Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 & Premiere Elements 4
by: Howard Carson, December 2007
Requires: Photoshop Elements 6 - Intel Pentium 4, Pentium M, or Intel Centrino 1.3GHz (or compatible) processor; Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista, 256MB of RAM (512MB recommended), 1.5GB of available hard drive space; Web features require Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, Netscape Navigator 7.0, or Mozilla Firefox 1.5. Adobe Premiere Elements - Intel Pentium 4 or Celeron 1.7GHz (or compatible) processor; Pentium 4 3GHz processor required for HD or Blu-ray; Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista, 1GB of RAM (2GB required for HD or Blu-ray), 4.5GB of available hard drive space, 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 or DV camcorder, or a USB2 interface to connect a DV-via-USB-compatible DV camcorder (other video devices supported via the Media Downloader)
MSRP: US$149.99 (upgrade available at $119.99)
What would you do if you found out that you could get all of the power of the marvelous ACDSee Pro Photo Manager, Picasa, irfanView, the late/lamented SendPhotos, ProShow Gold, Adobe Photoshop CS3 (except for the high-end color separation, digital press and professional color processing tools and modules), Adobe Premiere CS (except for the high-end professional compositing, motion control and animation tools), Corel PaintShop Pro, Adobe Lightroom, ULead VideoStudio, Pinnacle Studio, and about half a dozen other digital photo and digital video programs all rolled into a single package? When we last looked, Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 bundled with Adobe Premier Elements 2 was almost the way to go for anyone interested in a well-established, well-supported pair of products capable of answering an essentially complete range of digital photography and digital video editing, organizing, printing, producing, publishing and creative needs. Adobe has taken the logical next step and released the Photoshop Elements 6/Premiere Elements 4 package. All of the original and more? That's what we wanted to find out.
Photoshop Elements 6
The program consists of two main workspaces, the Organizer and the Editor. You can switch between them using a mouse click or a keyboard shortcut. There are two further subcategories or general workspaces within the program to create various digital photo projects (slide shows, calendars, cards, etc.), and to share your photos via email, send to photo printing services, and upload to photo sharing web sites.
Use the Organizer to get, import and otherwise intake digital photos from any source including digital cameras of all kinds, storage media including CDs and DVDs, portable hard drives, USB keys, and networked computers. Files can be tagged, named, rated, sorted, described and categorized, deleted and moved around. Photoshop Elements 6 is fully compliant with IPTC tagging which means that any of your photo files can be properly submitted to stock photo sites, newspapers, magazines and other professional hard copy and online publications. The Organizer is powerful and provides comprehensive search features, automatic database backups and a rating system that we like a lot. If you haven't heard anything about ratings systems before, it's actually a feature which appears in every decent photo and digital media asset organization program. You literally have a simple selection feature to rate each one of your photos or each folder of photos with a quality indication. In any case, the Organizer can search, sort and display thumbnails or full resolution images according to a wide range of criteria including quality, date, time, subject matter (if you've provided appropriate keywords for each of your photos) and so on. The Photoshop Elements 6 Organizer is powerful and fast. We imported 12,360 photos into the Organizer database in about two hours. All of the files had been previously tagged (EXIF, IPTC, Custom and Rating) using ACDSee Pro Photo Manager 8. All of the EXIF (camera, settings, lens type, exposure, file name, date, etc.) and IPTC data (owner, copyright, date, time, origin, keywords, captions, transmission reference, etc.) and some of the database information (search keywords, captions, descriptions) were detected and properly imported by the Organizer. But most of our ACDSee tags and ratings showed up below the main tag area in the Organizer under Imported Tags.
| |Use the Editor to do almost everything else. One of our favorite (improved) features is Photomerge. Previously limited to creating horizontal panoramas, Photoshop Elements 6 now offers more panorama types, a Group Shop and face recognition functions which help detect and move people from one photo to another (so you can replace Uncle Joe mugging for the camera with Uncle Joe smiling for the camera), and Faces (which additionally provides smart tools for moving facial features — noses, moustaches, eyes, and so on — from one photo to another). The list of strengths in Photoshop Elements 6 goes on and on. The new Quick Selection tool is amazingly accurate, really easy to use and should prove to be a favorite even for people who previously learned to hate the Magic Wand, lasso and other traditional Photoshop Elements selection tools. It appears as though some of the intuitive and powerful image adjustment controls have been lifted from Adobe Lightroom, definitely an improvement. What else is there? The list is long — really long. If you can think of something to do with a photo or some portion or area of a photo — anything at all — chances are there's a function and control or tool in Photoshop Elements 6 to help you do it quickly and easily. Another new favorite is the Web publishing function which helps you select and layout photos in HTML format for uploading to a web site. There are a couple of dozen templates which make it easier than ever to asesmble, caption and create your own photo galleries online.
