The road to editing greatness begins by shifting into the right gear. You can't drive your projects forward with software that leaves your computer idling in neutral.
There's an industry philosophy that says all good videographers and producers need to put themselves in the shoes of the editor before venturing out on location for a shoot. The editor is inevitably the one who has to deal with the hours of footage, countless retakes and painfully brutal mistakes made in the field. Thinking like an editor will help increase post-production efficiency, while keeping all members of the production team in good standing with each other.
And while the job of the editor has certainly gotten easier thanks to the technological advances available today, the principle elements remain the same: the editor must import content, log the content, splice it together, fix flubs and render out the final product (only to do it all over again with revisions and recuts). Having a patient editor is great, but having some intuitive editing software doesn't hurt, either.
With the help of some of the leading minds in the post-production industry (outside of Hollywood, mind you), we hope to deliver some qualitative insight that will help make your editing software decision a bit easier.
A Brief History
Prior to the plethora of editing platforms available to us today, editors had but one way of editing in the early days - splicing film. Eventually, it evolved into tape-to-tape editing using a playback and a record VTR deck.
Then, in 1971, the engineers at CBS and Memorex combined forces to invent the CMX 600, the grandfather of all tapeless editing systems. It took a few years, but the tapeless technology evolved into using powerful computers, faster micro-processors and memory systems that would allow users to edit multiple channels of audio, video and graphical elements in one timeline.
Fast forward to 2011 and there are hundreds of options for every editing level - absolute amateur to award winning authority. Prices range from free to thousands. And now, with the advancement of mobile video, you can edit on the fly on your smartphone - yep, there's an app for that.
Pick Your Platform
Whether you prefer a PC or Mac, the options for editing software are seemingly limitless. We'll start with the PC-based systems. Randi Ayers-Hammer, a commercial producer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says that when she edits on a PC, she advises colleagues just learning how to edit to try their luck with Adobe's Premiere Elements 9 ($100) software.
"Premiere is a good starter program to learn the basics of editing," she said. "But make sure you do your research. Find the right system for your computer and processors. That can make a huge difference in whether or not your system is going to run smoothly."
Another great starter system for PC-based editors would be the Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD 9 ($50), which offers great editorial options, as well as the Device Explorer, which allows editors to import the files they need without all the ancillary content they won't use in their project.
For video cutters just cutting their teeth on editing with Macs, iMovie is as easy as they come (pre-installed on all Mac computers). This story-board style editing system allows users to drag a video clip into the order they want their video to play. Additionally, users can export in a format optimized for multiple devices, or even directly to YouTube.
And of course, you can't talk about Macs without talking about Final Cut Pro. While the Final Cut Pro Studio Suite ($1,000) used to be créme de la créme of editing systems, Apple announced in April of this year that a downloadable version will be offered up to replace Final Cut Pro Express 4. In Express' place - Final Cut Pro X ($300). The bulked up version of FCP offers a 64-bit scalable application with real-time background rendering, more user-friendly GUI and a jaw-dropping "magnetic timeline" feature which promises to make editing swifter and more succinct. This is tremendous news for editors of all skill levels, as editors can finally update their software with an affordable option that offers the same tools found in many mainstream media houses and Hollywood edit suites around the globe.
If Linux-based computing is more your style, consider Heroine Virtual's Cinelerra 4.2 (Free), which promises "a movie studio in a box". This free software is a dynamic way to produce high quality HD content without a high price. The makers of Cinelerra claim that their software can take low quality, consumer HD video and make it look like film. If you've got powerful CPUs, ample memory and a beefy network, this software may just be for you.
It's easy to become intimidated by the wide variety of editing software. The best thing you can do, says multimedia producer Brett Kanode: "Invest in the full suite. You may start out not using everything, but as your skills grow, you'll want more. You can't achieve greatness without the right tools."
