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The Design Center, DT&G, Photoshop Department: Photoshop vs. Elements  

Photoshop vs. Photoshop Elements

One of the ongoing debates as well as frequent questions is "which program should I buy... Photoshop or Photoshop Elements?" Now, when someone asks this question in the Design Cafe list or the Graphics Cafe list it brings as many different opinions as there are those who wish to respond. There are the Photoshop diehards and the Photoshop wannabes against the Elements diehards and the totally clueless. In almost all discussions, Photoshop almost always wins. But there's more to this story then that.

Adobe's move to the 'suite' concept has had an impact on all those people in the fringes of image editing. Sure, the high-end professionals will stick to Photoshop. But there's a nation of 'fringe' computer users who cannot or are not willing to make the leap into the 'Creative Suite' arena. These are computers users who occasionally need an image editing program and are forced to use any of the many Photoshop surrogates -- with less than acceptable results.

I've formed my own opinion that Elements has gotten a bum-wrap as a capable image editing program. So, to help put all the rumors and opinions to rest, I've turned to my good friend Richard Lynch as probably the most appropriate person in the graphics world to help me sort through the pros and cons. Richard has produced numerous Photoshop books -- the "Using" series -- as well as now two books on Elements. So he's well versed in both programs, and uniquely qualified to help us help you make that decision.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Richard Lynch

Photoshop vs. Elements

by Richard Lynch

There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to choosing a program for editing your digital images and what the differences actually are between programs. Time and again you will hear that Photoshop is "the best" and many people consider it the only choice for editing images. While this may have been mostly true in the past when there really was little competition, it is now inaccurate. The fact is there are several good image editors and viable options for image editing depending on your level of use. There is no doubt that there is difference between these programs which lies both on the surface (what features are included, how those tools are implemented, and the interface) and behind the scenes (how the changes you affect get calculated). But how that effects your image results beyond your technique in using the different programs may be a lesser issue.

Advanced image editing programs share many common tools that you really need to edit images. It is just common sense that an image editor worth using at all will incorporate the obvious: one manufacturer will know what is in the competetor's tools, and can pick and choose which to mimic -- time allowed. As that is true, virtually any of the better image editing packages will do for 90% of users who have common needs.

Regretfully, many people buy Photoshop on recommendation because it is "the best" without knowing what it means to be the best. Those people may never need the high-power, professional tools offered in Photoshop that really set it apart as an image editing program. It is the equivalent of putting a 14 megapixel professional digital camera in the hands of a beginner. They invest in Photoshop because someone tells them it is the best, or they think they need it to somehow make their images better, or because it is some type of status symbol. In some cases the investment may turn out to be a strange way to proclaim vanity, rather than need or expertise.

For those who don't prefer (or promote using) Photoshop, the program defined as "the best" might end up as the one that they happened to prefer at the time they started to get the hang of working with images. Their preference may actually have been born of something less to do with one program actually being better than another, than seeing it that way because of familiarity. The catalyst may have been something as simple as placement of the tools, design of the interface, price, circumstance or convenience.

Whatever the reason for the preference, the invisible line is drawn, and thus ensues the great debate about some programs being better than others with staunch defenders of each camp. Some yodel from the hilltops, and some seek out a fight. The arguments of this sort are remaniscent of the mac vs. pc wars waged endlessly in newsgroups, forums and listservs. They usually have to do with an extreme miopia of the user trying to defend their investment -- often without really knowing much about the other options. Reviews of a product are often tainted by ignorance of other products and what those other products can really do.

Let's get to the bottom of the Photoshop vs Elements debate...

... article continues on the next page.


Hidden Elements Richard Lynch is author of "The Hidden Power of Photoshop Elements 2" book and excels beyond the call of duty in making Elements into Photoshop -- winning the "2003 BEST AWARD" from the Design Bookshelf!
      Richard maintains an updated collection of Elements essentials on the web site where you can find sample chapters, extra add-ons and plug-ins and most importantly an ongoing dialog with reader's questions. He answers these questions but also helps readers utilize the materials on the CD along with the lessons in the book optimizing the reader's learning experience.


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