In the right hands, there are few video and photo editing tasks that Adobe Premiere and Adobe Photoshop can't handle. Still, one of the frequent complaints that you hear from inexperienced users is that there is just too much to take on board in these heavyweight packages.
If the steep learning curve isn't enough to deter even the dedicated hobbyist, there's also the not inconsiderable price tag.
This is where the Adobe "Elements" line of software comes in. Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 and Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 for PC come together separately or as a bundle (check prices at Amazon: U.K., U.S., Canada). As the titles suggest they are boiled-down, more affordable software packages than their big brothers. Elements is aimed at home users who want to create DVDs, slideshows, web video and other presentations that go beyond basic edits, but without the steep learning curve of Premiere Pro and Photoshop CS.
Video editing for the masses
This may be the lite version of Adobe Premiere Pro, but it still offers a solid set of features in terms of its editing tools, video and audio effects, transitions and keyframe controls.
You can do everything you need from importing video to outputting compositions, whether it be to DVD, streaming Windows Media file for broadband users, or emailing to a friend's phone.
As with other video and motion graphics software you can use keyframes to manually control how a clip changes over time, for example, if you want to fade in one clip or a title over another clip. Or you can just click a button to create a standard fade-in or fade-out on your selected video or audio clip. Adobe includes a number of presets for repetitive jobs (like fades, rotation) and you can create your own customised presets.
Controls for changing the look of each video clip (brightness, contrast, hue and saturation) come as standard. For example, you add a keyframe specifying how you want the start of the clip to look, then set a keyframe at the end of the clip with different settings and Premiere Elements will smoothly interpolate how your clip looks over time. You can also scale your video up or decrease it in size, say for example you want to nest one video clip in another (see Herlock Scones).
The audio controls are as not extensive as they could be - Elements lacks an audio mixer - but adequate at this level and compensated in large part by a good range of visual effects. These include colour balance, keying (for greenscreen effects) and a variety of filters for changing the texture and look of your image. For example, you might drag and drop the shadow/highlights filter onto your clip to bring out some detail in footage that appears too dark, or create a mirror effect or add a blurring effect.
Some filters have more controls than others. For example, a filter for creating lightning effects has a complex set of parametres for changing the look of your lightning streak (number of arms, start point of the streak, colour, etc.). On the other hand, with the replicate filter you just plug in a number for the amount of rows that you want your clip to appear and your clip replicates from one to multiple scaled down versions of your video in the same window.
Even in this slimmed down version of Premiere Pro, there's a lot here, and it needs some serious computer power (Pentium 4 with plenty of RAM). It also needs yards of workspace.
The interface for Adobe Elements is reassuringly similar to Adobe Premiere Pro, but here the design revolves around four workspace settings which you can click between using obvious icons at the top of the screen.
Each workspace mirrors the different stages in the workflow. So you start in the Capture workspace, basically a big screen with record, stop and a few other buttons, importing footage, via firewire, USB2, or video card. You can do this manually or using scene detect. With scene detect Elements automatically creates a new file everytime it detects a break in the footage where you stopped recording. It's a useful feature if you are feeling lazy. You can see the media files stack up in the Media window, which runs the length of the lefthand side of the screen.
In the Edit window, a smaller monitor window is in the centre of the screen, with a Timeline along the bottom of the screen for dropping your footage onto, and collapsible panels to the left and right. These are your media library, effects library, clip properties box, and a history window where you can retrace your footsteps and undo edits if needs be. If you choose to close off any panels, the other panels automatically expand into fill the available space.
The monitor window doubles as both viewer for working on individual clips and also for viewing the timeline edit. You can either set the start and end of each clip in the monitor window and then drag it onto the timeline or you can drag the whole clip straight onto the timeline from your media window and hone it down by dragging the ends of the clip into place.
You can also use the razor tool on the timeline for cutting a clip in two. You can preview your composition by dragging a slider along the timeline, or press the spacebar to play the timeline content starting from the slider.
If outputting to DVD, adding chapter markers is a simple matter of right clicking in the relevant space along the timeline.
As with Premiere Pro you can create a new Photoshop file from within the media window, that conforms with your project. Here the file opens in Photoshop Elements editor, where you can work on it and the changes are reflected back in Premiere Elements. Make sure that your computer is well stacked with memory though. You might find the computer gets sluggish if working with both programs open with only the suggested 256MB of RAM.
You can import files off removable devices like phones, cameras, DVD players, and import video files off your hard drive. I was impressed that Elements managed to recognise my (MJPEG format) AVIs, shot with a Canon Powershot still camera, without complaint. I haven't got Premiere Pro do this yet.
Premiere Elements 2.0 didn't do so well with the mp4 videos that I shot with a mobile phone, and which I tried to import off my hard drive. These play fine in QuickTime on my computer, but Elements didn't recognise the file type, even though it is listed as a supported file (Adobe's web site says you need QuickTime 6 or higher). Thoughts on this welcome on the boards.
The third workspace allows you to do some nifty titling work. Some templates are thrown in for good measure, or you can choose to write formatted text over existing frames. Here, as you will find in the monitor window, it pays to have the Safe Margins turned on to ensure that your titles don't slide off the screen when you play them back on a television.
