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Avid vs FCP – My thoughts…
Posted: 10 May 2009 by Chris Hocking
There has been a lot of discussion on the Internet over the last few months in regards to Avid vs FCP. People have been blogging about it. Scott Simmons from The Editblog has written many entries over the years discussing this topic, as has Shane Ross on his blog Little Frog in High Def. There has been several sometimes heated podcast discussions about it – although when That Post Show got stuck into the topic at length (almost two train rides long!), the panel of experts remained surprisingly level headed. Although, I think it’s fair to say that John Flowers, the host of the show is very much an Avid man, and tends to show his Avid bias on nearly every episode. As Final Cut Users wait for the long awaited major update – Twitter has been flooded with discussions about what users love about Final Cut Pro and Avid, and what users really hate about both products.
Up until the end of February this year, I have been a Final Cut Pro man. But just to give you some background, as a young child, well before NLEs were available cheaply on personal computers, I did editing the old fashion way between two VHS domestic recorders. Sound mixing was done “on the fly” using a cool four channel Realistic microphone mixer. It was a horrible system – but it worked. Many a Star Wars fan movie was thrown together in my grandparents back yard. As I grew older, and progressed through Primary School, I moved away from film making temporarly becoming more interested in electric guitars, amplifiers and concert lighting. Towards middle years of high school I had another bash at making films – this time I did all the editing on Premiere on a PC. We recorded everything using Panasonic handycams with VHS-C tapes, and then using one of those cool VHS tape adapters, we captured everything using a normal domestic VHS deck. Once again, I drifted away from films, becoming more interested in live productions.
For my brothers final year of high school, he decided to do Studio Arts, and produce two short films. As he’d never really done any film-making before, and I was working full time as a lighting designer (so I had money!), I decided to go on a bit of a spending spree and purchase some things. So one day we had nothing apart from a little Sony MiniDV camera – the next we had a portable green screen, boom pole, ME66 microphone, some basic tungsten lighting, makeshift steadicam, a few Lacie drivers, and a copy of Final Cut Express 2 and DVD Studio Pro (standalone) to put on a new eMac.
So, over the next couple of weeks, as my brother was in preproduction for his two films – I quickly got my head around both the Mac platform (as up until now we’d grown up with PCs) and Final Cut Express. To be perfectly honest, I feel instantly in love, with not only Final Cut, but also with Macs in general. They just… well, worked!
As so, with the help of Final Cut Express, my brother got his two films, God’s Handiwork and Hello Sunshine. With those now finished, and high school completed, my brother then also moved away from film-making heading to univeristy to study Arts/Science. But we now had all this gear, and the inventory was continuing to grow (we purchased a Sony Z1P as soon as it came out). And so, after working for two years as a lighting designer for live events – an amazing job which took me all over the country and many times overseas – I decided to head back to school, studying Film & Television at university.
The film school I went to was a Final Cut Pro facility, and so I upgraded from Final Cut Express to Final Cut Studio – and because I already owned a copy of DVD Studio Pro – the upgrade was incredibly cheap!
And so, for the past five years I’ve been using Final Cut Pro extensively. I’ve thrown all kinds of footage at it from DV to HDV, XDCAM to DVCProHD, 10-Bit Uncompressed Telecine Transfers to RED. I love Final Cut Pro. It’s powerful, flexible, fast, and cheap. Plus, everyone knows how to use it.
Final Cut Pro has served me extremely well. However, when I took up an editing assistant job earlier this year, I discovered that I’d have to learn Avid. And so, for the past 12 weeks or so, I’ve been using Avid on a daily basis. And guess what… I love it just as much as I love Final Cut Pro.
And so, when my ex-film school peers ask me which is better, I reply… “I love them both, equally”. I hate to be the kind of guy that sits on the fence, but the reality is they’re pretty much exactly the same in my opinion. They both do the same things – just a bit differently.
Just for the record – I’ve used Vegas and Premiere in the past as well – but only for individual projects. I haven’t played with the latest version of either. I also haven’t played with the latest version of Avid – although I’m really looking forward to testing out the new AMA architecture within the next few weeks.
Ok… so, one of the most common things I hear is, “Final Cut crashes all the time… but Avid is bullet proof…”. Well, although I’ve had my fair share of Final Cut Pro crashes over the years, I have to say, from my experiences, Avid is far from perfect! Admittedly I’m using 3.0.5 at work – so it’s not the latest version, but that’s really no excuse.
