Apple's iLife '09 'a must-have update'

iPhoto now scans photos for faces and uses geotagging to organize albums

iMovie evolves

IMovie was one of the very first iLife apps, and Mac users have been using it to edit home movies and even some award-winning indie films for nearly a decade. When Apple released iMovie '08 in 2007, it completely rebuilt the application from the ground up to be faster and easier to use. The revamped version provided users with a radically new interface that included a centralized library for all video imported onto or available on a user's Mac. Unfortunately, a number of features from previous releases -- like a range of titles, transitions and special video effects -- were either dropped or scaled down. After longtime users complained about the changes, Apple made iMovie '06 available to users for free.

IMovie '09 continues the evolution that started with iMovie '08's new interface, but it also reintroduces and improves upon some of the features in earlier releases. There is a broader range of titles and transitions, including several impressive 3D effect transitions, as well as a palette of video effects -- sepia tone, dream-like soft lighting, aged film, and even a science-fiction-like X-ray effect, among others -- that can be applied to individual clips or an entire project. Apple has provided an amazing array of title options, from basic scrolling text to B-movie/cartoon-style captions and the "far far away" scrolling style made famous at the introduction of each Star Wars movie.

Taking a cue from another classic Hollywood graphic effect -- travel maps like those in the Indiana Jones movies -- iMovie includes a number of map options that, like iPhoto's Places, rely on Google Maps to build animated or still travel maps into a movie. (It's a great touch for editing vacation footage.) IMovie offers additional static background elements such as solid colors, a curtain and a star field for things like credits or introductions.

If you don't want to spend a lot of time choosing titles and transitions and such, Apple has you covered. IMovie offers a handful of themes that will automatically build in matching titles, transitions, a background and framing elements. You can later customize all of these components if you want to.

One of the best features of iMovie has always been its simple drag-and-drop editing nature. You can drag a clip from your library into the project, drag photos to create a slide show, drop titles onto a clip to add them or drop transitions between clips. IMovie '09 maintains this ease of use and improves on it by allowing you to choose what happens when you add elements: Do they replace existing elements or get inserted into existing elements? Do you want to only add the audio track from the new elements? Do you want them placed exactly where you dropped them?

If you want to go beyond the simple editing capabilities, which are very powerful and easily deliver professional-looking results, iMovie now offers precision editing. A precision editor allows you to view a larger timeline of your project and it allows you to separately manipulate video clips, photos, titles, transitions, audio and other elements. The result is finer control over your project than in previous iMovie releases offered. Similarly, iMovie introduces features for speeding up and slowing down video and still images to better match a music track.

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