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Review: Photoshop Express (It’s Free!)

by Philippe Dame on February 18th, 2011

If you’ve played with the idea of buying Adobe Photoshop for US$700 then you’ve probably also considered the light version called Adobe Photoshop Elements given it’s a 1/10th the price. But, did you know there’s an even more entry level version that’s totally free? It’s actually an online service called Adobe Photoshop Express and it’s located at Photoshop.com.

Not only does Photoshop Express work well, it’s powerful enough to handle RAW files and videos. It’s a true in-the-cloud editor and plays well with sites like Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and Photobucket. I am impressed.

UPDATE: I uploaded a RAW image from my Canon 7D and it seemed to work. However, when I went to edit the image, it complained that the file was too large (it’s a 20MB .CR2 file). That’s not good. You might need to stick to JPEG files with this service.

Editing Photos

I think the evaluation of this service has to start at the photo editing capabilities. Editing photos via your Web browser has got to be quite limiting but I was surprised at just how much is offered. Below is the elegant interface provided while editing:

The editing window offers many capabilities. Here’s the list of “Editing” tools:

When you make a selection, it often shows you preview of the adjustment, at various increments, as a ribbon of previews along the top of the interface. This is how it looks when you select “White Balance”:

It also offers a series of options grouped under the label “Decorate”. Most of these are pretty tacky additions to a photo but the text tool could be quite useful:

Library

Photoshop Express goes beyond photo editing by providing an online library with various ways to organize your photos. You can place your photos in albums that are shared with friends or made public.

Here are the options for a single album:

Uploading Photos

The downside of an online service is that you have to upload images. That’s not so bad when you only have a few photos to edit but uploading 20MB RAW image files would be pretty painful.

Luckily, the service offers two upload options: a web-based uploader and a desktop client. After you select photos via the Web interface, this dialog appears which is quite nice:

The desktop software uploader is called the “Adobe Photoshop Express Uploader”. It’s built on Adobe Air so it runs equally well on Windows and Mac. The web-based uploader includes a link to start the installation process of this application. You’ll need to install Adobe Air first.

Once launched, the uploader window allows you to drag and drop your photos. Given its a desktop application, it should be more stable than your browser when it comes to uploaded big batches or HD videos.

Another cool feature is that the Uploader software can sync folders on your computer with albums on Photoshop.com. You simply select an album and click “Sync”. Once setup, the sync settings can be found under My Account.

Full Screen Mode

Another cool aspect of this Web application is that it’s built in Flash and can be run in full-screen mode. That’s not so great for iPad users but it does allow you to work clutter-free while on your laptop or desktop.

Photo Site Integration

Since this application is “in the cloud” already, it includes easy ways to connect with popular photo sharing sites like Facebook. I couldn’t get it to work with Facebook during my review as the Facebook authentication dialog never appeared for me. I’ll have to try again later with another Web browser (I was using Chrome on Mac).

Currently, it supports Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket and Picasa.

Mobile Version

If that wasn’t enough, you can connect to your online library of images to upload, download, share and adjust photos using only your iPhone or iPad. Get the application for free from the iTunes App Store by searching for Adobe Photoshop Express (iTunes link).

Price & Upgrade Path

Photoshop Express (website service and mobile app) are totally free if you stay within the 2GB storage limit provided. You can increase that to 20GB for US$20/year and spend as much as $500/year for 500GB.

Once you get serious, however, you’ll move up the Adobe food chain of excellent products:

Note that Lightroom complements Photoshop and does not replace it, despite some overlap. It’s like Photoshop built without a lot of its complexity (e.g. no layers and countless floating panels). Lightroom is optimized for a photographer’s workflow while borrowing Photoshop’s powerful engine for photo editing and RAW image file processing (i.e. Adobe Camera Raw v6.x).

I highly recommend Lightroom. See my blog post which compared Adobe Lightroom 3 to Apple Aperture 3.

If you’ve tried Photoshop.com, let me know your opinion by commenting on this post. Please suggest other photo editing applications if you can recommend any.

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