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Photoshop Elements 6 & Premiere Elements 4
Review by David Em
Adobe CD-ROM  ISBN/ITEM#: B000UK8LI8
Date: 24 February 2008 List Price $149.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Adobe's $149 Photoshop and Premiere Elements bundle brings high-quality image and video editing tools to the masses.

The pro versions of Adobe's Photoshop and Premiere, now branded as Photoshop CS3 and Premiere CS3, are stuffed to the gills with highly specialized image and video editing capabilities. The CS3 apps will do just about anything imaginable to still or moving pictures, but they can be intimidating in their depth and complexity, even to working artists, photographers, and filmmakers.

Photoshop Elements 6 and Premiere Elements 4 are EZ versions of their world-class siblings, with their features retooled for regular human beings. However, the Elements versions aren't exactly dumbed-down or feature-poor versions of their more macho CS3 siblings. The Elements programs benefit from much CS3 under-the-hood code while addressing a different set of needs, and in a few ways they're actually more advanced.

THE INTERFACE

If you've used either of these programs before, the first thing you'll notice is the new interface design. Adobe's been working hard for several years to unify the interfaces across their broad line of products, with mixed results. Much of the Elements interface is likely a harbinger of what's to come in the next revision of their pro products.

There's a lot to like here. There are many similarities to Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom photo-editing software, which I consider the best interface in their entire lineup. As in Lightroom (and most serious video software), the interface backgrounds are now dark gray instead of light gray, which lets you see your images more accurately by reducing screen contrast.

The layout is also different from previous versions. Every window and palette has its own place, including the Toolbar, which in the CS3 version of Photoshop still floats around (driving me crazy). In another nod to Lightroom, you can collapse certain sidebars with a single click when you want to concentrate on the image or video you're working on. Some interface elements, such as icons, have been jazzed up with bright colors to appeal to the masses, but overall it's all laid out pretty well.

PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 6

One way to look at Photoshop Elements 6 is as Photoshop Lite; however Elements is oriented a little differently. Where Photoshop CS3 is the best program in the world for massaging pictures of any kind (it should really be called Imageshop), and Photoshop Lightroom is skewed toward serious photographers, Photoshop Elements falls somewhere in between the two.

Photoshop Elements takes advantage of a good many of Photoshop CS3's advanced features, including Panorama stitching and PhotoMerge, which uses pixel and pattern recognition to line up and composite the best features of multiple photographs taken in succession, such as the best facial expressions in a group shot.

Working with Photoshop Elements 6 requires switching between two sub-programs called Organize and Edit. Organize is very similar to Adobe Bridge CS3, an asset management tool that organizes images, video, animation, and sound files for all the CS3 apps, including Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, After Effects, and InDesign.

You can access your images in Organize by date via a handy timeline slider. Pictures appear as re-sizable thumbnails you can add metadata to including keyword tags and star ratings. You can also crop pictures and perform automatic color, contrast and sharpen corrections.

IMAGE EDITING

When you need to perform serious image adjustments, you switch over to Edit mode. The process of moving between Organize and Edit modes is sure to confuse new users. The program itself sometimes automatically switches between the two functions, an arrangement that could be more straightforward.

The Full Edit workspace is similar to the standard Photoshop CS3 environment with a window for the picture you're working on, and a Toolbar. There's also a Project Bin that displays the images you're currently working with.

The Edit menu bar is arranged differently from Photoshop CS3's but there's a lot of similar functionality, including image enhancement tools and effects filters. You can create text and shapes, tint pictures, heal blemishes, and much more.

While not nearly as deep as Photoshop CS3, Elements does let you work on images in layers (Lightroom does not). There's a good set of region selection tools including a lasso and CS3's excellent new draggable Quick Selection tool, plus good edge-refinement adjustment options for feathering and smoothing selections.

A nice feature for newbies is a Guided Edit mode that walks you through key functions, and a Quick Fix mode that lets you adjust shadows, lighting, saturation, and other image elements with sliders. You can perform batch Quick Fixes and save the rendered files with new names in a new folder.

IMAGE INPUT AND OUTPUT

Photoshop Elements creates a new file folder when it imports camera images, enabling the unorganized among us to become organized, and making searches by name or date a snap. With this scheme, it's actually difficult to lose pictures on a disk.

There are many output options, including all the usual image file formats, optimized images for web applications, as well as specialized outputs such as books, calendars, greeting cards, slide shows, Flash web galleries, and DVD jackets and labels.

PREMIERE ELEMENTS

I'm a big Premiere Pro fan. It's every bit as capable as Apple's industry-dominant Final Cut Pro, and improves on Final Cut by integrating nearly seamlessly with all of Adobe's CS3 tools including After Effects, Photoshop, and Soundbooth.

Premiere Elements 4 doesn't have all of the Pro CS3 version's bells and whistles, but it's got more than enough to fulfill most videographers' needs. Stripping the program down a bit for beginners isn't a bad idea anyway. Editing video's harder to wrap your head around than editing still imagery. To wit, the Premiere Elements manual is nearly two hundred pages long compared to a mere twenty pages for Photoshop Elements.

The minimum system requirements are greater too. Where Photoshop Elements will likely run on almost any machine, Premiere Elements flat out refuses to load on systems with less than 1.3 GHz of processing horsepower or some AMD Athlon processors, a serious issue for much of the target audience. On the plus side, the program's optimized for multi-core processors.

VIDEO EDITING

Premiere Elements is targeted at home users, but it's perfectly capable of producing professional results. Remember, most Hollywood movies and TV shows are nothing more than a series of hard cuts. The program supports standard and HD video resolutions, including 720p, 1080i and 1080p.

You can organize your production in Sceneline or Timeline views. With Sceneline you drag and drop clips into a sequence you can rearrange before committing them to the Timeline, as well as lay in titles, transitions, and effects. In Timeline view you fine-tune the length, timing and synchronization of your audio and video clips. You can have an unlimited number of video and audio tracks.

There are also specialized windows for effects, transitions, and other functions. The program comes with a very good titler and a nice array of audio functions including a capable audio mixer and adjustment tools for reverb, pitch, and volume.

Premiere Elements uses the same Organizer sub-program as Photoshop Elements. Asset management is very straightforward with options to alphabetize and organize by medium. There's a preview icon to preview content from the media content bin.

VIDEO OUTPUT

Premiere Elements 4 produces good solid output. You can burn your finished production to DVD or Blu-ray (extra horsepower required here) as well as Flash Video, DV AVI, MPEG, Windows Media, and QuickTime. You can also upload to YouTube directly in Flash (i.e. no conversion required on the YouTube side) and create files that will play on cell phones, iPods, Sony PSPs, and Microsoft's Zune.

CONCLUSION

While directed at amateurs and home users, both applications are perfectly capable of producing professional level output. Newcomers to image and video editing will find some aspects of these programs less than intuitive. On the other hand, I'd like to see Adobe issue a point release for their CS3 pro line with some of the interface advances in the Elements suite, especially for Photoshop.

Currently these programs are Windows-only, however a Mac version of Photoshop Elements 6 is in beta and should be on the shelves in a few weeks. At $149 list (I found it on Amazon for $119), the Photoshop and Premiere Elements bundle is a truly great deal. You can also buy the two programs individually for between fifty and a hundred bucks apiece. Recommended.

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