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.

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