First Look
Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3.0
At Long Last Love

All Photos © 2004, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

I never much liked any of Adobe Systems' previous versions of Photoshop Elements. Sure, the program had its place as an $99 alternative for digital imagers on a budget, however, the interface was confusing, trying too hard to be easy to use, and in the process making it more complicated than the 800 lb gorilla itself. All of us apes can now rejoice, Photoshop Elements 3.0 has tossed off its ugly duckling interface and turned into, as Chuck Berry sang, Tchaikovsky's Swan-Maiden.

What's New?
Everything. It's not your father's Photoshop Elements anymore, it's the program it should have always been; a full-featured image editor with a wonderfully functional browsing, sorting, and comparing front-end that I hope is part of the next Photoshop CS.

Images can be brought into Photoshop Elements in several different ways: In Photo Broswer mode, you can drag the contents of a memory card, Picture CD, or folder onto the work space. When you do, they're automatically displayed as re-sizable thumbnails and arranged by date. Selecting Photo Review (View>Photo Review) opens a dialog box that lets you sort and sift through all the images. In this view, you can use the Quick Fix (more later) to tweak images or view them as a slide show complete with music.

In Photo Browser you can add keywords including the names of each person in the photograph. Later on, Elements' Fast Find feature will let you find images by keyword, including family member name or photo subject, such as your road trip to the Giant Ball of String in Rumpus Ridge, Wisconsin (no kidding), or these pictures of Butterfly World near Miami, Florida.

Photo Compare mode lets you compare images side by side to quickly find the best ones or the photo where Uncle Bernie's eye are open. After you find your best shots, you can save them or the rest in a "stack" in a single thumbnail location. Like any good image management software, you can add keywords, but Elements goes one better by providing a Calendar View that makes it easy to find anniversary, birthday, and wedding photographs, simply by clicking on, well, a calendar!

While Photoshop CS' Image Browser can be configured many ways this isn't one of them. Photoshop Elements' Photo Compare lets you evaluate images side by side to quickly find your favorites. Having a wide screen, such as Samsung's SyncMaster 173mw HD monitor with its 16x10 aspect ratio, makes it easier to see both images.

Open Wide And Say
Go back to the Welcome Screen and select Edit and Enhance and be taken to a window that looks similar, but oh-so-much more attractive and functional than Photoshop Elements Version 2.0. The new version now supports 16-bit files and Camera Raw from Photoshop CS, built-in. You'll also find other CS functionality, such as a simplified version of CS' Shadow/Highlights (Enhance>Lighting> Shadows/Highlights), Healing Brush, and a new Spot Healing Brush that are combined in a single fly-out menu.

Photoshop Elements 3.0 sets the gold standard for special effects dialog boxes. Filter Gallery combines simplicity of operation and intuitive design and is just plain fun to use. While the Windows interface is attractive, the Mac OS is even prettier.

The built-in Smart Fix command automatically detects and fixes lighting, color, and contrast. Adjusting Smart Fix is like the Fade (Filter) command in CS, and it lets you vary the intensity of the Smart Fix. In a hurry? Just launch Quick Fix from the Welcome Screen. This is another really great and useful feature and you have your choice of viewing images four ways: Before Only, After Only, Before & After (landscape), and Before & After (portrait). To get started, there's a Smart Fix slider that lets you apply corrections then tweak it using specific sliders for lighting, color, and sharpening that are located on the right-hand side of the screen.