My Accidental Video Editing Application Bake Off

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I would describe my video editing expertise level as "jack of all applications, master of none." I have the most experience with Adobe Premiere. I've used it a bit for work videos, most often in collaboration with others who did the hard stuff. I even took an introductory Premiere class a couple of years back. I took extensive notes that I refer to from time to time, but very little of what I learned in the class became muscle memory for me thanks to infrequent use.

I've also used Final Cut Pro X and its predecessors for basic edits over the years. And more recently, I've played around with iMovie on the iPad for some quick videos for family and social media.

As I set out to make more videos, it's important for me to settle on a video editing application that I can master over time. If the process of editing videos becomes faster and more natural, I'll do it more. But setting on an application to use has been trickier than expected.

Adobe Premiere CC

Going in, Adobe Premiere seemed like a rather obvious choice. It's widely used by both professionals and serious amateurs. I have some baseline experience with it. It will help me the most in my day job and make it easy to collaborate with others. And as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, it also serves as a great "gateway drug" to other powerful applications like Adobe After Effects.

There's only one problem: I don't enjoy using Adobe Premiere. I have this problem with other Adobe applications as well. They are very powerful, and they are often the de facto standard for certain types of creative work. But they are also often clunky and slow to use. It's nothing I can't muddle my way through, particularly if I'm getting paid to do it. But life is too short to spend personal leisure time fighting with software that isn't fun to use.

Nonetheless, I tried to power through these reservations late last year. I started an Adobe Premiere Skillshare class over the holidays that, in addition to giving me a general refresher, provided some good pointers on how to organize the Premiere user interface in ways that were more intuitive for me. OK, I thought, I can bend this thing to my will and make it fun.

But it fought back. From a performance standpoint, Adobe Premiere was painful to use on a MacBook Air that, while a few years old, performs perfectly well with everything thing else I throw at it. It went from clunky to unusable when I started experimenting with 4K footage. I'm sure there were some settings I could have tweaked to generate proxy media that my system wouldn't choke on, but I had this sense that there would always be something.

I ended up aborting my Adobe Premiere Skillshare class before completion and switching to a Final Cut Pro class.

Final Cut Pro X

While Adobe Premiere seems to be the choice of many serious video creators, Apple's Final Cut Pro X is still very much in the mix. Apple alienated some of its longtime Final Cut Pro users by making some polarizing changes to the application during a major re-write that released in 2011, but in the process I think they made it more approachable for people who are new to video editing but crave professional features.

I find the user interface much more pleasant, and it performed extremely well on my MacBook Air. This was even the case with the same 4K footage that crippled Premiere on my machine, since Final Cut Pro optimized the footage automatically. Final Cut Pro also seems very adept at performing computationally intensive tasks in the background while ensuring that user experience takes performance precedence.

I made it through to the conclusion of the Skillshare class and put my learnings to use on a fairly intensive family holiday video. Final Cut Pro was fun to use in way that Adobe Premiere never was. I still had to research and learn things along the way, but it was learning to unlock new creative skills versus tinkering to get the application to look and perform in an acceptable manner.

There is a lot of angst these days about how committed Apple is to the professional market (and the Mac in general). I'm not as worried as some, but I still had some reservations about investing a bunch of time and effort into an application with a somewhat less certain future than the Adobe suite. But Final Cut Pro really won me over with its usability and performance.

iMovie for iOS

I'm a heavy user of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The jury is still out on whether iOS represents the future of mainstream computing, but it really feels like the future for creative applications. I find editing photos and videos on the iPad more enjoyable than any other platform. The immersive, tactile nature of iOS on the iPad just feels right.

The big issue is that iOS software applications are just scratching the surface of what is possible and needed on the iPad. RAW photo editing is just now coming into its own on iOS and remains very immature. And there isn't a true professional video editing application for the iPad yet.

That said, Apple has done an amazing job with iMovie on iOS. You are immersed in your content instead of the inscrutable collections of buttons, sliders, and windows you see in traditional video editing applications. It also performs very well, even with 4K footage.

As with many iPad apps, I'm able to sit back on the couch and interact with the application in a more leisurely manner. This is a big deal to me, since I feel like I already spend way too much time hunched over a computer during my work days. It's nice to have a different "having fun with technology" context that doesn't feel like work.

But there are some major drawbacks to iMovie on iOS when compared to an application like Final Cut Pro on the Mac. iMovie works for basic edits, but Final Cut Pro is orders of magnitude more powerful, flexible, and customizable. There is also a rich ecosystem of third party plug-ins and companion applications, along with Apple's own powerful Motion application for motion graphics.

