NLEs are NOT all the same!


In order to compare the attributes of the industry’s top three non-linear edit
systems (NLE) – Apple’s Final Cut Pro X (FCPX – the successor to FCP7), Adobe’s
Premiere Pro, and Avid’s Media Composer – Screen Africa will look at each of them
through the eyes of several South African editors and trainers.

Avid Media Composer

This is the longtime industry standard, delivering with precision and few glitches. It
also enables every editor working in a team to look at exactly the same project and
when changes are made and saved they ripple to everyone else’s view.

Megan Gill, a well-known South African editor, currently working in LA on Gavin
Hood’s latest movie Eye in the Sky, is an Avid user. “Editing is editing but to a
certain degree, you get what you pay for. Avid is the priciest but, for me, it is also
the best. Essentially they all do the job, some just a bit more efficiently than others.
Avid is by far the most reliable, least likely to crash and easiest to use. FCP7 gets
the job done for less money but it crashes, has a low RAM capacity and needs a
little bit more care when it comes to media management’.

Greg Shaw of Upstairs Post adds “Avid will always continue to be a favorite with
seasoned craftsmen. The problem with it is that very few younger people get the
opportunity to edit on such software and to assist editors who cut on it. The other
software is cheaper and so film schools have opted to teach on these. We find that
we have to re-skill all our junior edit assistants when they join our company, due to
the fact that they have never been exposed to Avid. Once they learn they never
look back’.

“Avid was designed by editors for editors,’ says Cape Town-based Maryke Kruger,
who runs Post Production CC with her partner Babette du Toit.

“With the rand to dollar being what it is these days, we see a lot of international
companies running not only their production, but also their post-production from
South Africa. Nine out of ten times they will insist on Avid. That means in the last
two years there has been a dramatic shift back to Avid. Those who know Premiere
will find the shift to Avid less dramatic because the two systems are very similar in
their basic approach, but I’m afraid the FCPX editors will find the shift very difficult.

“Avid is reliable and fast, and some of its new features were designed specifically
for the high-end broadcast market. From the moment you start your project, Avid
makes sure that your final product will meet international standards. It will correct
or transcode any format that has a funny frame rate or size so that your base time
is correct. This limits syncing issues where audio originates from a different source
than your video’.

Danielle Faria-Nel is currently one of only a few certified instructors teaching all
three platforms. She is also an editor specialising in long-form work. “For long form
I use Avid Media Composer, mainly because of the Integrated Science Instrument
Server (ISIS) which allows access to one project for multiple editors.’

Final Cut Pro X (FCPX)

FCPX may be seen as the new kid on the block, but by most accounts, it’s growing
up. It seems that Apple didn’t just build FCPX from the ground up; rather, it set out
to revolutionise the entire editing process.

Gone is the traditional track-based paradigm as well as the bin-based organisation.
Instead, among other innovations, FCPX offers a trackless, “magnetic’ timeline
intended to help editors work more quickly without having to worry about creating
tracks, assigning destination tracks, and moving clips between tracks.

“For my day-to-day work I use FCPX’ say Faria-Nel. “A TV programme I used to cut
in two days using FCP7, I cut now in six hours. Basically I use FCPX for speed and
its ability to work seamlessly with Da Vinci Resolve.

“When I used FCPX for the first time I immediately felt the leap into the future,’
says Tongai Furusa, senior editor at Johannesburg-based post-production house 14
10th street. “The magnetic timeline is probably what stands out the most. This is a
complete paradigm shift as you literally see time and space collapse in front of your
eyes. It worries editors because you are not sure what has happened to the rest of
your project. FCPX boasts a magnificent, easy to use multi-cam system that allows
you to edit up to 16 streams at a time’.

Annamarie James, SAFTA 2015 winner for Best Editing on a Documentary Feature,
is dubious. “My relationship with FCP has been mostly love but more recently, a lot
of hate,’ she says. “Four years ago, Apple shocked and deserted all the old school
FCP users by introducing the new funky FCPX. Shock, Horror! We all held on
desperately to 7 in the hope of a miracle but finally had to relent and make the call.
Avid, Premiere, or X – this is the big debate all editors have been having non-stop
ever since FCPX made its unwelcome appearance.

“Personally I’ll edit in FCP7 for as long as I can, I’ll edit in Avid when I do long form
or work for a large company and I’ll struggle on trying to get my head around, and
heart into, the FCPX revolution. In the end, the quality of the edit lies with the
calibre of editor and whatever the software, the job will get done.

Willem Grobbelaar of Funki Designs recalls: “I decided to take a leap of faith and
bought FCPX. The look and feel of the new user interface was appealing, but
suddenly you needed to learn a whole new way of editing. For example, there were
no more different audio channels/layers that you could switch on or off separately.
Everything was magnetically linked. And the way you grade footage in FCPX is
different from grading in other NLEs.

“Because you edit differently and need to apply different editing styles and
techniques in FCPX, you will definitely see two different types of editors/generations
emerging: Those who edit in the new way like with FCPX, and those who edit in the
traditional way.’

Adobe Premiere Pro
It seems the transition from FCP7 to Premiere is relatively simple. Premiere has its
quirks and differences, but time spent learning them is rewarded by features such
as seamless integration with Adobe’s creative tools, including After Effects.

“Adobe Premiere Pro is a solid work horse albeit somewhat clunky to work with,’
says Michael Kruger, whose main focus is training. “It is popular with photographers
and DSLR camera users due to the integration with Photoshop and the excellent
Adobe Media Encoder software, which is great for transcoding media. Unfortunately
it is sold with a floating licence which requires annual subscription renewal, making
it an expensive option when measured over a four to five year period
Liani Maasdorp, currently teaching at the University of Cape Town, notes: “We still
predominantly use FCP7 in the Film and Media labs, as we have so many suites that
will have to be upgraded if we change. For now 7 is working well for us. It’s stable,
reliable and we know what we’re going to get. We also have Adobe Premiere
available in these suites and a few students prefer it. Hardly anyone uses Avid, but
probably because they don’t get any structured training on it and because it’s only
available on about five suites at the UCT TV Studio.’

Maryke Kruger notes that Adobe is not known for use on big productions. “The
company is more known for its stills photography and special effects software
packages. I suppose that in terms of its interface, it is so close to Avid that most
people rather spend a little more and get Avid and then add Adobe’s supporting
software like Photoshop, After Effects and the new Speedgrade.

“I don’t think I’ve ever sat down in front of an Avid or FCP that didn’t also have After
Effects or Photoshop installed. For that reason Premiere hasn’t made the same
impact on the high end television broadcast and film industry that say FCP7 has,’
she says.


There is no right or wrong answer regarding each of the three featured systems.
Apple, Adobe, and Avid continue to develop and support their products, providing
filmmakers with a variety of world class tools.

As Greg Shaw so succinctly puts it: The craft of editing is becoming more and more
commoditised – budgets and time have pushed us from seasoned craftsmen into the
world of technicians. In the end machines carry no value or worth – human capacity
is what makes the difference. All the edit systems are up to the job; the problem is
that craft is being compromised for affordability and speed.

Grateful thinks are extended to The South African Guild of Editors (SAGE) with a
core body of around 115 members and other editors and trainers who gave of their
time to contribute to this article. A large number of editors forwarded detailed
comparisons and it is a great pity that these cannot be published in full.

Apart from sharing editors’ opinions on these three systems it is hoped that this
article will engender discussion and feedback. Screen Africa would welcome all
comments on the topics on our Facebook page (
and Twitter account(@ScreenAfrica) let us know your thoughts by using the
hashtag: #MyNLE
– Andy Stead


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here