A Guide To Professional Video Editing Software


The Moral Here

So, as you go forth into the valley of the shadow of looming video deadline, here’s what I’d like you to take with you:

It’s not about which video editing software is “the best.” It’s about which one fits your hand, your eye, your sense of timing and your way of organizing. Factor in your prior experiences, plus the learning curve to get comfortable with a new toolset. If you’ve invested, say, more than hundred hours on any decent platform, you’re probably best off staying there.

At least, until the brand dies and you’re forced to learn to worship in a new church.

But don’t underestimate your power to change the prescribed canons of worship or the dogma of editing practice. It is in the nature of NLE to be always either in-development or dying. A lot of what the manufacturers try to hand you—bad support, buggy whiz-bangs, half-baked features—is unacceptable. Say so. Don’t let them BS you. Make them work harder for your dollar. Always remember that you are the apex predator of this biosphere.

Where No Editor Has Gone Before: Into The Clouds

Advanced video editing hereafter is all about the cloud. Or, more accurately, clouds plural.

But this does not mean that you will be actually editing in the cloud just yet. Yes, with ubiquitous big-pipe broadband, you could someday be editing a proxy on your tablet from your kayak or igloo. Your actual 4K files will be screaming around Amazon’s data farm. And your rendered Final will directly play-out to viewers from your client’s head-end—or your YouTube channel—without you even having to export: truly on-line editing. But that day shall not come as soon as Avid and Adobe want you to believe.

Between then and now you will essentially be renting your editing tools from a cloud-based mother ship. But you’ll be carving with them locally on your home-heating, utility bill-killing CPU; all your pictures stored on local drives, with only yourself to blame when the array fails with no back-up. In this brave new world, the worker (you) controls the means of production. But you won’t ever own them.

Yes, it’s the old Soviet model, complete with a small committee of corrupt fat cat execs cashing your checks, surrounded by a cloud of dependent, sycophantic and largely incompetent apparatchiks (called customer service representatives). They will eavesdrop and surreptitiously record your forum chats. Complain too much and they will fire you, even though you are the customer. Mark my words, folks, this will suck. But it's the new normal. For now.

I know. You hate having to pay the lease each month for a car you may not drive that often, or that far. But, having spent the last few thousand words beating up the manufacturers, I’m now going to ask you think about this from their perspective.

For software shops to remain competitive, they must be nimble, delivering updates and refinements and bug fixes as soon as they can. Going, going, gone is the business model of selling an expensive box of video toolkit but having to constantly offer patches and updates for free.

So you pay a modest—but constant—fee to edit. And you get the latest toolset, updated and supported automatically in the background (mostly). Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud is already here. Avid Everywhere is gathering on the horizon. You’ll find yourself monogamously married to one mob or another. You can pick your gang, but you “can’t not” be a gang-banger. For you have drunk the Kool-Aid and subscribed.

Here's how the seduction is structured: you date a non-linear editor because you like the look and feel of its timeline and sculpting tools. But you soon find that some other guy's compositing program is better than the one offered by the NLE you chose. It proves to be damnably difficult to move all your elements and half-realized cut cross-platform. And then you find you need to create and import an object (or worse, a scene full of them) from a 3D modeler from yet another company. You have a client—for whom you want to do award-winning work—breathing heavily in your ear about the budget and the deadline. You're basically hosed.

If you have to make a living doing this, you simply don't have time to become a fully vetted proficient citizen of many different townships, each with their own customs, currency, interface, terminology and keyboard shortcuts. You're hosed again.

Thus, the clusters of "intra-networked" programs become island universes. You could think of them as navies at war on the sea of visual content, or like different planets with mutually exclusive biota. But they are really much more like Organized Religions.

Thus you choose to marry within one faith or another. And you stay there. For years. And your working culture becomes ever-entwined with that brand.

So, when selecting a video edit package, be sure to pick one whose high priests return your e-mails.

How to learn the prayers and rituals of any new software package? Start with: Lynda.com. Lynda Weinman began as a special effects animator before founding the training company with her partner illustrator/designer Bruce Heavin. They get visual production. They know how to school us.


Better days lie ahead. I’m not yet a believer in all that Singularity stuff (Nerd Nirvana). But, looking at innovations like Apple’s Content Auto-Analysis, it’s pretty clear that fuzzy-logical neural-networked contextual software will save our sorry video editorial butts, someday.

Full interoperability between tool-sets from different creators (religions) can be made possible given sufficient cloud computing power and connectivity. We will eventually see (mostly) seamless “translation-in-the-background.” This will render the platform pedigree irrelevant. The economic winners: the third-party plug-in makers. And you and I, the content creators.

Yes, you could edit and deliver from your catamaran. You may even be able to speak to your Editing AI in esthetic terms: “Move that swarm of bees (cluster of related procedurally animated object-events) from near the diving board (locus by context) to over by the guy with the watermelon (face + object recognition and key-frame definition), in one and a half seconds (transition time irrespective of frame-rate); let me see a gentle swoop (3D Bezier motion path).”

You will finally graduate from button-pusher to full-time creative director, reducing the producer to being just the banker instead of your boss!

Until then, buy more RAM (can you ever have too much?). And hang in there.

Happy cutting.

“Check the gate.”

  • Spoogemonkey
    The absolute worst article on Tom's I've ever seen. Horribly overwritten and full of useless, embarrassing dribble. Pathetic.
  • randomstranger9
    Commenting commentary... who are the commentariat who could comment on comments? A commenter!

    See how annoying this kind of writing is?
  • HormusPeston
    I loved this article. I've been editing since the days when tape was pre-striped and when "hit record" required a mental countdown during pre-roll. Like most professional editors, I can edit on pretty much any system that you throw at me. Placing the playhead where you want it and knowing the equivalents of XCVB and match-frame gets 90% of the job done. IOJKL is standard -- the Avid standard. I remember the older FinalCut versions had absolutely idiotic shortcuts -- I think D was mapped to "Duplicate clip" or something silly...

    Cutting on the Avid is like being married: she grows on you and nothing else feels right. I've flirted with X, with Premiere CS6 and many others Incite, Edius, Media 100 but I still love my Avid. I carry my settings and jog shuttle with me.

    I grinned broadly at the author's comparison of Lightworks to a flatbed! Of course it is! This is the only review I have read that distinguished between a young editor willing to learn new software and an old dog.

    Thank you.

  • beetlejuicegr
    New way of writing an article i have to admit. I guess the writer wanted to show the creational side of it, unlike the tools making you "send a low res pic on a small mobile screen to get the ok" as he says somewhere

    Well sure after thousands of montage you will feel that way.
  • joe_newbuilder
    Each of these softwares targets a different market segment and has different requirements. Some software no matter how great has no traction in that market. It is pretty important to be using the tools that others in your industry expect.

    It is really important to see how these programs work with finishing tools. You really should use an editing program to do effects and color work because most of the time it limits the ability of professionals to collaborate using much higher quality tools geared to those tasks.

    As far as markets I have seen Avid, Final Cut and Premiere used in feature motion pictures. Projects are commonly shared between parts of production. So the editors who are doing all the logging and tagging of performances may not be doing the final cuts of the work. Each platform as a way of exporting tagging and conforming media so that when you move from one system to another each person can know they are looking at the correct clips.

    For episodic television Avid is all I see. The incredibly short schedules for TV pretty much live on the sharing infrastructure setup between AVID stations.

    That is also market dependent, I have seen European shows edited on Quantel.

    Unless you are big enough to make your own way, or so small you won't work with anyone else it's important to use what others in your field use
  • Frankenstein002
    Using avid media composer for a couple of years now. Am hapy with it...