Camera RAW and 16 Bits/Channel Support

Camera RAW Window

Finding RAW support in an entry-level package is yet another indication of how important RAW has become. Photoshop Elements 3 Editor offers RAW support via a reduced functionality Camera RAW 2.3 window which looks similar to Camera RAW 1.0 which was introduced with Photoshop 7.

The additional tabs, discussed in my Photoshop CS review, which allow for vignetting and chromatic aberration corrections, calibration, etc., are not present. However, there are the new "Auto" check boxes for the Exposure, Shadows, Highlights, and Contrast sliders and the shadow and highlight check boxes which show in color any clipping of shadows or highlights as you do the adjustments. While the live histogram shows you which tones are affected, this feature tells you where the clipping occurs.

Noise Reduction

With Photoshop CS, Adobe has created an excellent noise reduction method for RAW files and this is carried over to the above Elements 3 Camera RAW dialog box.

The color noise reduction and luminance smoothing sliders allow you to reduce color and luminance noise independently. The latter should be used with caution because it can quickly lead to an artificial "water paint" effect with too uniform surfaces. Overall, the noise reduction performs very well and preserves image detail and edge sharpness. However, there is still room for improvement on large uniform areas as shown in this example which just focuses on the red channel where the noise is most visible. The remaining wavy pattern in the sky is typical for automated noise removal methods. Manual noise removal can lead to much more uniform skies but requires more time, the typical digital imaging trade-off. A more detailed noise analysis can be found on my personal website.

The new Filter -> Noise -> Reduce Noise command which works also on JPEG images performs less well compared to the noise removal in Camera RAW and manual noise removal methods. As shown in these (50% downsampled) red channel crops, there is definitely room for improvement here.


Elements 3
Reduce Noise

Elements 3
Camera RAW

Manual Method

Not "as RAW" as Some Native RAW Converters

For the purists among you, Camera RAW in Photoshop Elements 3 is, just like Bibble Pro 4 or Camera RAW in Photoshop CS, a third party RAW converter and therefore not "as RAW" as "native" RAW conversion software such as Nikon Capture for *.NEF files. This example below shows that Nikon Capture 4.1 is able to remove moiré and maze artifacts and extract detail hidden in the data, something Photoshop Camera RAW and Bibble Pro 4 are unable to achieve. Camera RAW removed some of the color moiré as the Color Noise Reduction slider was set to 25.

After Elements 3 Camera RAW

Bibble Pro 4

Nikon Capture 4.1

(R,G,B) in a = (145,143,132)
Slight pink cash

(R,G,B) in a = (132,136,120)
More yellow-green

(R,G,B) in a = (136,138,128)
As recorded

Also, the white balance is not always read accurately. Elements 3 Camera RAW and Bibble Pro 4 interprete the original camera values differently compared to Nikon Capture 4.1 which gives the same values as in the JPEG image shot at the same time as the RAW image. Of course, the white balance can be adjusted via the eyedropper tool and/or the Temperature and Tint sliders. Although you cannot save your image settings into a separate XMP file as is the case in Photoshop 7 and CS, you can apply the RAW settings of one file to another file or several files via the File Browser.

16 Bits/Channel Support

After the RAW conversion, Photoshop Elements 3 offers limited support to continue working in 16 Bits/Channel mode. The limitations are similar to Photoshop 7, but one key difference is that the marquee and lasso tools still works in 16 Bits/Channel mode in Elements 3 Editor.

Color Management

As with all Adobe Software, Elements 3 is a colormanaged application that takes into account your monitor profile when displaying images. It also allows you to work in Adobe RGB. Photoshop 7 and CS offer of course more advanced color management options.

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