Adobe Premiere Elements and Photoshop Elements may be aimed at home-users but there's a ton of features and editing controls in both programs for those that have the time and inclination to investigate.
On first opening up Adobe Premiere Elements (PRE) and Photoshop Elements (PSE) you can see how these two programs are more consumer-orientated than their professional cousins Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere Pro. The interface for both Elements applications remains stripped-down and simplified, with the minimal amount of dialogue panels to deal with. There's obvious buttons for getting quickly at common tasks and the menus for getting into the detailed, nitty gritty editing are sometimes hidden away so discretely that you have to look hard to find them. But they're still there and there's plenty of scope for customisation and serious video manipulation.
When I last looked at Adobe Premiere Elements it was at version 3.0. There's been two other versions since then. This latest release should have been 5.0, but Adobe skipped forward to version 7.0. Since Photoshop Elements is often bundled with Premiere Elements it was deemed less confusing if the two programs had matching numbers.
This version had a familiar, somewhat slicker feel. The icons are less toytown, more utilitarian, and the three-window workspace with its Timeline window along the bottom of the screen, Monitor window, and a third tabbed window for organising footage, and editing and outputting clips, makes for a neat and undaunting workspace.
As always there's a period of familiarisation which I used to create a short clip with as many effects, transitions and keyframe elements as I could. PRE has a great collection of transitions and effects for a consumer software application, all categorised and searchable. The titling tools remain powerful too with a selection of text animation presets for getting a pro look to your work no matter how small the production.
The only drawback of having so much power is that even on a relatively powerful system (I'm using Windows XP with an Intel Pentium 4, 3GHz CPU, 2GB RAM) as I piled on the special effects and transitions the program began to get sluggish.
Needless to say you should aim for much more than the minimum system requirements that Adobe recommends (see end) as invariably there will be many more processes and programs competing for your computer's precious resources.
Claymation specialists and stop motion animators will be pleased to see when opening the capture window (F5 on the keyboard) PRE still does time lapse and with good controls. Adobe pulled this in the past from Premiere Pro.
Premiere Elements also now comes with a selection of Quicktracks which give movies a more professional soundtrack. These are not your standard plinky loops but royalty-free compositions with rich instrumentation. What's more they magically adjust in sync with whatever length you desire of it. You can specify the mood of the composition ("intense", "calm", "hot", and so on) and the instrumentation adjusts with a little less percussion here, a touch more strings there. Quite amazing, really.
Users of earlier versions of Premiere can get 10 Quicktracks from Smartsound for free and PRE 7.0 comes with 26 royalty-free tracks (metal, jazz, classical piano, classical guitar). Reflecting the general trend of integration with the web - from within PRE you can preview a store of over 1600 Quicktracks and if you like one buy it at $14.95 for pro quality and $6.95 for home quality.
On starting Premiere Elements 7 you are given the option of opening an existing project, a new project or making an Instant Movie. Instant Movie is the new quick 'n' dirty way of creating a new movie with any old bunch of footage.
PRE now uses tagging extensively as a way of organising and filtering footage within an Organizer that is a scaled down version of the one used in Photoshop Elements.
You can sort footage using your own custom tags or PRE's Smart Tags which automatically generate a variety of qualitative attributes, for each shot, based on the technical information PRE gleans from footage files.
Smart tags can accurately identify zooms, pans and tilts and whether the footage is, for example, "high contrast", "low contrast", "In Focus" or "shaky." It can even find footage based on the number of faces in a shot and whether a shot is a close-up. I wouldn't overrely on it - I thought it was a little harsh in judging some of my footage as "low quality" and "low contrast" - but it's a useful facility to refer to for a second opinion.
By way of testing PRE's new instant movie I chose one of my custom tags for "snow" and filtered it to show only video. I highlighted the handful of files and asked Elements to serve me up a movie using its "Extreme Sports" theme.
