Adobe's consumer video editing package Premiere Elements 3.0 builds on the strengths of its previous version with an even less cluttered interface to make the workspace less intimidating for the casual editor and relatively sophisticated tools tucked away for those who want to spend more time manipulating their video.
The slightly simplified interface now revolves around two tabbed workspaces positioned along the top to "Edit Movie" and "Create DVD."
The Timeline window, where you lay out the clips, runs horizontally across the bottom, with a Monitor/preview window at the centre of the screen and in the default layout the Media panel and file properties window to the left and the right of this window.
The two workspaces are easily customised by dragging and dropping your panels into place, for example, to make better use of two monitors if you have them. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a way to save custom workspaces, although Premiere Elements does remember your last settings.
A video camera icon at the top opens a drop down menu for importing media from DV or HDV cameras, devices like mobile phones and webcams through USB2.0 - and, for those who have the bundled version - Adobe Photoshop Elements.
A second, clapper board button offers a drop-down menu for exporting to tape, DVD and a variety of file types including QuickTime, Windows Media, MPEG, Flash video, iPod, mobile 3GP, and PSP (as H.264 files). An "internet" button leads off to the "Idea Gallery" on Adobe's web site with brief tutorials.
Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 uses the now familiar stretchy interface, where all the windows readjust automatically to fill the screen, with a Media window that slides elegantly open and closed when you need it.
When working in the Edit Movie workspace, the Media Window offers a choice of four views which you toggle: one, for organising your various media files (video, audio, still images); a second for your audio and video effects and transitions; a third offers an array of titling templates, and there's another "Get Media" menu, which appears to duplicate the job of the button at the top of the workspace.
The Media Window in the "Create DVD" workspace is similar with a set of DVD templates to get you started. These templates come with play movie and scene indexes menus (some with background audio) for a variety of family, social or holiday occasions (e.g. kiddy styled graphics for that new baby DVD or a simple snowflake design for a christmas DVD). The DVD output module is fairly basic and linear, but you can output multiple movies by lining them up on one Timeline. Elements will automatically generate acts and scene points for you which you can then easily adjust and label. You can also preview the DVD before burning.
Timeline and Sceneline
While most people will probably make do with 2 or 3 tracks for their video and audio compositions, The Timeline on Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 supports up to 99 audio and 99 video tracks.
A new button allows you to toggle the Timeline to a Sceneline, where you can organise your clips lined as big icons across the screen in a storyboard or slideshow style. It's awkward to do the nitty gritty edits in Sceneline mode, but you can trim video clips and add transitions easily by dragging and dropping tranisitions from the Media Window or simply right clicking via the Timeline and choosing a transition from the local menu.
As well as being able to add DVD scenes along the Timeline, you can now also import slideshows from Photoshop Elements and record a narration through the Timeline.
As part of the simplification of the interface buttons are bigger and bolder and there seems to be fewer of them. Some of the changes seems like shifting the furniture - for example, the razor tool button on the Timeline has gone and been exchanged for a Split Clip button (a scissors icon) on the Monitor. Maybe people didn't know what the razor was for? Fortunately, if you prefer doing your edits directly via the Timeline, you can still access the razor tool when editing by hitting the hotkey - the letter C. As in the past, both Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 include keyboard shortcuts and you can add your own keyboard shortcuts.
When capturing video you can capture straight to the Timeline (the default setting) if you are simply trimming and deleting clips, but want to keep them in chronological order. You can turn this feature off to capture straight to the Media window, if, say, you wanted to mix up the footage. Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 still includes Scene Detect, which automatically generates a new clip for each break in the video as you import the footage.
For me, the standout feature of Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 is the stop motion capture facility. You don't need to be the next Wallace and Gromit claymation supremo to appreciate the power of this time lapse tool. It's easy to use for capturing a changing skyline, city traffic, a flower opening and closing or just recording your own animation.
Adobe must have learned there's a big demand for this feature ever since it disappeared in Adobe Premiere 6.0 and failed to surface even in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0.
In Elements 3.0 the stop motion button is a big and bold one in the Capture window. To create your stop motion video, you attach camera to computer, turn camera on, choose Stop Motion mode in the Elements capture window. Then you set the frequency and the duration of the image grab and you are ready to go.
I rounded up a few cuddly friends and in fifteen to twenty minutes was able to produce a not-so-serious clip after adding music (compiled in Adobe Audition) and a couple of Premiere Elements effects. See it here: Red Betty and the B-Boys (Windows Media broadband).
For this particular project, I did three captures of two and a half minutes in duration with a five second interval between each frame grab. Five seconds was sufficient to allow me to re-arrange my characters and get out of shot before the next frame grab. Occasionally, I paused the frame grab when one of my characters wasn't co-operating or I needed more time to choreograph the next frame. Elements has a customisable onion skin feature which shows you the movement of your composition as a series of overlapping, semi-transparent frames. It provides a good guide to the unfolding action.
