Ultimately, it comes down to tools, techniques, and know-how. Obviously, techniques and know-how are indispensable, but what about tools? For me, as editor of this magazine, hardly a day passes when I don't hear about the astonishing image quality of a single-chip 1/4" handheld; a cheap shotgun mic that will make the back of the room sound like the front row; or a nine-tool consumer video suite that will have you capturing, editing, and authoring like the pros for a mere $69. Which makes price a pretty obvious differentiator—if a camera costs $1,999 instead of $499, it's probably a pro camera; same with an NLE that costs $699 instead of $69.
But the truth is, DV is a great equalizer. It can make just about anyone look like a pretty good shooter if they get lucky with the lighting, no matter how cheap or feature-poor the camera. By the same token, consumer video editing suites pack remarkable versatility for the price, and could teach the folks who develop even the most sophisticated post-production tools a few things about usability and application design. Some of the coolest, most effective features found in any NLE have made their debut in consumer tools. Ulead's MultiTrim clip-trimming debuted in VideoStudio, and Pinnacle's method of building DVD menus directly from the timeline made its first appearance in the consumer Studio product before working its way up the food chain to Liquid Edition. As if to prove just how far ahead of the curve consumer software can be, the canny folks at Cyberlink recently announced the first NLE at any level to boast both those features with PowerDirector 4—yet another mass-market NLE.
But such mechanical workflow elements, however ingenious and great for usability, don't make amateurs into pros by enabling them to accomplish the post-production feats that professional videography demands. Neither reflects the sort of esoteric editing-bay mastery that sets professional work apart from amateur video production and distinguishes the successful pros from the posers.
Everyone's idea of the distinguishing features that pros demand and consumers don't need probably differs. In the interest of defining what a pro videographer's NLE should do, and assessing the leading contenders on the basis of that definition, I've come up with the following list:
• multiple-camera audio sync
• multiple-camera color correction/balancing
• keyframeable motion control
• motion tracking
• multiple timelines
Most notable in its absence from such a list is chromakey/compositing and the sophisticated capabilities like garbage matte and spill suppression that make it a clean and predictable process. In the interest of brevity, I'm begging off the chromakey question for this article; chromakey is an article unto itself, one that we've covered at length before [Jan Ozer's, "Video Compositing 101," June 2004 EMedia, pp. 18-27] and will surely do so again. Also worth mentioning but not discussed here is titling; Geoff Daily did a more thorough job examining native titling capabilities and relevant plug-ins in his February article, "Titling Tips, Tricks, and Tools" (pp. 46-52), than I could possibly attempt here.
Multitrack audio mixing capabilities, 5.1 support, and other audio features such as those that enable users to apply narration tracks with ease and precision are another article unto themselves; that's a topic we'll address in an upcoming issue (thanks, folks, I'll be here all year). In this piece, in the interest of relative brevity, I'll stick to elements of video-specific and workflow expertise.
Finally, there's built-in DVD authoring capability. This is hardly a feature that distinguishes a pro NLE from a consumer one. Consumer NLEs have led the way in integrating DVD authoring and nonlinear video editing within a single application and continue to be nearly uniform in that respect. Among the leading pro/prosumer software NLEs, only Pinnacle Liquid Edition actually features a DVD authoring application within the video editor. While other programs like Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 and Sony Pictures Vegas can launch a like-minded DVD authoring tool from their main video editing window, they're not truly integrated, multifunction/ single-application tools. Pro DVD authoring tools are pro DVD authoring tools; integrating DVD authoring—pro or otherwise— with an NLE does not a pro NLE make. Check out Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen's article, "DVD Authoring and the Event Videographer," on pp. 32-39 of this issue for an extensive discussion of what pro videographers look for and find within their DVD tools of choice.
In the following sections, I'll address each of the six features listed above for five leading tools: Premiere Pro 1.5, Vegas 5, Pinnacle's Liquid Edition 6, Avid's Xpress Pro, and Apple's Final Cut Pro HD. In some cases, these products get the job done most effectively through powerful third-party plug-ins (usually at additional expense); I've included discussion of these plug-ins where the videographer's natural course would be to apply a plug-in or complementary application to enhance the acuity of their work or the efficiency of their workflow. Apple responded too late to my requests to participate fully in this article, but I've included FCP commentary where possible.