When creating titles, you can choose to have your text roll or crawl across the screen. You can also add a video transition, like a wipe or dissolve, to a title file after dropping it on the timeline, for added dynamism.
My Herlock Scones clip begins with an Elements template (I had to shrink the opening clip of Dr Watson to fit more neatly into the window). The clip includes a few examples of titles that have been animated using video transitions.
Output to DVD
Finally, once you are ready to output your work you can click on the DVD icon to create some snazzy DVD menus in the fourth workspace. Again, there are some templates to get you started and you can create your own DVD look with photos off your hard drive and by formating text in your preferred style.
Then it's just a matter of previewing using Elements handy DVD preview feature. If you are doing more complicated productions then you might want a DVD error checker such as the one that Adobe Encore carries, but here the assumption is that you're not going to be doing anything too demanding and a preview should be sufficient.
As well as DVD output, you can also export your final edit to a number of video file types, including MPEG, QuickTime and Windows Media (see end for full i/o formats support for Premiere Elements).
The workspace design is an effective way of avoiding clutter. Elements does come with good support for hot keys and hot key customisation which means that you won't need any of those big toyland icons once you find your way around. The only problem is that there doesn't appear to be a way of turning off or even minimising the icon toolbar.
In that respect, the interface is a little inflexible, but you can expand, collapse, remove or redock your other panels, something which was not immediately obvious to me, but is simple once you know how. It's probably wise to have a video editor that doesn't reshape itself every time another family member plays with it, and in some households the Restore Workspace to the default setting will be a relationship-saver.
You can buy Premiere Elements 2.0 separately or you can get it as a bundle with Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0. Both programs have the same "Elements" feel to them, with similar styled icons to move between workspaces - here organising, editing, and outputting ("Create") modes.
The Organiser in Photoshop Elements builds on XP's native thumbnail browsing support nicely. An excellent feature is the timeline across the top which offers a quick reference with shaded bar charts indicating how many photographs you have taken each month. It uses the dates recorded by your camera (i.e. no need to organise your photos into day-by-day folders yourself).
Click on a bar and the photos and thumbnails for that month are displayed. In Date View, days where you took a photo are highlighted on a calendar. Click on a date and you can browse all the photos for that day. You have an instant photo journal.
If you take the time to tag your photos by subject (e.g. "my cat"), you can click on the subject link in the menu to quickly reference all images with that tag.
Rather than switch, as in Premiere Elements, between different workspaces in the same window, PE opens up the editor in a new window, so it's essentially like having two programs running concurrently.
The image editor in Photoshop Elements has two modes Quick Fix and Standard Edit. As with Premiere Elements, Adobe has anticipated the most repetitive jobs like removing red eye or bringing out subject matter in the shadows, which as the name suggests can be done in Quick Fix edit mode. If Photoshop Elements doesn't fix the problem with one click, a slider is to hand to apply the effect with more strength. As with any "cleaning" filter you want to be wary of using too much force otherwise you may inadvertently add unsightly artefacting to your photo. When you save your edits in Photoshop Elements, it creates a new file in Adobe's PSD format, in the same folder by default.
If you plan on creating some custom DVD backgrounds or title cards for your Premiere Elements project then you are likely to be working in the Standard Edit mode. This may be Photoshop lite, but like its video-editing cousin, Photoshop Elements is still very well-equipped with filters and tools for manipulating the photographs and adding funny things like speech bubbles - too many to go into here.
From the organiser in Photoshop Elements, you can select a bunch of photographs and choose to "Send to Premiere Elements" which will automatically add your photos to the end of the timeline in Premiere Elements composition, with a transition between them.
You might also want to burn the images to DVD with menu, export to PDF, create a slideshow (with your own narration), a web gallery or print cards or calendars. Photoshop Elements has these bases covered too in its "Create" workspace.
They may not be industrial strength, but these two packages are feature-rich and well thought out. Serious video and photo editors will find some features lacking, but these are great tools for family use, if your computer is up to the job.
If you've got this far into the article then you might want to check out Adobe's tryout software for Premiere Elements 2.0 and Photoshop Elements. You can buy Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 Plus Premiere Elements 2.0 online at Amazon: U.K., U.S., Canada.
System requirements Intel Pentium 4, M, D, or Extreme Edition or AMD Opteron or Athlon 64 (SSE2 support required); XP Professional, Home Edition, or Media Center Edition with Service Pack 2; 256MB of RAM; 4GB hard-disk space; DVD-ROM drive (compatible DVD burner required to burn DVDs); 1,024x768 16-bit XGA display; Microsoft DirectX 9 compatible sound and display drivers; DV/i.LINK/FireWire/IEEE 1394 interface to connect a Digital 8 or DV camcorder, or a USB2 interface to connect a DV-via-USB-compatible DV camcorder (other video devices supported via the Media Downloader)
i/o formats supported MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DV, AVI, Windows Media, QuickTime, JVC Everio MOD (import only), 3GP (import only), ASF (import only), WAV, WMA (import only), Dolby Digital Stereo, PSD (import only), JPEG, PNG (import only), DVD.