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Which Adobe Photo Editing Software Is Right for Me?

(Image credit: Adobe)

There’s a reason why Adobe Photoshop is the de facto application that most people consider when looking for the best photo editing software. However, while Photoshop is the most powerful, versatile and well-recognized photo editing software around, it isn’t appropriate for everyone. That’s why Adobe has four separate products – Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom Classic and Lightroom – for photo editing. Each has varying levels of power, ease of use and versatility, and each is suitable for different users and/or different situations. Here’s a guide on how to choose the right Adobe photo editor for your needs.

Adobe Photoshop Elements
Adobe Photoshop CC
Adobe Lightroom Classic
Adobe Lightroom CC
Starting Price
$99.99, or $149.99 bundled with Premiere Elements. $20.99/month. Includes 100GB of cloud storage, portfolio website, premium fonts and social media tools. $9.99/month (Creative Cloud Photography Plan, includes Photoshop, Lightroom CC and Adobe Portfolio and 20 GB of cloud storage. $9.99/month (Included in the Creative Cloud Photography Plan).
What it is
A simplified subset of what’s available in Photoshop. Adobe’s most powerful and comprehensive photo editor and image creation software. An industry standard-setter. A digital equivalent to a film darkroom on desktop computers. A cloud-based system for image processing. A simplified subset of what’s available in Lightroom Classic.
What it’s for
Novice to serious photographers. Professional and serious photographers. Professional and serious photographers using a desktop computer. All photographers who want to quickly process, prepare and share images.
What it does
Easy image editing and processing. Professional image-editing and creation. Just about anything you can think of doing with an image. Comprehensive image- processing, batch processing with images stored on local hard drives. Image processing on the go with images stored on the cloud.
Learning Curve
Slight. Interactive step-by-step Guided Edits, tutorials available within the interface, useful online help. Steep. However, the tutorials and online help are great aids. Not as steep a learning curve as Photoshop, but still requires a certain mastery. Intuitive interfaces. Learn by seeing what happens when you push sliders or tap/click to apply edits.
File Formats supported
PSD, BMP, GIF, jJPEG, PSE, PDF, PXR, PNG, TIFF and all Camera RAW formats (via the Camera RAW utility). Just about every format (plus some audio and video formats) including PSD, TIFF, JPEG, PNG, GIF, large-document format PSB and all Camera RAW formats (via the Camera RAW utility). TIFF, JPEG, PSD, PNG, various video files and nearly all Camera RAW files. JPEG, TIFF, PSD, PNG, nearly all Camera RAW formats and a variety of video formats.

Adobe Photoshop CC

An essential tool for professional photographers and digital artists, Photoshop is the most comprehensive and powerful of the Adobe photo programs. 

Even experts usually don’t master every aspect of this complex program. Recently, however, Adobe has made it somewhat easier for newbies to get a handle on the program with the addition of in-app tutorials that guide you while you edit your own images. Plus, the new home screen icon provides immediate access to the excellent online tutorials (among other things). What’s more, Photoshop has cursory popup tips that (when turned on) help new users understand what each element in the interface does.

Almost anything you can imagine doing to a photograph or digital image, you can achieve with Photoshop, with a great deal of precision and creative flexibility. This, of course, includes the traditional tasks of correcting or changing exposure, color or tone; combining images and effects using masks and layers; adding artistic or paragraph text; using painterly brushes and so forth. In addition, Photoshop has tools for creating animations from still images, preparing graphics for the web, making 3D packaging mockups and much more.  

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