For many videographers, three is the magic number for top-notch wedding coverage. In addition to enabling you to cover the ceremony from multiple positions and angles, a three-camera setup allows you to shoot tight with one camera and get a more panoramic view with another, or keep two cameras stationary while one roams free, or works from two or more set positions. Even a two-camera setup gives an advantage over one camera, for some of the same reasons.
But the odds are that, as you built or expanded your business, you didn't buy all your cameras at once or buy multiple cameras of the same model. All of which means you're shooting the same event from multiple sources that might make the footage look significantly different once you begin to work with it back in the editing bay. Maybe the cameras have different low-light capabilities or lux ratings; maybe they were white-balanced differently, or simply can't be white-balanced identically; maybe they capture the same colors in slightly different ways.
For all its advantages, a multiple camera-setup can create multiple problems in post. The first and most obvious difficulty is getting the captured footage in sync with the master audio track when you start to assemble the footage in bits and pieces from each source in the timeline. Some NLEs and plug-ins offer utilities designed specifically to ease or automate the multi-camera audio sync process; with others, you can get the job done with nifty workarounds. And in some cases, it's every bit as painstaking a process as you might imagine.
Then there's the integration of multiple video sources from different breeds of camera that can potentially make your finished product look like a patchwork of different locations or even different events. Here's where the complex quandary of multiple-camera color correction comes into play, and an NLE with effective color-correction and balancing capabilities well-suited or specifically designed to accomplish this task can be incredibly valuable. This process is part of virtually any multi-camera edit; obviously, a tool well-equipped to give footage from multiple cameras a unified look is a tremendous asset for anyone doing multi-camera production.
Pinnacle Systems tackles the sync problem head-on in Liquid Edition 6 with the software's new multicam interface. According to Pinnacle technical expert and trainer Jim Thill, "Liquid Edition's multicam sync gives the user complete flexibility on how clips are synchronized for multicam editing. You can sync by timecode, clip in or out, or mark in or out, and you can specify which audio track from which clip is used for your multicam edit."
As for color correction between multiple clips or multiple video sources (which at this point becomes the same thing), Thill says, "you can do up to three-point color balance and gray balance between two clips. You use Secondary Color Correction and select the clip color that you want to match as a reference clip. You then set the color ranges that you want to match and it adjusts automatically."
Sony Pictures' Vegas, by contrast, does not offer built-in multi-camera editing. Dave Hill, director of engineering for Sony Pictures media software, recommends a third-party plug-in called Excalibur, which is expressly designed for multicam sync (among other tasks) and sells for $75 at www. vegas.trainingandtools.com/ plugins.html.
Hill explains the multi-camera color correction process in Vegas as follows: "A decent workflow for multi-camera color correction would be to color-correct a shot from Camera 1, save the color-correction settings as a preset, then apply that preset to all media files in the project that were shot with Camera 1. Applying effects at the media level, in effect, lets you add pre-corrected footage to an empty timeline and edit from there. If you need to rough in color correction and then do a final scene-by-scene correction at the end of the session, you could drop the preset on all timeline events that use footage shot with Cameras 1, 2, and 3, respectively, and then correct each scene.
"Split-screen preview and the scopes can be used to match footage shot with other cameras to Camera 1," he adds. "Once a match is obtained, presets for each camera can be saved and then applied to Camera 2 and Camera 3 at the media or the event level. If at the very end you wanted to, say, warm everything up a bit, you could then add another color correction filter at the track level. All video on the track would be affected by this additional instance of the color corrector."
Like Vegas, Premiere Pro manages the multi-camera-sync through a plug-in—in this case, Multicam Software from United Media. (You can also do it manually in the Premiere timeline, of course, but it's a lot more efficient to go the plug-in route.) Multicam comes in two sizes: a 2-camera version, MC2-PRO, which lists for $299, and a 4-camera version, MC-4 PRO, which lists for $599 at www.unitedmediainc.com.
