Introduction to Professional Editing Software

I remember the day I bought my first piece of editing software. I had just shot video for a high school Spanish project with some friends and immediately ran to the electronics store to pick up a copy of Pinnacle Studio. I rushed home to begin cutting my cinematic masterpiece and was immediately fascinated with how I could manipulate time, space and sequence with a few clicks of a button. It was all magic to me then, and is what fascinates and motivates me to this day.

Professional versions are geared toward giving the editor the tools they need to create a truly customized final work that speaks to the artistic and aesthetic taste of the end user.

The main reason I chose to move to professional software a few years ago was to continue feeding the spark that was struck creating my first edited video. I eventually felt confined by the very software that let my imagination run wild, and started looking toward the next step. 

Screen grab of title page with Gill Sans Bold font on black background.
Assortment of icons for some of the professional video editing applications available.

Why Make The Switch?

Many consumer-level video editing applications are stripped-down, more simplistic versions of their more powerful, professional counterparts. Consumer level software limits one’s creative and technical control over various aspects of post-production. This is done intentionally to lower the barrier of entry to an area of video production that was once exclusive to highly technical and extremely specialized professionals. This way, companies can get the widest usage and adaptation of their entry-level video editing software as possible.

Screen grab of title page with Gill Sans Bold font on black background.
Screen grab of title page with Gill Sans Bold font on black background.

The consumer level version may automate or otherwise remove key features editors may find themselves wishing they had more control over. A lot of the creative control is placed on the software in consumer versions. They are filled with templates, presets and standard assets like audio elements and titles that come as they are out of the box — with little to no room for customization. Professional versions are more geared toward giving the editor the tools they need to create a truly customized final work that speaks to the artistic and aesthetic taste of the end user.

Screen grab of a customized project-specific title sequence created using an After Effects template

Another difference is the lack of third party plugin support. Plugins can modify many aspects of standard software, and sometimes how it operates out of the box. An example plugin that many professionals use — and for some is essential — is Magic Bullet Looks for color correction and grading. Looks offers an alternative to the stock color correction tools baked into professional editing applications. Professional systems are highly customizable and configurable. From titling to file management and everything in between, there are third party plugins for almost every feature of professional editing systems. It all comes down to personal preference in determining exactly what software to use. 

Screen grab of Premiere Pro CC in use for cutting an outdoor television show

User Experience

When you launch a professional video editing application, it’s going to look like one. That is to say, there are things that you will not understand and that will not initially make sense to you. Features you are used to will most likely be somewhere else, not enabled by default or maybe even buried below a few layers of a drop down menu. That’s ok, and fortunately, there are tons of helpful online resources to get you up to speed on all major professional video editing platforms. If you have ever switched operating systems on your computer or phone, the experience can be similar. I’ve noticed from personal experience it takes about two weeks of use to get fully up to speed in a new professional editing app. Take your time to truly get to know the ins and outs of the software. If you have time sensitive work to edit, finish this work in the consumer program that you are familiar with and then make the switch. Adjusting to a new system takes time and patience — both of which are hard to come by when quick turnarounds are needed. 

Other Things To Consider

All video editing platforms will afford you the basics of post production, like importing and exporting, editing in a timeline, some sort of file management and a way to add transitions, titles and do basic color correction. As mentioned above, additional functionality can be added and augmented with the help of plugins, further helping customize the usability and functionality of your chosen editor.

Screen grab of Final Cut Pro showing more customization and stylization.

With more and more affordable 4K cameras like the GH4 coming to market, it’s clear that 4K is here to stay. Thankfully, all major professional video editing apps, including Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer and Sony Vegas Pro 13, natively support 4K footage. Color correction, compositing and audio mixing can also be achieved in all of these applications, but oftentimes different platforms take different routes to achieve the same results.

When looking for a professional video app, you can either purchase them as a suite or as a standalone product. Suites are fully integrated video production solutions that make round-tripping — sending files back and forth between post-production applications — much easier. For example, many professional editors rely on After Effects to create compelling visual content for use in their projects. Since Premiere Pro and After Effects are both in the same suite, Adobe Creative Cloud, it takes significantly less steps to send work to and from After Effects with Premiere Pro than it does with Final Cut Pro X. 

Screen Grab Final Cut Pro X in use for editing a music video

Know Your Work

Another thing to consider is the type of work you are doing or would like to be doing soon. What applications are predominantly being used by professionals in that field? You may find that while option A might seem most appealing to work in, option B might be easier if that’s what others in your post-production environment will be working in as well. However, don’t pigeonhole yourself into working in an application suite traditionally used in one area of video production or another. What makes a good editor is great taste and creativity, not which software they decide to use. 


What To Look for

Professional video editing applications can vary greatly from platform to platform. Keep these areas in mind in deciding which is the best fit for you. 

Subscription Services vs. Perpetual Licensing

As of late, subscription services have grown in popularity, with Adobe leading the change with it’s Creative Cloud suite. Other software developers like Avid with Media Composer have began to follow suit. The other option is to buy a perpetual license. Avid offers both subscription and perpetual licenses for Media Composer, whereas Final Cut Pro X and Sony Vegas Pro can only be purchased with a perpetual license. If you need a suite of applications beyond the basics of post-production, then a subscription may be best. If you only need the core features of professional post production, standalone options might be better suited and cheaper over time. 

Operating System

Unless you are platform agnostic, the operating system you are most comfortable working in can play a major role in deciding which option to choose. Some editing applications are exclusive to one operating system, while others are cross-platform and can be found on both Windows and OS X. 

Overall Cost

If your first professional editor of choice isn’t supported by the operating system you intend to use, then switching costs are greatly increased. While a subscription model’s initial cost may be cheaper, the yearly cost to own may end up being more than purchasing a perpetual license from a comparable competitor. These are important factors to consider before committing to a purchase.

Austin Mace is a freelance filmmaker, editor and digital creative. Connect with him on Instagram and Twitter at @austinmace.

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