They say don’t knock it before you try it. And sure enough, until recently, I have been fairly open to the idea of adopting Final Cut Pro X as my NLE of choice. But I have just delivered my first project cut exclusively on FCP X and must say it was a completely unpleasant experience. "Everything just changed in post", is the tagline for FCP X on Apple's website. It sure did: for the first time in 9 years as a professional editor I actually didn’t enjoy editing.
Some of the most well documented deficiencies upon the initial release of FCPX were the lack of XML import/export, multi-cam editing, and broadcast monitor support. The absence of these features from the new version caused an unprecedented uproar from the post-production community, and Apple moved quickly to add these features. Having said that, the lack of any of the above features (with the exception of XML support) was not much of deal breaker for me. The bulk of my business is corporate video, where everything from graphics and audio mixing is done in house. In fact, FCP X seemed like it was built for the kind of editing I do.
So why am I turning my back on Final Cut Pro? First is the fact that it is such a completely foreign interface. Now, I’m the farthest thing from a Luddite and I don’t fear change, but I spent the last 9 years of my life becoming very proficient at something and now it’s just gone. There is a huge cost in terms of both time and energy associated with learning new ways to do things in FCP X. Right now it seems like it would be far less disruptive to my workflow to switch to Premiere Pro CS6, or even Avid than it would be to continue using Final Cut Pro X. Sure, my skills as an editor are not dependent on my tools, but being extremely knowledgeable about the primary tool of my trade is a selling point when I market myself to potential clients.
FCP X: Taking The Editor Out of The Driver’s Seat
Apple has decided to take the "hassle" of media management out of the mix by organizing all project assets automatically into Events. I never saw media management as a problem. In fact, it was again a marketable skill. A few weeks ago I was returning a hard drive to a client of mine - a production company that specializes in high-end corporate videos. As usual with this client, they were going to pick up where I left off – some audio sweetening and color correction, etc. My client remarked that he liked working with me because he never had any problems getting the projects up and running and knowing where all the assets were, regardless of how complex the project was. That’s because I take the media management aspect of my job very seriously. This gives me an edge when bidding for jobs with current clients. They’ll go with me even though some young upstart will charge them half my rate because they know, in the end, things will go more smoothly and they’ll have a better experience.
The "No More Rendering" Fallacy
The lack of control in FCPX extends beyond determining how your project assets are organized. The highly touted "no more rendering" that the Apple marketing machine has been pushing is a bit misleading. Rendering is still required, just the choice of when to render has been taken away. It may happen automatically "in the background", but that background activity takes up a lot of processing power, and I found that it ground the performance of the application to an excruciatingly slow speed every time it happened – and I have new machines with SSD and RAM to the hilt.
The project I was working on was fairly standard corporate video fare – talking heads, b-roll, and some motion graphics from After Effects. Every time I made a change to a transition effect or title, I would literally just wait for it to render – which it started automatically – because there was no point in moving on to the next edit because it slowed everything down to the point of frustration. With FCP legacy versions, I would wait to render after all the changes on the timeline had been completed. I found the edit-stop-edit-stop workflow painful to say the least. FCPX didn’t eliminate the need to render per se – it just took away the need to make a keystroke and the choice of when to do it.
What Are The Best NLE Options?
So, as heartbreaking as it is, it’s time to look for a new NLE. The main candidates right now are Avid and Premiere Pro. The question is, which one? Both solve the problems that I had with FCPX – primarily because, unlike Apple, neither has tried to fix what wasn’t broken, thus creating new problems. Both let me stay in the drivers seat and will continue to let me play to my strengths when marketing my skills. They are both great applications, and, as you would expect, have different strengths and weaknesses. One major benefit both these applications have is that they will also run on PC. If you are like me and shudder at the thought of working in a Windows environment, perhaps this will help you absorb the shock: a pimped out MacPro tower could easily run you 10K. Think of what kind of powerhouse of a PC workstation you could build for half that price.
AVID Media Composer 6
You would think familiarity would tip the balance here. Most of the broadcast work I have done has been on Avid MC, so I know my way around the interface. In addition, the latest version of Media Composer is 64-bit, and also now supports third party hardware. There was a time when only Avid hardware would perform input/output operations with Media Composer. MC now supports most third-party hardware using the new Avid Open I/O, including devices from Blackmagic Design, AJA, MOTU, and Bluefish. Because of its stability with large projects and peerless media management capabilities, the choice would be a no-brainer if all I did was offline edits on long-format broadcast projects.
And yet I have never really like using MC for corporate video work, which can be graphics heavy and requiring a "do it all in the same box" workflow. Since corporate videos make up about 85% of my business, perhaps Avid is not the ideal choice for me at the moment.
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6
Premiere Pro was the first NLE I ever used. That was a long time ago and the application has come a long way since then. As I mentioned, the graphics heavy workflow of corporate videos is much better suited for Premiere Pro because of the roundtripping provided by the other Adobe tools in my toolbox - namely After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator.
One of the biggest benefits offered by Premiere Pro is it's ability to work natively with almost all professional formats. Gone are the long hours of transcoding required by Final Cut Pro. For all those who work with DSLR footage, this is a dream come true: you can start working with your H264 footage immediately. Same goes for almost any format you can think of. The only problem with this is if you plan on sending your project to 3rd party application for finishing - many 3rd party applications won't work with those native formats and you will need to convert them. The plus side is you will only need to convert the actual footage you use in the final composition and not ALL the source footage.
I am also very excited about the innovative licensing options that will soon be offered by Adobe Creative Cloud. Creative Cloud lets you download and install every Adobe Creative Suite 6 application for a monthly fee ($49.99). For some, a subscription-based model makes more sense than dropping a couple thousand dollars for any particular Creative Suite.
Bottom Line: Be Versatile and Use the Right Tool for the Job
As a professional editor, being skilled in more than one NLE can never be a bad thing. That's why I have decided to start with the tool that is most appropriate for my current slate of corporate projects: Premiere Pro. Having said that, I will most likely spring for an Avid license if and when my next long-form broadcast project comes up. I'll also test out the promising sounding new version of Smoke when the trial version becomes available in June.
Basically, in the current pricing environment, there is a better ROI to spending money and using the right tool for the job than there is to wasting time using a tool that is ill suited to the task at hand. For corporate work that is graphics heavy, it's hard to argue against spending $50/month for Premiere Pro (especially since you can purchase for periods as short as a month). Same goes for Avid. With the growing number of crossgrade specials (Symphony is currently $999), you wouldn't need to save much time on a broadcast project to have the software pay for itself. Walter Biscardi does a great job of elaborating on this.
In today's video editing landscape, it's easy to ensure that you have the right tools for the particular requirements of the job. Unfortunately, there are few times where I can see that Final Cut Pro X would be the right tool for me.