Back in October, Adobe brought out its latest versions of Premiere Elements for video editing and Photoshop Elements for image editing.
Although these programs are often described as “entry level” editors or lite versions of their professional level big brothers, Photoshop CS4 and Premiere Pro CS4, both editors still pack a powerful array of editing features. Photoshop and Premiere Elements regularly walk away with critics' awards and plaudits for Best Consumer Editing software, but these are really programs aimed at the serious amateur or a tech-minded, small business user. I'd be wary of recommending them for beginners.
This latest edition of Premiere Elements, version 8, aims to build on what was already an impressive tool kit in version 7 with its well-planned editing interface, a pile of special effects, transitions, good keyframe controls, and nifty features such as stop motion capture and Smartsound soundtrack creation, all at a much lower price than the pro versions.
Time to organise
The most obvious change in APE 8 is that there is now a separate media organizer app for managing both videos and photos. You can still manage and import footage from within APE itself but if you just want to sort stuff out, like tagging, naming, giving media a rating out of five, then the Organizer is the place to do it.
Toggling between a calendar view and a media browser view you can use a slider to peruse your files as thumbnails and quickly zoom in on an individual, or a handful of files at once, filtering images and clips by tag or by media type.
Having selected the clips you can drag and drop files straight into the Photoshop or Premiere Elements Editor.
I'm glad to see that the calendar timeline feature is still in the Organizer: switch this on while in media view (control L) for a chronological bar chart across the top of the screen indicating number of files by date. If you're like me, you'll discover images that you forgot you ever took.
As in the previous version, you can also still quickly batch process images for slideshows and the web in different resolutions and file types – a nice feature for firing images off to friends and family.
So far so good.
Where the program falls down is in promising too much. Having mostly got the fundamentals of editing stuff down APE 8 tries to go further by adding lots of automated features that sound good but in practice fall short.
The word “smart” crops up a lot in the new APE. Unfortunately, I haven't found these are the great time-savers they are heralded to be. In fact, I've learned to be careful when using any feature with the word “Smart” in front of it.
Within the Elements Organizer itself you can do some quick and dirty edits with the Auto Smart Fix and Auto Red Eye features. Like much of the smart features these are hit and miss – for example, in a night photo Smart fix didn't like the deep blacks and overcompensated by creating a lower contrast, lighter image that was full of too much grain for my liking.
Arguably that's a subjective matter, but the inaccuracies were more clear cut in the new People Recognition feature where APE tries to learn what peoples' faces in photographs look like but ends up missing people and finding faces where there aren't any.
It's also a slow process, requiring you to type in a name for a person again and again. It's much easier just to highlight a group of photos in PRE and drag the tag onto the images, particularly since portrait photographs can be difficult for even the human eye to judge. For example, the face recognition feature didn't find out-of-focus faces and mistook foliage and a shop front for a human face.
Underpinning these smart features in Premiere Elements 8 is an engine that scans and analyses individual media called the Auto-Analyzer. By default, it runs in the background logging your media clips according to whether they are in focus, they are high quality, the shot is long or close, how many faces are in shot, and so on.
APE then uses these “smart tags” to automatically “fix” or edit your footage when you drop it on the timeline. In my experience, the autofix works best with audio mixing, where the soundtrack is automatically lowered whenever dialogue kicks in.
The visual side is not convincing. Like my night photograph I mentioned earlier the quality of the automated results is a subjective affair and the usefulness of the feature is bound to vary from project to project. But with footage of a fast-moving bicycle polo tournament the program seemed confused and the autofixes it came up with involved zooming in and out unnecessarily on already fast-moving action and suggesting I delete some of my favourite shots.
I can see the tags being more accurate in a less dynamic, more controlled situation. And you can adjust the amount of changes that the Auto-Analyzer recommends. You also don't have to accept its suggestions.
The Auto-Analyzer is also key to APE's “Instant Movie” feature where you select a series of clips, click an instant movie template for the editing style (“Extreme Sports”, “Wedding”, etc.) and leave APE to do the work.
These are kind of fun the first time you use them, but the edit decisions are all over the place (the Auto-Analyzer is not strong on telling stories yet).
Again you can adjust the speed of the cuts and the intensity of transitions and effects. You can also choose to perform the edits on specific clips rather than the whole movie, so you might just have a section of your video where you use the canned pizzazz of Instant Movie and edit your clip manually around it.
One of the new automated features which I was looking forward to trying was the Motion Tracker where you draw a box around an object on the screen and then attach a graphic or text to your chosen object so that it follows it around the screen. Adobe provides some fun clipart graphics – some of which are automated – like birds and butterflies flying. However, I frequently had problems locking in on the object that I wanted to track. Fortunately, you can accomplish the same effect by entering keyframes by hand.
Slow on the uptake
The shortcomings of these “smart” features (some of which, incidentally, are featured in Adobe's Premiere Elements 8 video tutorials) wouldn't be such an issue if APE 8 wasn't so slow and, in my experience, less stabile than the previous version.
The 3 Ghz processor and 2 GB of memory of my test computer, is well within the Premiere Elements “system requirements” for DV editing. For Windows XP, which I was using, this is a 2 Ghz processor and 512 MB RAM (HD editing requires significantly more resources).
APE 8 takes around three minutes on my system just to open and load after the initial Welcome screen and it crashed frequently. It was less sluggish when I turned Auto-Analyzer off. But this is not good and judging from the comments I've read while trying to resolve these issues there's quite a few people experiencing simliar sluggishness. I've never had these problems running Adobe Premiere Pro with Pro's media “organizer” Adobe Bridge on the same test computer.
Adobe has posted advice on troubleshooting freezes and errors and the Adobe Forums are full of tips for handling digital video playback playback problems and such like.
But I'm inclined to agree with prolific Adobe Forums poster Steve Grisetti that you need a powerful system to run this program comfortably. Grisetti writes: "I wouldn't try to run this program on anything less than a dual-core processor with 4 gigs of RAM and at least 30 gigs of free, defragmented hard drive space. Don't try to edit AVCHD on anything less than a quad core machine."
Both Premiere Elements and Photoshop Elements remain excellent editing tools and the addition of video support in the Organizer is welcome. However, the smart tool features are too hit and miss to be worthwhile. There's not sufficient improvements over previous versions to warrant an immediate upgrade. Above all, these are resource-hungry applications so newcomers to Elements, particularly Premiere Elements, should check that your computer is up to snuff before buying version 8.
Adobe Premiere Elements 8 System Requirements
- 2GHz processor with SSE2 support; 3GHz processor required for HDV or Blu-ray; dual-core processor required for AVCHD
- Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 2, Windows Media Center, Windows Vista®, or Windows 7
- For Windows XP: 512MB of RAM (2GB required for HD editing, including HDV, AVCHD, or Blu-ray)
- For Windows Vista and Windows 7: 1GB of RAM (2GB required for HD editing, including 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 DV-via-USB compatible DV camcorder (other video devices supported via the Media Downloader)
- QuickTime 7 software
Adobe Premiere Elements supported import/export formats include:
ASF (import only), AVI, AVCHD (import only), SWF (import only), Blu-ray Disc (export only), DV, DVD, Dolby® 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), and 3GP.
Import/export of some formats, including AVCHD, DVD, Blu-ray, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and H.264, may require activation or download of components via an Internet connection. Activation or download is fast, easy, and free. Import/export of 3GP, 3GP2, MOV, MPEG-4, and QuickTime requires QuickTime software.