No matter how you use Photoshop Elements 6 and no matter what your level of technical knowledge or creative skill, the best thing new or relatively new users can do is to read the brief booklet supplied with the software. Then go out and get a good third-party tutorial book. Adobe provides a substantial online help system built into the software, but it doesn't contain any step-by-step tutorials to successively walk you through the main areas and tools in the software.
Premiere Elements 4
The horror that is video editing on the PC and Mac desktop becomes somewhat less scary when using Premiere Elements 4. Issues with incompatible codecs (the little compression/decompression filters which video editing and video display software use to create and interpret video file formats) exist with Premiere Elements 4 as they do with all other video editing and production software on the market (including the professional products). However, Premiere Elements 4 has advanced to the point where it no longer presents many of the problems which plagued its earlier versions. As a matter of fact, we rather enjoyed using Premiere Elements 4 during the review period, so much so that I've become a bit of a convert.
First things first. In the Adobe Photoshop Elements 6/Premiere Elements 4 retail box you will find a detailed Premiere Elements 4 product manual. Read it. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you don't read it, you will make mistakes. Video editing software, unless its unimpressively simple, requires knowledge of at least a bit of video editing jargon, terminology and workflow concepts. That's not to say that Premiere Elements 4 presents some enormous mountain to climb. On the contrary, the software is easier to use than ever before, but you have to read the manual.
Premiere Elements 4 has all the video editing and production power anyone could possibly want short of a professional editing suite. We liked the overall stability of Premiere Elements 4, which did not crash or freeze during several hours of daily testing and use throughout the three week review period. Multi-track audio editing, beat detection (a feature which detects musical rhythm in a song clip in order to automatically fade and finish the clip at the end of a scene), and audio rendering quality left us impressed even when using computers with on-board audio of questionable quality to begin with. Color us happy.
Make note that you should also buy one of the excellent tutorial books to accompany your first few uses of each program. It would be a crying shame to let the software go unused simply for want of some tutorial. Two of the five people who worked with Photoshop Elements 6 and Premiere Elements 4 during the review period complained that the new lower contrast user interface colors and buttons in both programs sometimes make it more difficult to quickly identify controls, tool and button labels. So the old rule about avoiding excessive amounts of white text on a dark background holds true now as always. Stare at the user interface for a while (which is inevitable during product use) then experience eyestrain when you look away. Young eyes may not react too negatively, but it seems obvious that Adobe didn't ask anyone older than 40 to test the product. We tried Photoshop Elements 6 and Premiere Elements 4 on a Pentium 4/2.8GHz PC with 2GB of DDR RAM, an nVidia GeForce 7600 GS video with 256MB of memory under Windows Vista Ultimate. It wasn't a match made in heaven unfortunately because both programs ran s-l-o-w-l-y. However, a Windows Vista Ultimate PC running an Intel 6600 Core2Duo CPU, 2GB of DDR2 system RAM and an nVidia GeForce 8500 GT/256MB video card was downright snappy, allowing both programs to blast along doing everything at breakneck speeds. A Windows Vista Home Premium system with a Core2 Quad processor, 3GB of RAM and the same video card ran very fast indeed and rendered our 5-10 minute video productions in less time than it takes to describe the process. Very satisfying.
