If you’re a student, you can get Photoshop CS (aka 8.0) academic pricing for about $260-$270.
The healing tool uses a designated “clean” portion of your image as a model for its healing algorithm. So, when I was “healing” dirt from out near the capillaries, I selected a similar patch of clean capillary as the source.
In layman’s terms, if all you’re ever going to do is touch-up some digital photos, you’ll be fine with Elements. Elements is a subset of Photoshop CS containing some editing tools for basic touch-up and color correction.
You won’t be able to do professional-level work with Elements. Only Photoshop CS has the proper tools for CMYK separations, curves for precise color correction, and alpha masks for transparency channels – like what I used in the fish out of water example above.
Open source pimp that I am, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the GIMP. The Windows installer works very nicely and you can’t beat the price. Photoshop, however, still has it beat in features (such as the aforemention CMYK seperations) and ease of use (which, well you consider how user unfriendly Photoshop can be to a complete newbie, is saying a lot).
Last time I looked GIMP had lousy (I mean utterly friggin’ lousy) tablet support. Has that changed? (Wacom Intuos protocol specifically is what I’d be interested in; or Graphire if it actually differentiates in GIMP. The protocol should be the same either way I believe.)