Photoshop Elements 2019Adobe today released its annual update to Photoshop Elements, sporting a few new automation features, additional guided-edit functionality, and performance enhancements.

Photoshop Elements 2019, which is available now for $100 (upgrades $80, directly from Adobe), remains Adobe’s sole non-subscription image-editing and organization tool. Sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s Photoshop,” Elements is an extremely capable photo editor, offering most of the important tools found in Photoshop, support for raw photos, and a number of automatic “guided edit” features designed to help you fix or enhance your photos without having to dive into layers and other settings. It also includes an organizational tool, called the Photoshop Elements Organizer, that can be used to import and track your photos.

More automation

Adobe has been pushing the automation features inside Elements for quite a while, in an attempt to help newcomers (and occasional photo editors) work with their photos with minimal confusion. With Elements 2019, Adobe has added even more. When you install Elements and add photos to the Organizer, the app will scan your photos, automatically building slideshows and collages of “moments,” which you can view in the Organizer. These Auto Creations, as Adobe terms them, are often good starting points for building collages and slideshows, but many folks will want to fine-tune them later inside the Elements Editor.

Elements 2019 startup screen
Elements 2019’s start-up screen now includes the results of the Organizer’s Auto Creations, links to guided edits and more.

Elements has let you create photo collages for quite some time, and Adobe has made small improvements inside Elements 2019. These are mostly interface changes designed to make editing and changing photos in a collage easier, but there are also new new layout templates for creating things like Facebook cover pages and Instagram grids.

Elements 2019 collage screen
Elements 2019 sports new layout templates for photo collages.

Inside the Editor, Adobe has added four new guided edits. None of them are groundbreaking, but they can still be fun to play with. These include multi-photo text blocks, which let you put multiple photos behind a word or phrase; a meme creator; new text and border overlays; and a way to turn part of a photo into a sketch. The implementation of some of these features can be a bit clunky, however, especially if you use the Organizer to manage your photos. For example, the only way you can add multiple photos to the text-block guided edit is via the operating system, not via the Organizer, which seems short-sighted and counterintuitive. (The meme creator is kind of fun, though, and easy to use.)

What’s new for photographers?

There aren’t a lot of new photo-editing features in Elements 2019, but there are a few small ones that may appeal to users with older Elements versions, or folks looking at a subscription-free editor that feels like Photoshop.

If you shoot raw, you’ll get the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) with Elements 2019. This update adds the profiles support that Adobe added to ACR and Lightroom earlier this year for rendering raw files with camera-specific styles and artistic effects. (See this post, from earlier this year, for more on raw profiles.)

Elements 2019 uses Adobe Camera Raw 10.4, which includes camera profiles.

Elements 2019 also adds support—on the Mac only—for the High Efficiency Image Format (HEIC) used by Apple to store photos on iOS 11 and up. It’s a bit odd that Windows 10, which supposedly has HEIC support, isn’t included, but you can still import your iPhone photos into Elements on Windows. They’re just converted to JPEGs when you bring them over to your PC.

In addition to the new features, Adobe said that it worked to speed some things up throughout the Elements workspace. In general, Elements 2019 feels a bit faster on my Macs than older versions (we didn’t have a PC to test), but there are still performance bottlenecks, especially if you have a lot of photos in your Organizer workspace. (You don’t have to use the Organizer, however, and many people don’t: our research tells us that less than 35% of Elements owners use the Organizer.)

Elements 2019 also uses Adobe’s latest installer technology, which the company says provides a better installation experience than previous versions. Installing Elements was one of the constant complaints we heard about when we ran  Photoshop Elements Techniques, and this is a welcome change. (The new installer works almost identically to the one that Adobe uses for the Creative Cloud apps.)

One small thing that was removed from Elements 2019 is support for uploading images to Facebook. This is because Facebook recently stopped allowing third-party desktop apps to upload directly to the service, for security reasons. You can still export photos and other creations from within Elements to your computer, and then upload them via your web browser, however, so this isn’t a bad thing necessarily. (This feature is also now broken in earlier versions of Elements that had the Facebook-upload feature.)

Should I upgrade?

If you’re coming from an older version of Photoshop Elements (version 15 or older) and actively use Elements, there have been plenty of new features and performance upgrades since you bought it last, so this is a fairly easy upgrade to recommend. If you’re using a newer camera that is unsupported by an earlier version of Elements, that alone might make the upgrade worth it. (If you do have a new camera, but don’t want to upgrade, you can still use the DNG Converter tip we mentioned earlier this year.)

If you’re using Elements 2018, it’s a harder sell, especially if your primary use case is photo editing. The new guided edits are good, but they’re targeted at people who do collages and things like that. Those new collage features are solid, however, and might make it worth the upgrade, but they’re not necessarily going to make your photos better.

Summing up

In recent years, Elements has straddled the line between a being a great scrapbooking tool and a solid program for editing and organizing your photos. It can be a great utility for those photographers who want to do more with their photos, but don’t need or want the full power of Photoshop or Lightroom. It isn’t perfect; it lacks support for 16-bit editing and channels, and the user interface is a bit simplistic in places, with a bunch of unnecessary window dressing that gets in the way. The Organizer is an old app, and it shows, especially when held up to Lightroom or the Browse module in ON1’s Photo Raw. It works, but it’s slow and lacks some of the functionality that we’d like to have in a modern image browser.

In the bigger picture, frankly, we’re surprised that Adobe keeps developing Photoshop Elements, but they clearly feel that there’s some market need—or, more importantly, revenue stream—that makes it worthwhile. What’s different about this year is that Elements 2019 enters the photo editing market at a time when the market is undergoing a sea change. We’re still shaking out the world that includes two Lightrooms (Classic and CC), and there are quite a few players out there—ON1, Phase One, Skylum, Alien Skin, among others—gunning to grab even a small part of Adobe’s market share. If you don’t use Elements, but want an app with Photoshop-like features—without paying subscription fees—Elements 2019 is a solid product with a slew of time-tested editing tools. If you’re unsure, you can always download a trial version from the Adobe website and play with it for 30 days. You can find out more over on the Adobe website.

We’re working on a “state of the editing market” post in conjunction with the launch of Complete Digital Photography 9 later this fall, so stay tuned for a more thorough analysis of the newest editing and organization tools.