The Age Old Debate:        Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro

I have been a long time Final Cut Pro user starting with Version 1. About a year ago, I made the decision to switch to Adobe Premiere Pro. For many years, video editors have debated the age-old question: which editing software is best. Is one program really better than the other? The answer? There is no answer. What’s right for one person or workflow, may not work for another. What I can share is what I’ve discovered from my experience.

Obviously, since I started editing with the very first version of Final Cut – it’s only fair to say that I have been a Final Cut editor for many years. Prior to this, I used Media 100. When I first got Final Cut,  it was fun to play with – and I fell in love with the idea of being able to edit on a Mac. But its features were limited and the application was somewhat buggy. Because of this, I relied more on Media 100. About the time version 3 rolled around, Final Cut Pro started becoming more stable – and feature rich. This was when I made the decision to shift to an all digital workflow, and sold my Media 100 equipment.

Now, on the Adobe Premiere side, I must confess that Premiere was the first program I ever used to edit on a Mac. To better understand…a little bit of history of the evolution of these programs is needed.

A brief history…

Randy Ubillos created the first three versions of Adobe Premiere, the first popular digital video editing application. The first version, Premiere 1, was released in 1991 as a Mac only application. This was also true for versions 2 and 3.

Ubillos’ group was then hired by Macromedia to create KeyGrip, built from the ground up as a ‘more professional’ video-editing program based on Apple QuickTime. The problem was Macromedia couldn’t release the product without causing its partner Truevision some issues with Microsoft – as KeyGrip was, in part, based on technology from Microsoft licensed to Truevision and then in turn to Macromedia. Because of this, Macromedia was forced to keep the product off the market until a solution could be found. Over this same period of time, Macromedia also made the decision to focus more on applications that would support the web. They decided to find a buyer for their non-web applications, including KeyGrip; which, by 1998, had been renamed Final Cut.

Final Cut was shown in private room demonstrations as a 0.9 alpha at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in 1998. Both Mac and Windows versions were demonstrated. The Mac version was working with a Truevision RTX dual stream real time card with limited real time effects. But no purchaser could be found. Instead, Apple purchased the development team as a defensive move – with plans to find a buyer for the product. When Apple could not find a buyer, they continued to further develop the application, adding Firewire DV support. In 1999, Apple introduced Final Cut Pro at NAB.

In the Adobe camp, Adobe continued to develop Premiere, releasing versions 4-6.5 as both Mac and Windows applications. But Final Cut was rapidly gaining ground in the Mac community as the de facto editing tool. Because of this, starting with the August 2003 release of Adobe Premiere Pro 1.0 (Adobe Premiere 7.0) – Adobe made the decision to only support the Windows platform.

Without Adobe Premiere Pro on the scene, for Mac users – it was a no-brainer. Final Cut Pro was the best tool for editors.

Finally, in 2007, Adobe made the decision to reintroduce Premiere Pro to Mac users with the release of Creative Suite 3. Initially, it didn’t gain much support from the Mac community. Final Cut Pro was entrenched.

Mac editors making the switch

Fast forward to today. What has changed? Why are more and more Mac users making the decision to use Adobe Premiere Pro instead of Final Cut Pro?

While the answer probably varies from person to person, my guess is the majority of adopters have come to realize just how much the ‘all-Adobe’ workflow’ saves time. For me, this was the clear-cut reason I made the switch. The icing on the cake was Apple’s negligence in adding new features to Final Cut Pro, and natively supporting modern tapeless workflows such as Red or AVCHD. Premiere Pro natively supports P2, XDCAM, XDCAM EX and XDCAM HD, and AVCHD – without transcoding or rewrapping.

Having said that, remember – I didn’t make the switch to Adobe Premiere Pro until about a year ago. Like many editors, I was reticent to switch because Final Cut Pro had become an industry standard in commercial production houses, and independent films. Also, its use in Hollywood films was rapidly growing. Quite a few films have been edited with Final Cut Pro, including: Cold Mountain (one of the earliest ones that received a lot of buzz), 300, Happy Feet, The Simpsons Movie, No Country for Old Men, EnchantedX-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Social Network and many others.

