Apple iMovie '11 review: Updated with 2013 comparisons

iMovie '11 has been on sale for nearly three years. We expect that Apple will update the home movie editing app before the end of the year. Just how much does iMovie '11 need an update? In this updated review we look at the competition to iMovie '11, and also discuss how the way people share video has changed. Should Apple's next iMovie version be more, or less, advanced than the current solution? 

When it launched in October 2010 was part of the £45 iLife '11 package, iMovie '11 then became available to purchase separately on the Mac App Store in January 2011 with a price of £10.49. Then at WWDC in June 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced a new iOS-native version of iMovie that supports many of the basic features of the Mac version of the software.

Nearly three years on Apple hasn't updated its home movie making software for Mac, beyond minor updates. The software is now at version 9.0.9, and judging from comments on the Mac App Store it's advisable not to install the latest update as people are complaining that the iMovie update is causing the app to crash.

At the time it was launched, there were a lot of new features in iMovie '11 that made quite a big splash. iMovie '11 added improved audio editing; 1080p HD output; One-Step effects such as instant replays; the ability to quickly cut together movie trailers; features for identifying when people appear in clips; correcting for rolling shutter side effects; the return of a traditional timeline using the new Single Row view; and the addition of Vimeo and Facebook upload options. Perhaps one of the biggest new features was Movie Trailers which helps amateurs pull clips together into short, trailer-style, movies.

However, the market has changed dramatically in the three years since the software launched. Social networking was already popular in 2010, but creating and sharing video has become easier than ever in the intervening years - even my 70-year old dad has uploaded video to YouTube. The popularity of Instagram (which added video to its photo sharing service in June) and Vine (the Twitter owned app that enables users to create and post short video clips) along with other video sharing services mean that video is a bigger part of our lives than ever.

Right now what maters to the vast majority of people, judging by the most popular video editing apps, is being able to share a six-second video clip, rather than investing time in editing a three minute video. In contrast, iMovie – both the Mac and the iOS versions - focuses on detailed editing rather than being able to edit and share quickly. 

Apple seems to have recognized that providing a dedicated app for editing photos on the iPad may be overkill for some - the iOS camera now includes built-in filters as well as simple editing tools. Could Apple provide similar, simple, editing features in the camera app for video recording with iOS 7? As yet it appears that the filter effects coming to iOS 7 are not available for video. 

Features other movie software have that iMovie doesn't

At the time of launch the main alternatives to iMovie were Apple's Final Cut Express, Adobe's Premiere Elements and Apple's Final Cut Pro. 

Final Cut Express 4.0 was launched in August 2008 and cost £125, it was a consumer version of Final Cut Pro. However Apple discontinued it in June 2011 when Final Cut Pro X launched (described by some at the time as iMovie Pro). Features in Final Cut Express included the ability to perform 32 undo operations; the ability to keyframe filters; motion path keyframing;split-frame effects; 99 video tracks; 12 compositing modes; up to 99 audio tracks; Chroma key; two-way colour correction, and more. However, there was only minor support for 1080p and no native support for AVCHD.

When it launched in April 2011, Final Cut Pro X (£199.99 on the Mac App Store) offered Magnetic Timeline so that footage could be edited without knocking any other clips or audio out of place at other points of the Timeline; a multicam tool (from v10.0.3) supporting up to 64 angles of photos and videos; Compound Clips allowing multiple video and audio clips to be combined into one; Merged Clips taking multiple video and audio clips and creates a new Compound Clip, synchronizes them by comparing audio. Read our review of Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3 here.

Perhaps the biggest competition to iMovie comes from Premiere Elements (£78.15). Last updated in September 2012 we expect that a new version will come soon based on Adobe's yearly update cycle. Adobe Premiere Elements 11 is a scaled-down version of Adobe Premiere Pro. Premiere Elements can handle unlimited video and audio tracks; offers multiple keyframed effects; picture-in-picture; chromakey capabilities; supports third-party plug-ins; includes real-time video rendering which allows the user to instantly preview edits; and included Vimeo upload.

iMovie and Premiere Elements have a huge amount of overlap in features such as image stabilization; film-look effects; canned templates, and so forth. HOwever, some would say Adobe has taken these features and made them simpler to use and easier to fine-tune. Beginner-friendly features in Adobe's tool include InstantMovie, which offers assorted templates to build a framework for your footage and a new 'Quick’ editing mode. There is also a Time Remapping option, which allows you to speed up clips, slow them down, or put them completely into reverse. Read our Premiere Elements 11 review here.

