Quick Look: Photoshop Elements 9

The latest edition of Adobe’s (s adbe) amateur image editing software takes a little from Photoshop and a little from iPhoto (s aapl), but it may not be enough to justify the price. Features include:

  • new advanced editing tools: layer mask, content-aware spot healing
  • new organizer software
  • improved repair tools
  • copy and paste photo “styles,” texture, contrast, tone, tint, etc.
  • new guided editing effects: portraits, out-of-bounds, pop art
  • improved panoramic photo merging
  • create calendars, greeting, cards, and photo books for printing or purchase
  • more sharing options, including Facebook, Flickr, and Adobe Online albums

However, the bulk of the program really boils down the first two points: the organizer and a couple of editing tools.

Adobe Elements Organizer 9 replaces the previous Bridge software, but it’s clearly designed as an iPhoto replacement, too. Organizer can access the iPhoto library, copying photos into its own directory in the Pictures folder of your User directory.

Like iPhoto, Organizer scans photos for faces and other attributes, and automatically tags them, often with similar mixed results. Also like iPhoto, Organizer has editing features like¬†automatic color and levels, as well as the one-button Smart Fix, which is much better than Enhance in iPhoto. As in iPhoto, you can make cards and books, as well as share photos online, though not with MobileMe. If it weren’t for the lack of integration with MobileMe and iTunes syncing (which isn’t Adobe’s fault), I’d switch to Organizer in a heartbeat.

In terms of editing, to my surprise, I found Layer Masks. Until now, that’s been an “advanced” feature found only in Photoshop. Even better, the Spot Healing tool is now content-aware. Using that tool, it took four stokes to remove the unwanted people in the waterfall photo above. The Spot Healing tool draws on surrounding content, so the bigger the “spot,” the less impressive the results. Still, it’s a nice feature.

If there’s one problem with Photoshop Elements 9, it’s probably the price: $79 after an annoying $20 mail-in rebate. While that’s over $500 less than Photoshop CS5, it’s also the price of iLife ’09, which includes the adequate iPhoto along with iMovie, iWeb and GarageBand. Luckily, there’s a 30-day free trial that lets you judge for yourself. If you’ve tried both, let us know which you prefer in the comments.

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