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when looking to invest in an editing system:
1. What is your motivation for investing in editing software? Ensure that if you're going to be doing more than just splicing together a few highlights from the kids' dance recital; don't over invest. Planning to produce videos for your company's blog? You'll want to heed Kanode's advice and go all in. Better to invest and learn the system, than to have to go back to the boss asking for extra budget to buy the program upgrade six months down the road.
2. What sort of hardware assets do you have to work with? There's absolutely nothing worse than buying a new program, waiting eagerly for it to arrive and installing it, only to realize that your computer isn't able to run the program, let alone render a project. Check your specs before signing the check! And know that you'll need more than just the minimum requirements.
3. Who will be using the program? If you're a lone wolf producer, that's a no brainer. But if it's your job to teach others how to use the program who have little to no experience cutting video, keep that in mind. If you're the world's greatest teacher, this shouldn't be an issue; however, if you're more of a doer than a leader, perhaps a system that offers less could actually be more for your team.
Tools of the Trade
While the functionality of each editing system may have its own proprietary name or task, at the end of the day, an editing system needs to take your raw footage and allow you to manipulate it into a finished product that reflects your overall vision for the project. Whether you want to get super technical and monitor every element of your content - down to the waveform displays and vectorscope readouts - there are programs that will fit you like a glove.
For the tech heads who moonlight as micro-managers, you may want to look at Avid Technology's Media Composer 5.5 ($2,495). This is the ultimate system for editors of all levels. The price is certainly reflective of the tools that are included, but if all-encompassing control is what you seek, Avid is the Bugatti of the editing world.
Troy Sepion, who edits for a St. Paul, Minnesota based production company, says the functionality of the Media Composer offers precise handling that most systems can't match. "Avid has everything streamlined in the editing process, and the shortcuts and keystrokes you can use make it superior to even Final Cut Pro. Keyboard shortcuts equals faster editing."
Factor in Avid's full suite of complementary programs - like Boris Continuum Complete 7, Sorenson Squeeze 6.0.4, Avid FX 5.8.3 and Avid DVD 6.1.1 - your productions will be limited only by your own imagination.
Another program offering a wide range of control features, beyond the normal transitions and effects offered by many software packages, is Grass Valley's EDIUS Neo 3 ($199) and EDIUS 6 ($799). Consider the Neo 3 the "EDIUS Light" version, where the EDIUS 6 gives you comparable control elements to Avid's Media Composer. EDIUS' real-time editing capabilities offer powerful native content support - you can seamlessly cut between Canon's XF and EOS movie clips, or plow through 4K resolution clips - all while offering a broad bundle of filters, effects and transitions that will give some extra pizzazz to your project.
As technology in the home improves, being able to create videos that play nicely will be of the utmost importance. Arcsoft has an editing system called the TotalMedia Extreme 2 ($130) which not only gives users limitless format compatibility, but also offers up a full complement of software applications that take your productions from start to finish. This system is ideal for editors hoping to create mobile-friendly content that can be used on portable video devices.
Whether you prefer a storyboard or timeline, tons of transitions or infinite audio channels, regardless of price, there's an editing software program that will meet and exceed your expectations.
How to Decide
Buying an editing system is, in many regards, like buying a car. You need to factor in several elements before pulling the trigger on your purchase:
- How much time will you be spending with this program?
- Will others be using this system beside me? If so, what is their experience level?
- At the end of the day, does this program do what you need it to do?
If you can answer those questions with confidence before making the investment, then you've found the right system for you. Knowing what you plan to do with the software before installing it is half the battle. Most systems offer free demos you can download to see if the system is right for you. Go ahead, kick the tires and take these programs for a test drive.
Ayers-Hammer offered one final bit of advice that seems fitting: "If you're not a techie, find someone who is. It's not fun to invest all that money into a system only to have it crash every fifteen minutes because your program doesn't play nice with your processor."
And isn't that what editing is all about - playing nice? From the producer and videographer to the editor and finally to the consumer of the video content, nice and easy is the ideal end result.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Editing Software Buyer's Guide
Dave Sniadak is an award-winning video producer and creative consultant, servicing clients in the home improvement, hospitality, travel and professional sports industries.