I loaded my copy of Photoshop Elements 8 on to the computer in the recording booth at Lynda.com for a day of screencasting. I wanted to use Adobe's latest version of its consumer image editor, because the movie project I'm working on involves getting professional looking pictures from a compact camera. So, I figured that using software that costs $63 made more sense than $200 or $500.
The Mac version of PSE 8 uses Bridge CS4 and Adobe Camera Raw 5. The Windows version uses the Organizer. Since I'm a big fan of Bridge, I thought this was a good fit for me showing the differences among photos. Bridge and PSE 8 work well together, although it's not quite as smoothly as with Photoshop CS4.
Once I was working in Elements itself, things went well. All of the Photomerge technologies are amazing, and they are easily accessible under the New menu at the top of the interface. I built a couple panoramas in real time (didn't have to stop recording video), and I was happy to see that the Transform tool is included in PSE 8 for cleaning up the stitched images afterward.
If you're used to image editing in Photoshop CS, then you have to make a few interface adjustments in Elements. If you want to get to Levels for example, it's a little buried in the Enhance menu (Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Levels). But if you're new to Photoshop, this sequence makes sense. And that's who this application is designed for. It was nice of Adobe, however, to retain the CMD-L shortcut for Levels for us old cronies.
One thing that I really miss in PSE is Smart Sharpen. The two sharpening filters you do have -- Unsharp Mask and Adjust Sharpness -- have been moved from the Filters menu to the Enhance menu. Again, this probably makes sense for newbies, but seems weird to me. After all, they are filters, aren't they? But no Smart Sharpen, which I truly like in CS4. There is an Auto Sharpen, but I don't know what's going on there. It sounds kind of dangerous to me.
But at the end of the day, there are more than enough image editing tools to get the job done. And lots of Auto tools if you're willing to let the application make the decisions. I had no problem navigating the menus once I got used to the handful of interface changes, and the results were just fine.
Personally, I think Photoshop Elements 8 for the Mac is worth the price alone for the merging technologies, Bridge CS4, and ACR with all the latest profiles. The image editor itself, though pared down compared to CS4, it still top notch. And if you're trying to help that photo enthusiast in your life move to the next level (without breaking the bank), I think this application would be on the short list of essentials.