So where does a church start when it comes to picking an application, especially if it can only afford to purchase one of them?
Industry-wide post-producers and editors use different applications alongside one another, which becomes an embarrassment of riches in its own right, as people grapple with compatibility problems.
Editors will likely spend a ton of time using the software, so it helps to find the non-linear editing (NLE) system that meets their essential needs.
Keep in mind software cannot replace human directorial vision. When I led a team of award-winning broadcast photojournalists and editors, there was no amount of zeros and ones running around inside a computer that could have accomplished what those men and women did.
The most important thing is the eye of the artist.
The following three video editing software programs each offer something unique, so let's examine some of their respective pros and cons.
Church Post-Production. Final Cut Pro
Randy Ubillos developed some of the earliest versions of Adobe's Premiere software, which was the first NLE system to become popular. He went on to develop Final Cut Pro for Apple. His main drive was to create easy-to-use software for those not making their living doing video, but could one day.
Final Cut Pro has become a stalwart in the post-production world amassing a large user base, mainly hobbyists and independent filmmakers, but has also chipped away at Avid's Media Composer, the dominant NLE system within the film and television industry.
Final Cut Pro won a Primetime Emmy Engineering Award in 2002 and has been used to edit more than 55 major feature films since that year. It certainly met my needs when working in the advertising and marketing industries, because it was compatible with numerous formats. Nearly four years after its biggest update, Focus, by directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, and starring Will Smith, is the first Hollywood film edited in Final Cut Pro X.
1) The Magnetic Timeline is probably the single best thing about its latest iteration, Final Cut Pro X, released in 2011. Gone are the manual editing days of using tracks I can attest to the horror of editing linearly from tape to tape. This software allows different parts of video to be joined together. When you move various scenes around, they click and lock onto each other on the timeline, giving the Magnetic Timeline its name.
2) Cinematic templates are a huge advantage if you’ve never actually worked with video before, and the ones that come with Final Cut Pro won’t look cheesy if you use them right. These templates have pre-fit designs that match different styles, but perhaps more importantly, different aspect ratios. If you shoot your camera in full or wide screen, it can adjust to either.
3) It is remarkably easy to use. In fact, some professionals are embarrassed to admit they use Final Cut Pro, because it removes some of the challenge of completing a video editing project. Even creating 3D type is easy with this program. Often, film studio or agency editors and animators might turn to other software like Maxon Cinema 4D or Adobe After Effects to create motion typography. However, if you need a 3D title for a nonprofit or church project, you’ll get a robust titling system in Final Cut Pro.
1) Final Cut Pro is only compatible with Mac. If you’re a cash-strapped organization, you’re going to have to weigh the cost of a new machine, if all you have are Windows-based computers.
2) Apple’s recent redesign of the Final Cut Pro interface changed everything, including the beloved keyboard layout. This won’t matter if you prefer the mouse, but if you've learned all the keyboard shortcuts, you’ll quickly find they now do something different.
3) Render time has always been an issue with this software. The new background-rendering feature helps, but individual objects have to be reinterpreted each time the software processes them. If you make a change to your content, the rest of the movie has to be recalculated.
Media Composerthe Old School Player
Avid has been in A/V work since 1987, so they have extensive experience in this area. The original Media Composer debuted in 1989, so they’ve had time to work out the kinks. It's been the dominant NLE system in the film and television industry since it was first developed for the Mac. These days it's also available for Windows, which makes it an extremely popular cross-platform solution for those already invested in PC technology.
1) Media Composer is extremely customizable from changing the keyboard layout to remapping the whole interface. And, it’s stable. It doesn’t have lag issues or crash repeatedly, regardless of customizations you might experiment with. If you know what you’re doing, then it’s probably the best pick for you. I've heard people in the business call Media Composer Hollywood’s favorite NLE.
2) If you’re shooting a feature-length documentary or have to use an effect, you’ll probably want to stick to your Avid guns. Media Composer is the best when it comes to long productions and manipulating a lot of media. The interface is geared to it, and it doesn’t slow down much with hours of source footage to cut down or reference.
3) Media Composer is king when it comes to media management. If you have clips and sound bites in different file formats, you’ll love its capabilities. It’s great for combining media from various editors or working with multiple cameras and media types, which may be common in a church setting. If you don’t know the specifications for every camera or the kinds of media you’ll be working with, this program is an excellent choice.
1) Media Composer places efficiency above everything else, so if you’re not into reading the manual, you’re going to find yourself staring at a screen and scratching your head. It even has its own unique keyboard layout, which I imagine will have you saying, "Ooh, fun." You’ll probably have to relearn editing, because there are a million ways to do one thing.
