In the Studio: Can Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10 Get the Job Done?
Recently, Sony Creative Software released updates to its consumer line of media products, including Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10. This month we’re going to look at some of the real-world differences between Vegas Pro and the latest Vegas Movie Studio line of software as they pertain to wedding and event videographers.
All the Cool Kids Are Using It
Most people in our industry take it for granted that pro NLEs are essential to pro videography and that any videographer worth his or her salt must be using Sony Vegas Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, Grass Valley EDIUS, or (in a few cases) an Avid system. But it’s a fact that you do not have to have the most expensive tools to do good work.
For years, Randy Stubbs, a WEVA Hall of Famer, two-time EventDV 25 All-Star, and winner of 20 WEVA Creative Excellence Awards (CEAs), used Canopus’ (now-discontinued) $99 consumer NLE, Let’s Edit. Even though the upgrade to HD has caused Stubbs to move to EDIUS, Grass Valley’s pro application favored by many videographers, he built his legend and won all his CEAs while using consumer software. In 2001 alone he garnered six CEA awards. Stubbs says, “I still firmly believe that the story is the most important aspect of any production. I’m not saying that image quality is not important, but too many videographers make the mistake of thinking that if they buy the latest/greatest gear then their work will automatically be better.”
If you’re a Vegas user, can you do your best work with the low-priced Vegas Movie Studio? It’s an especially interesting question now that Sony has released the HD Platinum 10 version of Movie Studio, which is jam-packed with new features and utilities that are much more substantial from the flashy bells and whistles one typically associates with feature-bloated consumer apps. Highlights of the new release that should pique the interest of pros include support for up 10 video and 10 audio tracks; one-click white balance; built-in image stabilization courtesy of proDAD (makers of Mercalli) and featuring rolling-shutter correction; and GPU-accelerated AVC rendering. To assess the viability of this $99 tool for those of us editing wedding and event video with one eye on delivering a quality product and the other on the bottom line, I enlisted the help of full-time Houston videographer, Vegas Pro user, and 2009 EventDV 25 finalist Rusty Bryce to find out.
Ingest and Sync Workflow
Bryce’s biggest concern was how his tried-and-true workflow between Panasonic AVCHD files, Cineform NeoScene intermediates, files from digital audio recorders, and Vegas Pro could be duplicated with Vegas Movie Studio.
Bryce’s main camera these days is a Panasonic Lumix GH1 HDSLR along with a complement of lenses and a small Panasonic flash media-based model for his second camera. For his audio, Bryce uses three digital recorders (all Yamaha POCKETRAK 2G units) in a dual-system sound configuration. During a typical wedding, Bryce deploys these units in some combination of groom, lectern, and officiate or string quartet for the ceremony and mounts one recorder on a stand in front of a DJ or band’s speaker during the reception. He captures all files from the audio recorders and footage from the camera’s cards.
Because Bryce shoots in AVCHD, which is notoriously difficult to edit under the best of circumstances, he runs all his camera footage through Cineform NeoScene to create editable AVI files. Vegas Movie Studio plays back both Cineform and native AVCHD files the same as Vegas Pro. “I can do the 24p pull-down when I convert with NeoScene [available],” Bryce says. “I’m not going to try to edit native AVC; there’s no point in it with NeoScene.” Once transcoded, he puts the ceremony footage on a Vegas timeline along with audio from the three recorders and then runs Singular Software’s PluralEyes (a Vegas Pro plug-in) to sync all the audio and video tracks of that project.
In my review of PluralEyes, I noted that this specific scenario of off-camera audio and multiple camera files was ideally suited to exploiting PluralEyes’ strengths. Bryce says of syncing audio tracks, “I used to wear a ring on my finger, and before the ceremony, I would whack it against the tripod as hard as I could so that all the recorders picked it up. Then, I looked at the photographer like he did it!” Even with this waveform-spiking whack as his sync point, Bryce says that before PluralEyes, it would take him forever to sync all the sources throughout the long ceremony.
All of Bryce’s packages include a long-form ceremony, and PluralEyes is an invaluable part of every ceremony project he works on. Unfortunately, PluralEyes is not compatible with Vegas Movie Studio—no scripting-based plug-in is. This includes such popular utilities as Sony Creative Software’s Vegas Pro Production Assistant, VASST’s Ultimate S Pro, and Edward Troxel/JETDV’s Excalibur. For many Vegas Pro users, not having one or more of these tools is a deal breaker. It is for Bryce: “PluralEyes cuts hours out of my workflow,” he says. For Bryce and other users of PluralEyes, there is good news: Singular Software has released a stand-alone version called DualEyes that works with virtually all NLEs, including Vegas Movie Studio (VMS). See the Singular Software website for details.
Working in the Timeline
A minor difference between VMS and Vegas Pro is that VMS does not allow you to insert Velocity Envelopes onto a video track and make infinite adjustments to the speed the way you can in Vegas Pro. You can, however, press the Ctrl key while dragging the edge of the clip left or right to add one type of velocity control within a clip.