Most production houses are either using Final Cut Pro (21%) or Avid (79%). If you’re doing a lot of work in the motion picture industry, Final Cut Pro may be the better choice for you. There are two things to keep in mind: 1) ‘industry standards’ can rapidly change – Premiere Pro is definitely picking up ground and 2) you can easily export Final Cut Pro files from Premiere Pro. Starting with CS5, Adobe made it simple to export Premiere Pro files to Final Cut Pro. (Choose File > Export > Final Cut Pro XML). So if the Adobe workflow is a better fit for you, it doesn’t mean you have to give up working for the motion picture industry or compatibility with Final Cut Pro. In fact, you can work faster.

Sure, Adobe Premiere has been used to edit Hollywood features as well, including Dust to Glory, Captain Abu Raed, Superman Returns, and more recently – parts of Avatar. But more importantly for my workflow, Premiere Pro is also being used by television powerhouses like the BBC and The Tonight Show.

Why is this more important to me? The projects I create for motion, motion.tv, and motion+connect have one distinct commonality: the turn around time is extremely fast. This parallels the world of broadcast, where shows are cranked out at breakneck speed – as I’m sure the editors at BBC and The Tonight Show can attest to.

This ultimately became the primary reason I decided to make the switch. The work I do for the motion picture industry can be easily exported for Final Cut Pro, so there is no issue here. And more importantly – the work I do for the motion group, can take advantage of the unique workflow, only available by using Adobe’s Production Premium CS5 – including Adobe Premiere Pro.

Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects are the clear leaders in both graphic design and the motion graphics industries. In fact, After Effects has a huge market share of the professional compositing market as well. The integration between these applications and Adobe Premiere Pro is seamless – making it the editor’s tool of choice when efficient workflow is a primary consideration.

Final Cut Studio also offers a ‘suite’ of programs that integrate with Final Cut Pro: Soundtrack Pro for audio editing, Apple Motion for motion graphics, DVD Studio Pro for DVD creation, Compressor for media encoding – and probably one of the suites best features, Apple Color. It used to include an application called LiveType for creating titles, but this was discontinued starting with Final Cut Studio 3.

As much as I tried to integrate Soundtrack Pro into my workflow when I was a Final Cut Pro editor, it was never a good fit. ProTools was my audio editing tool of choice. Soundtrack Pro didn’t feel intuitive, and seemed lacking compared to ProTools. On the motion graphics side, I tried Apple Motion, but as a long time After Effects user, it was not love at first sight. For me, it felt like the ‘GarageBand’ of motion graphics tools. It has features that allow people to easily create motion graphics – but it didn’t have the depth or flexibility of After Effects. As for LiveType – it was a good concept, but I found it very difficult to work in, and it was the buggiest of all of the Final Cut Studio tools. DVDStudio was clunky and even in its latest iteration, does not offer the ability to create Blu-Ray. Given today’s current market, this makes no sense. But my guess is Blu-Ray – not unlike Flash on the iPad – is another one of Steve Job’s ‘my way or the highway’ statements. Don’t get me wrong – I am a die-hard Apple fan. But when it comes to software, I need the tools that make my job easier and offer the ability to work faster.

On the other hand, the products included in Adobe Creative Suite 5 Production Premium offer all of the programs I need to go from initial design and creation, to Blu-Ray DVDs, web, or the silver screen including: Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash Catalyst, Flash Professional, Soundbooth, OnLocation, Encore, Bridge, Device Central, Media Encoder and Adobe Dynamic Link.

Now, if you work for a larger company and only play a very specific role as an editor, these other tools may not be important to you. But if you wear many hats – as I do – the ability to quickly move between creative applications using a variety of tools is a must.

As industry standards, Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects are what really gives CS5 the real edge. The ability to easily work between programs – without having to buy or install additional plug-ins – makes it perfect. Overall, the Adobe Creative Suite offers programs that are more useful, and as a package – saves you a substantial amount of money.

