Adobe Photoshop Elements 3

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Excellent integration of user-friendly editing capabilities with top of the range image management – the ideal combination for the majority of digital camera users.

In the past Photoshop Elements has always provided a basic, cut-down version of the market leading Photoshop’s functionality at a knockdown price. Not any more. Photoshop Elements 3 is still a bargain but otherwise Adobe has totally rethought and transformed the program.

The major change comes from the integration of the previously standalone Photoshop Album application as Elements’ new Organizer window. Here you load images from your hard disk, directly from your camera, from watched folders or even from your mobile phone to create a single central catalogue of all your photos represented in the main Photo Browser by instantly resizable thumbnails. You can then quickly find the photos you’re looking for by time, folder or import batch or through a simple keyword tagging system, or using the excellent Date View which mimics a wall calendar with thumbnails appearing on every day on which you took photos.

Getting your images under control is the Organizer’s main task but it also offers a number of other features. Click on the large Print button and you can output your selected images or order prints online. Click on the Share button and you can upload your images to a web sharing service, a Palm OS handheld or a mobile phone; or email them either as separate attachments, a single PDF or within the body of your message as themed PhotoMail. Click on the Create button and you can produce projects such as album pages, calendars, cards and web galleries. Particularly impressive is the ability to quickly create dynamic slideshows complete with captions, narration, music, transitions and special effects – especially as these can then be used to create a Video CD for viewing on supporting DVD players.

Before doing anything though you want to make sure that your photos are looking their best and again Elements’ Organizer window obliges. Using the excellent Auto Smart Fix command you can do all that you need to do to most images with a single click. Alternatively, for slightly more control, you can load the image into the Auto Smart Fix dialog. Generally though, you’re better loading your photo into the dedicated Quick Fix workspace which provides simple slider-based control over lighting, colour and sharpness along with excellent one-click redeye removal, freeform or preset-based cropping and large Before and After previews.

The first time you load the Quick Fix workspace takes a little time because you are actually moving from Elements’ Album-based Organizer window to Elements’ other window – the Editor. At this stage you might be wondering where has Elements’ existing hands-on editing power gone. Don’t worry, it’s all still there, you just have to click on the Standard Edit button and the familiar Elements interface appears. Or rather a restyled version of the old interface appears offering new features such as a collapsible Palette Bin and a Photo Bin at the bottom of the screen containing selectable thumbnails of all open images. Existing users will immediately feel at home but the new environment is more attractive, modern, friendly, professional and productive.

So what photo editing power does the main Standard Edit workspace offer? Compared to its rivals, Elements’ eight lighting and colour enhancements might seem mean but all the main options – Levels, Hue/Saturation, Colour Cast – are taken care of and additional power would probably confuse more users than it helped. Local retouching is also well covered with the same main tools that Photoshop offers, while more creative possibilities come via the collection of over 100 filters. And to turn your image into an advanced photocomposition, the central Layers palette supports bitmap, vector shape, text, and adjustment-based layers and a range of preset layer styles.

All this power was already there in version 2, but version 3 takes things farther. Unsurprisingly most of the new functionality comes direct from the latest Photoshop CS release – what is surprising is just how much high-end power has made the cut. You might have thought that support for 16-bit images and the Camera Raw format, for example, were clearly professional-only features but they’ve been included. As have: Photoshop’s excellent Healing Brush for removing flaws by intelligently sampling another area of the image; the Histogram palette for viewing the distribution of pixel values; the Filter Gallery for viewing and combining effects; and the Photo Filter adjustment layer for non-destructively applying coloured lens filter effects. The on-the-fly File Browser has also been updated to support favourite folders and metadata, though of course most users will now be using the Organizer window.

Finally Photoshop Elements 3 adds some new editing power all of its own. The new Cookie Cutter tool, for example, lets you crop images and layers into preset shapes (less powerful than Photoshop’s layer masks but much more straightforward). The Divide from Scan command automatically isolates multiple images scanned in a single pass, while the Import Frame from Video command lets you quickly navigate video files and grab multiple frames for standalone use. And the new Reduce Noise filter is ideal for clearing up both video and camera images taken in low light conditions. Best of all, and another feature that many Photoshop users would kill for, the Print Multiple command lets you choose from a range of preset image sizes and multi-image page layouts – you can even apply a frame to your photos as they are printed.

What can I say? I’ve been arguing for years that the vast majority of digital camera users have been badly served by their photo editing software. Adobe has clearly seen the light, gone back to the drawing board and come up with a near ideal solution (assuming your system meets its requirements). Photoshop Elements 3 is the program your digital camera has been crying out for.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Photoshop Elements
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System requirements Pentium III 800MHz, 256MB of RAM, 600MB of hard disk space, Windows 2000 (SP4) or XP (SP1), 1024x768 display, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

October 2004

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