Generally speaking, I think that Avid crashes just as much as Final Cut Pro – when you’re not doing “normal” stuff. For example, if I’m just doing a rough cut of DV-PAL footage on Final Cut Pro, with just simple cuts and simple dissolves, then everything will just work. No crashes, no stalls, no bizarre error messages. Everything will just work. Same as with Avid. However, as soon as you start pushing the boundaries a bit – things start going wrong. For example, in Final Cut Pro, if you’re working with heaps of different formats on your timeline, with thousands of hours of footage in your project file, and a bunch of image sequences, PSD files, etc. you’re bound to have problems. Things will go wrong. The project will take a long time to open. Obviously there are work arounds (such as splitting up your project into multiple projects, etc.) but they’re not ideal. Avid is the same. I’ve been doing some temporary visual effects compositions in Avid for an offline for a television commercial. The reason they were done in Avid was so that when we hand the EDL over to the effects company – they know what footage they need to use. Avid is FANTASTIC for this kind of thing. I love the AniMatte effect – it’s far better than anything Final Cut has. However, once you have twelve tracks of video all with a colour correction and a couple of mattes – Avid starts to panic a bit. Strange errors start popping up. Things stop working normally. Having said that though – I’ve never had Avid crash (i.e. the program close) on me before. It’s crashed a couple of times on load due to a dodgy file in the OMFI folder – but it’s never died whilst I’ve been doing something important. It’s given me lots of cryptic error messages – but so has Final Cut.
Having said all that – Avid does seem a lot more stable. The timeline responsiveness is incredible. Final Cut Pro is generally pretty good when you wizz around the timeline, but at times it seems to slow down for no particular reason. Avid is fast. Always fast. I like that. I like that a lot.
Another thing that people generally always say is that the media management in Final Cut Pro sucks. Everyone seems to agree that this is the case – from film school students, to random people on Twitter to professionals. Everyone, except me. Personally, I think that the way Avid and Final Cut Pro handle files is pretty much the same – and yes, I know this is going to cause all kinds of arguments. When I set up a new Final Cut Pro project, I set up a new folder structure on an external hard drive (on an unrelated topic – I name all my external drives after pet dogs I’ve come across in the past):
For every single project I work on, I have a Final Cut workspace folder. This contains everything to do with the project – render files, caches, stills, graphics, audio, etc. The advantage of this is that when I open up the project on another Mac, everything is there, and ready to go. No need to re-render. No need to reconnect. Everything just works. The disadvantage is that I need to change the Capture Scratch and Cache paths every time I open a project. However, this only takes about 7 seconds, so it’s not that much of a pain. I very rarely open two project files at once unless it’s a massive film I’m working on such as a feature (and almost never open two different films at the same time, so I don’t get any nasty problems like render files being saved to the wrong project workspace).
Unless you’re working with a Unity – Avid pretty much works the same way. For each project you had a OMFI Media files folder (if you’re working with OMF files) or an Avid MediaFiles folder (if you’re working in MXF files). Sure you can store content for multiple projects in the same media folder, just like you can in Final Cut Pro – but that just makes life more confusing when the time comes to moving projects around. So, I much prefer to have a new OMFI folder for each project.
So in that sense – for my workflow – both Avid and Final Cut Pro work the same way. I keep the media in one place and never have any reconnection issues. Of course if I just drag a file from the desktop into Final Cut Pro without first moving it into my workplace – then I’m going to have reconnection issues if I move to another Mac. But I’m a fairly organised person, so I always put stuff in the right place. For those people who are too lazy or forgetful, then do yourself a favour an purchase a copy of Loader from Digital Heaven.
In terms of actual editing (i.e. the creative stuff) Avid and Final Cut are very different. It took me a while to get out of the habit of being able to quickly drag and drop like you can in Final Cut Pro, but within two or three days, I’ve quickly adapted to the new way of thinking. I really like the way Avid works and can see why editors love it (especially the more old school editors from the days were you had to physically “cut and paste” film). Avid seems hard core and industrial – whereas Final Cut seems more like a sexy new toy. That said though, I personally think a good Final Cut Pro editor can be just as quick as a really good Avid editor. I don’t think one method of working is better than the other – just different.
One thing that Avid wins hand down on is the default keyboard mapping. I’ve grown up with Final Cut Pro, so I’ve never really thought too much about it. Until I started working with Avid. The default Avid layout isn’t perfect – but it’s so much better than Final Cut! Make sure you check out the Keyboard Manifesto on the ProVideo Coalition site. Scott allows you to download a great “Avid-like” keyboard layout to “fix up” Final Cut Pro. However, that said, I can see why Apple have mapped the keyboard the way they have. It’s logical. Sure, it may not be fast. But film students can literally walk up to a Final Cut Pro workstation and have a fair idea of what everything does. When they walk up to an Avid – they have no idea. Avid makes the most sense once you’ve been shown once what everything is – but Final Cut Pro makes sense from the onset.
So what do I like about Avid much more than I do about Final Cut?
The colour corrector in Avid is amazing. It’s so powerful and so easy to use. Apple’s 3-way Colour Corrector is a toy in comparison. However, that said, Final Cut Studio comes with Color – which despite what some people may tell you, is amazing. Sure it has some bugs in it – but they’ll be worked out in time. In the meantime there is always workarounds. Most people hate the interface – but I think it makes sense. Sure it’s not very Apple – but who really cares. As long as it creates amazing looks – which it does.
The effects in Avid are a lot better than Final Cut. I love the AniMatte. It reminds me of After Effects. I wish Final Cut Pro had something like this without having to install some expensive 3rd party plugin.
