iMovie vs Photoshop Elements full review

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

Read next: Best free & cheap Mac video editing software

Interface And Getting Started

Premiere Elements v iMovie

Apple just can’t seem to make up its mind about iMovie’s interface, and the new iMovie 10 saw the program receiving another rather 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 improved its ease of use with each annual upgrade. The program now provides three separate editing modes that cater for people with different levels of experience. Its Quick mode 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 combine multiple audio and video clips and to perform much more complex and precise editing work. There’s also a Guided mode that helps beginners by providing simple, step-by-step help with common editing tasks, such as trimming clips, adding titles and transitions or recording your own voice-over tracks.

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

Magic Moments

If you’re new to video-editing work, both iMovie and Premiere Elements also include a number of options that allow you to quickly create simple but slick movie projects without having to master their full range of editing tools.

When you start work in iMovie, you can either create a full-blown movie project or use the New command in the File Menu to create a ‘trailer’ instead. When you select this option iMovie presents you with a series of templates that mimic the style of Hollywood film trailers. There are templates for tough-guy action movies, Bollywood musicals, creepy horror films and many others, and each template includes a storyboard with a series of placeholders into which you can quickly insert your video clips. The template automatically trims your clips to the desired length, and adds music and dramatic titles that suit the style of your trailer. Each template is typically 60-90 seconds long, so you’re not going to create a full-length movie this way, but the trailers option is a fun and effective way of combining some short video clips into something that looks pretty slick and professional. You also have the option of converting the trailer into a proper movie project, which will allow you to insert some longer video clips if you want to.

Premiere Elements actually provides a number of different options here. The new Video Story option that was introduced in version 13 is similar to iMovie’s trailers, as it provides you with a series of storyboard templates into which you can insert a set of video clips. If you want a little more freedom you can use the Instant Movie option instead. This allows you to arrange clips on the timeline first, and then prompts you to select a template that will add music and effects to suit various styles or moods.

Premiere Elements 13 also adds an interesting new feature called Favourite Moments, which allows you to pick the best moments from within a single, longer video clip. The clip you choose opens up in a new window where you can view the clip in detail and then mark the most interesting moments or events that you want to keep. The program then deletes the unwanted sections of the clip and the sections that you want to keep can either be merged together by using crossfade transitions, or placed on the timeline as a series of individual clips to provide greater editing freedom.

Editing Tools

iMovie 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 the two clips side-by-side, or to add green-screen special effects.

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

iMovie 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 transition effects, along with templates that allow you to quickly add titles and text to your movies. However, Adobe’s background in design and typography means that Premiere Elements provides much more precise controls for formatting and animating text.

Premiere Elements 13 also added a new Guided Edit that shows you how to place moving video inside titles. This is a complicated effect that would normally require a lot of work, but Premiere Elements does a really good job of guiding you through the process in just a few seconds. That also brings us into the realm of special effects, which is where Premiere Elements really blows 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 play them backwards. 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 the lightning bolt effects that you can superimpose over a clip.

The Guided Edits in Premiere Elements 13 come to your aid here as well, with a new guide that shows you how to create ‘masks’ that can be used to apply special effects just to specific areas within the video image. 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:

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