With more time I might have added voices to the animals using the new narration tool on the Timeline. And if I really had a lot of time on my hands then I might have imported some of the frames into Photoshop Elements and removed my hand from the shot near the end of the clip using the clone tool. Actually, it would be quicker to do a second take.
Effects and transitions
Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 will come into its own for the serious home video hobbyist where the keyframe control is concerned. Every clip has its standard set of relatively sophisticated keyframe controls for adjusting brightness, contrast, hue and saturation over the duration of the clip. Likewise you can resize, move, spin, and adjust the opacity of video clips using keyframes.
These are the standard effects - you can also add other video effects to adjust for example the amount of blur on a clip over time or the co-ordinates of a crop, or a matte, if you are working with several layers of video.
The keyframes can be interpolated using a linear or less uniform bezier setting and you can adjust the positioning of the keyframes by dragging them along a timeline in the clip Properties window. Keyframes can really elevate a composition, so it's worth experimenting with.
Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 archive tool is particularly useful if a project starts to sprawl and you need to free up disc space. It doesn't give you as many options compared to the archive tool in Premiere Pro, but does a good job of breaking your media down to just those elements that you are using in the Timeline with 30 second handles at the beginning and end of each trimmed audio or video clip.
How to crash
The one issue I had was after adding audio to the Timeline it wasn't getting picked up in the real time preview when I played it back in the Timeline. The audio file had been added to the Timeline but was silent. This could relate to Windows XP downloading an automatic update when I was testing the software or the fact that my computer just needs a good spring clean.
The system I was testing on has more than enough power to handle Premiere's requirements - a Pentium 4 with a 3GHz processor and 2GB RAM - particularly since I was working with DV rather than more power-hungry HDV footage. In Premiere Elements preferences, I set up the non-system media hard drive on my computer with its 80GB of available space as my scratch disc for media previews and captured audio and video. When I tried editing clips at the same time as I was capturing them to the Timeline using scene detect (okay, so I was pushing it here) Elements crashed. The rest of the time the program was stable and dependable and I was unable to replicate the former problem when I tried.
If you want that raw video footage edited into something presentable for family and friends and to get it out there quickly, then this is the tool for you. If you are going to be using it again and again for more complex presentations then you should consider stepping up to Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 which allows greater control and customisation: from simple features like being able to lock in one of the audio or video tracks or creating custom workspaces to specialised work with masks and mattes.
Premiere Elements 3.0 is a great video editing program aimed at the home videomaker. There's an array of time saving tools and features, but what sets this apart from the crowd is unquestionably the stop motion facility, which combined with Premiere Elements support for webcams and other devices, stylish titling tool and effects, will allow people to create some eye-catching animated compositions in very little time and output to multiple platforms.
Pros: Stop motion frame capture, native HDV support, project archiver, stylish transitions, keyframe support for effects, titling and DVD templates, scene detect, extensive file format support, user-friendly interface for video editing newbies.
Cons: Requires powerful computer, no customisable workspace, no track lock, no surround sound support
Supported import/export formats include
MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, DV, AVI, Windows Media, QuickTime, JVC Everio MOD (import only), 3GP, ASF (import only), WAV, WMA (import only), Dolby Digital Stereo, PSD (import only), JPEG, PNG (import only), DVD
Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 comes separately or bundled with Premiere Elements 3.0. Adobe is nudging you in the direction of the bundle by offering close integration between the two software titles, although from a video editing point of view, you can probably do quite nicely with Premiere Elements alone.
Photoshop Elements 5.0 comes in two parts one for organising and sorting your images by tags and into collections and the other for editing individual images and publishing calendars, web galleries, greeting cards and, among other things, DVD covers.
All the tools in what is essentially Photoshop lite are at your disposal for cropping, creating gradients, painting and cloning with some added home editor features like speech bubbles, graphics, pre-designed frames and creature shapes, to make the experience more fun.
The obvious crossover with Premiere Elements will be for those who want to gather and prepare still images for slideshows within Photoshop Elements and then export them to Premiere Elements or perhaps for creating DVD menus or backgrounds.
You can create a Photoshop Elements file (PSD) while working in Premiere Elements that conforms with your Premiere Elements project settings, or go in the other direction by sending one or multiple photos straight from the Photoshop Elements Organizer to the Timeline in Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 for your slideshow.
Elements ensures that the photo fits correctly. The duration of the photo in the timeline is set to the default value.
You can also drag photos from the Photoshop Elements Organizer direct to the Media window in Premiere. Bear in mind that some file formats like RAW, TIFF and PDF are not supported in Premiere Elements.
As mentioned before you can edit individual frames from Premiere Elements in Photoshop Elements, although this kind of work gets very bitty.