Cons: Photoshop Elements 6 — The vast and easily accessible power in Photoshop Elements is not always as intuitive as it should be. No context sensitive help. No printed manual - just a somewhat superfluous 16-page booklet containing only a broad overview of the software. The Straighten Tool operates counter-intuitively, so drawing a guideline at a slight downward angle from left to right causes the image in the workspace to be rotated an appropriate amount counterclockwise rather than clockwise. That may be correctly subtractive, but this tool works exactly opposite to the way the same tool works in other products. Similarly, the separate Hue and Temperature sliders in the Quick Fix dialog do not operate independently. The problem is simply that if you want to use the Quick Fix controls to do some fully manual quick fixes, you can't. Photoshop Elements 6 clearly has all of the power needed for fully manual editing on hand, but the occasionally daunting interface will leave some people quite cold. Control sliders don't retain their settings, so as soon as a setting has been applied, the controls return to their neutral positions, and because there's no accompanying setting readout, it's impossible to know exactly what the original change consisted of without writing it down immediately after making any adjustment. This is poor user interface design indeed for a product aimed at home users and amateurs. Adobe should lead the way by collaborating with Nik Software and ACD Systems, among others, to create a standardized digital media asset rating system. We could not import a catalog (photo database) created with Photoshop Elements 4. We checked Adobe's Photoshop Elements online forum and it appears this compatibility issue is widespread. Unlike previous versions of Photoshop Elements, you can't print your own calendars in version 6. Instead you have to send them to an online printing service for a fee. Powerful it is, but new users should also purchase one of the many excellent Photoshop Elements 6 tutorial books available in most big bookstores.
Premiere Elements 4 — Rendering speeds always depend on raw processing power, fast RAM and a fast hard drive. If you're not already running at least an intermediate class of Intel Core2Duo processor and 2GB of RAM, then you're not really ready for a pleasant and creative video editing experience with Premiere Elements 4. Core2 Quad processors and additional RAM work even better. This is not strictly a Premiere Elements 4 issue because video editing is inherently processor and RAM-intensive. Digital video editing and production is inherently unintuitive largely because the craft and techniques have evolved from programmers, videographers, engineers and many other talented people who remain very difficult to understand because none of them use a normal vocabulary. The consequence is simply that video editing software, much more so than photo editing software, has incorporated its very own unique and obscure set of creative concepts. What's a timeline? What's a sceneline? Why don't all the items you're currently using in the Organizer area automatically appear in the Project area? Why, after adding a clip using Get Media, does that clip replace everything in Organizer until you click Show All? Just more reasons why it's important to read the manual or buy a third-party book on Premiere Elements 4 and do a tutorial or two. Once you get the hang of it, life is good again. Several features did not work as expected. For example, dragging a clip from the Organizer to the Stop Motion window resulted in nothing at all and we tried a variety of clips in different formats to no avail. However, as soon as we plugged in a capture device (our Sony HD cam), clip capture as well as drag & drop from the Organizer worked perfectly in the Stop Motion dialog. We were unable to trace the cause for occasionally jerky preview playback, although we have to also note that no such problems were rendered or otherwise appeared in any productions. Logical workflow is not apparent to new users until they've read some of the workspace descriptions in the printed manual. The printed manual, monstrous in size compared to the little Photoshop Elements 6 booklet, does not contain a step-by-step tutorial to help guide new users through the software. No context sensitive online help.
Pros: We reserve a high recommendation for each product and for the bundle in particular which provides so much power at such a reasonable price that it becomes somewhat easier to forgive the lack of tutorials. Photoshop Elements 6 and Premiere Elements 4 are a pair of home, amateur, business, office and even pro-ish software products which clearly meet the needs of millions of digital photo and digital video enthusiasts. After poking at Premiere Elements 4 during a couple of idle hours one day, a couple of basic workflow concepts sunk in and I found myself looking forward to working on a some video projects I'd been planning for some time. Premiere Elements 4 made it easy to put everything together - video clips, music backgrounds, transitions, special effects, some travelogue-style narration and so on. Photoshop Elements 6 was another story altogether, and a much easier one for sure. I've been using Photoshop in one form or another for twelve years, so this version holds few secrets for me. What I continue to be amazed at however is the fact that Photoshop Elements 6 provides an enormous percentage of the full Photoshop CS3 professional product, but at a small fraction of the price of the professional software. Tutorials and context sensitive help or not, Photoshop Elements 6 is a bargain. RAW digital photo file handling in all formats (Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Contax, Leica, Sony, etc., etc.) is superb. The Organizer is built-in, so use it and finally put all your thousands of digital media files in searchable form (it won't take as long as you think, and in the process you'll end up deleting all sorts of useless photos that you should have dumped the same day you shot them). Huge assortment of excellent filters and special effects. Highly refined sharpening tools in Photoshop Elements 6. For now and for the foreseeable future Adobe owns these product spaces. Highly recommended.