The Evolution and Revolution of Non-Linear Editing Software

Posted on December 14th, 2012 by · Filed under Video Production articles

Non-Linear Editing Software

I went to The University of Cumbria with grand aspirations of becoming a director. Why couldn’t I do it? I had plenty of ideas bubbling around in my head. I like to be involved and like most people I enjoy the plaudits of a successful project coming my way. Unfortunately I soon realized ninety percent of my classmates seemed to have the same aspirations as myself.

By halfway through my foundation year of the degree I’d started to be intrigued by the editing process. It started because I hated sitting in edit not knowing how to express my thoughts for certain shots. My plan was to spend a bit of time learning about editing so I could have a better understanding of the process, but I pretty quickly fell for the alluring joy of making the edits myself.

I learned on Avid Media Composer, thankfully my university was very well stocked with edit suites and to a decent standard too. Five fully-equipped Avid edit suites complete with decks, dual monitors, Adrenaline boxes, Broadcast monitors, color-coded keyboards etc. and all the stuff that looked impressive to a newbie. Down the hall was two Final Cut edit suites that were reserved for the 2nd and 3rd year students. So I cracked on with learning Avid.

When I look back now I realize that I thought I’d learned Avid. But really, I didn’t.

I knew how to edit in Avid but I didn’t know the depths to it. I didn’t make use of the trim tool properly, which in itself is a crime, as now I know it to be one of the greatest non -linear editor features of all programs. As you’d expect from having many students of varying ability using them, crashes were common. Avid just seems to be like that. If you have an Avid system where it works, then by God don’t let it go! I spent four months working for the BBC with four Avid systems, my system and one of my editors had constant problems. I was assisting on location with three editors on location also. The first problem came on the very first day of shooting. The GRaid’s couldn’t be plugged into the firewire sockets on the HP Workstation, due to the Adrenaline boxes also being plugged into one. I was told by several different techies PC’s don’t cope so well with more than one firewire device. Fine, we’ll work off USB then.

Throughout my time we were met with constant errors, errors that no forums could answer. Tech support did what they could and eventually swapped out the tower. As much as I love Avid, these are my memories and experiences of it. Once it gets a bug it just seems to take forever to get over it. However I do appreciate it’s a bit of Non-Linear Editing Software that requires the correct hardware and some TLC to work, so I would never denounce its qualities in the modern editing suite.

As I progressed through university I got my chance to play on Final Cut Pro Studio 1, and it just seemed to gel for me. My thinking was much more ‘click and drag’ when I was trying to learn Avid and that kind of process just doesn’t work. In FCP that was okay. Now I’ve learned to edit more efficiently when I went back to Avid at the BBC it was fine, it made more sense and I appreciated it more for my newly gained knowledge. Yet I can’t get past how error prone it can be, and as a Mac fanboy I just don’t enjoy working on PC’s given how awkward they make life. At the time though FCP was great, it was like all those reasons why certain things didn’t respond in ways I wanted suddenly did. Of course I wasn’t even using FCP to it’s potential but I could get where I wanted to be quicker and it felt good. So I bought my own MacBook Pro with a whopping 2gb of RAM, and spent hours scouring the Creative Cow tutorials section for tutorials. Any film/TV student should make use of the equipment around them and the vast resources at your fingertips.

One of my favourite features of FCP was the vast library of plugins available online, here’s a good list, .

Avid never opened themselves up to 3rd-party developers in the same way as Apple did. Small companies made good money by coming up with simple transitions and effects plugins. Avid had depended on hardware to get the best out of it whereas FCP was designed to be able to work at a professional level once installed. For many consumers the choice of spending around £1000-2000 on the hardware and £500 on the software was a no brainer compared to Avid’s endless need of hardware that would cost closer to the tens of thousands for even a trimmed down setup. Apple had come up with a game changer, and the 3rd-party developers helped it grow even more than perhaps Apple appreciated.

I was quite happy working on Final Cut Pro. It ticked the boxes for my needs and when I left University it was easy to keep using it at a corporate level. Over time the limitations started to show through. Not due to the software, but due to ever-moving camera technology. When I’d started editing everything was tape, I missed the film years by a few and saw no reason to use it for anything I filmed (although I would like to at some point). By the time I’d reached the latter half of the 2nd year of the degree Sony EX1’s were finding their way into the University. Having grown used to sitting and waiting on tapes to capture in real-time the transcoding times weren’t an issue. They were around twice as fast (working on a Mac Pro) so it seemed like a great improvement. DSLR’s and the RED camera followed quickly and suddenly it was a very digital process.

FCP’s need for footage to be transcoded into a format it could understand became more of a hindrance. Time is money after all. The other flaw with FCP seemed to be it operated on a 32-bit setup in a 64-bit operating system. Therefore regardless of how much RAM your system possessed you were doomed to be able to only access 2.5gb.

RAM itself had become cheaper and cheaper, and by 2010 I was running an iMac with 8gb of the stuff. I wanted to make use of it. 

Apple’s much-desired update to the Final Cut franchise failed epically with FCPX. They wanted to redesign the way you use Non-Linear Editing Software. And albeit Apple’s history to take things and make them more efficient, this just wasn’t cool. Professionals don’t have the time to relearn the way they do things. If I were still a student then I’d be all over FCPX. A cheaper product and no transcoding= Win.

But I’ve already learned the editing theory by this point. I didn’t want to have to relearn from scratch and I didn’t have the time to either.

So I soldiered on in FCP7, it was and continues to be a workhorse. FCPX was given minor updates improving it to a point where some professionals embraced it. The 3rd-party plugin developers picked up the slack and to this day remain one of the best features of the Final Cut franchise. Working largely with XDCam and DSLR footage, FCP increasingly felt slower but I didn’t plan to move to FCPX anytime soon.

When I first met Kev I asked him what he edited on, he responded “Adobe Premiere”.  

I replied “Old school, nice.”

That was my view on Premiere, sluggish and without ingenuity. In fairness to Adobe, I hadn’t used it extensively. These were views shaped from other people, various blogs and articles. When CS6 was released this changed. Straight away it was obvious Premiere wanted to hoover-up Final Cut’s disappointed customers. Many features had been added, tweaks had been made and it just looked like the natural replacement.

After soldiering on with FCP7 for a little while longer I made the change to Premiere. 

Premiere Pro Cs6

And I haven’t looked back.

 Don’t get me wrong, Premiere isn’t perfect.

 Some of the simple but incredibly useful functions of Final Cut don’t exist in Premiere, so some things take longer than they should… but for all its sins, it works. It uses all of my available RAM, it’s fast, it’s powerful and Adobe openly want to hear your feature requests.

 FCPX has eventually upgraded to a point where it looks like a professional editing package, but it’s too little too late for me right now. As Walter Biscardi correctly writes, It’s amusing to see Apple touting the “new features” such as Drop Shadow and the Dual display.   In my mind, those are simply corrections and an admission from Apple that X was released before it was ready for prime time.”

I made my choice and I honestly believe for the next couple of years Premiere will be my go to NLE. I do believe Apple will come good with Final Cut and when that happens I’ll be more than willing to pick it up again. For now however, I’m going to sit out the small flaws of Premiere knowing that I work in a program where the manufacturer really does care about what I need from it. The Edit Doctor compiles a good list of things I’d like to see in Premiere updates;  

The most important fact though is that you find a program that works for you, that meets yours and your client needs and doesn’t cause you unnecessary stress. After all as Brent Pierce (@Cineblur) tweeted recently; 

“Switching NLE’s is just like switching cameras. It’s JUST a tool. Do your job as an editor/cinematographer.”

Written by Tom Strachan.