I love the way Avid handles users and preferences. The fact that when you boot up Avid you’re presented with an option to select a project you wish to open, plus select a user preference is fantastic. It’s so simple, so logical, yet so incredible. Why oh why can’t Final Cut Pro introduce this? The only thing that I don’t like about Avid is the one thing that may people love about it! Whenever I change projects, I need to also change the OMFI folders around. It would be great if when you opened a project you could also select which “media folder” you wanted to use.
By far my FAVOURITE thing about Avid is the way it handles project files. The fact that you can simply copy and paste a bin on the finder level is so much better than the way Final Cut Pro handles things. Sure you can export out an XML file in Final Cut Pro – but it’s so much easier to just be able to copy and paste a bin. From an assistants point of view – this is invaluable! I can just copy and paste bins to the editor and the new bins magically appear in his project. Amazing!
My second favourite thing about Avid is the way it handles settings. You can easily copy and paste settings and rename them. For example, you might have a couple of different configurations for deck setups. Instead of having to change all the settings around each time you change decks, you can just uncheck one configuration and check the other. You can have multiple keyboard configurations in the one user profile. The Avid is amazingly customisable. You can basically change EVERYTHING to suit your needs.
So… if Avid has all these amazing features, why don’t I just change? Well, originally it was just a matter of price. Final Cut Pro is DEAD cheap whereas Avid WAS incredibly expensive. This is changing. But, personally, I think I’m going to be one of those annoying people who is constantly switching between Avid and Final Cut Pro. Why? Because they are both fantastic tools – and they basically do exactly the same thing – it’s just that they are both better at different things.
Final Cut Pro is like a Swiss army knife. You can basically throw anything at it and do things quickly. It can basically tackle any Quicktime file you throw at it, and within minutes you can get from the Final Cut Pro timeline to an exported DVD. It’s quick and sometimes nasty. Everyone knows how to use it (and even if they don’t know, they can learn the basics within hours) – so if you get sick someone else can take over the project with ease. As long as the project is set up correctly from the get-go, and you have some kind of self control in terms of managing files, then you shouldn’t run into too many (if any!) reconnection issues. Final Cut Pro is GREAT for short projects. It’s the perfect short film tool. However for longer projects it dies. It doesn’t handle masses of footage well at all. If you have 40 or so hours of footage in the project, it can take up to 15 minutes to boot up even on the fastest Mac. If you have hundreds of sequences within a project, you can run into all kinds of “Out of Memory” problems. Sure there are workaround – such as using a different project for each scene. But that’s a pain.
Avid on the other hand is a workhorse. It can handle feature films with ease. The boot up time is almost instant in most cases. It’s not bullet proof – but I’ve never lost media, render files, or work because of a random bug or error – in comparison to Final Cut Pro where I’ve lost whole projects temporarily (thank goodness for the Autosave vault!). If I know I’m going to be working with a lot of media, then Avid will always be my first preference.
Although the new AMA changes everything – as of Avid 3.0.5 and Final Cut Pro 6.0.5, both NLEs have the same limitation – although it doesn’t bother me that much. Avid converts everything to MXFs of OMFs whereas Final Cut Pro converts everything to Quicktimes. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest. People complain about the transcode times. Do it while you’re sleeping. People complain about requiring so much hard drive space. Hard drives are cheap now. I don’t think this is really a limitation at all.
Finally, I still stand by my prediction that the next version of Final Cut Studio will change EVERYTHING. I’m sorry, but there is no way in hell Apple is going to watch Avid dramatically improve their packages, lower the prices dramatically, and just do nothing. I’m extremely confident that Apple has something new and amazing hidden away in some dark and smelly room somewhere. But, that said, Avid is now a completely different company. They’ve changed. For the better. They are actually listening to their customers, and seriously improving their software.
One thing for certain is that I think Avid will eventually get rid of the EDL Manager and DigiTranslator, and put this functionality directly into the Avid application. I think integration between ProTools and Avid will also become almost transparent. But I also think that the integration between Final Cut Pro and ProTools will become better. I finally think Avid has decided to stop fighting Apple and start working out ways to get their software in front of the eyes of Final Cut Pro fanatics.
So in conclusion… both Avid and Final Cut Pro are great tools that both can help achieve amazing works of art. Both are far from perfect. Both have bugs. Both needs improving. But I think every editor should have both on their system.
If you’re doing a long form project – unless you have an amazing assistant editor who’s extremely technically proficient and patient – I’d stick with Avid. It’s got an unchallenge amazing track record.
If you’re doing a short film – then maybe Final Cut Pro is the go.
If you’re working with lots of different editors, or if it’s a big project, then Avid is the winner, although you can do these kinds of projects with Final Cut Pro. Personally I prefer the ability to easily copy and paste bins than using XML files.
Either way, I know it’s cliche, but as every editor will tell you, it’s not the tools that make a great film – it’s the talented editor who’s TELLING A STORY. It’s easy to get bogged down in technology, and Final Cut vs Avid discussions – but at the end of the day use the tool that works.
Happy Editing! Feel free to leave your comments, suggestions, abuse, ideas, etc. below! I’d love to hear from you!
Best Regards, Chris!