2) Avid Media Access (AMA) architecture is a heavily promoted technology packaged with the program to interface with native camera formats, so no one has to sit through conversion. It’s supposed to let you just connect up any disc, support card or device and immediately begin viewing and cutting up footage; however, the promise that you won't have to transcode anything is only true if your camera meets certain criteria. You'll need plug-ins to achieve a more streamlined workflow.
3) Like Final Cut Pro, it features its own mezzanine video codec called DNxHD, which is you guessed it compatible with Avid products. This is what I referred to as transcoding. It accepts all media formats, but requires a transcode from its native record state to its own proprietary codec. This requires time, because you can't plug in and edit. Avid uses an obtuse compression format.
Premiere Pro, Take a Bow
Premiere Pro has been around since 1991. It's less notable for its history, though, and more so for the interesting organizations that use it. Broadcasters like CNN and the BBC use it today. When I was doing work for big brand agencies, I used Premiere Pro to handle disparate pieces of media from multiple sources, which allowed me to be very agile in a streamlined editing and finishing workflow. We use it exclusively at Gateway Church in our production and post-production departments, because it is highly expandable and can take whatever media you throw at it. And, because it integrates graphics, animation and effects from start to finish, you can stay in the Adobe Creative ecosystem.
1) The single best thing about it: it was designed for editing native media. There’s no specialty mezzanine codec or intermediate format. Adobe has worked hard to accept and edit every major camera format from the iPhone to 8K UHD. So, if you want to take video straight off your camera, upload it and edit it right away, then this is the choice for you. Premiere uses the most industry-standard way of transcoding no specialty plug-ins required. You might wait a few minutes while the program parses through your footage, but you don’t have to install anything to deal with it.
2) Premiere Pro is for you if you learned Final Cut Pro 7 and felt cheated by Apple moving to an entirely different platform. The interface and workings of Premiere Pro are so similar that you find people mockingly call it Final Cut Pro 8. We call people who move to Premiere Pro “Apple Video Refugees.” Adobe created a lot of features to help migrate projects and mirror key functions. They even include the keyboard layout from Final Cut Pro 7 in the program.
3) Premiere Pro has the most intuitive design. In fact, this software is perfect for the beginning video editor, because it works much like any other application. Adobe seeks to make the user experience very instinctive and natural. If you’ve ever used a word processor, spreadsheet or paint program, you can edit video. Adobe's interface mirrors other software. Say you don't use your keyboard to edit video, they made the mouse interface a typical point-and-click setup grid.
1) Instability can be a major issue with Premiere, which bothers me, because the native format design means that it doesn’t experience the same types of freezes that you might get with other editing applications. Rendering long projects can make it hang, especially if you don’t have the hardware to support it. PC users will need to make sure they have sufficient RAM. I suggest one-and-a-half times the version's recommended minimum.
2) Working with groups of panels that stack up vertically together in the user interface is cumbersome. This is a poor imitation not only with Premiere, but also throughout their Creative Suite collection; it gets old fast. Some of the applications within the Creative Suite let your turn it off but others won’t. This tab and toggle down feature was inspired by Adobe Lightroom, a digital photography workflow program the same developers worked on, and it shows. With still photos this paradigm works well; you can organize everything neatly. But with video, it doesn’t seem to make much sense at all.
3) The start screen was recently redesigned, so if you used it before, you might have some re-learning to do, it's not terrible, but does catch you by surprise. That’s unfortunate, because the developers spent a lot of time making it attractive to Final Cut Pro 7 users. They should have included support for their older version. Adobe should know that people have little interest in jumping to an earlier version once they’ve become used to the current one.
That’s a Wrap!
Final Cut Pro is the best for Macintosh users wanting an affordable and easy-to-use interface. It has a lot of nice features that work well. Media Composer is a professional NLE and by far, the most customizable. And if you have particular needs, Media Composer is out of this world at addressing them. It's a solid investment in a long-term solution. Premiere Pro is your best bet if you don’t want to mess with video codecs, or you wish to plug into a host of other Adobe applications. It's also a lot easier from a technical standpoint. It also makes a lot of sense for most churches.
Plenty of factors influence choosing a non-linear editing program, and I can’t recommend any of these over the other, because they’re all so different. Consider the goals of your organization, the experience you have on staff and the hardware you’re working with. The time spent in consideration may prevent hours of frustration later.
Matt Knisely, a multiple Emmy Awardwinning photojournalist, storyteller, and author, loves revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Matt's been in the industry 20+ years and currently serves as lead creative director at Gateway Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex where he is passionate about storytelling to help present the mystery of God's Word. He is also the author of Framing Faith: From Camera to Pen, An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World