I couldn't work out why it took so long to render such short files until I saw the final result. Elements sliced and diced the footage to create something fast and furious with multiple edits, effects, motion graphics and rocking soundtrack. Some of the edit decisions didn't make that much sense, but the final result made me laugh and I'll be passing it on to family members.
Instant Movie is really a bit of light fun - most are designed for use with family events and footage of the kids - but there's also themes such as a black-and-white News Reel theme, a James Bond styled Secret Agent theme, and a Comic Book theme. PRE comes with 22 instant movie templates and more can be downloaded. If nothing else Instant Movies will have unwitting friends and family believing you've put lots of effort into the film, while PRE did all the work. That's unless you plan on fine-tuning the end result - not an easy job as the themed edits are complex.
Share your video
Outputting to DVD, Blu-ray and mobile devices (e.g. iPod, Creative zen, audio podcast) is handled through a wizard. I haven't had a chance to try all the options but it seemed straightforward.
Premiere Elements sharing workspace includes the option to upload to YouTube from within the program. Unfortunately, the default settings are pretty low.
Elements doesn't recognise the fact that YouTube now accepts HD widescreen video clips - the default setting which I couldn't change was Flash video up to 100MB. YouTube's uploader now accepts files up to a 1GB in size which it then compresses, creating a "high quality" version of the clip (by default YouTube shows users a lower resolution video with a link to the high resolution version).
Premiere Elements 7 came out too late to incorporate a preset for YouTube widescreen HD (announced 24 November) and there have been no updates when I last checked Adobe's site. There are no presets for any other videosharing sites either.
So when I uploaded a PAL DV 16:9 video through PRE it was a smooth process, but the video appears in YouTube's new widescreen player framed with a black band all the way around it. I managed to get round this problem by outputting a 16:9 AVI and then rendering that file as an mp4 file using MPEG Streamclip from Squared5.com (a free video editing program). The details are probably worth going into in a later article.
Adobe's decision to put the Help manuals online makes sense (with downloadable PDF) particularly as you can now search Elements user community sites as well from the same place. It helped me solve a problem where everytime I opened and closed my program some footage kept appearing on the Timeline as "Media Offline" when I could clearly see that it wasn't.
The Premiere Pro Wiki had a solution that worked. The contributor wrote: "I'm a developer on the Premiere team, and we are aware of this issue. Most of you have already figured out that changing the offending clip somehow and undoing your change gets around the "media offline" problem."
By selecting all the footage (control A), jogging it slightly and then undoing the edit (Control Z) the problem was solved, at least until I open and closed the program again.
Final thoughts on Premiere Elements
The ripple nature of the Timeline editing tool takes some getting used to and I missed some of functionality of Pro like being able to automate footage to the Timeline (where you batch add clips with a chosen transition), or being able to lock tracks to the Timeline so that they don't get cut in two when you insert new footage.
On the downside, PRE is a memory hog and crashed at times when I had too many other windows open.
PRE would also benefit from better integration with online video services - hopefully some new presets for YouTube are in the works.
That said, there's a lot to like about it.
I should mention that a notable upgrade in PRE 7 is support for AVCHD camcorders and much is made in this new edition also of Videomerge filter - which is a chromakey/green-screen type feature where you can remove a solid background colour from a shot and superimpose your subject on new footage. Good as this is (I used it extensively to create the layered effects in a minute-long video), I'm not sure why it isn't tucked away with other mattes and keying filters in the Effects dept.
The transitions, effects, and titling tools continue to be excellent for this level of video editor and are easy to get at through the search or browse menus. The support for hotkeys, the Project Archiver, and the elegant interface also ensure that this is generally an enjoyable editing experience.
Photoshop Elements 7.0
With both Elements 7 programs, Adobe is clearly trying to integrate its programs more closely with the web and online services. Unfortunately, its efforts thus far have been unimpressive.
PSE, in particular, is tied to Adobe's file sharing site at Photoshop.com. Photoshop.com is not only embedded into Elements, but the home screen in Photoshop Elements is an advertisement for its paid service.
