives such as Affinity Photo.

PHOTOSHOP CC VALUABLE FEATURES. Here is a short list of features in Photoshop CC for which there is no alternative in PSE and which I would dearly miss;

1. Smart Objects – Scaling an image layer smaller will actually throw away pixels. Accept the change then try enlarging it again - the damage will be visible. Scaling can be altered indefinitely with no loss of quality once converted to a Smart Object. Anything in the Transform menu is covered; Scale, Rotate, Skew, Distort, Perspective and Warp. In addition, filters can be re-adjusted infinitely when applied to Smart Objects. I use this all the time for High Pass sharpening where it gives me the option to adjust the High Pass pixel setting and hence the amount of sharpening. I have also found it to be invaluable when applied to Gaussian Blur where the amount of blur may need later reconsideration.

Here’s a REALLY useful tip; Having adjusted a raw image in Adobe Camera Raw CC, hold down the Shift key before pressing the Open Image button. This opens the image in Photoshop CC as a Smart Object. Double-click the Smart Object thumbnail at any time to return to ACR and alter the adjustments based on the original raw file.

If you found that tip REALLY useful here’s another; when you copy the above Smart Object layer in Photoshop CC, the original layer and the copy are linked such that any ACR change to one also applies to the other. That might be useful but if you want a second smart object that is NOT linked to the first, create it via Layer>Smart Objects>New Smart Object via Copy. Now they can be adjusted independently eg one for highlights and one for shadows.

2. Edit>Transform>Warp – this offers a simple but powerful means to distort an image layer smoothly by dragging a grid. There is no viable alternative in PSE where Image>Transform>Distort only allows corners to be distorted and Filter>Distort>Liquify is too uncontrollable for most purposes.

3. Untick Delete Cropped Pixels in the Crop Tool Options before cropping in Photoshop CC and it can then be reversed later. There is no equivalent in PSE.

That’s about it for valuable features in Photoshop CC that I actually use.

PHOTOSHOP CC ADDITIONAL FEATURES. Here is a list of other additions in Photoshop CC that I have used. Any alternatives or work-arounds in PSE are in {Curly Brackets};

Colour Balance Adjustment Layer {use the Channels in Levels instead}
Vibrance Adjustment Layer {available in raw converter or use Saturation carefully}
Channels and Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer – an unfashionable way to convert to B&W {Enhance>Convert to B&W is similar}
Selection by Colour {Magic Wand Tool is somewhat similar but with no preview}
Fully featured Curves {limited Curves in PSE is sufficient for most purposes}
Patch Tool – spoiled by auto-blending
Screen Mode {Tab key removes palettes}
Vanishing Point - might be handy for architectural purposes
Paths and the Pen Tool - rarely essential in photography and tricky to use
Puppet Warp - nice to have but rather obscure
Recording Actions {Elements can only play Actions}
Soft Proofing - can help to visualise final output
Full raw conversion {PSE includes all of the important controls but omits curves, grayscale, split toning, lens corrections, effects – rarely essential}
Full support for 16 bit colour {cropping and some corrections only in 16 bit. You won't see the difference in practice}
Auto-open JPG and TIFF in Camera Raw {can only open them manually via File>Open in Camera Raw}
Filter Camera Raw – opens a Photoshop CC image layer in ACR but does not link to the original file, so is destructive.
Tool Bar can be customised to re-organise and hide unwanted tools
Periodic auto-saving to recover from any crashes

Whilst the above looks like a long list of features missing from Elements, in fact hardly any of these are significant and most have the alternatives or work-arounds as shown. Furthermore, Elements includes support for social media and is easier to use with helpful Guided Edits and simpler terminology. Trust me - beginners would not miss any of the above features.

My recommendation still stands – Use Photoshop Elements unless you know why you need Photoshop Creative Cloud eg to obtain Lightroom in the CC bundle.

If you find that you can't live without some or all of the above features, somewhat unbelievably, they can all be added back into Elements with the Elements+ plug-in for $12! A version is available for every release of Elements and usually does need to be replaced when you upgrade. Unfortunately the interface is also somewhat quirky – the missing tools are accessed via the Effects or Actions Palettes.

A much more integrated solution is also available at greater cost from ElementsXXL This plug-in does not usually have to be replaced with each version of Elements and is available in several sub-sets of features. At most, the cost would be $99 for everything.

Cheers, Steve

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