Avid Studio for iPad is competition to iMovie. Read our review of Avid Studio for iPad here

The features in iMovie '11

There were a number of impressive features in iMovie '11 when it launched, three years on and they still make editing home movies fun. Read on for more information... 

iMovie Movie Trailers

Movie Trailers feature is fun and educational. The template suggests the kind of clips required and you build up a trailer based on this. You don't even need to know what a medium shot is, the placeholder animatics in the Storyboard tab of the Project browser make it easy to determine which kind of clip to add.

We describe it as educational as it teaches the user to vary the types of shots they capture.

Trailers are also somewhat editable. There are controls for choosing which section of the overall clip to use and you can apply effects and other controls within iMovie's inspectors (such as adjusting the colour or making footage look weathered).

You can also use iMovie trailers to produce a shot list before you go out to film. Create a new Movie Trailer project, click the Shot List tab, and build a list of scenes you need using the animatic placeholders found in the Maps, Backgrounds, and Animatics panel.

Trailers are a good way of getting familiar with iMovie. When the novelty wears off you can move onto use the more advanced tools in iMovie. You can even convert your trailer into a regular project, Choose File > Convert to Project (duplicate the project first so that you don't lose the trailer.)

Audio editing

After years of waiting, iMovie's designers finally added the capability to edit audio to this edition.

Previous to this version, if you had bad audio, the software required to fix it and remix your sound was expensive and complex. iMovie ’11 offers powerful and easy-to-use audio editing, mixing and sweetening tools. And You don’t need a degree in sound technology to use them.

Clicking a button in the Project browser makes audio waveforms visible at the bottom of every clip. Just select the range of audio you'd like to edit and drag the volume bar up or down to change the level. iMovie automatically applies a fade to the section ends to avoid abrupt volume changes. You don't need to add keyframe markers - they appear automatically and can even be fine-tuned if you want the audio to drop off sharply and then fade back.

Apple also added an equalizer with several options - including Flat, Voice Enhance, Music Enhance, Hum Reduction - and 20 audio effects that can simulate the acoustics of small or large rooms (including a Cathedral effect), change pitch, and apply effects like Telephone or Robot. As with video effects, however, you can apply only one audio effect per clip.

If there’s a lot of background noise you may with to enhance the audio. In iMovie ’11, all you have to do is check the 'Reduce background noise by:' box, and then adjust the slider.

When it comes to dropping music into your movie you’ll probably want to keep the levels lower so they don’t affect the sound of people speaking. The ducking function makes this simple.

iMovie '11 also intelligently fixes background noise, perfect if you’re shooting outside with traffic sounds nearby.

 

One-step effects

Editing video can be time-consuming so Apple attempted to make common edits easier by introducing One-Step Effects to iMovie '11.

These effects are shortcuts for making edits that you’d otherwise spend time crafting by hand. For example, you can make a clip fade to black and white by selecting a portion of the clip and choosing Clip > Fade to > Black and White, rather than having to split the clip and applying the effect as a transition.

After applying an effect, you can edit its components. Actions such as speeding up or slowing down a clip, can be accomplished from the Clip menu instead of opening the Clip inspector.

People finder

If you have hours worth of footage of your holiday and want to quickly find a clip featuring a member of your family, the People Finder feature in iMovie '11 will make this less of a challenge than scrubbing through tiny thumbnails of all your video clips.

Apple's People Finder feature uses face-detection technology, which notices when a human is in the shot. This is not face-recognition, so don't expect it to identify specific people, but it's still helpful to be able to quickly view all footage containing people. Access it via File > Analyze Video > People. It will even tell you when one or more people are in a scene, and can deduce whether the shot is a closeup or medium shot. The analysis can take some time, however.

