For years now we’ve been talking about which NLE or DAW is the “best one.” “This one has this” and “that one has that.” In the end, for the most part, each NLE/DAW has its own merits, and each seems to work well in a particular field or kind of media. I say, “for the most part” for a reason. Some simply don’t measure up to prime time delivery – or they make it so difficult to create a professional delivery that it isn’t feasible to use. Some of you already know which DAW/NLEs I’m talking about. Before I start naming names, (and I will) let’s talk about the mandatory features of any professional NLE/DAW and see if the ones we’re using have such features. Yours doesn’t have them? Get rid of it!
There are fundamental basics which need to be established in a DAW/NLE for anyone to consider using such a program for professional deliveries. Even if you’re just doing youtube single-phone shots, your NLE should have these basics or else you’re working too hard to get the results you need. I’m lumping DAWs in with NLEs because a great NLE should be able to function like a DAW in many respects, and most of the editing we do in audio-only DAW-land should function the same way in NLE-multimedia-land. We’ll be examining Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer and Black Magic Resolve. If it doesn’t do these things, get rid of it.
Also, don’t forget that if you are using Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X or Resolve, we have audio presets for you which can radically assist in your audio editing results. You can purchase the Premiere Presets Here, the Final Cut Presets Here, and the Resolve Presets Here: You can watch demo videos about them here:
Let me mention that all of these programs are stable. That means they should crash while being run at their best settings once a day or less. I know that may sound like a lot, but NLE/DAWs inherently push CPUs to their maximum. Even the most stable of the programs listed here crash once every other day or have to be restarted for some buggy issue. If your NLE/DAW requires a program restart more than this, get rid of it (or find out what’s wrong in your CPU).
Here we go:
The Required Fundamentals
- High pixel count, real-time editing
- This is pretty obvious: you want to be able to cut natively and in real-time at the highest pixel count visual you can. Ideally, you’re cutting at the originally shot resolution. You certainly want to be able to color correct and process images at the highest level possible. Although in the old days we used to have to “offline edits,” where a downgraded resolution is used for editing, we shouldn’t have to do that now. A computer may need acceleration in order to make such high bandwidth motion pictures work, but the software should be able to handle this. My bottom line is 8K resolution. If it can’t do 8K, it’s not modern enough for prime time.
- In this category, there’s no clear winner, since nearly all of these programs do this – except for Avid which has only recently started implementing online cutting at 8K resolution…and it’s wonky at best. Add to this the fact that you have to buy thousands of dollars in hardware to get Avid to work makes Avid the clear loser for this category and garners it negative points. PP/FCPX/DR +1. AMC -1
- Powerful Color Correction Tools
- We have to be able to dig deeply into the color space in order to make our shots to make the grade. Basic grade capabilities alone won’t do. We need to be able to track, pull miracles out of fodder, and have noise correction capabilities. All of these programs have these capabilities, but I’d give the clear advantage to Resolve and Premiere Pro. Resolve has been the de-facto standard in color correction for decades (back when it was Davinci). Premiere Pro has brought in powerful color correction tools in recent revisions as well in the form of Lumetri color. And while FCPX has great color correction capabilities, they’re locked into their somewhat unique format (being kind). Although no host based system renders faster than FCPX, we find color correction in FCPX to have issues of errors and bugginess the other two don’t. Avid color correction pales in comparison to the three. PP/DR +1
- Multitrack Track-based Mixing Capabilities
- We need to be able to process and mix in real time 48 tracks or more. We need these tracks and their clips to be kept organized so that plugins can be applied to both clips and tracks. We also need to be able to automate our track and clip moves with key frames or actual fader automation – which means that we need to have faders and a mixer. The computer should be able to handle large audio track counts at 48k/24bits. It’s okay if in the audio mix, picture is watched from a proxy. We can’t expect a CPU to handle 8K images, color correct them, output them, and deal with the complexities of audio as well. Since FCPX doesn’t even HAVE tracks it’s a clear loser here. With the advent of the Fairlight page in DR, Resolve has come up quite a bit i this category, but it’s still not ready for prime time. Avid, because of its integration with Pro Tools has a strong track based and mixing capability. Premiere Pro has long been the most advanced audio mixing NLE and is the clear winner here. With its Essential Sound Panel, track based automation AND integration with Adobe Audition, it clears the floor in this category. PP +1. FCPX -1.
- Motion Graphics Capability
- We need to be able to make snazzy text fly on and off the screen. It should be easy to do, and we should have premade presets to give us a start. We should also be able to buy/import other motion graphics templates to use in our timelines. FCPX has long been doing great work in the motion graphics department even when it was a wonky import from its other graphics programs. But recent versions of Premiere have brought in the “Essential Graphics Panel” which catapulted Premiere into a platform where folks can do professional grade titles and have them done easily and quickly. They’re also connected to the massive library of motion graphics in Adobe Stock. Of course, with Dynamic Linking capabilities in the industry standard After Effects program, Premiere Pro is the clear winner here. Resolve has some excellent capabilities with its new Fusion tab and, like Premiere, has taken the crown from FCPX. Avid, too, has the ability to do great titles, but would be the fourth in the lineup. PP/FCPX/DR +1. AMC +.5.
- Current Compression/Codec Export Capability
- We should be able to export our timelines at the most modern/up-to-date codecs and compression technologies. FCPX is the clear loser here forcing users to use its limited Apple-oriented codecs. Resolve and Avid do adequately here. Premiere has many codecs that no other NLE has and with its integration with Media Encoder, can create nearly every export possible – except for creating 24 bit audio files when making AIF or WAV files or having them embedded into media formats. To do this you must do a mickey mouse in ME. Audition, too, has this issue. But at least, there’s a work around. DR/AMC +1. FCPX -1.
