Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 Review
Vincent Bockaert, November 2004

In a Nutshell

Combine Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and an improved Adobe Photoshop Album 2, add some new unique features, and some reduced functionality features of Adobe Photoshop CS, and there you have Adobe Photoshop Elements 3. Just like Photoshop CS, this upgrade is specifically targeted towards digital photographers.

Review Notes

Note that this review of Photoshop Elements 3 is based on a (very recent) beta version of the Windows version, so screen captures and functionality may not be representative of the full and final product. The Mac version does not have all the organizing features described in this review. The objective of this review is not to be a complete review of Photoshop Elements 3, but to highlight the new features compared to Photoshop Elements 2, and to compare functionality with Photoshop CS. This review also links to Phil Askey's Photoshop Album 1.0 review, my Photoshop CS review, and the glossary on this site.

Convergence Between Image Editing and Image Organizing

Several years back, Photoshop was strictly about image editing. Searching for an image via the "open" dialog box was very slow so you needed a third party browser to search for the image you wanted and then drag it into the Photoshop window. The introduction of the "File Browser" in Photoshop Elements 2 and Photoshop 7 started a process of integrating image browsing and organizing functionality into Photoshop. The file browser became much faster and powerful in Photoshop CS and many of its features have been carried over to Photoshop Elements 3.

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But Photoshop Elements 3 takes browsing and organizing one level higher by integrating Adobe's own image browsing and organizing software, Photoshop Album, which allows you to organize your images and create slideshows, VCDs, web photo galleries, postcards, photo albums, etc. This move should come as no surprise since Adobe has been bundling Photoshop Album 2 with Elements 2 for quite some time now. Moreover, it fits into the general market trend of editing software integrating browsing and organizing functionality, and of browsing and organizing software integrating editing functionality.

As a consequence Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 consists of two sub-programs: Elements 3 Editor (the successor of Elements 2), and Elements 3 Organizer (which is based on Photoshop Album 2). It takes some time to load both programs initially (see below), but after that, the switch between these two applications is fast and easy via buttons in the menu bar. The Welcome screen, a new feature for all Adobe products, also allows you to access either the Organizer (via "View and Organize Photos" or "Make Photo Creation") or the Editor (via "Quick Fix" or "Edit and Enhance Photos").

Startup Speeds

I ran a test on a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 machine, with 756MB RAM, with Windows XP SP2 and no other applications running. Test results with other hardware configurations will of course be different.

Application After reboot Subsequent
Startup Photoshop Elements Editor 24 sec 7 sec
Switch to Photoshop Elements Organizer 15 sec 5 sec
Startup Photoshop Elements Organizer 20 sec 4 sec
Switch to Photoshop Elements Editor 20 sec 7 sec
Switch between already open Elements 3 Editor and Organizer 1 sec 1 sec
Elements 2 15 sec 4 sec
Photoshop CS 20 sec 7 sec
ACDSee 7 12 sec 1 sec

Firing up both the Organizer and Editor for the first time after a reboot took about 40 seconds. Subsequently, it took about 12 seconds. Once both applications are open, the switch between both applications is almost instantaneous. However, when Photoshop Elements 3 is closed and you want to quickly view an image on your hard disk, ACDSee 7 will give the fastest startup time. Just like Photoshop Elements 3 outperforms ACDSee 7 in terms of editing, ACDSee 7 outperforms Elements 3 in terms of browsing speed. It is clear that the above mentioned convergence is not yet complete.

Photoshop Elements Editor

Improved Interface with Dockable Tool Palette

The "Standard Edit" mode of Photoshop Elements Editor is different from the "conventional" look we are accustomed to in Elements 2, Photoshop 7 and CS. The toolbox and palettes are now integrated into the window itself and there is an additonal photo bin to easily access open files by clicking on their thumbnails.

In earlier versions of Photoshop, the toolbox was traditionally a floating palette which could not be docked anywhere. Its odd shape took up valuable real estate and often it got accidentally hidden behind other palettes or image windows. This issue has now been addressed by making it part of the window as a one column toolbox. In smaller windows it changes into two columns and if desired, you can "drag it out" so it changes into the traditional floating toolbox. The palette well has now changed into an expandable palette bin on the right hand side of the window. If desired, the palettes can be dragged out of the palette bin so they change into the conventional palettes which are dockable and groupable as before. Finally, there is an expandable organize bin with thumbnails of currently open images. All these improvements result in a larger and less cluttered working area, changes I hope to see implemented in a future version of Photoshop CS. If you move your cursor over the full size image linked to the thumbnail below, you will see the palette and organize bins open and close.

Just like with Photoshop Album, the interface has a silver title bar, similar to Windows XP Silver theme, or Mac. Tthe look of it cannot be changed via the Windows settings.

Following the Adobe Photoshop tradition, each new version is a smooth evolution from earlier versions which makes it easy to switch versions and allows you to benefit from your earlier learning curve. Apart from a few exceptions, most of the commands and shortcuts are identical to earlier versions. Overall, the interface is very clean and user friendly, with pleasing graphics and that "hidden depth" trademark of Photoshop.

Standard Edit and Quick Fix

With the click of a button, you can easily switch from the above mentioned "Standard Edit" mode to the "Quick Fix mode", a major upgrade from Enhance ->Quick Fix in Photoshop Elements 2.

Quick Fix comes with "Auto" buttons but they are adjustable with sliders. Although not the perfect solution in all circumstances, it is a good start if you have little experience and/or time. It also gives access to the improved Red Eye Removal Tool which will be discussed in a moment.

This article is written by Vincent Bockaert, author of
The 123 of digital imaging featuring
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 & 3 and Photoshop 7 & CS

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this review (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of the image, clicking on the image will display a larger (normally 1024 x 768 or smaller if cropped) image in a new window.

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This article is Copyright 2004 and may NOT in part or in whole be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author.