Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop and Elements

I recently purchased a copy of Photoshop Elements v.9 to prepare to teach a course on shooting and editing raw files. In order to keep the course and required software affordable for those who don’t want or need the full power of Photoshop CS5, I thought I’d use Elements instead.

In reviewing Elements, I found vast differences in the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) processor that is part of both programs. And to be honest, I was a little disappointed in the Elements version of ACR.

The differences

You can probably spot them for yourself using these screen grabs, but I’ll do a rundown of them in a video as well. (Click to enlarge the previews.)

ACR in Photoshop CS5

ACR in Photoshop Elements 9

When you first see each of the ACR windows they look the same. In fact I deliberately put different photos in there so you wouldn’t confuse the two. This video shows you the differences. I suggest you view this video full screen as it has a lot of detail in it that you’re going to want to see.

Can you live with less?

Maybe. I know I’ve written in the past that you don’t need Photoshop, but maybe some of you do. I suppose if you had never used Photoshop you wouldn’t know what you were missing. I’m a huge fan of the raw imaging work flow, so as an alternative, I suggest you use Adobe Lightroom, or Apple Aperture if you want to really make the most out of those raw files.

Lightroom has the same raw work flow features as Photoshop’s version of ACR. So if you have Photoshop CS6 you really don’t need Lightroom, but if you want to save a few hundred bucks and don’t need all that CS6 super power, you could get a Lightroom and Elements combination for under $200. (I recently got my Lightroom for only $130 when I purchased a new camera at Vistek.) Keep your eyes peeled for deals out there. Aperture is now selling for about $80 in the Apple App store which is very competitive with both Photoshop Elements and LR.

FYI – Here’s a screen grab of the Lightroom develop window, because I knew you’d ask! You can see that it looks much different at first glance, but all the features of ACR Photoshop CS5 are in there. Plus with Lightroom there’s a whole slew of pre-sets. Aperture has those too in case you’re wondering.

Develop module in Lightroom 3

Try before you buy

The last piece of advice I have for you is to try each of the programs before you make your final choice. All four of the image editing programs I’ve written about here can be downloaded for a 30 day free trial. It’s totally worth doing that!

Update December 2013 – I’ve got a new blog post and video showing the coolest feature of Elements 12.

What do you use? Tell me in the comments.

Learn the techniques pros use! In this course you will learn how to shoot camera raw files, and do basic raw image editing techniques using Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, which is a reasonably priced and reasonably powerful image editing program.Start this course today . . .
Thanks so much for sharing!
Elvira - December 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Hi Marlene.
I have both Lightroom 2.7 and Photoshop Elements 6 on my computer. Will your RAW course be advantageous for me with my Lightroom version? Will I be able to use my Lightroom and keep up with the class?
Hope all is well with you and Shawn.
Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Marlene Hielema - December 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Elvira, I think you’ll be just fine using Lightroom 2.7. In fact I’m sure it will be more advanced than Elements 9 for the raw processing part of the course. Elements 6 will also have basic image editing features like spot removal, sharpening, sizing, cropping etc. What you have is a good combo!

    What I find is that once you know how to use one type of RAW processing software the others are easy to learn. Plus, the adjustments in all the Adobe products are very similar as they all use Adobe Camera Raw. If you think you want to try the newer programs, you can always download the 30-day trial versions of the latest software once the course has started. That way your 30 days won’t run out before the course is complete. Hope that helps!

Nick Laborde - December 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I’ve been using Elements for a couple of months and have found it to be adequate, but I really don’t know what I’m doing either 😉

DO you think there is any reason to get Aperture if you already have Elements? Especially considering that it’s now cheaper then it was.

    Marlene Hielema - December 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    With Aperture you can do a lot more sophisticated edits to the raw file than you can with Elements. You can do retouching of specific areas of your file and you can use all sorts of pre-sets. You can do those types of edits in Elements too, but not in the raw workflow part.

    With Aperture (and Lightroom) you can’t add text or make composites. You can’t close-cut images or make layered files. You can’t make panoramic images by stitching them together.

    If you find you just want photo management and raw image processing, then Aperture, or Lightroom would work great. Those programs are meant for photographers who shoot a lot and need fast image editing. Incidentally, you can edit jpg and flattened tif files using Aperture and Lightroom as well, so it’s not just for raw files.

    So you might eventually need to use a combination of the two, though Elements will keep you busy for a long time.

    Hope that helps!

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