Best Video Editing Software for Indie Filmmakers in 2017

Keep up with the latest movie editing tools and trends.

 


This post is a part of our ongoing series about Non-Linear Editing (NLE) software for professional movie editing. 

It is best read after (1) our overview of the top 3 video editing platforms, and (2) our June 2015 roundup of the changes made to these platforms.


“The tools do not make the filmmaker.”

With cameras and computers as available and affordable as they are, it’s easy to buy into the Cult of Gear, believing that the latest and greatest gadget is the thing we need to revolutionize our filmmaking.

Granted, new tools can go a long way toward helping us realize our specific ideas, but they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. You could give the best video camera and movie editing software in the world to your friend, but if they don’t have the theoretical foundation, technical training, and creative vision for a film, then they will fail to unlock the tools’ true potential.

Here at Lights Film School, we believe that you can make a movie with the equipment you have on-hand. The key is to embrace, not resist, the creative constraints you face, and then build your film around the limitations.

Thankfully, most editing software in 2017 combines affordability and professionalism, putting powerful Non-Linear Editing (NLE) solutions in the hands of independent filmmakers. The three most popular solutions – Adobe’s Premiere Pro, Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, and Avid’s Media Composer – lead the way, as they did when we first compared their capabilities in the summer of 2014.

As 2017 gets underway, it’s time to review the NLE landscape again, detailing each platform’s development since our June 2015 roundup. A lot has happened in a year and a half! Dive into the specifics below, or scroll to the bottom of the page for a brief summary of the developments to help inform your choice of editing program.

The Premiere Pro CC 2017 interface in action.

The Premiere Pro CC 2017 interface in action.

PREMIERE PRO | 5 updates – 2015.1, 2015.2, 2015.3, 2015.4, & CC 2017

Bin-oriented/track-based paradigm, designed around native media | cross-platform | Creative Cloud subscription starting at $19.99/month

In November 2015, Adobe rolled out Premiere Pro CC 2015.1, incorporating a medley of new features:

  • Native support for more 4K UHD and High Dynamic Range (HDR) formats, including Avid’s 4K codec DNxHR; HEVC (H.265), a future compression standard; the Dolby Vision mezzanine codec; and the HDR file format OpenEXR.
  • HDR workflows, anticipating the industry’s movement toward HDR as a delivery spec.
  • Multiple improvements to merged clips, including the ability to accurately subclip merged clips.
  • Optical Flow Time Remapping to facilitate smooth slow motion and speed ramps without an ultra-high frame rate.
  • Access to Adobe Stock’s video content via the Creative Cloud Libraries panel; touch and gesture support, foreshadowing Minority Report; and stacked panel groups to improve workspace organization and screen real estate.

For a full debrief, check out Adobe’s 2015.1 release announcement.

Their team pressed onto 2015.2, which fixed bugs and integrated a High Quality Playback option for a smooth viewing experience, before releasing 2015.3 in June 2016. Version 2015.3 runs the gamut, introducing new workflows as well as enhancements to existing features, including:

  • Proxy media creation, for easy switching between original/high-resolution and proxy/low-resolution clips.
  • A new ingest workflow, so that footage can be edited immediately while it’s being imported in the background.
  • Open caption functionality, so that subtitles can be created from directly within Premiere Pro.
  • Various Lumetri Color Tools enhancements, including support for color grading control surfaces and the ability to adjust a specific range of colors.
  • Various editing enhancements, including new keyboard shortcuts, improved Morph Cut functionality, and the ability to remove a specific effect from a range of clips.
  • Improved export options, including a Twitter publishing workflow and support for Panasonic AVC-LongG codecs.
  • A VR video workflow.

You can peruse all of 2015.3’s features here. Released just two months later, 2015.4 squashed bugs and integrated high-performance native support for Quicktime codecs, paving the path for another major update.

So it was that Premiere Pro CC 2017 dropped in November 2016, focusing heavily on VR functionality. HDR-centric refinements were made to Lumetri Color Tools; open captions were enhanced; and Live Text Templates for dynamic graphics were introduced, effectively bypassing After Effects for recurring graphics content like animated lower thirds.

At the enterprise level, Team Projects launched as a hosted service for multiple editors to work on a project simultaneously, perhaps signaling Adobe’s challenge of Avid’s longstanding dominance of collaborative workflows.