"The United Media plug-in allows for building multicam projects that can be nested into larger projects and color-corrected or otherwise finished as desired," according to Ron Nydam, senior product manager for Premiere Pro 1.5. "The manual process requires the editor to align video tracks over each other to and use audio peaks or video flash frames to align them temporally. Cuts and razors can then be added between the various tracks to create a sequence of edits that provide the camera switches desired. Color correction and other finishing techniques can be applied to the clips or to the entire sequence if it is nested within another timeline in the project."
Nydam says that the color correction capabilities native to Premiere Pro are up to the multicam/ multiple-source challenge. "Premiere Pro has color-matching tools that allow users to match the levels and colors between shots to deliver that even, finished look," he says. "These tools have quick presets and deeper ‘tweaking' tools to provide as much fine-tuning as is desired or required."
Tim Wilson, senior product marketing manager for Avid Technology, chimes in on Xpress Pro HD's multicamera-specific capabilities. "Xpress Pro HD's multicam feature (also known as clip grouping) allows users to select up to four clips of any resolution or format, or even different resolutions or formats," he says. "While displayed on the timeline as a single clip, all four clips play in a single window onscreen." Users can edit the clips, he says, by "clicking on a shot while the sequence plays, or by pressing a user-defined key to select which camera is being used. A typical choice might map F1 to Camera 1, F2 to Camera 2, and so forth. The edits are applied to the timeline in real time." If the mixing and matching gets confusing, he continues, users can "right-click on any cut on the timeline to bring up the names of the other shots. To change shots, just select from the list. If you forget which name refers to which shot, press the control key to display the names on the four clips in the editing window." The workflow for manipulating audio is similarly straightforward, according to Wilson. "For audio, you have a number of choices," he says. "You can select one clip to provide the master audio, or have the audio follow the video—that is, with Camera 2 selected, we hear the audio for that track. If the desire is to sync multiple tracks of audio under a single video clip," he adds, Xpress Pro offers an AutoSync function, as well as "the ability to shift audio by one quarter-frame for greater precision."
Xpress Pro handles color balancing in several ways; one is provided by NaturalMatch, a newly patented technology that reduces the process to a short succession of clicks, according to Wilson. "Select a point of interest in the clip to be corrected, another in the reference clip, and press Match," Wilson says. "There are a number of ways to customize this, including auto balance and auto curves, which can be combined so that they are applied in the same click."
If that doesn't solve the problem, you can apply Xpress Pro's AutoCorrect filter. "Select a range of clips to be corrected, and by double-clicking on the AutoCorrect filter in the effects palette, each clip is analyzed in sequence," Wilson says, "and the appropriate correction is applied to each one, even if a different correction is required for each clip. Again, the specific kind of correction may be customized, and multiple corrections applied with a single click, in a single pass. For most resolutions, including DV, the effect is finished and ready to output without rendering."
Finally, on the Final Cut Pro HD side, users can choose from two utilities that are expressly designed to ease the multicamera workflow. The first is Multicam Lite, a recently released standalone tool from UK-based Digital Heaven with an MSRP of $299. Multicam Lite works in conjunction with Final Cut Pro (4.1 and later) for the input and output of sequences via XML files. Clip-trimming and camera-switching features are built in. When the cut is finished, the XML file is imported back into FCP, where all the cuts are automatically re-created. A "Pro" version is due to ship in the next few months, with support for up to 20 cameras.
Another option is Live Cut (www.sourceforge.net), a freeware utility developed by Michael Egger that supports editing of up to four camera sources. Described as a "preprocessor" for Final Cut Pro, Live Cut takes footage captured in FCP, applies synchronization, and allows editors to cut between sources on the fly as they play in the preview windows. Cuts can then be fine-tuned in the Live Cut timeline before being exported back to FCP for additional edits.
One key to multi-source color correction and matching in FCP is the Copy Filter control, which allows you to replicate the effects you performed on one clip on another that may be one or two edit points away in the timeline.