I probably don't need the full power of Final Cut Pro today, but there are many features that interest me greatly, such as the ability to stabilize and color correct footage in post-production. Neither of these things are possible with iMovie on iOS. I'm also very interested in experimenting with different frame rates and with speeding up and slowing down footage. You can do these things with great precision in Final Cut Pro, while iMovie gives you a basic "tortoise and hare" speed slider that is very limited.

Media management is also a challenge with iMovie on the iPad. I need to jump through hoops to import video footage from my Sony RX100 V into the native iOS Photos app. The size and volume of video files also makes them easier to deal with using a traditional file system that isn't automatically synchronized to the cloud.

To Be Continued

Choosing Final Cut Pro X over Adobe Premiere is decision that I feel very good about. I'm still far from an expert on Final Cut Pro, but I've developed some initial keyboard shortcut chops and can perform basic edits relatively quickly. There is part of me that wants to run faster down this path by taking more classes and continuing to develop my Final Cut Pro skills.

But my love for the iPad Pro and delight in using iMovie on iOS pulls me in that direction as well. Limited as it is, it's fun to use. And I'm sure that iMovie, as well as other iOS editing apps, will grow more powerful over time. Who knows, we may even see Final Cut Pro on the iPad someday. So perhaps seeing how creative I can get within the constraints of iOS is a better place to focus.

Will it push me to develop my skills in other areas faster? After all, producing better footage out of the camera will reduce my need for things like stabilization and color correction. Or will the constraints of iOS frustrate me and prevent me from producing videos at the quality level that I aspire to. It's hard to say.

As my next step, I'm going to revisit iMovie on iOS and see if I can make something I'm happy with while keeping things simple. I have a feeling that it will send me running back to Final Cut Pro, but the iPad lover in me hopes I'm wrong.

The Itinerant Printer Rides Again

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Chris Fritton, aka “The Itinerant Printer.” At the time, he was about to set out on a journey to create a series of letterpress prints in shops all over the United States. A mere 730 days, 45,000 miles, 15,000 prints, and 120-plus shops later, he’s still at it.

He’s about to kick off the final leg of his tour, which will take him through my own neck of the woods in the Northeast. To promote the home stretch, he surprised his past IndieGoGo backers with an old school zine with highlights from his past travels. It was a neat way to rekindle the fun of the original campaign.

If surprise hand-printed coolness in your mailbox sounds like fun, you can still get in on some mystery prints from the journey on IndieGoGo. He’s also putting together a coffee table book chronicling the journey that you can bundle in.

You can follow the rest of The Itinerant Printer’s journey on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Gearing Up for Video

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I’m going to start my series on video by getting some gear talk out of my system. I love researching, trying, and generally obsessing over new camera gear. I do it more than necessary for someone at my modest skill level, but I've stopped beating myself up over it. It's an element of my enjoyment of the hobby, and I do constrain myself to a budget.

When I decided to focus my attention on video this year, I promised myself that I would take baby steps with gear. No, I don’t need a top-of-the-line Sony A7S II with an assortment of lenses (…yet). No, I don’t need a new MacBook Pro with more horsepower, a better screen, and a touch bar (…yet). While I did have some space credits saved up to apply towards my video efforts, I wanted to push myself to take a measured approach with new gear acquisitions.

Plan A: Fujfilm X-T2

Last year, I switched from the micro four thirds system to the Fujifilm X system for my still photography. While this was a great decision overall, one downside is that until very recently Fujifilm cameras produced fairly abysmal video. This changed with the recent introduction of the Fujifilm X-T2, the successor to the X-T1 model that I now own. But I had been waffling for months on an upgrade to the XT-2 for a couple of reasons.

The first is that it isn’t cheap: just shy of $1,600 for an X-T2 body. The second is that while the video quality is much improved, Fujifilm cameras lack in-body image stabilization. So, shooting quality handheld video would likely require a stabilized lens (which none of my current Fujifilm lenses are) and, ideally, a three-axis gimbal. That would both double the price tag and create too much bulk to carry with me daily.

Against all of my gadget-craving and Fuji-loving impulses, I held off on the X-T2 and started shooting my first videos on my iPhone 7 Plus late last year. (When I say “held-off” on the X-T2, I mean I pre-ordered and cancelled….twice.)

Plan B: iPhone 7 Plus and DJI Osmo Mobile

My early results shooting video in a more "serious" way with the iPhone 7 Plus were quite good. It takes excellent video and sports some handy features like image stabilization and Apple’s new dual lens system. As a result, I was leaning towards keeping my X-T1 for stills, using my iPhone for video, and satisfying my gear cravings by spending a few hundred bucks on the well-reviewed DJI Osmo Mobile smartphone gimbal.

