Photoshop or Elements

By Gene McCullagh
July 15, 2009

In a previous article (I Have Lightroom. Do I Need Photoshop?) I discussed whether or not a Lightroom user needs the extra power that Photoshop affords. A few readers asked if Photoshop Elements was enough or is Photoshop the way to go. So, let's take a look at what the differences are and whether you need one or the other.

Photoshop is the gold standard when discussing pixel based image editing software. It has a broad and deep set of tools that address the needs of a wide variety of users. Whether you are a designer, graphic artist, 3D modeler, filmmaker, photographer, or forensics expert there are tools for you. Of course all this power and functionality comes at a price. The current list price for Photoshop is $699.00. If you need the additional tools of Photoshop Extended then you are looking at $999.00!

Elements, on the other hand, has a list price of $99.99! Literally 1/10th the price of Photoshop Extended. But if you don't need all those extra features why spend that money?

Elements has the following features:

  • Smart Brush corrections
  • one-click fixes for color, contrast, and lighting
  • red eye removal has
  • surface blur
  • guided edit options
  • enhanced brightness/contrast control
  • clone tool
  • spot healing brush
  • drop shadows, bevel, emboss, glows, and other effects
  • paint tool for simulated media like oils, pastels, watercolor
  • warping
  • photomerge group shot capabilities
  • text and decorative edges
  • multiple undo/redo
  • panorama capabilities

In addition to these features Elements has tools to organize your photos, prepare layouts, print and more. Of course if you are already a Lightroom user you'll want to use Lightroom for your organizational tasks. Just a note here; Element 7 is not yet fully compatible with Lightroom since they are on different update cycles and Lightroom has not yet caught up. However, this is only an issue if you are an Elements user thinking about switching to Lightroom and you want to preserve your organizational work. Lightroom user adding Elements won't have to worry about that.

The full version of Photoshop adds these additional capabilities:

  • color balance
  • match color
  • channels
  • layer masks
  • layer comps
  • quick mask
  • CMYK and Lab color modes
  • smart objects
  • record custom actions
  • vanishing point
  • pen tool
  • paths
  • text on a path
  • advanced text formatting
  • customizable presets, keyboard shortcuts, menus, and workspaces
  • smart guides
  • HDR capabilities
  • rollovers and slices
  • additional adjustment layers

If you move up to Photoshop Extended then you'll add the ability to work with video and 3D models among other advanced features.

I think that unless you are at a Pro level (or really dedicated super enthusiast level) Elements has everything you need to be your dedicated external editor for Lightroom. But don't take my word for it. Go and try it for yourself! Adobe offers free 30 day trials for Elements and Photoshop Extended on their site.

Install one and Lightroom should see it. Then go and experiment. See what fits. Enjoy!

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