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Opinion: Which are the best NLEs right now?

4 minute read

RedsharkWhat's the best NLE right now?

Jonny Elwyn dishes on the conversation every editor has when meeting another editor.

Whenever two editors meet each other for the first time, there are two questions that automatically follow.

What kind of stuff do you cut? And What do you cut on?

Usually, the answer to the first is something along the lines of "This and that." Occasionally, you might meet someone who specializes in films, adverts or broadcast TV, but more often than not, the editor's workload is a mixed bag.

The answer to the second question is usually where a lot of editor's conversation becomes much more animated.

What follows is the conversation we might have if we were to meet. These are a few of my own current thoughts on the state of the Non-Linear Editing software industry, and of course like any sensible person, I reserve the right to change my mind!

If you're in the place of making a decision about which piece of software to learn for the first time, or to learn next, then it goes without saying that ultimately most of this conversation doesn't really matter.

What matters is good storytelling, fine editing craft and a passion to do good work. After all, that's all anyone will be able to see (or not) in your final film. There is absolutely no way they will be able to tell which piece of software you used to get the job done.

That said, if you are building your career on using a piece of software, investing time and effort in getting fast and efficient, and understanding the workflow potholes and how to work around them, then backing a winner is an important decision.

The major, and most vocal, players in the current market are fairly obvious to everyone: Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro 7 and X. Of course there's Tri-Platform Lightworks as well, with its unique history, development and business model.

The problem with Avid

As a new editor well over a decade ago, in my mind Avid Media Composer was always the editing platform. It was expensive, it required dedicated hardware and it was what all the 'pros' used. As a teenager, my first taste of video editing in school was actually on Adobe Premiere 5. At University, I cut my teeth on Final Cut Pro 3 and started my professional career in Final Cut Studio. Today, I edit on Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014 and still (very occasionally) Final Cut Pro 7. What goes around comes around.

In early 2013, I thought it was about time I discovered what all the fuss was about and shelled out $999/£640 for the cross-grade to Avid Media Composer 6.5, and blogged about my switching experience here. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed after such a long time living in the shadow of the mighty Avid.

I found things clunky and uncustomizable. The entire process was just outdated and entrenched in a mindset of "this is our way of doing things," get on or get out. Yes, there were moments of magic – the trimming tools are somehow better than anyone else's – but the transition to Avid felt like a step backward, especially in terms of workflow simplicity, rather than a step towards the cutting edge.

From Premiere Pro to FCPX

Moving to Premiere Pro CC was a no-brainer for me, as that's where most of my clients went. They wanted things cut faster, preferably on the edge of set, and didn't want to wait around while I transcoded things. The move from FCP7 to Premiere Pro CC was seamless. I appreciated Adobe's come-as-you-are mentality and that they would even ship their product with keyboard settings from competing software packages. Avid would never do that! But it makes sense to me; heck you bought the software, you're in, so what does it matter where you came from. Feel at home.

Moving forward, for my money, the most interesting piece of software out there is Final Cut Pro X. Pretty much anyone who is doing something interesting or innovative is doing it in connection with FCPX. I'm a big fan of Michael Cioni's (CEO of Light Iron Digital) visionary thinking, and am thoroughly impressed by the ingenuity on display in his Live Play 3 demo.

People like Sam Mestman from FCPWorks are beating a path forward for feature film work and Thomas Grove Carter's recent post on FCP.co demonstrates just how much can be done in the app. As a geek-savvy editor, this is what's appealing to me – finding a better way of doing things.

Maybe if I'd picked up some work on Avid, I would have stuck with it. And it makes sense – it's the entrenched system. If you want to work in TV and film, you need to know Avid. I wish I knew it better, as the people who use it are consistently creating amazing films. But I find it more than a little shocking that being able to toggle a clip on and off ('mute' it) is a 'new feature' that is only available after 25 years of development.

Life in Premiere Pro CC 2014 is, for me, very comfortable, and I expect that as more and more features are added and refined, it will only go from strength to strength. Personally, it's given me a greater thirst to learn After Effects (again, at long last) and make the most of all the applications I now have at my fingertips. Looking at some of the features given a sneak preview at Adobe Max (Gap Stop and Visual Speech), there is also a lot to look forward to.

Unless Avid can stage a subscription resurrection, its institutional power will dwindle. Premiere Pro will probably ascend, given its "chuck anything on the timeline and it will work" capabilities and the incredibly affordable access to the entire Creative Cloud suite of applications (not to mention Adobe's rabid update frequency). To wrap up FCP7, on the other hand (aside from legacy editing), it's like an old friend you catch up with every six months or so, but sooner or later you'll never see again.

Right now, I'm interested in really mastering FCPX and bending my slightly stuck-in-its-ways mind to a different way of doing things – that, and getting to know Lightworks. It's always from the fringes that fresh things come and Lightworks has an odd combination of decades long Hollywood heritage and freemium distribution. That definitely feels worthy of investigation. But for now, the most interesting place to be, seems to be with FCPX. It's also the platform potential clients are asking if I know.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Tags: Post & VFX