Thanks to a seasonal special from my favorite lens rental company, I was able to rent an Osmo Mobile for the holiday week and then some for about $30. The Osmo Mobile is an impressive piece a technology and a great value for all of the creative options it unlocks. But it didn’t really click for me. While the Osmo Mobile is capable of handling phones as big as the iPhone 7 Plus, I found it a bit unwieldy to use with such a large phone. I’m sure it’s fantastic with the iPhone 7 or iPhone SE. I’m also sure that people use it with bigger phones like the iPhone 7 Plus with great success. I just wasn’t feeling it.

I also found using the DJI mobile app to be an exercise in frustration. I had difficultly connecting via bluetooth consistently, and the slow-panning time lapse feature, which was a major selling point, never worked for me. I did find the face tracking feature very impressive (when the Bluetooth connection worked).

I also began hitting what I’ll call “first world frustrations” with shooting regular handheld video on the iPhone. There wasn’t much it couldn’t do, particularly once I mixed in powerful third-party apps like Filmic Pro. I just missed using a dedicated camera. I prefer holding something that feels like a camera. I like accessing settings through hardware buttons and dials, being able to swap in a fresh battery, pop SD cards in and out, and numerous other aspects of a "real" camera. I think this was partially exacerbated by the size of the iPhone 7 Plus as well. It is my second “plus” size iPhone, and I prefer this size for most of my mobile computing activities. But I find it awkward to use as a camera for extended periods.

There is also the issue that iPhones are the world's best distraction machines. Social media apps and email are always just one irresistible tap away.

I totally could have worked through all of these issues, but it got the wheels in my head turning.

Plan C: Sony RX100 V and Zhiyun Crane-M Gimbal

About six months ago, my father-in-law let me play around with his Sony RX100 II. I was impressed by the images he was getting out of it and intrigued by all of the features that Sony jammed into such a small package. But after about 20 minutes of hands-on time, I came to the conclusion that the RX100 wasn’t for me. It just felt too small in my hands, which are forever spoiled by the wonderful ergonomics of my Fujifilm X-T1.

But the introduction of the latest revision, the RX100 V, in October of 2016, caused me to give this model a fresh look. A bunch of RX100 V reviews and video samples began showing up on YouTube, and I was really impressed by what I saw. It seemed like a perfect balance of ease of use out of the box and advanced features that I could grow into. I also felt like the ergonomic concerns I had wouldn’t be as much of an issue if I was focusing on video versus still photography.

In late December, I decided to go for it. I’ll likely do a more in-depth review on the RX100 V once I’ve had some more time with it, but the short version is that I’m very happy with the decision.

Even though the RX100 V has pretty good built-in stabilization, I still had the gimbal bug following some of the research I did when I was considering he X-T2. So I decided to pick up a Zhiyun Crane-Mthree-axis gimbal for use with the RX 100 V. I will likely write more about this in the future as well. In short, there are both pluses and minuses with it, but overall I really like it.

Sidekick Cameras

One nice side effect I’ve noticed during my month with the RX100 V is that I’ve really grown to appreciate my iPhone 7 Plus as a secondary camera. For example, during holiday gatherings, I put the iPhone on a tripod and shot time lapse footage while using the RX100 V hand held to capture specific people and activities. I also pull my iPhone out regularly and grab a little spontaneous clips of my sons or other spur of the moment subjects. The iPhone 7 Plus is always with me, and it doesn’t feel like much of a quality compromise. And these moments are so brief that none of the minor annoyances I noted earlier bubble up.

I also already owned an Olympus TG Tracker action camera. I purchased it last summer to shoot family fun in the pool and other outdoor activities. There are things I like and don’t like about this camera, but it’s also handy having a rugged shooter to take in the snow or water, or to hand off to one of my young sons without fear of damage.

Time for Action

Between the RX100 V and the gimbal, I’ve spent about $1,500 on gear to support my video efforts. This is just a little less than what I would have spent on a Fujifilm X-T2 (not including any lens or gimbal additions), but I feel like I ended up in the right place. I have a video kit that produces quality output, is very portable, works well in “run and gun” video situations, and lets me grow into more advanced techniques like gimbal shooting, high frame rate slow motion, and color grading S-log2 footage over time.

While I would have been more than fine using the iPhone 7 Plus for the foreseeable future, I gave into my gear acquisition impulses a bit. But I’d like to think I did it in a thoughtful way. Plus, for every piece of gear I pulled the trigger on, there are many more that I’m exercising restraint on. (I’m looking at you, DJI Mavic Pro drone.)

But for now, I’ve settled into learning and experimentation mode, which is fun place to be.