When it comes to the best professional photo-editing software, experts agree that Adobe Photoshop CS6 (*Est. $700) is the gold standard -- but it doesn't come cheap and its advanced features are probably overkill for many. (See our section on professional software for more information on Photoshop CS6.)For those who don't need pro-level Photoshop (or its high price tag), reviewers recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 (*Est. $100). Experts say Adobe Photoshop Elements provides many of the same features as Photoshop CS6, but it costs much less and is easier to use. "Photoshop Elements continues to be the best way to get some of Photoshop's coolest effects without requiring you to attend a night course," says Michael Muchmore at PCMag.com, who gives Photoshop Elements an Editors' Choice award.
The software, which is available for both Macs and PCs, provides both organizational and editing tools. All of the terrific and well-liked features of earlier versions of Photoshop Elements remain, including smart brush, which helps you change specific areas within an image. Adobe has added new features as well, including Facebook integration, new paint effects and Guided Edits, which walk you through more advanced editing steps.
However, experts do have a few complaints about the organizational side of Photoshop Elements. Some think the interface feels clunky and is not integrated well with the editing portion of the software. There are also some minor annoyances, such as the inability to zoom to 100 percent in the organizer view (this feature is only available once you switch to editing mode). In addition, reviewers say Elements 10 isn't a huge upgrade from its predecessor, so current users shouldn't feel too much pressure to upgrade. "Instead of a ‘knock-your-socks-off' upgrade, the new versions represent incremental improvements, with a handful of nice new features," says Daniel Grotta at NotebookReview.com.
Corel PaintShop Pro X4 (*Est. $60) is Adobe Elements' most notable competitor. Like Elements, PaintShop Pro supports RAW photo files as well as most other image-file types, comes with lots of templates for fun photo projects, and has improved its image organizing. It costs much less than professional software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, but Corel PaintShop Pro still has enough functionality for most users. "It provides just about everything you need for high quality photo editing through an impressive collection of creative tools and filters," says David English at NotebookReview.com.
Reviewers appreciate the redesigned interface, which organizes photos much like Adobe Lightroom (discussed below). Compared to previous versions, Corel PaintShop Pro X4 adds new editing features like fill light, vignette control and selective focus. Best of all, reviewers say the new version is significantly faster than earlier editions, especially on laptop computers. Like Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, Corel PaintShop Pro X4 is integrated with Facebook to make sharing pictures fast and easy. Even though reviewers say Corel PaintShop Pro is very intuitive (and certainly easier to use than Adobe Photoshop), some critics think the layout is confusing and cluttered, which makes it hard to find the tools you need. In addition, experts report a worrying number of software crashes and other bugs.
Serif PhotoPlus X5 (*Est. $70) is another option for PC users, but it earns far less critical support than Photoshop Elements or Corel PaintShop Pro. Reviewers say this photo-editing software does have its benefits -- for one, it includes some advanced editing features for a fraction of the price of full Photoshop. Serif PhotoPlus X5 also offers Facebook and Flickr integration, numerous photo-editing filters and RAW format support. However, the interface is "cluttered," according to Michael Muchmore at PCMag.com, and the software is much slower than its competitors, especially when it comes to opening and processing RAW files. "PhotoPlus has improved since my last look at it, but the problem is that the competitors have improved by just as much or more," says Muchmore.