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Photoshop vs. PS Elements vs. Lightroom

Hi - I am not making a living as a photographer, but I am trying to learn as much as I can to get as much of a shot correctly in camera. I do know there is a need for some touch-up or post-processing of images. I recently upgraded my computer, and now finally have a machine that could handle one or more of the programs listed. I got the "freebie" Canon Digital Photo Professional which is pretty OK for no money. But, if I were to get one of the software packages listed, what are the pros and cons, advantages/disadvantages, etc. of each? I know I am asking a lot here, but any opinions would be greatly appreciated.


  • TrevTrev Moderator

    Huge question and not an easy one to answer off the bat?

    You see, many people have 'progressed' over the years to get to what they use/prefer today and it's not a straight answer without knowing what each can do.

    First up, I have been using Photoshop for around 18 years since Version 3 long before digital come into use mainstream as my job was in a newspaper and editing digital files come about mainstream around 10 years ago.

    So, having that grounding and knowledge base with the use of Layers, Masks, Channels, etc. makes me biased but deservedly so, then Aperture (for Mac) and Lightroom (PC) come about and then the others, like Phase One's Capture One program (excellent, but like Photoshop, very heavy learning curve.

    PS Elements, well, let's just say it does not cut the mustard in my book, you cannot use Layers/Masks/Channels anywhere near like Photoshop.

    My initial response to your question would be to get LR, it's probably one of the most used programs out there for general editing, but, it also cannot use Layers/Channel Masks, etc. like PS.

    Don't get me wrong, very many successful people use it but when doing hundreds of images from say weddings, you cannot afford to take 10 mins on each image like you would for maybe that cracking landscape shot you took.

    I do use LR or Capture One for my 'base' edits, like White Balance and Density/Exposure, but I only use the Exposure itself, and don't try to work the 'Shadows/Darks/Lights/Blacks to get contrast as and export out as PSD files and then run an action to tweak backgrounds, detail, colour, contrast etc.

    DPP is pretty good though if using Canon, and you can get some good results like in your situation of only hobby/serious amateur status and I would not presume to impose anything I may use/do onto anyone.

    LR is now very reasonably priced, it started out at around $400 early on, I think it's around the $120 mark these days, cheaper if you are student/teacher.

    You can 'mask' but *only* by brushing, not Channel Masks which give absolute perfection but you most definitely would be happy with LR for what you are going to use it for.

    If you did opt for Photoshop it comes with ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) which is what is needed to edit the RAW files, but you can then do so much more in PS itself as ACR opens up separately for RAW files.

    I have attached 2 images, one as shot as the jpeg extracted from the RAW file, and the other I edited it in Photoshop after dropping exposure a little and very little White Balance adjustment. You can see the massive difference I can get out of Photoshop though.

    Very steep learning curve from the get go and I really do wish you all the best.

    There are books/online tutorials you can purchase for LR/Photoshop, some expensive, some online free, but the trouble is if you are learning incorrectly from the 'experts' you may see online, so it's a matter of a lot of reading/researching.

    The one advantage of LR also is the filing system, cataloguing the files into Libraries, Collections, etc.



    Edited file

  • Give Cyberlink Photo Director a try. Kind of like a LIght room Clone. does Everything I need it to do and somewhat faster.
  • Thanks to you both. I wasn't expecting the answer to be simple. I think maybe for now I will try to exhaust everything out of DPP, and if I find I need more, I will really start to dig into the other programs. As I wrote, I would really like to get things right in the camera, and as I think of it, before knowing a software program inside and out, I should really focus on getting as much out of the camera as possible. It really is the most interesting thing for me right now, much more interesting to me right now than post processing.

    PS: Trev, IMHO the "as-shot" photo you attached was really pretty darn good.
  • I use Lightroom as my main tool ("digital asset management" as well as editing) and I also have Photoshop which I use on occasion when I need more than what LR can do. For example, LR can't do panoramas, while PS is quite capable at that. LR allows PS to be setup as an external editor and it launches quite seamlessly from LR, and when you complete the work in PS, the PS-edited image automatically appears in LR.

    I would recommend trying the free 30-day trial of LR, and doing a bit of reading and watching videos on it. Here are some:

    It takes some getting used to, because LR really acts as the central database for your images rather than a one-image-at-a-time editor like PS or PS Elements. You don't "file open", edit an image, "file save", etc. in LR. You "import" the images into LR (using the "library module"), and when you edit (in the "develop module"), all the edits are stored in LR's database - it's all non destructive. When you are satisfied, you "export" a JPG (for example) to use on the web, email, for a print lab, etc. A great feature is being able to copy your edits to other photos. So say you have a series of photos all taken around the same time and all have similar issues (eg. you want to change the WB, add more contrast, add more saturation, bring up the midtones, pull back the highlights, you have some spot corrections in the sky because of dust on your sensor, you want to apply some noise reduction, etc.). You can edit one image to your satisfaction, then copy these edits (called "develop settings") to other photos you select - so all the images will get the same treatment.
  • Nikonguy - thanks for the input, the 30-day trial suggestion, as well as the link to the videos.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited November 2014
    DPP is pretty good but when I did mass edits it was a nightmare for me. The way it was described to me at one time was PS was developed for the designer and LR was developed for the photographer. When I got into LR it cut my PP time in half.