Also interesting is Adobe’s beta release of Social Publishing Panel, designed to streamline the publishing workflow for individual social media platforms. For a list of all of the features introduced in Premiere Pro CC 2017 – including extra file formats and improved audio effects! – check out the Feature Summary.

The updates to Premiere Pro since June 2015 have been many and varied, but Adobe’s commitment to keeping up with the latest industry trends unites them. HDR, touch and gesture, and VR support demonstrate the company’s vision, while both new features and bug fixes carry on their tradition of rock-solid customer service.

The Final Cut Pro X Version 10.3.1 interface in action.

The Final Cut Pro X Version 10.3.1 interface in action.

FINAL CUT PRO X | 4 updates – 10.2.2, 10.2.3, 10.3, & 10.3.1

Keyword-oriented/trackless paradigm, ProRes with support for native media | Apple exclusive | own for $299.99 on the App Store

Building on the success of FCPX Version 10.2, Apple released 10.2.2 in September 2015, introducing native support for Sony XAVC-L and Panasonic AVC-Intra 4:4:4 up to 4K resolution along with several tweaks and performance and stability improvements.

Version 10.2.3 followed five months later, with support for Canon’s XF-AVC file format, customizable default video and audio effects, the ability to assign a keyboard shortcut to any effect in the Effects Browser, a 4K export preset for Apple devices, and a host of other minor improvements and bug fixes.

The big update was October 2016’s 10.3, the 18th update since FCPX first shipped in June 2011. In short, the release showcases Apple’s zealous commitment to clarity and simplicity. 10.3 strives to streamline the editing process with, most obviously, a redesigned interface, configurable window layouts (finally), and more dual monitor workflows. The Macbook Pro’s Touchbar functionality is an interesting step forward for touch and gesture-based editing, suggesting that, like Adobe, Apple is anticipating the future of a user’s interaction with editing software.

FCPX 10.3 also introduces some new features, including:

  • A revisited version of the ever-divisive Magnetic Timeline. FCPX’s Magnetic Timeline 2 helps editors organize the audio areas of their timelines by categorizing and color-coding clips by role – for example, “dialogue”, “music”, or “effects” – fully rearrangeable in the Timeline Index. Audio clips can be assigned to “lanes”, which resemble tracks in more traditional NLEs, to help with visual separation.
  • Wide Color Gamut support, enabling the import, editing, and delivery of video in Rec. 2020 color space, which is designed for UHD, flat panel LCDs, the new Macbook Pro, and other technologies.
  • Editing additions, including Flow Transition, which blends a jump cut caused by pauses or mistakes in on-camera interviews, much like Premiere Pro’s Morph Cut; the ability to remove clip effects all at once or individually; continuous playback on clips in the Browser, helping to speed up the Selects process; and the ability to roll trim on adjacent connected clips in the timeline.
  • A host of new video formats – including MXF-wrapped ProRes for broadcast delivery – along with performance and stability improvements and bug fixes.

For a comprehensive list of 10.3’s changes, check out Apple’s release notes. Of course, Apple is continuing their support and development of FCPX – 10.3.1 launched in November 2016 to address a handful of bugs.

The Media Composer Version 8.7 interface in action.

The Media Composer Version 8.7 interface in action.

MEDIA COMPOSER | 17 updates – 8.4.0 through 8.7.0

Bin-oriented/track-based paradigm, DNxHD/DNxHR with support for native media via AMA | cross-platform | subscription starting at $49.99/month or own with one year of upgrades for $1299.00

The folks at Avid have been hard at work supporting and developing Media Composer, a longtime industry standard in the world of professional film editing. Every update since June 2015 has contributed to the software’s evolution, but four in particular stand out, which we’ll break down here.

In July 2015, Avid released Version 8.4.0, which introduced custom frame sizes – useful for, say, creating an Instagram project – along with Timeline Search, enabling editors to search for and sift through clips in the timeline. AAX plugin presets from Protools were integrated to expand Media Composer’s audio capabilities, and native support for Sony XAVC-I and Apple ProRes 2K/4K/UHD was added. For further details, consult Avid’s extensive documentation area.

Media Composer Version 8.5 dropped in January 2016. Menus were simplified to help speed program navigation. Changes to Media Composer’s drag-and-drop operations enable editors to drag clips clearly and visibly around the timeline and to add new tracks simply by dragging clips – nothing new for Premiere and Final Cut editors, perhaps, but a step toward wider accessibility in Avid’s approach! Tweaks to sync locks and trim indicators represent a further push toward clarity and visibility, while custom bin columns, a more filterable effect palette, and the ability to identify rendered effects media in the Media Tool develop the software’s organizational power.

