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I'm a bit overwhelmed by the available options in regards to the three major photo editing apps from Adobe.

Does anyone know of an article or site that lists the features of Lightroom, PS Elements, and PS, side by side? I know that Lightroom revolves around edits and workflow, and that PS is the big kahuna of image editing. Where does Elements fit in to this understanding?

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Good question. I use lightroom for the speed of processing several hundred raw images in a single shot, but maybe Elements has now progressed to where PS was in cs2 or 3 (ie, has everything in it I would need for those rare times Lightroom doesn't work for me) –  mmr Sep 27 '10 at 16:14
    
When you say "processing", what does that entail for you? Batch edits? File renames? Metadata? –  Eric B Sep 27 '10 at 16:18
    
All of those, plus things that I do to individual photos, like spot removal, gradients (bringing the sky into the same DR as the ground), b&w conversions, lens corrections for distortion, etc. All I'd use ps for is HDR stuff, because if that exists in LR, I don't know how to do it. –  mmr Sep 27 '10 at 17:06
    
Just in case you are looking for such an article I did write on previously based on the last version of these applications. Hope it helps: neocamera.com/article/photoshop-versions –  Itai Mar 21 '12 at 12:47
    
You didn't mention your platform, but if you're on a Mac, you might consider Aperture. It does 95% of what I'd normally do (as a photographer) in Photoshop, and does it more intuitively and easier. –  Jan Steinman May 31 '12 at 18:05

7 Answers 7

up vote 24 down vote accepted

The three tools approximate three general levels of functionality and capability. Photoshop Elements is an entry-level image editing package. It provides image editing and some library management capabilities. It has some rich capabilities, and supports all the common editing capabilities of Photoshop. Adjustment layers allow non-destructive editing to a degree, however there are fewer adjustments possible in Elements than Photoshop. It is limited, and if you do a lot of photographic editing, you will eventually run into Elements' many limitations.

Photoshop Lightroom is a professional image editing package. It is specifically geared towards the digital photographer with an advanced workflow, RAW image support, and extensive library management capabilities. It is designed to expose the key tools important to editing digital photographs, such as a histogram, white balance and tone adjustments, color adjustments, detail adjustments (i.e. noise reduction and sharpening), as well as some advanced features like camera and lens profiles to correct distortion and vignetting. Lightroom also offers some rich tools that go beyond the basic on-screen editing, including print and book creation, slideshow generation, and web site publishing. New publishing modules in Lightroom 3 allow direct upload of your images and metadata to sites like Flickr and Facebook.

Photoshop CS is the ultimate image editing program. It is a low-level tool, giving you direct and total control over pretty much any edit you can think of. It's capabilities extend far beyond photographic editing and support artistic image creation and editing of a very wide variety. For a photographer, Photoshop brings HDR generation and editing, panoramic stitching, and a whole host of additional tools that are not available in Lightroom. Photoshop lacks some things provided by Lightroom, however, particularly its ease of use and clean workflow designed specifically to optimize a photographers image management, editing, and publishing. The most common and useful operations that need to be performed on digital photographs can be completed in much less time with Lightroom. Photoshop itself lacks any real kind of library management outside of Bridge.

Unless you do very light weight photography with only the most basic of edits, Lightroom is highly recommended as the central tool for managing, editing, and publishing your photographic works. It has an ideal price point, making it easy to acquire. Photoshop CS is a great tool to have to cover the cases where Lightroom is lacking, such as HDR or panoramic stitching. If you need the ultimate control over your prints and ICM profiles, Photoshop also has an edge on Lightroom and offers the ability to soft-proof your prints on screen.

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Seeing that Google and this community can't seem to locate the DPreview-style grid that I'm fantasizing about, I'd say this is the closest one. Thanks for the great detail! –  Eric B Oct 4 '10 at 16:29
    
Yeah, I don't think such a grid exists, at least none that compare all three products (there are some that compare different packages of the same product on the Adobe site.) –  jrista Oct 4 '10 at 21:58
    
needs updating to the current lightroom. e.g. ICM and softproofing. Photoshop is becomes more and more for only the most advanced editors. –  Michael Nielsen Apr 11 at 14:41

I found the above responses interesting in that I am pretty familiar with PSE (all versions except 11) and I can do just about all the LR and CS edit functions mentioned above, I can do in PSE (some may take a few more clicks). Note I mentioned "edit functions" not organizer functions where LR wins and clearly CS wins for batch processing. PSE now has layer masking, selection edge optimization, a ton of layer blending modes, etc. The big negative for some (not me) is that PSE uses "Levels" instead of "Curves", which can be acquired with PSE+ for $12, and layering is limited to 8 bits (which hasn't seemed to cause me to lose business) which is basically all I care about.

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I see it this way: if you're a photographer (or a serious amateur), go with Lightroom. I think LR is a very, very good tool for a photographer.

If you need to change not only how the image appears but you want to give a completely different aspect to your images (more of a designer/artist/painter job) then go with Elements. This means that you don't mind building a library, storing metadata, directly exporting html pages for the web, etc.

If you fall in the previous example AND you're rich :) then go with Photoshop. It's huge, it's expensive. Content-aware fill drives me crazy.

You may even buy Lightroom and Photoshop, the tools integrate well.

/my opinions, of course.

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> "Does anyone know of an article or site that lists the features of Lightroom, PS Elements, and PS, side by side?"

Yes, ours does - pretty comprehensively:

What's Are the Differences Between Adobe Photoshop CS vs. Lightroom vs. Elements?

Hope that helps with some of the key details and adds to the conversation.

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It's not a true side by side comparison, and it doesn't cover all the features, but you could take a look at the photo editing program comparison at Adobe.com.

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broken link :-( –  Roddy Jan 30 '12 at 21:32

It's a pretty minor point, but Elements directly supports image acquisition from a scanner, while Lightroom, perhapes due to its being specifically geared towards photography, doesn't allow it (for sure up to version 3.6, and I think that 4 still doesn't implement it).

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I think @jrista covers it very well, but I thought I'd add my opinion too.

I use Lightroom 4 90% of the time, and it works great for all the reasons @jrista said. Since CS6 though, I've started subscribing to Photoshop. I used Elements a bit and didn't like it, (to me, it was less of a "middle-ground", and more of a "doesn't quite do anything properly), but paying for full Photoshop in one go was never realistic. Now though, for that 10% of the time, I can use Photoshop with a clean conscience. LR and PS complement each other very nicely indeed.

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