However, Adobe say on Photoshop.com that its service is "available in the U.S. only." I was able to set up an account (and I'm not in the U.S.), although I'm not sure that the sharing aspects worked properly. One of my contacts said he didn't receive an invitation to my gallery.
What's more a free "Basic" Photoshop.com account comes with only 2 GB of storage space. It costs $50 to upgrade to a Photoshop.com "Plus" account with 20GB per year. So it's unlikely that you'll be uploading videos here as there are more affordable options out there for storage - HD on YouTube and similar sites is still free and you have the option of making your videos private or public.
The web services part of PSE is a weak spot and the embedded features in Elements are something of an irritant in what is an otherwise trusty program. For example, when I tried to create a greeting card with a photo I got a message saying that "the option I'd chosen is available exclusively to Plus members." Not good.
Fortunately, Photoshop.com has many competitors with which Elements should integrate well - for example you can upload from PSE to photosharing site Flickr.
One of PSE's strengths, its Organizer hasn't changed a great deal - although V7 has a useful text search which will trawl image tags, dates (in the right format) and file information. It works best if you have tagged and named your images. You can then view those images from the organiser and quickly roll them into a slide show, online albums, or output as prints.
You can also output to the PSE picture Editor where with the help of its templates and clip art collection you can create DVD and CD covers.
You can now make very quick fixes within the Organizer itself for common tasks such as adjusting the levels, colour or contrast, cropping images, or removing red eye. PRE does a pretty good job of automating these tasks, and if you need more control you can jump, as in the past, into the editing workspace. This requires starting up a separate Editor window - where you can choose from three levels of editing workspaces - "full", "quick fix", and "guided" which offers instructions for those who are new to the progam.
Among the new features in full edit mode is a smart brush which allows you to highlight elements of the image - the sky, somebody's face, somebody's teeth - and apply a filter to that part of the photo. For instance, you might choose to apply an effect to just a person in the photo or perhaps make surroundings black-and-white. As well as a huge selection of filters, and tools for manipulating photos this version includes photomerge where you can take two images from the same scene and morph them so that you have the best parts of both images in one. There is also a new filter for softening surfaces of images.
All in all, this is a useful tool for snappy photo editing, it's just a pity that Adobe haven't got their online integration worked out properly yet.
Buy Adobe Elements 7 online
Amazon carries PSE and PRE bundled or separately.
Supported formats in Adobe Premiere Elements 7
ASF (import only), AVI, AVCHD, SWF (import), Blu-ray Disc (export only), DV, DVD, DolbyÂ® Digital Stereo, H.264, HDV, JPEG, PNG (import only), PSD (import only), MOD and TOD (JVC Everio, import only), MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, MP3, WAV, QuickTime, Windows Media, WMA (import only), 3GP.
Import/export of some formats including AVCHD, DVD, Blu-ray, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, and Dolby Digital Stereo may require activation via an Internet connection. Activation is fast, easy, and free. Import/export of 3GP, 3GP2, MOV, MPEG-4, and QuickTime requires QuickTime software.
Minimum system requirements Adobe Premiere Elements 7
1.8GHz processor with SSE2 support; 3GHz processor required for HDV or Blu-ray; dual-core processor required for AVCHD
- For Windows XP: 512MB of RAM (2GB required for HDV, AVCHD, or Blu-ray)
- For Windows Vista: 1GB of RAM (2GB required for HDV, AVCHD, or Blu-ray)
- 4.5GB of available hard-disk space
- Color monitor with 16-bit color video card
- 1,024x768 monitor resolution at 96dpi or less
- Microsoft DirectX 9 or 10 compatible sound and display driver
- DVD-ROM drive (compatible DVD burner required to burn DVDs; compatible Blu-ray burner required to burn Blu-ray Discs)
- DV/i.LINK/FireWire/IEEE 1394 interface to connect a Digital 8 DV or HDV camcorder, or a USB2 interface to connect a DVvia-USB compatible DV camcorder (other video devices supported via the Media Downloader)
- QuickTime 7 software
Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2, Windows Media Center, or Windows Vista