Review: Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0


Photoshop Elements 4.0 is an image editor and organiser created by Adobe. It's aimed at home users who want to look after their digital photos.


I bought the downloadable upgrade version for £47.19 from the webstore. However, I recommend avoiding Adobe's webstore because it hasn't been tested properly, and the download button did not work either time I tried it using Firefox.

If you don't mind waiting for delivery you can buy the full, boxed version from for £47.35 including VAT and delivery. Which is an excellent price compared to the £69.32 that Adobe's store wants for the same product.


Installation took a long time, but completed without problems.

Once you've installed Photoshop Elements, you'll find that Adobe Photo Downloader runs every time you boot Windows. This may be helpful for some people, but I don't use it, so I don't want it wasting time each time I boot Windows. It can be disabled, though. In Organizer, go to Edit → Preferences → Camera or Card Reader, and uncheck the box that says "Use Adobe Photo Downloader to get photos…". It should trouble you no more.

Another Adobe background process that runs every time you boot Windows is PhotoshopElementsFileAgent.exe. I've no idea what this does, but I'm not happy about it running every time I boot Windows, whether or not I run Photoshop Elements. In this age of spyware, the fewer mysterious background processes that are running, the better. I'd like to see an option to disable this FileAgent, or at least an explanation as to what it's doing in the background the whole time.


Photoshop Elements 4.0 consists of two main parts: the Organizer helps you to keep track of your images; the Editor helps you to repair and improve the appearance of those images.


A screenshot of Photoshop Elements' Organizer, showing images from my London images sub-category.

The first thing to do when you load the Organizer is tell the software where it can find your digital photos. Once you've given it a folder to search through, a thumbnail image appears for each image it finds. These thumbnails can be very rapidly tagged and categorised by dragging the desired tag from the Organizer Bin at the right of the screen. If you want to create a category called Paris, you can right-click on the Place category, click on the "Create new sub-category..." option, and then enter Paris for the new name. Then you can select all of the images in the catalogue that were taken in Paris, and drag the new Paris label onto that selection. The selected images are then marked with the Paris label, making them very easy to select by clicking the view box next to the new Paris sub-category in the Organizer Bin. You can categorise your entire collection of images very, very quickly using this process, and it makes finding desired images very easy.

Another way of organising images is to create Collections. For instance, you could create a collection called "Paris in 2003" and then select all relevant images and add them to that collection. This is more specific than categories because a category can apply across your entire set of images. A Paris category, for example, would apply to all images taken in Paris. A collection called "Paris in 2003" would apply to one particular trip to Paris. Creating collections and adding images to them is also very quick.

What I didn't like about adding images to the Organizer is that it automatically assumes you want to run the red-eye remover. The option is listed in the Get Photos dialogue, but it is checked by default and I didn't spot it first time I added images to the catalogue. Call me a control freak, but I'd rather have a feature like this ask for permission first, rather than run unexpectedly.

A handy feature for speeding-up the people tagging process is the Find Faces for Tagging function. Running this causes Organizer to examine all the selected images in your catalogue. If it thinks it's found a face in an image, it displays the face in the results window. Once it's finished going through the selected images, you can select and tag these faces appropriately, usually with the Friends or Family categories. Sometimes the face finder will get confused by a face-like shape, but very often the results window will be full of actual faces. One run I did produced 532 results, and only one was not actually a face. The bigger problem is that the face finder misses a lot of actual faces when it searches through the images, so you'll still have to hunt for untagged images that contain people you wanted marked.

Organizer features a burn-to-disc function that will write selected images or the currently-viewed collection to an optical disk. This burn feature is very crude, though. You cannot select more than one collection at a time for it, and once it burns a CD or DVD it finalizes it so that no more images can be added to the disc later. This means that the only way to conveniently burn more than one collection to a disc at a time is to merge the collections, and this is a poor solution. You're better off using a third-party disc-burning utility if you want your photos on CD or DVD.

Conversely, the photo creations feature is quite nice. You can use an image or a selection of images (depending on what you're creating) to produce a calendar, a greetings card, a slideshow, a VCD of slideshows, or an HTML photo gallery that you can put on the worldwide web. Each option triggers an easy-to-use wizard, and you can have a fairly nice creation in minutes. My only gripe is that the HTML photo gallery that it produces is not XHTML, so it cannot be restyled easily. But most home users won't even understand the need for such a feature, so it won't be a problem for most people.


Once you've got a catalogue of images in Organizer, you can then select images and load them into the Editor. The Editor is full of tools for making digital photos look more to your taste. Tools such as the invaluable Dust & Scratch Remover which allows you to get rid of dust specks and small defects from photos that you've scanned in; the Crop tool which lets you select the part of an image you're interested in, and also lets you straighten-out wonky horizons; the Heal and Clone tools that let you smooth over damaged areas of the image, such as severe tears, scratches, and folds over sections of sky or sand. Once the image is repaired, you can use the Levels dialogue to adjust the black, grey and white points of the image to make the contrast and brightness look natural.

There is a lot of power available in the Editor. But it does have some flaws that can slow you down. The worst one, if you're working on a lot of files, is that the open and save dialogues both remember the same directory when you're opening and saving files. This is a real pain in the ass if you're opening files from one directory, and saving them to another directory. With Photoshop Elements you have to navigate to the source and destination directory every time you open and save. This is less confusing for people who get lost in the file system easily, but it adds a lot of effort when you've got four-hundred images to edit. I'd prefer to see an option that allows the open and save dialogues to each remember the last directory they used, rather than both remembering the same one.

These file dialogues also forget settings you've chosen, such as sort order and viewing mode of the files you're browsing. Again, this adds a lot of effort if you've got four-hundred images to edit and the last one you saved is at the bottom of a growing list that you're forced to scroll down because the dialogue keeps forgetting that you want the most recent file at the top of the list.

Another frustration is that when you zoom out, the image is not centred at the point where the cursor was at when you zoomed out. This causes you to lose your place every time you zoom out, and is quite irritating.

I also think that the automatic image enhancements, especially Auto Levels, produce harsh results. Black-and-white photographs processed with Auto Levels almost always end up looking unnaturally dark, to my eye. Some people may prefer this high-contrast look, but I prefer to avoid Auto Levels and adjust the points myself. Colour photos sometimes suffer under Auto Levels too, especially if the image has a dominant colour. Experiment with adjusting the levels for individual channels (Red, Green and Blue, accessible in the pull-down menu in the Levels dialogue) and you usually end up with a result you prefer.

The Editor also offers a multiple-process function that allows you to select a large number of images and convert them to another file format, and/or resize them, and offers the option of running automatic enhancements on them at the same time. But this batch process feature is pretty dumb. Its renaming options are limited, and it even tries to process non-image files such as the thumbs.db file that Windows uses to store thumbnail images for that directory. So every time you run Process Multiple Files, you get the same error about incompatible files. This is pretty stupid for an Adobe product. It is a useful feature, though, so hopefully Adobe will patch it to make it work more intelligently.

The Editor also has three big buttons marked Create, Photo Browser, and Date View. These are basically just links back to the Organizer. If the Organizer is not already open, these buttons will load the Organizer, but will also generate an error telling you that Organizer is busy. Something else Adobe ought to fix.


Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 has plenty of quirks and features that Adobe should deal with, and I'm not happy with the background processes that run every time Windows boots. But Photoshop Elements is a very powerful tool, and very useful to the home photographer. Organizer keeps images nicely grouped in several different ways, and Editor allows old photos to be smartened up. Recommended for home users. Just don't waste time and money buying it from Adobe's webstore.