Mac + Windows

Another advantage is all CS5 applications are nearly identical between the Windows and Mac versions. For Windows users who are converting to Mac – you can easily transfer your Adobe license to your new platform – and expect it to work. Or vice-versa. Most application project files work in either platform, so even though I am a Mac user, when I share files with Windows users they can access my media and project files over a network, or use an external hard drive. This is a big advantage over Final Cut Studio.

Comparison: how they handle video formats

One of the common reasons Final Cut Pro users say they prefer Final Cut is how it handles video. Almost all footage that you add to the timeline in Final Cut Pro is converted either to the Apple Intermediate Codec or ProRes. In most cases, Final Cut Pro will transcode into ProRes 422. This codec is similar to Avid’s DNxHD codec. It’s a codec that is easy for editing systems to decode. It has a 10-bit color space and a high bit rate. This combination provides both speed and picture quality. It’s Apple’s strategy to make more video types compatible in a single timeline.

There are a couple of drawbacks to this strategy:
– it takes time to transcode each video
– unless you delete the original video, you will have two of the same video files on a computer – a potential source of problems.

Adobe’s alternative was a good one. Instead of transcoding all footage that is used in a project, Adobe Premiere has the ability to natively handle almost any video codec in a single timeline without the need for transcoding. The first time I saw this demoed by Dave Hemly at Adobe I was astounded. He imported a variety of formats – from AVCHD to R3D – to the same timeline and then played back the timeline flawlessly. I had to stop him and ask ‘wait – did you conform the footage before importing it?‘ The answer was no. The footage was native.

To handle the potential issue of real-time decoding taxing the computer system, Adobe came up with the idea of integrating the Mercury Playback Engine in Premiere. This, combined with NVIDIA’s CUDA technology makes it feel like you’ve purchased a new, high-speed, video editing machine. How does it work? Video rendering is offloaded to the computer’s GPU, freeing up the computer processors to complete tasks that in-turn speed up editing. This definitely put Adobe ahead of the game for those of us who work with high resolution codecs.

Making the switch: my experience

I dug in my heels and resisted change as long as I could and up until experiencing the roundtrip Adobe workflow, I never thought I would say – I made the switch.

Initially, I thought it was going to be too difficult to convert to Premiere Pro. I was used to the Final Cut Pro interface and keyboard shortcuts. After spending more time in Premiere Pro, I realized that the interfaces had a lot of similarities. Plus – I really like how extensively I can customize my workspace in Premiere Pro. I admit – the keyboard shortcuts were an issue. But, this was obviously something Adobe had heard from other converts as well. Fortunately, they offer the option to use Final Cut Pro keyboard shortcuts. Simply go to Edit > Keyboard Customization and select Shortcuts For Final Cut Pro 4.0. Several months down the road, I made the decision to switch back and learn Premiere Pro’s keyboard shortcuts as I realized many of them are similar to the other Adobe applications that I work with. Working between applications, it makes more sense.

Dynamic Link magic

You know the situation. You’re in the middle of editing, and quickly need to create a motion graphic. You open up After Effects, and create your motion graphics. If you’re working in Final Cut Pro, you render it out, and bring it into Final Cut. But if you’re working in Premiere Pro, you simply import the After Effects .aep project file – no pre-rendering required! And when your client comes in and says – I love it! But… can you change the text in the graphic to our logo font? – the solution is simple. Directly in Premiere Pro you can edit the After Effects file via Adobe Dynamic Link and it automatically updates in your Premiere Pro file!

Working between Photoshop, Soundbooth – and in the future, Adobe Audition (a great audio editing application, by the way) and Premiere Pro is just as easy. In fact, cutting and pasting between many of the Adobe applications is possible. All of this translates to working faster, and working smarter.

When Time is of the Essence

One of the sessions I present when speaking at motion, NAB Post|Production World, Adobe MAX and other shows, is titled: When Time is of the Essence: Creating Motion Graphics on a Deadline. I found this subject particularly fitting, because it directly relates to…my life. I came up with the concept for this session based on my personal, real-life experiences – particularly with the work I do for motionmotion.tv, and motion+connect. In my interactions with others, I’ve since realized that this concept is almost universal in the industry.