Version 8.5 introduced new features as well as refinements:

  • Just two months after Adobe built HDR support into Premiere, Avid built it into Media Composer.
  • The addition of FrameFlex Rotation enables editors to straighten or rotate the source image.
  • 64 tracks of audio (up from 24) and simple waveform analysis, thereby catching Media Composer up with Premiere Pro’s and Final Cut Pro X’s in-built sync functionality.

For a comprehensive breakdown of 8.5’s considerable changes, head on over to Avid’s documentation or check out their blog announcement.

Avid proceeded to patch their way from 8.5 to 8.6 in June 2016, introducing a handful of improvements, most notably the Source Browser. Premiere and Final Cut have long been able to import, link, and scrub media from within a single window before committing it to a project, but the feature is new in Media Composer, expanding the software’s previewing capabilities.

Additionally, the new Audio Ducking tool automatically can reduce the audio level of one or more audio tracks against other audio track(s), useful for creating a rough mix in a pinch. Audio track names were added in the audio track mixer; AudioSuite effects now can be nested, allowing for both individual and stack effect manipulation; and audio grouping helps with audio track organization. It’s also worth highlighting that native support was added for Panasonic’s AVC-LongG format, as in Premiere and Final Cut.

Of course, feel free to browse Avid’s documentation for a complete list of 8.6’s changes or give their blog announcement a read.

Just a couple of weeks before 2017, Avid released Version 8.7. Media Composer has kicked off the new year with quite a few refinements, including – perhaps most notably – the ability to match frame titles and matte keys, enabling editors to find them quickly and then edit them into a new timeline. New safe area and safe title options along with presets for FrameFlex help accelerate framing decisions, while a Clip Info shortcut makes it easy to copy text information about a clip out of the application. Additionally, support for Sony’s XAVC-LongG format was added, extending Media Composer’s compatibility. To explore 8.7 in-depth, consider Avid’s documentation or peruse their blog announcement.

2016 was a busy year for Avid. Like Adobe and Apple, the company worked hard to keep up with and in some cases anticipate industry trends, while also integrating a few of Premiere’s and Final Cut’s longstanding workflows.

A flatbed editor.

A flatbed editor.

In Light of These Developments, Which NLE Program Should I Use As an Indie Filmmaker in 2017?

As with so much in filmmaking, there is no objectively correct answer, here. To help you decide, you might review our original comparison of Premiere, Final Cut, and Media Composer, which will give you a sense of each application’s approach and history – we’ve come a long way since the days of flatbed film editing!

It seems to us that all three options are continuing to develop their editing solutions successfully, keeping up with the demands of the day. Adobe is (arguably) casting its net the widest with new VR and collaboration workflows as well as social media experiments. Apple continues to simplify, beautify, and refine its unique approach to editing. Meanwhile, Avid is opting into a smattering of its competitors’ features while building upon its own.

What Are the Viable Alternatives to Premiere, Final Cut, and Media Composer?

At risk of complicating an already-complicated debate, there are other NLE suites available.

For $995, Blackmagic’s finishing software – DaVinci Resolve 12 – is formidable especially after the release of Version 12.5 in June 2016, which incorporated more than 1000 enhancements and 250 new features. MovieMaker and iMovie – free with many computers – are functional basic options, while paid alternatives like VEGAS Move Studio ($49.95) and Lightworks ($24.99/month or $437.99 to own) cannot be dismissed.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the tools do not make the filmmaker! Use the editing software that makes the most sense to you given your specific circumstances and project. After all, audiences will evaluate the “what”, not the “how”, of your movie.

What do you think? Vote for your NLE of choice below. All the best with your cut, whatever platform you choose!

What is your preferred video editing software?

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For more details, explore the rest of our ongoing series about Non-Linear Editing (NLE) software for professional movie editing:

Part I, July 2014 – What’s the Best NLE Software for Professional Movie Editing?
Part II, June 2015 – Quick Guide: Best Video Editing Software in 2015
Part III, January 2017 – Best Video Editing Software for Indie Filmmakers in 2017


 

 Michael Koehler, with

Want to learn the basics of movie editing and filmmaking more generally? Check out our online film school’s comprehensive filmmaking course, designed to keep with your vision and schedule from concept through final cut – more guided than a blog, more interactive than a textbook, more flexible than traditional film school.

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