    I still use both PS and LR. PS for hobby shots because I can control output sharpening. LR's export page has options for size but most importantly the output sharpening which offers selection for media type and sharpening levels  - low, standard and high. I had a hard time with this at first but once I researched and tested it I learned the output sharpening was designed for Adobe by the Pixel Genius group. The late great Bruce Fraser was a member and was the creator of the the 3 phases of sharpening.

    There are many things that are happening with LR in the background that we don't know about. More than likely masking and edge sharpening just like the masking slider in the sharpening tab in both LR and PS. That feature is a gem and I'm usually on 80. It does not sharpen any existing background noise and edge sharpening gives a unique look not only to portraits but objects.     

    When it comes to PS and hobby shots I adopted this output sharpening method. It is also an edge sharpening/masking method that lets you over sharpen and then feather back at the end. I found that no images respond to sharpening the same way.

    DPP is good but only offers capture sharpening which is compensating for the AA filter - which Canon's is typically stronger. 

    In conclusion with all my testing I have found Capture One to be outstanding. However it took a lot of years to get my workflow down for both PS and LR so I'm in that groove now.  

    If I was doing this for a living it would be LR all the way. When mass editing the only time I send an image to PS is for advanced cloning which I could probably get away with using LR. PS is just easier to work with. Also tons of free LR presets to download. 

    If you want both you could get PS and LR CC for $10 a month if you don't mind Adobe getting their hooks into you. A stand alone version of LR is everything you would need for basic editing.                   
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited November 2014
    Photoshop is the ultimate tool.  It is the be-all and end-all of photo editing programs.  There are college classes devoted to the Photoshop program.  etc.

    However, the MAIN reason why people use Lightroom IMHO is its power to organize with its cataloging system.  Imagine yourself doing events and having to process thousands or hundreds of thousands of photos...maybe over the course of many years you have millions of photos.  Imagine, lets say, being the White House photographer where you are constantly snapping shots.  Your main concern as the White House photographer is not getting each shot perfect, but just getting good shots and keeping them organized.  

    In NJ, there are a few wedding photographers who got themselves into legal trouble for not delivering the photos.  I am guessing what happened is things got too disorganized, but they had to keep doing weddings to make money.  Their disorganization ultimately caused their trouble where they were unable to deliver.  

    If I was operating a photo business or had a corporate/government operation than its a no-brainer.  I would go with Lightroom and not look back.  I wouldnt touch Photoshop as it would eat up time.  Another thing to consider is that some news organizations and the people who hire you for events do not want extensive editing of the photos...i.e. taking things out or putting things in which were not there.  They want accurate depictions of the event and editing of the actual photo is limited.
  • Thanks, Zenon and Michael. I don't process nearly enough photos to have or need a powerful cataloging system. As I wrote previously, I will most likely get to the point where I am really familiar with DPP, and then go from there.
  • I found a website that did a comparison between 5 RAW processing engines:

    His conclusion is the following:
    In the end, the differences in image quality are subtle enough to be insignificant in all but the largest prints.

    A non-photographic person (and even some photographic persons) would be hard-pressed to notice the differences in the photos processed by the 5 RAW processing engines on that website.  However, there are quite a few people who could look at those pictures and figure out the details.   

  • Just because you don't need a powerful cataloging system doesn't mean LR is not right for you. Many amateur photographers use it. DPP is vey good and great to learn on but LR is a pretty powerful tool. It has lens correction options just like DPP (although it is missing DLO), noise reduction is excellent, you can choose canon colour profiles. You can set up a lot of stuff and then set up camera presets so the next time you import images all those base settings are automatically applied.  

    I'm not trying to push you into getting it but if that is one of the main reasons it should't be. It has a lot to offer and I realize there is a cost involved.      
  • Zenon - thanks for that. These are the types of comments and opinions I was looking for, because I really don't know anything about the features of these programs, or the advantages/disadvantages of one over the other.

  • It is pretty reasonable for what it offers and if you shop around you can find good deals. It is still a stand alone so Adobe does not get it's hooks into you.     
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited December 2014
    I don't know much about elements but it has all the same adjustments as LR. Just no fancy catalogue system and LR will remember all your PP adjustments forever. Not as powerful as PS but I only use 20% of what PS has to offer anyway.       

  • I wish! Many aspects of my life would be so much easier if I was once again a student. But my two daughters are.
  • Get one of them to buy LR lol
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    As Zenon said but you would need to have the 'student' details of school, teacher, reason, etc. etc. but if prepared to jump through the hoops you could do that.

    I can only speak here in Australia as I tried that myself a good while back, but the reason's you needed it were involved, and had to have proof from school/university/college of that. I just did not bother.
  • All you need is a current student ID.
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