If you want to make it easier to identify family members use Apple's keyword tagging capabilities of and create keywords for people who appear in your movies and then tag the person-specific keywords to the appropriate sections of your clips.

Rolling Shutter fix

Image stabilization wasn't new to iMovie '11, it was a feature added in iMovie '09, what was new was the rolling shitter fix available in the Clip Inspector. 

Here's the problem: cameras that record to a CMOS sensor capture each frame in horizontal bands starting at the top of the frame and moving to the bottom. Although each frame is captured quickly, camera motion can often cause a wobbly effect.

The rolling shutter fix can apply four levels of correction - Low, Medium, High, and Extra High - depending on the footage. The fix is mathematical, so iMovie doesn't need to re-analyse or render the clip.

Another useful feature is the Mark Camera Pans option, which makes it easier to identify sections of stable video or changes in subject matter.

Editing capabilities

In iMovie '11 it was finally possible to add footage shot against a blue background and choose Blue Screen to knock out the background. Previously the only option was Green Screen.

Side by Side effect

This effect is similar to the Picture-in-Picture option but lets two clips share the screen vertically. Clips are cropped automatically, but you can use Crop tool to gain some control over what appears in each side. 

Transition Overlap

This existed in iMovie '09 but only as an option that appeared only when you added or removed transitions for an entire project. In iMovie '11 you can choose if iMovie attempts to keep the visible portion of a clip intact when changing the duration of the transition, or grabs footage from surrounding clips to maintain the project's overall duration.

Single-Row View

iMovie '11 bought the welcome return of a traditional timeline in Single-Row View - accessible by clicking the button at the top right of the Project browser. Instead of running the project in multiple rows, this view maintains one row that scrolls horizontally, like a traditional video editing timeline.

Formats

iMovie '11 supports video shot as interlaced (such as 1080i, where the camera records every other horizontal line in every frame).

iMovie does not edit AVCHD video natively, instead it transcodes the imported footage into AIC (Apple Intermediate Codec) format for easier editing.

This isn't so bad because editing AVCHD footage in real time would require more computational power. AVCHD compresses the video so editing the footage requires it to fill in the rest of the frames, leading to sluggish performance.

iMovie '11 does support video shot at 24p (24 progressive frames per second) without converting the rate, as the previous version did.

Price

At the time of launch it cost £45 as part of iLife, iMovie is now £10.49 on the Mac App Store.

Verdict

iMovie '11 added some great features including Movie Trailers, audio editing, One-Step Effects, a fix for rolling shutter artifacts, and the People Finder feature. Almost three years later – and three versions of Adobe Premiere Elements down – iMovie '11 is looking long in the tooth. For keen video editors Final Cut Pro X is a great option; while there is a big difference between £200 and £10.49, it's nothing like the difference between iMovie and the older versions of Apple's pro video software that used to cost £834. Equally, keen amateur video editors might prefer to pay £78.15 Premiere Elements. But beware. Apple is likely to update iMovie soon, and when it does the difference between it and Premiere Elements may well boil down to a cost difference of more than £60. 


OUR VERDICT

iMovie '11 has a few standout features that show off its capabilities, like Movie Trailers, long-awaited sound editing, and One-Step Effects. But there are also plenty of other enhancements indicating that this release has depth and character, like the return of a traditional timeline in Single-Row View, a fix for rolling shutter artifacts, the People Finder feature, audio effects, and even little things like the Side by Side and Blue Screen edits. Although iMovie doesn't edit AVCHD natively, I'm inclined to consider it only a partial negative; I'd much rather give up transcoding time at the import stage and edit with few interruptions, than have to stop and render portions of the movie (an aspect of iMovie HD that I'm happy to leave behind). It is unfortunate that people working with interlaced footage still run into problems, and need to either encode outside the application or consider moving to Final Cut Express ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) or other editors to get the best quality. For keen video editors Final Cut Pro X is a great option; while there is a big difference between £200 and £10.49, it's nothing like the difference between iMovie and the older versions of Apple's pro video software that used to cost £834. Equally, keen amateur video editors might prefer to pay £78.15 Premiere Elements. But beware. Apple is likely to update iMovie soon, and when it does the difference between it and Premiere Elements may well boil down to a cost difference of more than £60.

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