- Powerful Visual Plugins/Effects
- The NLE should have built-in visual transitions and plugins which are amazing and easy to use. All of these programs have great visual effects plugins. However, Premiere, and Resolve excel with their dedicated sections to effects and After Effects/Fusion integration. PP/DR +1
- Powerful Audio Plugins/Effects
- The NLE/DAW should have world-class built-in audio transitions and plugins which are amazing and easy to use – and which can be applied to both clips and tracks interchangeably. They can also be ordered in any fashion to have a different signal flow to the plugins. All of these programs have incredible audio effects. FCPX with its integration of the Logic Pro X effects, Resolve with its Fairlight Effects, Premiere with Audition effects and Avid with Pro Tools effects. The issue comes down to routing and implementation. Here Resolve and FCPX get negative scores. Although in FCPX you CAN order your effects any way you like, it is entirely clip based. In Resolve, you are locked into Fairlight’s thinking as to how your EQ and dynamics/compression is routed. Worse, you have to delete plugins to reorder them. PP/AMC +1. DR/FCPX -1.
- Non-Linear Editing Capabilities
- While there are no “wrong ways” to edit footage in a timeline, there are methods which work more universally. Timeline editing workflows should adhere to generally understood ways of working. This way, once you learn one program, you can port your skills to more. The editing capabilities should have all the facilities for healing edits, keyframe manipulation, track ordering, locking to frames/audio samples, and general organization capabilities of clips and tracks. All but FCPX get points here. Need I say more? FCPX is a creative but unique way of doing things. You learn FCPX, that’s all you’ll know. And while Premiere Pro has no easy track reordering, its editing customization and being the only NLE which can do multi-track audio sync makes up for this shortcoming. PP/DR/AMC +1.
- Export/Import Timeline for Use Elsewhere
- If we can’t export our timelines to another platform, we have to be sure we can finish the project in the program in which we started. Unless we’re working on our own projects, this is nearly never possible. Projects are always moving from one NLE/DAW to another to either drill down on audio or do color for final output. We need to be able to move from, say FCPX to Resolve and from Avid to Audition with ease. We also want to be able to import other projects in kind. None of these programs get this right. The only nearly-sure export from our NLEs is to Pro Tools…well….all but Final Cut (which never will). They all work incredibly well in their own ecosystems. Adobe sends perfect copies of its timelines to AE/PP/AA/ME et al. Resolve doesn’t need to send anything anywhere, because nearly every aspect of post is available in the program itself. Avid has a near perfect interchange with Pro Tools. FCPX and Logic Pro X, too, have a great interchange. But talking to competitors? They might as well be speaking Zulu to each other. The best interchange I experience is Avid to Resolve and Premiere to Resolve. FCPX gets negative points here, since you have to buy another program to get its files to read on anything else – and have a lot of prayer. PP/DR/AMC +1. FCPX -1.
- Fun To Use
- Spending hours on end working in front of a computer means the program should be easy to use and even, dare I say, fun. If we’re constantly wrestling with software issues, and it’s cumbersome to work, we don’t want to use the program. And like we’ve said in our article on “the issue isn’t you, it’s your program,” it’s likely time to use another NLE/DAW. Now, even though I pan FCPX, it’s probably the most fun to use. It’s super stable and renders faster than anything. The least fun to use is Avid, as it is still forcing folks to do things the way Avid wants instead of being more open to user preference. Premiere and Resolve are just fine to use. FCPX +1. AMC -1.
To be fair, no program gets all of these right. And to just say “get rid of it” if it’s missing a couple of these is foolish if you’ve invested time and money in your NLE. Here’s the breakdown as I see it:
Premiere Pro: Score $60/month: 8
With Dynamic Linking to a host of professional applications, excellent customer support, and a large user base, although it’s nowhere near as cheap as FCPX or DR, if you’re doing any kind of multimedia work where you need to create professional results and have maximum flexibility in nearly all areas, Premiere should be your go to.
Black Magic Davinci Resolve $399: Score: 6
Resolve is growing by leaps and bounds. With the advent of Fairlight and Fusion, it’s become a platform where projects can originate and deliver all-in-one. And although the Fairlight page has a ways to go before it’s ready for prime time, it’s still an excellent platform to be working on your projects. It doesn’t hurt that the base version (which disallows a few critical aspects – like adding visual plugins at all) is free.
Avid Media Composer $23.99/month base $50,000 professional: Score: 2.5
The former Hollywood de facto NLE has slipped in my estimation. Not because it’s gotten worse as a useful tool, but because it didn’t keep up with the competition. Add to this the requirement for expensive hardware to make it work as intended, and we find Avid losing market share every day.
Final Cut Pro X $299: Score: -1
Personally, I like using FCPX on small videos where I don’t need to deal with anything in audio, and need a motion graphic or two – maybe some simple color correction. More than this? No way. Have I done large format narrative editing on FCPX? Yes. And it took me, literally, 4 times as long to get the same prodct with PP or DR. Without any good way of getting audio out of the software in a manner that doesn’t cost a day in assistant editing, limited codec export, and a wonky way of editing, FCPX is definitely the least amongst these four in my book.
Of course you’ll have your own opinions (and rants), so please drop those here. I’m always open to new ideas and even new ways of accomplishing things – which might raise the score of some of these. But if you’re using one of these systems that scores below 6, honestly, think about maybe…well..just…get rid of it.
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