I got flamed repeatedly after writing a blog post about Sony Vegas while I was at NAB. In essence, the post stated that it was easy for me to recognize the NLE’s many strengths, but that didn’t make me any more comfortable using it. These responses made me crystallize my thinking about why we choose the video editors we choose, and it came down to three reasons: "the complete product," "first love," and sheer, subjective preference.
The first reason concerns whether the NLE provides all critical functions in a convenient and elegant way. This "complete product" concept was first described (I think) in Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. If an NLE doesn’t meet all your needs, you’ll move on from NLE to NLE until you find one that does. For example, Pinnacle Edition was the first editor I used with an internal multicam feature, which worked very well. But other important aspects of the product, like titling and DVD authoring, were subpar. I used Edition for a couple of years, but I always had my eye out for a better solution.
Vegas didn’t have multicam at the time, internally, and the VASST plug-in, though functional, felt clunky. Final Cut couldn’t handle different formats like DV and HDV in its multicam tool (it still can’t without converting to ProRes). And while Premiere Pro’s tool has its limits (four cameras), it’s exceptionally easy to use and does what I need. Premiere’s titler is a great match for the codec analysis work that I do; Encore is capable and easy to get to; and the Photoshop integration is very handy. Sound Forge didn’t do multiple tracks until version 9, while Audition did, making that switch compelling as well.
Production Premium still isn’t perfect, and there are some definite limitations that I’d love for Adobe to address (see my February column, My Adobe Production Premium Wishlist). But Premiere Pro was the first product to do everything that I needed; and now it works on the Mac, which I absolutely love. Though I use Final Cut Studio for a lot of projects, particularly AVCHD source video, and it creates moving titles and some motion effects, it’s easy to go back and forth between Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro because the products are so similar. You can’t say the same about Vegas or Avid.
Because Premiere Pro was the first to meet all my needs, it became my "first love," the standard by which all other editors are judged. It inevitably and more or less permanently shaped my view of what an editor should do and how it should work. Editors have literally hundreds of functions, and your first love does most of them right. Any editor that doesn’t work the same way feels illogical, and therefore jarring—not just once, but each time you encounter another of its functions. Certainly this feeling could be overcome, but it’s not going to go away quickly.
For example, I’ve used the Mac more and more over the last few years. I do most of my writing on a Mac, all of my layout in inDesign on a Mac, and lots of video editing on a Mac. The hardware is a work of art, and the operating system is so much simpler and cleaner to the eye, especially now that we’re into the Vista era on the Windows side. That said, I’ve used Windows since 1993, so I’m more familiar with it. At least once or twice a week I find myself having to figure out how to do something on the Mac that’s second nature for me on Windows.
My preference for Premiere Pro could change, but it wouldn’t happen without very good reason. It would take a product that delivered an incremental benefit over Premiere Pro to woo me away from it, and for the type of work that I do, I don’t see one that does. During my conversation with Sony’s Dave Chaimson at NAB, he admitted that it’s very hard to dislodge someone from a certain editor, which is why Sony Creative Software is focusing its marketing efforts on new users—a great strategy.
The third element, subjective preference, is undoubtedly shaped by the first two considerations, but it isn’t entirely the same. I love chocolate ice cream and hate vanilla. If you force-feed me vanilla ice cream for 3 months straight, a la A Clockwork Orange, I would still hate it. But I know that this is my preference; I’d never criticize someone for liking vanilla ice cream (now pistachio, that’s a totally different matter). I’d never say that one editor is absolutely better than another. Any editor with hundreds of thousands of users is obviously meeting the needs of a lot of folks. I’ve found Premiere Pro to be the best match for the type of projects that I do, and as my first love and preference, it would be awfully tough to dislodge it from that position. The good folks who flamed me over my Vegas blog post said the same thing about Vegas. And even though we prefer different programs, our reasons are totally consistent.
Incidentally, when I review a new product—which I try to limit to Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro since I know them well—I consciously look to answer two questions: Should the user upgrade? And, for new users trying to select an editor for the first time, how does it compare to others? Like Dave Chaimson, I wouldn’t expect one glowing review of Vegas to cause legions of satisfied Final Cut Pro users to switch NLEs; same with a positive Premiere Pro review. The forces marrying an editor to his or her product are just too strong, and the features differentiating the various products are simply not that great.
Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is the author of Critical Skills for Streaming Producers, published by StreamingMedia.com.