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Change NLEs? Maybe Not.Dance with the one what brung ya
The most-asked question we get here at the Midwest Test Facility concerns which nonlinear editing system would be best. Sure, many editors have their preferences, but these leanings toward one system or another often have little to do with which one is actually the best. Lots of times as a digital video editor you may want to, as we say down South, "Dance with the one what brung ya." (Not that we natives of the Southeastern United States are stupid or use improper English, which is sometimes true, but not always.)
Many times your first exposure to nonlinear editing is profound, especially if you were brought up in a video world of shuttling tapes back and forth and stacking up shows like a house of cards. If you wanted to extract a shot from the beginning of a show, then that meant doing the whole thing over. Interestingly enough, as linear editing slowly fades into that ash heap of history, it's getting to be more commonplace to have started with digital video editing, never having touched a tape-based editing system. But even if you've never laid eyes on an old analog editing suite, when you first sit down to a demo of nonlinear editing, the idea of word processing with video clips is nothing short of magical. And, the first system you start with seems like the way this should be done, where all others seem like some kind of imitation.
But then, after you've knocked along with your chosen editing system for a while, you start hearing about some other shiny new software or software/hardware combination that simply rocks the world. Everybody's saying you just must have this. The temptation to jump ship is intense. But wait. Before you swear off all loyalty to one product in favor of another, consider the consequences of your decision. Here's an example. I got an inquiry from an interested reader the other day, wanting to quit using his Pinnacle Liquid Edition system because he was being lured by the compelling forces of Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro. Although I am the first to sing the praises of both Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro, I told the guy to stop and think for a minute before jumping ship.
As I reminded this inquisitive reader, you have quite an investment in the current editing system you're using. Of course, there's the money you spent on the software and its attendant hardware. Maybe you invested in an accelerator card that will only work with that software. Maybe you bought an entire computer especially well-suited to that particular software. You probably spent a lot of money on this setup. But think about another thing you spent a tremendous amount of: You. Your time. Remember all that gnashing of teeth when you first started with that editing system of yours -- you thought it was broken, thought there was something missing with the software, but it was actually your fault the thing wasn't working like it should. Support engineers call this ubiquitous problem PBKAS -- Problem was Between Keyboard And Seat. You went through all that configuration, all that buyer's remorse, and finally you got to the point where you could make some money with it. Then, you learned lots of little tricks with the software that have made your life easier. You might be thinking of some right now while you're reading this. You will have to start all over again if you jump ship, and that will cost you time, which as the hackneyed but true phrase goes, is money.
Think, too, about what you might be missing if you abandon that current editing software you're now using. Aren't there a few endearing features that you'll wish you had after you jump ship? For example, I like Sony Vegas's way of letting me zoom in and out of the timeline with the mouse wheel (Adobe Premiere Pro lets me do that, too, but I have to hold the Alt key). I like the way Premiere Pro lets me output the work area to DVD without any muss or fuss, so I can dash off a review copy without much effort. I like the way Pinnacle Liquid Edition uses the graphics chip and the host processor to speed up real time response. I like the way NewTek's VT can run circles around everything else when it comes to standard definition live production. I like the way Avid handles 24p footage. As these examples show, it's endearing and highly useful features like these that you might miss if you do dismiss your old software for that greener grass on the other side.
Or heck, maybe one of those examples I just gave you got you to thinking about switching. Well, if you do want to switch, there are compelling reasons for that, too, depending on your circumstances. For example, if you're a freelancer, you're probably already aware that the majority of available work for editors involves the Avid NLE interface in one way or another. You might also realize that being conversant, and preferably proficient on Final Cut Pro is another must. But then if you're working at a production house that uses solely After Effects, you might not want to go messing around with Combustion unless you're glancing over at different compositing shop out of the corner of your eye. And by the way, if you're using an entry-level editing software package like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker (now that couldn't be you, dear reader), and you are finding yourself in increasingly professional circumstances, I'd say upgrade now before you get too entrenched in that tinker toy you're using.
So take stock in what you have, and where you've been. (Haven't been anywhere yet? Two words: Learn Avid). Think about what you had to do to get there. All that time and effort was probably costly. Are you able to do everything you need to do with that kit you're using now? Then stay where you are. At the same time, keep your eyes open to the possibilities. This stay/go equation is something that you encounter in most walks of life, but it's especially pronounced when it comes to the fast-moving world of digital content creation technology. It's a decision only you can make for yourself.
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