For anyone shooting with multiple cameras—and that includes quite a few of us—real-time source integration and sync in a must-have capability for any editor worth its salt, and it's high time the rest of the vendors followed Avid's and Pinnacle's lead by implementing multi-camera sync as a native capability. The added cost and workflow interruptions attendant to plug-in use simply shouldn't be a factor in a mainstream pro function such as this one.
If you really want a stable shot, stabilization is probably the last thing you should assume you can fix in post. Camera stabilization equipment comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from monopods to tripods to flowpods and caddies. When keeping your camera stationary isn't an option, shoulder-mount equipment will have the two-pronged effect of keeping the camera still and saving your arm and back by redistributing the camera's weight. Then there are on-camera (optical or electronic image) stabilization functions, which adjust the video in various ways to compensate for minor shakes. And if you're a hopelessly shaky shooter, you're probably in the wrong business.
As much as we all like to shoot with a tripod, at some points in an event, you're probably going to have to go handheld or shoulder mount, and minor motion is inevitable. Image stabilization can fix much of this, as well as jars from shooting while on a bus or while walking.
Vegas offers user-keyframed stabilization, according to Sony's Hill, and using either the program's event pan/crop or track motion controls can be a labor-intensive process. "At the very least you can ‘calm down' a radical camera bump," Hill says, "and depending on the shot, you may be able to strategically apply keyframes to smooth out a more substantial problem."
Pinnacle's Jim Thill recommends that Liquid Edition users with stabilization needs use the company's Commotion Pro ($499) advanced effects tool. "Commotion Pro has an excellent motion tracker," he says. Once you've gotten your exported clip under control, he says, "you can re-import the stabilized footage into Liquid Edition for editing." Thill actually recommends Commotion Pro as a go-to product for a number of advanced effects, which offers a bit more justification for doubling your software investment (Liquid Edition also lists for $499) to address some of the tasks discussed here.
Adobe's Nydam also points users to a discrete application for stabilization, but in Premiere's case it's one that ships with the current Pro 1.5 bundle. SteadyMove, developed by a UK-based company called 2d3, is a very effective dedicated stabilization utility. "It does a great job of analyzing video and applying motion stabilization to it—even on something as wild as video shot on a roller coaster," Nydam says. "Since the analysis of the video allows just the right amount of stabilization to be applied to the video, keyframing is not required. The editor simply applies the SteadyMove tool and lets it do the rest."
Avid's Wilson contradicts the conventional wisdom on stabilizing on-camera vs. stabilizing in post: "We find that most users wish they'd left the camera stabilizer turned off. While small, handheld cameras are difficult to stabilize, and optical stabilizers often soften the image to the point of unusability." Xpress Pro HD offers one-click stabilization with high-quality image output, Wilson says, which he believes will meet most users' stabilization needs.
Image stabilization has been a knock on Final Cut Pro from the get-go. As with Vegas, it's basically a matter of moving the image to try to compensate for motion, with two squares on the screen showing the area that the image stabilizer is trying to lock on to. A smaller square indicates the area the software is attempting to sync to, and the larger square indicates how far out the filter should go to find the section of the image it seeks. The stabilization filter should work well enough for clips that are only a few jitters removed from stable and less-than-dynamic footage that's not tricked up with pans, zooms, and the like.
Lyric Media (www.lyric.com) sells a $49 FCP plug-in pack called Motion Tracking that features a more sophisticated stabilizing utility, using sub-pixel and center-of-weight motion as well as frame-by-frame tracking repair, smoothing, and fluid scaling to deliver a more satisfying stabilization result. The workflow is fairly straightforward: the editor selects an image feature for Stabilizer to track throughout the frames in a clip, and then the software repositions and scales each frame so that the selected feature appears stationary.
A third-party freeware tool called iStabilize (available via the Downloads tab at www.apple.com) provides another possible solution. Designed to remove "unwanted shaky motion from movies with respect to translation, rotation, and zoom," iStabilize allows users to apply stabilization effects to any segment of a movie. It's also a full-fledged movie player with a variety of edit and output capabilities. In preview mode, users can adjust stabilization parameters and preview them immediately. New features in the latest version include an upgraded motion tracker, with enhancements for rotational motion and zooming.