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NLEs

5 minute read

When it comes to professional NLEs, there are four clear leaders: Avid’s Media Composer, BlackMagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, and Adobe’s Premiere Pro.

All four of these are excellent tools fully capable of handling almost any editing task. That said, each tool is different, has its own history, and is best suited to particular types of projects.

We’ve identified a few major areas of differentiation.

Traditional vs Nontraditional Layout

Avid, Premiere, and Resolve all work on a common and traditional paradigm. Video tracks, audio tracks, bin organization, and similar naming conventions. Apple’s Final Cut Pro used to also fit nicely into this description, up through version 7.

In 2011, Apple rewrote and reimagined the NLE from scratch, building the tool around a very different paradigm from the traditional track-based and bin-based tools. It was new, it was different, and when it originally came out, it was lacking many professional features.

The release and complete rewrite of Final Cut Pro X upset a lot of editors (this one included) and created a very emotional divide among some professionals. Some will be very passionate about their views. In the years since its release, the missing features have all been filled in (and then some), bringing FCP X back up to the professional level.

I have become a FCP X user and used it at the highest level, a major studio feature film. It is a valid, viable and proven tool.

It is, however, different from the other three in its core design. While Avid, Premiere, and Resolve use tracks as the primary way of arranging clips on a timeline, FCP X uses a magnetic timeline to avoid tracks entirely. While this may seem like a small difference, it marks a deep change in the way that the editor works.

Cost

Let’s look at this from the perspective of an individual, rather than a company with negotiating power and lots of resources. Depending on your use case, you have several options to consider: full purchase, subscription, or free.

All of these NLEs are capable but have different strengths. For example, are you working with many editors (picture editors and sound editors) attached to shared storage? Media Composer is the first choice for that in Hollywood. For a project with very complex organizational needs or for projects cutting on camera original footage (not proxies), Final Cut Pro X is a great choice. For deep integration between apps, consider Adobe’s Premiere Pro as part of the Creative Suite. For industry standard color controls and a tight post-production pipeline, try Resolve, which has editing, color, sound mixing and nodal visual effects built in.

All that said, here’s the basic price of each at the moment.

Avid Media Composer: from $200 per year to $1300 for a perpetual license.

Final Cut Pro X: $299. Upgrades have been free since the original release of FCP X.

Adobe Premiere Pro: $20-$80 per month, depending on your subscription.

Davinci Resolve: Free for single users, $299 for a more capable version that allows multiple users.

Ease of use

These tools have somewhat different learning curves. Because people generally prefer what they are used to, solicitations from your friends or other experienced editors may take you down a biased path. Thankfully there are free demos or versions of all of these NLEs. As well as many free and paid tutorials to allow you to try before you buy.

My opinion is that editors experienced with a track-based editing system will find that type easier to use and easier to switch between the three track-based NLEs mentioned here. For a newcomer, I think Final Cut Pro X is easier and more intuitive.

Many professional editors, who are highly accomplished and skilled and technically savvy (editors who have used track-based NLEs) find FCP X flummoxing. When I approached it as a professional, I did, too. I actually asked for a refund! But eventually, I gave it another shot. I asked a lot of questions because it seemed to be too easy, too simple and less powerful. After I learned it and understood its logic, I found it, and still find it, very easy to use, deeply powerful and doing a great job of staying out of the way of the creative process.

Multi-user workflows

While it’s possible to use any of these tools with a team of editors, some of them make it easier than others.

Avid is certainly the most widely-respected in that area, followed by Resolve. Adobe’s recent releases have included some multi-user workflow options, though they aren’t yet as widely-used as Avid’s.FCP X as of yet has no built-in solutions for multi-user workflows. It is certainly possible to {work together with multiple editors in FCP X}, but it’s not as smooth as with Avid.

Quick Overview of Each Tool

Avid Media Composer — The king of collaboration, standard in Hollywood, stable tools. Learn it if your destination is Hollywood feature films and television.

Final Cut Pro X — Fast and flexible, easy to use, very friendly toward original media, one person post-production house, great integration with many utilities thanks to advanced XML. Learn it as a cost-effective, high-performance, one-stop shop for editing, color, visual effects, and sound work.

Premiere Pro — Well integrated with Adobe’s Creative Suite, powerful color and sound operations, tight visual effects integration with After Effects, widely used. Learn it as an effective tool that has been embraced by many in television and film.

Resolve — A promising newcomer, even at version 15 I’m still calling it a newcomer! Top-tier color tools, fully integrated workspace with editing, sound, visual effects, color and detailed delivery options built in. Blackmagic Design is being very ambitious with this software and I’m looking forward to seeing both how it works and how it affects the industry. Also, the single user version is free! Learn it if you want to be ahead of a possible coming wave.

Your own use case: the real question.

Are you working alone? In a group of editors? With a design team? Are there a lot of visual effects? How do you plan to finish your project?

There is a myriad of scenarios.

For example, if your favorite visual effects artist uses Fusion, DaVinci Resolve is a good choice. If they use After Effects, maybe consider Premiere. If you have Sound Designer who works on Pro Tools who requires detailed film style change notes, Avid is a good choice. If you’re shooting on a RED camera and want a simple flexible way to cut with your original camera media, Final Cut Pro X is a great choice. Are you working alone? Plan to do editing, color, sound, and visual effects yourself? Premiere, Final Cut Pro X and Resolve will do the job!

The more modern editing systems (Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere and Resolve) support, in more convenient ways, modern workflows and elements like original camera media, original sound media and mountains of metadata which have great value for visual effects artists, sound editors, and colorists.

There is no best NLE for everyone.

Workflow Guide

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