While there are a variety of techniques that can help you when time is of the essence – having tools that allow you to work more efficiently is key. Adobe Creative Suite CS5 Production Premium – including Premiere Pro – won my heart. I’m glad I made the switch.

9 Comments

  1. I think I’ll make the switch too..Its the rendering that always bugs me @ FC….Thanks

    Reply
  2. elaine

    Thanks for the reply jorge – I think after you make the switch, you’ll never look back.

    It was interesting for me to see the release of FCP X. Even though I had seen the announcement live at NAB in April, the comments confirmed my concerns…it is no longer a Pro level application. The inability to import native digital file formats is crazy.

    It makes me really glad I made the decision to switch a year ago – I feel like I’m ahead of the curve!

    Reply
  3. Nope,
    The social network was eddited most in premiere. In fact the producers uses all CS5 suite. FCP was used for minor tasks.
    In addittion , your text is very good. I have to say that mac users DO NOT have the benefits of CUDA, becouse the FERMI processors API´s was developed to run only in Windowes 64 Bits environment. The very brute GPUs do a very good job, but CUDA isnt work. God is clever!CUDA is only for us !
    In MACS there is a simulation OF 32 CUDA CORES by the driver and mercury engine appears like an option in project setting on MACs.
    I have a 24 real cores, computer,(dual opteron) with 144Gig of ram and 1024 CudaCores im my machine. I handled with 4K, five layers of RED footage@160MB/s plus many other in AVCHD without flaws or problems. This is far away fom 32bit limited FCP.
    You are a very clever man that runs out from FCP. You did one major step in your evolution . The bigger and the best is change for Windows7 64bits while you can, because as we know, Apple’s Pro division is in the process of being scrapped and sold. Apple has already demonstrated strong signals that it wants to abandon the tower,large hardware with many boards support and only keep the tablets and notebooks, and the simpler operating sistems with ICLOUD !!!! (LOL).
    The Lion the new system itself, does not bring realy new features, unless beauty. As we know, beauty is just beauty …

    Reply
    • elaine

      @Leon. Thanks for the reply. I’ll have to check with my sources to verify that Mac only simulates CUDA. It was my understanding that if you have the nVidia Quadro 4000 in your Mac, it is true CUDA Mercury Playback processing. Without the card, it is definitely software based. But with the card – I believe it to be comprable to Windows.

      Having said that, it is true – the Mac Pro I run is an 8-core system. If yours is truly 24 actual cores, its bound to run much faster – assuming CUDA and Adobe take advantage of the additional cores.

      As for Apple – it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. As a long time Apple fanatic (and pro user), I would hate to see them go by the wayside. I love the operating system. (yes – I’ve used Windows before, and have Windows 7 installed as a virtual machine on one computer). I still prefer the Mac operating system hands down.

      But I agree – Apple is definitely showing signs of abandoning the professional level users. Final Cut X was a prime example. Could Mac Pros be next? Definitely a possibility. And what about Lion? Is it going to be a limited ‘iPad’ based operating system? I hope not. The current version of Mac OS X is a very powerful Linux based operating system. As someone who is also a web-developer and a ‘tinkerer’ of linux based system administration, Apple’s current operating system is remarkable.

      Apple has gained enormous ground with the general consumer. That does seem to be their primary focus now – and one they’re making lots of money with. It will be interesting to see where it all goes.

      So perhaps, if I could describe my ‘ideal’ Pro system – it would be one of the high end HP, 12-core boxes with an nVidia CUDA enabled card, running Adobe Master Collection. With a few modifications to the HP: 1) the HP would run Mac OS X (64-bit), and 2) the HP would come housed in a high quality ‘designer’ – case similar to that of the Mac Pro.

