Photoshop – CS5 or Elements?

Question –

  From Frank S. in Weymouth, MA: “From a photographer’s standpoint, what are the differences between the full version (i.e., CS 5) and the Elements version of Photoshop, and which would you recommend?”   

 Answer –

The biggest consideration in deciding which version to purchase, of course, is price.  The full version (CS5) costs around $700, versus $100 for Elements – a considerable difference.

If cost is not a major issue,  then I’d strongly recommend you invest in the full version – the “learning curve” is essentially the same between the 2 versions.  That being said, Elements is not just “Photoshop Lite” – It’s quite powerful for the cost – but it has its limitations.

So, what are you missing if your budget only has room for Elements, and what can you expect when you upgrade to the full version at a later date?

16-bit vs 8-bit Workflow

Elements does not support a complete 16-bit workflow (let’s leave aside for another discussion the technical reasons why you should eventually be using a 16-bit workflow).  If you are new to digital photography / digital imaging, working in Elements (in 8-bit) is probably not a major concern initially – – However, if you are an experienced shooter, you understand the power of a 16 -bit workflow, and probably won’t be satisfied with this limitation.

 File/Image Browser  –

The file Browser that comes with Elements, called the “Organizer”, is confusing at best – –  Unlike “Bridge” (which is a great program that comes with the full version), Organizer is not worth the trouble.  Unless you use Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture, I’d look into a free program such as Google’s Picasa.  

Other Differences –  

This is certainly not a complete list, but the functions / tools that I really miss having when using Elements include:  Curves, Masks Panel, Actions, History Log, and Soft-proofing.


By the way, because there are differences in the 2 versions of Photoshop, my new Photoshop book comes in two “flavors” – One book specifically for the Full version, as well as one for Elements – Check it out!

Click here for more …


John 🙂


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