Apple iMovie 10 versus Adobe Premiere Elements 12 comparative review

We let Apple iMovie and Adobe Premiere Elements battle it out to find out which is the easiest to use, and which gets the best results...

Interface And Getting Started

Apple just can’t seem to make up its mind about iMovie’s interface, and the new iMovie 10 gets another slightly untidy makeover. The Project panel that occupies the lower half of the screen now provides a more conventional editing timeline where you can quickly arrange your video clips in a simple linear sequence. That’s simple enough, but the program’s other editing tools are scattered around the workspace almost at random, with audio and video effects activated by the Adjustments button up in the top-right corner of the workspace, while transitions and titles have been moved down into the bottom left corner of the newly expanded Library panel. Users of previous versions of iMovie may feel a little lost at first, and we weren’t impressed by the fact that you need an Internet connection in order to use the program’s Help files either.

In contrast, Premiere Elements started out with a complex and intimidating interface but has gradually become easier to use with each annual upgrade. The recently released Premiere Elements 12 provides three editing modes that cater to different levels of experience. The new Guided mode starts out by offering really simple, step-by-step help with basic editing tasks. Once you’ve got the hang of the basics you can step into Quick mode, which displays a simple editing timeline with effects, transitions and other tools neatly arranged along the bottom of the screen. More experienced users can opt for Expert mode, which provides you with a multi-track timeline that allows you to perform more complex and precise editing work.

The simpler timeline in iMovie is relatively straightforward and easy to use, but the Guided mode in Premiere Elements is very impressive and does an excellent job of introducing video-editing work for beginners.

Read: Apple iMovie for Mac version 10 review

Editing Tools

It may take a little while to figure out where everything is in iMovie these days, but at least its main editing tools still retain their admirable simplicity and ease of use. The main innovation introduced by iMovie a few years ago was the ability to ‘skim’ through video clips. You can simply move your mouse cursor over any section of a video clip in order to view it in the main Monitor window. You can skim through a clip as slowly or as quickly as you like, and this makes it really easy to select just the scenes – or even just a few frames – that you want to use in your movie.

Other tools are equally easy to use. Just drag a clip from the Browser window and place it directly above another clip in the editing timeline and iMovie automatically displays its Video Overlay menu. This allows you to instantly create complex picture-in-picture effects, a split-screen effect that plays both clips side-by-side at the same time, or to add green/blue-screen special effects.

See also Creative software reviews

Premiere Elements 12 can’t quite match the sheer simplicity of iMovie’s selection and editing features. You can’t skim through clips using your mouse as you can with iMovie, so selecting specific scenes within a longer clip and then trimming the clip to the required length involves a little more work. However, the multi-track timeline that is available in the program’s Expert mode allows you to combine multiple audio and video tracks, along with titles and other effects, in a way that iMovie simply can’t match.

It’s horses for course on this one. The quick and easy editing tools of iMovie are ideal if you simply want to trim a few short video clips together and then upload them to FaceBook or YouTube. However, experienced users who want to produce longer, more complex video projects will really appreciate the greater depth and power provided by Premiere Elements.

Audio/Video Controls

You’ll often need to tweak your video clips to improve the lighting or colour balance, and iMovie works really well here with an automatic ‘Enhance’ tool that can adjust the lighting, colour and sound quality within your clips with just a single click of a button. If you want finer control you can simply activate the Adjustment Bar, which provides additional controls for brightness, colour and contrast settings. Its audio controls aren’t extensive, but they’re easy to use with simple options for adjusting volume and recording voice-overs. There’s also an extensive library of sound effects built into iMovie, along with the ability to import music and other projects from GarageBand.

The adjustment tools in Premiere Elements work in a similar fashion, with a ‘Smart Fix’ feature that can automatically fine-tune colour and brightness for you, along with additional tools that provide more precise controls over settings such as hue, saturation, and gamma correction. However, Premiere Elements provides more extensive audio controls than iMovie. As well as its built-in library of sound-effects Premiere Elements also includes more than 50 pieces of stock music that you can use for your movie soundtrack. There are separate controls for treble, bass, gain and balance, and its multi-track timeline allows you to add up to 100 separate audio tracks, along with a mixer that provides precise control over each individual track.

Titles And Effects

Premiere Elements and iMovie both provide a good selection of transitions and templates that allow you to add titles and text to your movies. However, it’s Premiere Elements’ range of special effects tools that really blow iMovie out of the water.

There’s a modest selection of about 20 video effects in iMovie, and they’re all pretty basic – sepia tint, hazy soft focus, that sort of thing. Premiere Elements, on the other hand, includes an extensive collection of special effects that are organised into categories such as blurs, distortion effects, and JJ Abrams lens flare. There’s a powerful ‘time remapping’ option that allows you to speed clips up, slow them down, or even put them into reverse. You also have very fine control over these effects, thanks to the ‘Applied Effects’ panel that allows you to fine-tune properties such as the degree of distortion, or even the length of lightning bolt effects that you can superimpose over a clip.

But the area where Premiere Elements really scores is with its keyframe controls, which allow you to adjust effects over time. They’re a little tricky to master, but once you’ve got the hang of using keyframes you can gradually lower the lighting in a scene to make it look as though night is falling, or create your own custom special effects by flipping and rotating clips anyway you want.

We compare iMovie to some other Mac video editors in this iMovie alternatives round up.

You can read more iMovie tutorials over at our iMovie Topic Zone, plus:


You don’t have to buy iMovie, of course, as it’s given away free with all Macs – although you will need to upgrade to Mavericks in order to use iMovie 10. Its interface could be a little tidier, but iMovie’s basic editing tools are easy to use, and it’s the ideal option for quickly editing some video clips that you shoot on your iPhone and then uploading them to FaceBook or YouTube. However, Premiere Elements provides a much wider and more powerful range of editing tools and special effects, and it’s excellent value for money for the more serious video buff who wants to produce longer, more professional looking video projects.

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