      Reply
  4. Hi Elaine,

    *sigh of relief* I think I finally got my answer. 🙂

    I’ve been poring over lengthy forum threads, articles, promotional websites, etc. and it seemed like the endless argument between CS5.5 and FCPX (or FCP7) would turn to fisticuffs if it were in person. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if NAB or other conventions have hosted such “Adobe brawls”… who knows.

    The production company I direct for does broadcast and cable TV docs and uses FCP (+ After Effects) exclusively. But I’m doing a lot more side contracts, including music videos, commercials, and web content, and I’m finally investing in a dedicated machine of my own. I’m also wanting to get back to doing my own features for fun (twisted sense of fun, right?).

    I’ve used Windows all my life (even did my first amateur features on Windows Movie Maker), but I was totally prepared to switch over to Mac when I saw how great FCP was at work.

    Then I heard all the buzz about CS5.5, and the Mercury Playback Engine… and then switched over to another tab and proceeded to see most pros criticize it heavily (while a minority argued valiantly for Adobe). But then I realized that these guys and girls weren’t all people like me, with my exact needs, and it became hard to weed out what was going on.

    Needless to say, for those side contracts when I’m a “wearer of all hats” in postproduction, the speed and integrative aspects of the Adobe Premium package really come to light. And you’ve explained and illustrated those characteristics beautifully with examples of other similar pro work that benefits from application integration and/or requires quick turnaround.

    Therefore, all I really want to say is: thank you.

    Now, because most people using Adobe recommend sticking with the OS that is most familiar to you, I need to get back out there and figure out what kind of Windows workstation is best for me.

    Have you read, as I have, that PC slightly outperforms Mac in terms of speed in running Premiere Pro? The clincher for me was really about going with what was familiar to me, but the hardware aspects remain an interesting discussion by themselves.

    Cheers. 🙂

    Reply
  5. elaine

    @Gabriel. Thanks for the reply. I’m a die hard Mac user – have been for years. I love the operating system!

    If your sole reason for switching to Mac was because of FCP – well, yes, you may want to think again.

    But if you wanted to move to the Mac platform for other reasons, including the Production Premium workflow – you should be fine.

    I have no plans to stop using a Mac. I love the platform.

    I have an nVidia Quadro 4000 installed in my MacPro and get excellent results with Premiere Pro and the Mercury Playback Engine.

    I wrote Dave Helmly at Adobe to ask his advice on this matter. He said “If you own recent Mac Pro you can add a CUDA card and get excellent results. Most Mac users are very happy.” He went on to say, “Yes, the Windows users have a slightly better experience.” So I’d say it’s the two platforms are fairly comprable.

    I love the Mac. But if you’re used to Windows, and were only thinking of moving to Mac because of FCP – there’d be no reason to. If you’re still interested in the Mac, stop by an Apple store and play with one for a while and see if it’s a good match for you.

    You can be comfortable knowing whatever platform you ultimately choose, Adobe Production Premium – AND the Mercury Playback Engine will work well.

    Reply
  6. Wow, what a thoughtful, helpful article. Thanks for taking the time to pull it together.

    Jan

    Reply
  7. Seriously great article. I’ve been getting tired of the rendering times, and file conversion necessary to work in FCP (shooting with a 7D). I think I’m going to make the switch primarily for the workflow between Premiere and After Effects. My only worry are articles talking about the video quality of the export from Adobe Premiere Pro. They claim the compression that Adobe uses, although faster, has more loss of image quality than Apple’s compressor. I did a few tests and noticed a difference myself. Media encoder transcoded the video 3x faster, but the resulting quality was noticeably poorer. Have you heard anything about this?

    Reply
    • elaine

      I personally haven’t experience this. What settings are you using in Media Encoder when you export? Make sure you’re matching apples to adobes 😉 Verify that the codecs and all settings are the same in Compressor and Media Encoder, and see what you come up with.

      And yes – the workflow between After Effects and Premiere was the main reason I made the switch. Now that I have made the switch, I’m finding out how much time it saves in other areas as well. Be sure to check out integration with Adobe Audition – it’s great!

      Reply

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