Free vs. Pay video tools

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September 5, 2009 by falcon7204

A lot of folks (and I’m one of them) want to try and accomplish as much as possible with very little cash outlay. In other words, we want to get the most bang for the buck – and if we don’t have to spend any bucks, so much the better.

But there are times when it’s desirable (although not very much fun) to shell out a few dollars for the right tools. Editing software is one of those areas.

I spoke in my last blog about Windows Movie Maker. Yes, it’s a good, simple editing package. It can do some things (like transitions) that other, more expensive packages can do. But it’s very limited in areas like voice-overs, L-cuts, and titling. (If you’re an editing newbie, don’t worry about what those terms mean. You’ll learn them soon enough.)

There are other free editing packages out there, and many that offer 30-day trials. But the other free packages are as limited as WMM, and the trial packages typically add a watermark to your finished product, rendering it all but useless.

That’s why, sometimes, you have to bite the bullet and pay for a decent editing program. That’s what I had to do recently, in order to complete a project for my sister-in-law (who really needs to learn how to use a tripod, but that’s another rant). I decided to go with Adobe Premiere Elements, based on my experience with the 30-day trial of the product. Also, it had a $20 rebate – and like I said, I like to get the most bang for the buck.

I think I get that with Premiere Elements. It’s a slimmed-down version of Adobe Premiere Pro, which is used by thousands of professional and hobbyist editors. The professional version is on a par with other products like Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro. Premiere Elements, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of the fancy bells and whistles that the others do.

However, it can do a lot of things the big products can do, too. For instance, I’m used to using the J-K-L keys to shuttle forward and backward and pause my video when reviewing (something both Avid and Final Cut do) and using the I and O keys to set my in and out points. Premiere Elements can do that – in fact, I was genuinely surprised when I was able to do that! It makes my editing sessions go so much faster.

It also offers things like bars & tone, and black video generation. You won’t find that in other, cheap (or free) packages. It will also support video shot using the popular AVCHD codec (such as the new JVC Everio cameras) and HDV footage (such as that shot by the Sony HVR-Z1U pro-sumer camera). It can capture directly from a camera or deck (through an IEEE1394 interface, sometimes called "Firewire" or "iLink"), and can also use footage files on your computer (MP4, AVI, WMV, MOV, and even the MOD files generated by cameras like the Everio). It can also record your project to tape, or burn it directly to a DVD (complete with menu and chapter marks!).

I haven’t put it through all its paces yet, but suffice to say Premiere Elements is probably worth the $100 you’ll plunk down for it. And since it’s Adobe, there’s a wealth of knowledge backing it up, and plenty of forums on the Internet if you need other help.

Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money, if it can help you get the results you need. And if you’re trying to break into the business with paying customers, you can consider it an investment that you’ll probably earn back in the first five minutes of your next project.

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