This review appears in the January issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents. The screenshot, price, system requirements and scores to the right are for Adobe Photoshop 5.0; for details of Ulead PhotoImpact 12.0, kindly click here.
Adobe's Photoshop is the most widely used professional photo-editing software. It selects from the full range of its high-end expertise to create Photoshop Elements, a cut-down user-friendly version that's perfect for the home user. On the other hand, while Ulead’s PhotoImpact 12.0 is aimed at the home user, it offers some more advanced features to accommodate the growing needs of digital camera users.
Both software packages will organise your digital images - whether stored on your hard drive or imported from a scanner, mobile phone or camera. They'll edit them to eradicate your photographic mistakes. And both are split into separate tools that carry out each of these tasks. Photoshop Elements carries out these tasks with the Organiser and the Editor, while PhotoImpact uses PhotoExplorer and PhotoImpact itself.
It takes a while to swap between each tool, although we found Ulead's software the slower of the two. It can become confusing repeatedly swapping between two tools. PaintShop Pro XI, by contrast, allows seamless integration between the tasks. Adobe and Ulead would be wise to take a leaf out of Corel’s book.
Each has a simple editing tool which will adjust photos at the click of a button (or buttons), making the complicated decisions for you. Photoshop Elements calls this QuickFix. The same feature is called ExpressFix in PhotoImpact. While both did the job quite well, fixing problems such as over- and under-exposure, red-eye and blurring, we preferred ExpressFix's approach.
ExpressFix gives you the choice of several previews, so you can build up the final effect by applying your chosen enhancements to the final image. QuickFix provides you with a preview and, as with ExpressFix, you can see the before and after versions side-by-side. However, you don’t have the same control over editing.
Ready your round robins
Both programs offer more advanced fix-it-yourself modes, where you can adjust elements in your photos to get the desired result. PhotoImpact 12.0 has improved editing tools to handle white balance and noise reduction.
Elements and PhotoImpact are aimed at novice users and, as such, both include good bundles of templates that allow you to turn your photos into projects. Ulead has templates for greetings cards, CD and DVD labels, blog and web pages. These are easy to create and you can simply drag-and-drop the images you want to include, edit any words, then choose how you want to share them.
Elements templates are a little more sophisticated, reminding us of the clean design popularised by Apple's iPhoto. However, in use they aren't as intuitive. It took us a while to figure out how to drag-and-drop images into projects. It's just not as simple as with PhotoImpact.
But Adobe's expertise has its advantages. Having a big brother such as Photoshop means that if you opt for the full edit mode, you get a good few of its more powerful features. This is great news for more advanced users and means the software can grow with your needs, while QuickFix ensures novices needn't be confused with technical jargon.
Another benefit gained from the Adobe stable of products is a clean, clear layout. While some of the processes may not be intuitive, the layout certainly is. This comes to the fore with the Organiser, which leaves Ulead's PhotoExplorer out in the cold. The Organiser simplifies the whole process of tagging and organising images to sort them into groups, making them easier to find.
Let's get together
The latest version of Elements includes an Auto Grouping feature that will tag and group photos as you download them, based on the time they were taken or an event. An Auto Suggest Stacks feature will group together similar photos for you.
Photo Explorer will tag and group images, but the whole process isn't as simple. The main interface, which consists of the thumbnails of all your images, can be quite overwhelming.
Each program has added several features, and Adobe has taken one away. Elements 5.0 has lost the Start From Scratch option from the welcome screen, most probably to stop novice users from getting lost among the advanced editing features. However, to make up for this loss, you get improved conversion to black and white, with several variations to choose from. And there is the ability to download images instantly and to clear your memory card afterwards, plus a 30-day free trial of Iron Mountain's online-backup service.
But PhotoImpact 12.0 isn't short of additions, either. It too has improved the process of downloading images from your digital camera. To help novices it has introduced a handy SmartGuide that provides onscreen How To advice. And it has enhanced support for RAW and 16bit images. The Component Designer has been improved to make creating DVD menu buttons easier.