One aspect of VMS Platinum that Vegas Pro users might find limiting is that it allows “only” 10 video and 10 audio tracks in a timeline (the lowest-cost version of VMS allows only four tracks total). Bryce says the 10-pack is not a limitation for most of his work. “I have the GH1 tracks, the palmcorder, and three more tracks for the audio recorders,” he says, totaling seven tracks for a typical ceremony edit. Vegas Pro has always allowed for unlimited tracks. I suspect most videographers will find 10 tracks to be sufficient as well for the majority of their edits. Bryce’s two-camera ceremonies are cut by hand, whereas most Vegas Pro users use some type of multicam tool (such as the one built into the application). Multicam is not available in VMS.
Bryce uses Sonicfire Pro’s SmartSound royalty-free music application/library for about half of his audio, and SmartSound integrates with VMS in exactly the same way it does with Vegas Pro. VMS also comes with several stock music tracks of various lengths, although Bryce and I agreed that only a few of them could be useful in a wedding video. Part of Sony Creative Software’s Studio line of products is ACID Music Studio, which can be used to construct custom soundtracks using loops. But a certain amount of musical capability and additional time is required.
For color grading and effects, Bryce occasionally uses ReelPaks from VASST. These looks are only available for Vegas Pro, not Movie Studio. He often uses the Color Correction and Secondary Color Correction filters in Vegas Pro to match, correct, and grade his footage, and as of VMS 10, these features are available in both applications. Not available in the consumer product are views for scopes and levels, but Bryce says he rarely, if ever, uses these in his Vegas Pro workflow.
Bryce includes a Blu-ray Disc (along with DVDs) in every package he sells, and both programs fully allow for Blu-ray Disc authoring as well as DVD. “My basic package does not have a menu, just an auto-play disc. Since I edit in HD anyway, it doesn’t cost me but a couple of dollars extra to include a Blu-ray Disc.” Some would argue that he’s leaving money on the table by not charging extra for Blu-ray, but Bryce sees it as a value-add for referrals. VMS does not support 5.1 surround sound, but Bryce says surround sound is never a part of his wedding videos.
In terms of a general assessment of Vegas Movie Studio 10 HD Platinum, Bryce says, “I think this version is more capable. The last version I downloaded to my laptop, I don’t think it did 24p. This one is different. Just for the hell of it I might edit my next wedding video with it.” Since he can open VMS project files in Vegas Pro, he could at least start the project in VMS and move to Vegas Pro at any point if he needed to.
On the overall subject of wedding video production, Bryce says, “I almost decided to use a calibrated monitor when I built my current system. I wasn’t sure how much it was going to help me in the long run. Doing cheap wedding videos full time, I’m not concerned if the exposure is a little bit off or the colors look a little different on the client’s TV if it isn’t going to make me any more money. Some will argue that you won’t be one of the ‘big guys’ if you aren’t color correcting every single piece of footage and spending 80 hours editing it.” Bryce is a bang ’em out kind of guy—albeit a particularly tech-savvy and widely respected one who once plied his trade on the more artistic realm of wedding video production before restructuring his business to deliver a more profitable product with an efficient workflow. His normal turnaround time is 1 week or less, and the average cost of his wedding videos is $1,000. As for other secrets to the success of Rusty Bryce and his streamlined operation … Bryce edits standing up at a desk: “That was one of the smartest things I ever did. You tend to get your work done a lot faster if you can’t sit and relax at your desk. You don’t screw around looking at internet forums or fall asleep. And you don’t have to get up and down while you’re in the process of making DVDs.”
So why would a wedding and event videographer choose Vegas Movie Studio over Vegas Pro? If you already own Vegas Pro, there is no reason we could think of to downgrade to the lesser product. Vegas Movie Studio users don’t have access to script-based plug-ins and extensions, and they won’t have some advanced analysis tools such as video scopes. Vegas Pro also includes a few more filters and FX out of the box. You can check out a thorough comparison of the complete Vegas family and decide for yourself which product is right for you.
But if you’re just starting out or considering a move to the Vegas platform, you can certainly produce more than capable wedding videos using Vegas Movie Studio. It’s also a great way to train new editors in your studio if you don’t have additional Vegas Pro licenses.
I’d like to thank Randy Stubbs and Rusty Bryce for their time and contributions to this article. Bryce and I spent an afternoon together enjoying pizza and beer while discussing wedding video in Houston. He is an interesting guy and a solid videographer. You can view his work at rustybryce.com.
David McKnight (david at mcknightvideo.com) is half of McKnight Video of Houston. He is vice president of the Houston Professional Videographers Association (HPVA), has Sony Vegas and HDV certification, is the technical editor of the Vegas Pro 9 Editing Workshop (Focal Press), and is a contributor to TheFullHD Book (VASST). He and his wife, Christie, are winners of multiple HPVA awards.