Recently, I was approached by Animoto (please see the disclaimer at the end) to see if I wanted to give their slideshow tool a spin (which also includes video now as well if you want) because they thought that you Canon HDSLR users might be interested. And since we've got a lot of readers who are portrait and wedding photographers or anyone doing slideshow presentations who might be looking for tools to save time, I thought you'd like to read about my trial of the tool.
I do shoot stills – yes, I confess, I still shoot stills with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II (reviews). There's no getting around the future that holds video, but we all love the single capture of emotion that comes from the still image. I also love the old ‘slideshow' (tho we shouldn't really call it that any more right? Kids don't even know what a slide is after all HA). And slideshows are actually video after all right?
For years, I've been taking photos at local schools for fun (no I'm not a pervert haha) and at the end of the year, I put together a slideshow to give back to the kids and families. I've also added video to some of the shows, but I still love the still slideshow. Most of the time, I've used a tool called FotoMagico because I like the way it can automate much of the slideshow and still give allowances for tweaking. I'm also now using Aperture 3 and it has an automated slideshow tool.
Similar slideshows – Aperture vs. Animoto
A few weeks ago, I went to photograph some middle school kids doing a dress rehearsal for their play. I thought this would be a great way to test out the features of Animoto. And, since I use Apple's Aperture to edit my photos and they've got a new slideshow feature, I could compare the two side by side. Animoto's goal is to make fabulous shows with the least amount of time. You can count me in the skeptical column because I'm an art traditionalist – I think art done by hand are usually better than things done by automation (I'm still a computer guy so I have to believe that programs can be made do automate some things).
So, let's see the results before we dive into the details – that will make things easier. Here's the Animoto result (note, I downloaded it from the Animoto site and posted it to YouTube so that both would be the same size etc.):
That's pretty good I'd say.
Here's the result of what I did with Aperture:
Note: the song is “I miss you now” by the Stereophonics – which I love! BUY IT on iTunes (no affiliation)
That's pretty good too. However, there was a bit of love put into that (meaning I spent about an hour tweaking the output). I was a bit frustrated with getting things the way I wanted them. I picked a theme called “sliding panels” that would closely resemble the Animoto show and that shows multiple images at a time – sometimes 4, sometimes 3 etc. And what aggravated me was that sometimes it picked vertical images to squeeze into a horizontal section of the groupings and the subject's face would be chopped off. So I had to move images around to get the display to work better.
So, it took me about 10 minutes (not including the actual upload time) to post the images to Animoto's site, select a song and a template – and it wasn't too hard to figure out the first time either. On the Aperture side, it took me about an hour to get the slideshow tweaked the way I wanted it.
With both Aperture and Animoto, you can re-arrange the photos if there is something not to your liking about the way it decided to display something (like a vertical image in a horizontal box). With Animoto, you re-arrange and then ask it to re-generate your output. It takes a few minutes but you'll get an email when it is done – freeing you to work on something else.
And, with both tools, the only option for changing the pace is to add or remove images or pick a different song… they both time the images to the song selection length. So, if the pace is wrong, you've got to do your own tweaking.
There's also a one song per show limit. In my case, I usually have multiple segments to the movies I make (because of different events for the school year) and so I'd have to take the Animoto output and import it to iMovie still to combine them into a longer feature. This isn't difficult, but you should be aware of the situation in case you need to put multiple segments together.
Other people's opinions
I downloaded the results of both the Aperture and Animoto shows and put them on DVDs and took them to the staff of the middle school to see if they'd tell me one or the other was better. And, just about every staffer said they were both great (of course, they were mainly blown away by my wonderful photographs so they're a bit spoiled haha!). A couple picked one over the other, but there was no significant difference. And that's a bit of a win for Animoto as it took me less time than producing the Aperture version.
So, what are the differences and should you use Animoto? Well, the answer to the last question is “it depends” – ha, how's that for non-committal? Actually, Animoto is a great option for someone who does these kinds of things often. You see, Animoto is a subscription web based service. You don't download software so it isn't a one time purchase like Aperture or Fotomagico or any of the other tools that do this. With Animoto, you upload your photos and movies to their service, pick the order they're going to play, pick some music (and they have a large library of royalty free music to pick from with a lot of really good choices so you don't get into trouble with stealing music), and then pick your theme (and they have added several new ones lately). Their goal is to make it simple, so that you don't have to spend hours and hours making a slideshow. And it works!
If you're not going to be producing lots of slideshows, you might be better off picking the “all acccess level” of Animoto or you could easily go with the Aperture tool (or any number of other tools on the market). For example, I also own Fotomagico and love the control I have over the movies I create with it – but it is time consuming – I sometimes spend 4 to 8 hours putting a slideshow together with Fotomagico (that would be for a 15 minute show with 5-8 different segments).
And, their pricing is good. There are 3 levels of accounts, and the first one is free. However with the free account, you can only make 30 second videos and you can't download the final result. The second level called “All Access” is only $30 a year and you get Unlimited Full-length Videos, Downloadable Video Files, and Greeting Cards for Events & Holidays. The pro level is where you'll want to go if you're a pro and want a simple yet beautiful way to make slideshows for your customers. The pro level is $249/year and you'll get: No Animoto branding, Unlimited DVD-quality Videos, a Library of 1000+ pre-licensed songs, and your videos are Commercially Redistributable.
So, if you're a wedding or portrait photographer and want to sell your customers a fusion style slideshow but yet don't want to spend hours and hours putting it together, you may want to consider using Animoto. Their output is beautiful (and my sample of viewers were all impressed with the quality of the show), they've gotten lots of recommendations and you'll save time putting the show together (meaning more money in your pocket). It would be nice to have a few more options on setting up the slideshow (yes, I tend to be a control freak), but from what I saw from the viewers, they wouldn't really care.
for a limited time (until July 24th), Animoto is offering planet5D customers a discount on a Pro account. Enter the (obvious) code ‘planet5d' in the promo code box on the checkout and you'll get an extra 2 months for free on the annual Pro pass.
Blogger's disclaimer: Animoto did give me a pro level account to use for testing (and it expires soon) and to present this review. They have also offered me an affiliate status – so if you decide to purchase Animoto, my family will continue to eat (LOL).
(Photo credit: snap from the Animoto home page)