My Editing Program Is…?      

editing software

I’m not an editor by trade; I typically don’t make my living editing video for others. In the course of producing content, though, I’m called on, from time to time, to edit pieces. I generally cut shorter-form promotional, training, marketing and corporate pieces. I learned to edit almost 20 years ago on Apple’s Final Cut Pro. Back in the late 1990s, I was a beta tester in the earliest days of the application. I was there at NAB 1999 when Apple publicly premiered the application for the first time. I was a co-founder, along with several others, of the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro User Group. The idea of Final Cut Pro came about in the era of when AVID’s über-expensive Media Composer was generally considered the professional editing platform and Final Cut Pro was regarded as the lower-end, hobbyist, wedding videographer editing tool of choice.

Fast-forward to 2017, and the original Final Cut Pro is long dead, AVID Media Composer is available in a free version called Media Composer First, as well as in a higher subscription version, and it’s still an extremely popular tool in Hollywood and in high-end editorial facilities. A big change in the industry began to take shape a few years ago as Apple discontinued Final Cut Pro, replacing it with Final Cut Pro X. The editing tools and workflow in FCPX were so different from Final Cut Pro that many editors abandoned the Apple program for the greener pastures of Adobe Premiere Creative Cloud because the Adobe program was somewhat similar to what many felt would have been introduced as Final Cut Pro 8 if Apple wouldn’t have discontinued Final Cut Pro and invented a totally new program, FCPX.

Functionally, Adobe Premiere seems to kind of pick up where Final Cut Pro 7.04 left off when Apple end-of-life(d) the product. Premiere still uses the traditional three-point editing paradigm and an interface that many of us found worked very well. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X uses an entirely different interface and editing model, utilizing thumbnail, clip and timeline skimming with a single browser/viewer window. Adobe seems to have gained a lot of traction with Adobe Premiere CC, right as the earlier versions of FCPX were alienating many longtime Final Cut Pro users. In spite of a monthly subscription model, which most users see as a liability, since you’ll have to pay Adobe forever, or as long as you need access to your edited projects, you can’t deny that Adobe has gained a massive amount of market share as Final Cut Pro faded into the past.

Three of my top clients have switched to Adobe Premiere over the past year or two. It’s difficult to argue against Premiere Pro’s close integration with other core Adobe programs like After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, the tremendous number of plug-ins available and the comforting familiarity of a traditional, three-point editing timeline-based interface.

A few years ago, Blackmagic Design, the Australian manufacturer of numerous cameras, video-editing cards and other video accessories acquired and introduced DaVinci Resolve, which quickly became an industry standard in GPU-accelerated color-correction and grading software. Over the past few versions, Blackmagic has increased the amount of editing functionality in the program, along with adding very comprehensive audio editing and effects capability by acquiring the audio company Fairlight Systems. With the latest version of Resolve, Resolve 14, the program is making strides as a fully integrated editing suite with sophisticated timeline and clip-based editing, Fairlight audio tools and, of course, the Resolve color-correction and grading tools along with the addition of digital grain/noise-reduction. Resolve is available in both a free version and as a $299 multi-user cloud subscription.

While there are numerous other editing programs on the market, the four programs that we’ve covered to this point have the lion’s share of the market for professional media production. The question that many of us face is which program(s) to learn, own and become fluent in? All four of these programs have their supporters and detractors, and all four definitely have strong marks for and against them. My own personal journey with editing software began with Final Cut Pro, I took a detour with AVID Media Composer for a few years, and now I’m primarily using FCPX, and I’ve only dabbled with Premier Pro Creative Cloud and DaVinci Resolve as far as editing.

While I can’t vouch for the absolute truth of these commonly held perceptions, I can vouch that they’re all perceptions about each program that I’ve heard and dealt with over the past few years in the business.

Market Perceptions

AVID Media Composer. Traditional, inflexible (generally only one or two ways to accomplish a given task), reliable, expensive (although this goes out the window with a free version available), not very much plug-in support, probably one of the harder programs to round-trip material out of the program and back in.

editing software
AVID Media Composer

Apple Final Cut Pro X. Inexpensive, radical editing model that’s skimming-based, magnetic timeline is both a curse and a blessing, handling more sophisticated audio is a bit clunky, also known as iMovie Pro (perceived as a toy like the original Final Cut Pro was in its day), improving with more pro features added in each upgrade, fast editing and render times, great third-party plug-in support, XML export helps make it more able to interface with third-party programs.

editing software
Apple Final Cut Pro X

Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud. Relatively expensive subscription-based model that’s both a blessing and a curse, great integration with the rest of the Adobe video editing and motion graphics programs, traditional three-point editing interface, solid built-in tools, good third-party plug-in support, reliability has improved leaps and bounds over early versions of Premiere Pro, which were unstable, at best.

editing software
Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 14. Proprietary, but clean interface and workflow. Great for color correction and grading, but just coming into its own for video editing and audio post. Free version is great, paid $299 is even better, solid noise/grain reduction tools built-in. Render tests and rendering times prove Resolve to be a speed demon as far as long renders, faster than any of the other three most popular editing programs. Other than XML i/o, there’s not a lot of interchangeability simply because you probably won’t find too many other pros using Resolve for video editing and their entire post workflow. Yet. Quickly gaining in popularity. HDVideo Pro recently reviewed DaVinci Resolve 14.

editing software
Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 14

Decisions, Decisions

With so many excellent choices in editing programs, how is one to make a decision about which editing program they should invest their time, practice, knowledge and money into? The great news is that all four programs are excellent tools. Unlike a decade ago, all of these programs are functionally reliable and feature amazing tools that we could barely conceive of a few years ago, like the ability to auto-sync video clips with other clips or with audio files, perfect for effortless integration of dual-system sound and multi-camera projects. A case can be made for each tool. If you work in entertainment, Hollywood, in particular, you can’t go wrong with buying and learning how to become fluent with AVID Media Composer. If you value speed and don’t mind learning an alternative way of editing, especially if you’re a new editor and didn’t grow up with traditional three-point editing, FCPX is very fast and inexpensive, and Apple is continually upping their game with the next version, integrating VR, AR and other sophisticated capabilities. If you’re a heavy user of Adobe’s other products like After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator, it makes the most sense to go for the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription where you’ll get access to all of those tools along with Premiere Pro CC. If you’re a colorist or lean toward grading and don’t mind learning a somewhat proprietary interface and nodal-based workflow, Resolve 14 might be a good fit for you.

This may sound counterintuitive, but all of the advice above is probably most relevant to lower-end and casual editors. If you work as a video editor for a living, you really owe it to yourself to at least learn and possibly buy all four programs. Become expert in each one. Considering you can download AVID free, pay $299 for FCPX, download and activate Adobe Premiere Pro CC for as little as one month at a time, and you can download and teach yourself the free version of DaVinci Resolve 14, you should do so.

As a pro editor, there’s nothing more frustrating than losing out on paying work, simply because you aren’t well versed in the editing application that the producers have picked to edit their project. The bottom line is that if you’re a pro video editor, you should be competent and fluent in all four programs. That way, it won’t matter which program the producers want to edit in, you’ll know them all. Good luck and happy editing.

Writer, producer and cinematographer Dan Brockett’s two decades of work in documentary film and behind the scenes for television and feature films have informed his writing about production technology for HDVideoPro Magazine, Digital Photo Pro Magazine and KenStone.net. Visit danbrockett.com.