It all starts with a question…
Recently, I learned about a crowd sourced Q&A website called Quora that allows people to ask questions and have them answered by experts in the subject. Each question can receive many answers, but the best answers are “UpVoted” for priority. I love sites like these that allow people to get answers when Googling may not be effective. That being said, a question was asked “What does each video editing system excel at?” Having edited on almost every video editing software out there over the years, I thought I’d give this question a stab. So for today’s Tech Tuesday, I take a look at the top three video editing systems (Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro X) and give my perspective on what each one excels at.
What does a video editing system do?
Every editing program will provide you with basic capabilities such as trim, cut and add clips to a sequence. The higher end programs will have more features that allow you to create a polished video including adding graphics, adjusting (sweetening) audio and create transitions between cuts. There are plenty of high end editing programs to choose from but the most widely used in the United States are Final Cut, Adobe Premiere and Avid. Each one will provide you the tools to create your masterpiece, but how you get there will vary depending on the program.
Final Cut Pro X
In 2011, Apple’s much anticipated redesign of their popular editing system, Final Cut Pro, was debuted to mix reviews. The program that was once set to be the new leader in professional editing systems confused its die-hard fans by releasing a stripped down product that was likened to a “glorified iMovie” or “iMovie Pro”. The simplified interface and tools showed that Apple was targeting the prosumers and amateur market more than professional film makers and production houses that had adopted Final Cut. At this time, many users either stayed with the prior version, Final Cut Pro 7, or switched over to Adobe Premiere, AutoDesk Smoke or Avid Media Composer. However, after many updates and plugins, new and former users are coming back to Final Cut Pro X.
Final Cut Pro’s biggest strength is the ability to bring in mixed format footage and integrate them on a timeline without having to render (Conform for Adobe users) them first. This saves time when having to edit in the field or on a tight deadline. However, since the program does not consolidate footage, it is easy to lose or un-link files, especially when archiving projects. Also, the new interface puts commonly used tools, transitions, effects, etc. easily accessible with one click buttons. This gives the program a more intuitive feeling. Finally, the new event library with the ability to scrub through footage without loading it into the preview window (a cross-over feature from iMovie) is a nice and quick way to scan footage before you load it. Overall, Final Cut users love the program’s intuitive layout, accessibility of common tools and media integration.
Prior to Final Cut X, Adobe was also working out bugs that it had with Premiere CS3 and took its cues from Apple on creating an intuitive interface, stable operating system, separate rendering program (Media Composer) and integrating their other programs including the popular compositing program, After Effects. Thus, the completely redesigned CS4 addressed many of the concerns professionals had with Premiere and set them up to take a large portion of former Final Cut users with CS5. The release of CS5 gave editors the intuitive usability of Final Cut combined with the seamless integration of Adobe’s powerful lineup of After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator.
Adobe then made another giant leap by offering their programs on a subscription-based cloud platform, Adobe Creative Cloud (CC). Now, professionals, prosumers and amateurs alike could have access to all of Adobe’s up-to-date products for a low-monthly fee.
Like Final Cut, Adobe Premiere allows users to bring in various formats of video and combine them on a sequence, however, the program will want to “conform” the footage. The good news is that it does this in the background, but depending on your system, it can slow down the editing process. Otherwise, Premiere has an intuitive interface; quick access to transitions, effects and tools; a separate rendering program that allows editors to render in the background while continuing to work; and the biggest advantage, seamless integration between other Adobe programs.
Overall, Adobe listened to its users, saw what its competitors did well and created a product that addressed all these things while still playing up their strengths. In addition, by doing away with the high upfront cost in favor of a subscription based service, they effectively opened themselves up to everyone in the market for a solid editing system.
Avid Media Composer:
Avid was the original non-linear editing system. Debuted in 1988, it was “the biggest shake-up in editing since played around with time and sequences in the early 1900s“. The system allowed users to non-destructively edit sequences and create EDL’s for processing houses to cut from. Even now, Avid is the most widely adopted editing platform in the industry. However, high cost, legacy operating system and archaic interface design limits Avid’s adoption by new users. In recent years, Avid followed suit with Adobe by offering Avid Media Composer as a subscription-based service and Symphony as a plug-in upgrade.
Despite some of their short comings, Avid is still an incredibly powerful system. The core of Avid is an exceptional media management system. Unlike Final Cut and Adobe, Avid likes all media to be “consolidated” into “bins” in Avid’s DnX format, otherwise, you will need to do a “video mixdown” at the end of your edit. This keeps all your footage in one place and prevents lost footage or broken links. Also, regular Avid users know about the “Attic” which is a backup copy of all projects in the system program folder that allows for easy recovery of archived projects.
When it comes to learning curve, Avid is notoriously unintuitive and as the saying goes “there is only one way to do it and that is Avid’s way“. However, once an editor learns “the way”, with a few keyboard strokes, they can edit a project quickly and efficiently. Plus, with built in 3D title generator, keyers, grading tools, etc., you don’t need to leave the program to create special effects, coloring or chroma keys. Once you master Avid, everything else is child’s play.
Which video editing system is the best?
In summary, each program will do just about everything the others will do and all will allow users to create professional looking edits. Honestly, when choosing an editing system, budget, project demands and personal comfort with the program are going to determine which program you adopt. Either way, the only real limit is one’s own creativity.