Premiere Pro CS 6.0: First Impressions
COW Library : Adobe Premiere Pro : David Lawrence : Premiere Pro CS 6.0: First Impressions
Like many of you, I've been itching to get my hands on Adobe Premiere Pro CS 6.0 ever since Adobe's official announcement and demo videos. As a long-time Final Cut Pro user, NLE change has been a given ever since the Final Cut Studio EOL last June. The big question has been "change to what?"
I've written extensively about the Final Cut Pro X timeline and why it's not right for my style of editing. Since FCPX isn't an option for me, I've spent all year watching and waiting to see what other NLE vendors might come up with.
The buzz on Premiere Pro 6 was growing months leading up to NAB. Conan O'Brien's boys stoked the fires with a viral promo teasing a fresh new interface, solid professional workflow, and easy Final Cut Pro transition. When Adobe finally showed their cards at NAB, I felt comfortable enough to tell my partners to pull the trigger on a couple Master Collection upgrades. I bought a new Production Bundle seat for myself as well.
We could have waited since FCP7 still works for us. But Adobe's upgrade prices were great and we knew we'd want CS6 anyway. Besides, sooner or later FCP7 was bound to break, so I figured it would be good to start transition as soon as practical and get it over with. And the signs were good - it looked like Adobe had addressed the complaints many folks had with Premiere Pro 5.5. But hype and flashy demos aside, this was still a leap of faith. As a Final Cut Pro user, I really didn't know what to expect.
So when word went out of a leaked CS6 trial release available from a secret Adobe URL, I jumped at the chance to take Premiere Pro 6 for a spin. Would it live up to the hype? More importantly, would it live up to my particular workflow expectations and needs?
The short answer is yes. Yes it would indeed.
So much so that when Tim Wilson asked the COW FCPX or Not Debate forum "What are you thinking about CS6?", this was my answer.
Tim asked me if I'd like to say more about my impressions and that's what I'm going to do in this article. But before I start, I want to be clear about where I'm coming from:
First off, I have no affiliation with Adobe. I'm speaking strictly for myself.
Second, I'm not a Premiere Pro expert, not even close. See this box?
This is my Premiere 3 box. From 1993. That was the last time I worked with Premiere. Yeah, it's been a while.
Third, I'm not going to discuss advanced workflows - no 3rd party display hardware, no multicam, no exchange with other programs, no collaboration, no tape I/O. You'll want to hear about that from the people who need to use those features every day.
Fourth, since I played with a prerelease, the help/user manuals were not yet online so I had to figure things out for myself. If I get anything wrong please let me know. I still have many questions and lots to learn.
Finally, I've only done a few tests on some short, simple projects. I have no idea how well Premiere Pro 6 handles scale or where the sharks are hiding.
For this article, I'm focusing on the basics. Does it have the tools and methods I depend on to work efficiently? Is it intuitive? Does it make sense? Is it easy to learn? How does it feel? And most important, will my partners and I feel at home here, after ten years working exclusively in Final Cut Pro?
My machine is a 15" late 2008 Unibody MacBook Pro. It's a CTO 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo, maxed out with 8GB RAM.
My storage is a mix of GRaid drives and Voyager/Thermaltake docks for bare 3.5" SATA drives. These attach to the laptop via Sonnet ExpressCard eSATA adaptor going into a eSATA 5-port multiplier. I also have a ReadyNAS Pro RAID-5 connected via gigabit Ethernet and networked with my partners in LA.
I normally work with my laptop in clamshell mode on a shelf under my desk connected to a 24" Apple LED display.
I'm basically a one-man-band operation, but often remotely collaborate.
My source formats are usually AVCHD or H.264, transcoded to ProRes 422 with Magic Bullet Grinder. I also work with XDCAM EX. Resolution/frame rate is usually 1080p24 or 30. Occasionally 1080i60 with XDCAM. We used to do a lot of work with HDV but it's rare these days.
These formats perform well in Final Cut Pro 7 and I have no problem editing quickly and efficiently. But my laptop is beginning to show its age - especially working with DSLR native formats like AVCHD or H.264, or timelines with mixed format media, or with any effects that need rendering.
For my tests, I exported a couple typical FCP7 projects in XML to see how Premiere Pro 6 would deal with the translation and to have something to play with.
Translation was very good but not perfect. Be prepared to do some work to get your sequences back in order. The good news is that all structural info translated perfectly. This includes all bins, clips and sequence structures. Simple transitions and time remapping translated perfectly as well, except for still frames. Sequence elements that didn't translate were the things you might expect - FCP7 specific plug-ins, effects, transitions and generators. Premiere Pro 6 substitutes these with a dissolve (or your default transition) and creates a full translation report noting whatever didn't translate.
Premiere Pro 6 using the old CS5.5 editing layout (footage courtesy Public Matters LLC, http://www.publicmattersgroup.com) Click image for larger view.
OVERALL UI DESIGN
Premiere Pro 6 is built around traditional NLE interface conventions - track-based editing with source/program viewers and media organization via projects, bins and sequences.
Users of the CS family of applications - especially After Effects 5.5 - will instantly feel at home. Adobe's given Premiere Pro 6 the same dark, clean, uncluttered front end. In fact, switching back and forth between AE 5.5 and PP6 feels like going between sections of the same program.
As you'd expect, workspace layouts are fully customizable and savable with tabbed panels for quick and flexible access. You can also customize panel buttons to make your control surfaces as featured or minimal as you like.
Premiere Pro 6 Project Panel with large thumbnail view. Note the persistent In/Out range marked in orange.
Project assets (bins, clips, sequences, and other media assets) all live in the project panel. It displays in standard list view and thumbnail view. But Adobe's given thumbnail view a sweet new twist. First, thumbnails can be big. Really big. The more space you give the panel, the bigger thumbnails get at maximum scale. You can make them almost as big as your source/program viewers if you have the monitor space.
Second, if you like skimming in FCPX, you'll be glad to know Premiere Pro 6 has it too. Adobe calls it Hover Scrub - wave your mouse over the thumbnail and skim. When you see something you like, click on the thumbnail and use the JKL keys to play. You can also set persistent In/Out marks with the I/O keys. And you can edit the marked clip onto the timeline either by dragging or with the keyboard.
In effect, Adobe's thumbnails are almost like mini source viewers. It's very useful.
The Premiere Pro 6 timeline is completely familiar, especially for Final Cut Pro users. No retraining necessary. It's a standard open timeline with video tracks above, audio below.
One nice similarity to Final Cut Pro 7 is the treatment of empty space or gaps. Avid Media Composer users are familiar with the concept of filler. These are transparent objects that fill negative space between media on the Avid timeline. FCPX fills empty timeline space with transparent gap bubbles. But the Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro 6 timelines use what I've always felt is the more elegant solution.
Gaps done properly. Note how rubber band selection with a mouse only selects media objects. [Editor's note: This image has been cropped to fit. Please click on image to expand to larger view and full-sized image.]
Gaps between clips are simply empty space. No objects needed. At the same time, empty space is click selectable, deletable, and can set the head or tail of a transition. This makes for a cleaner looking timeline since the only objects are always media. And if you like using the mouse to drag select clips, you never have to worry about selecting a gap by mistake.
Premiere Pro 6 timeline keyframing. All keyframable parameters are available from the drop-down menu on the clip.
Both Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro 6 use clip-based keyframing with the key frame editor directly on the clip. Audio key frames affect clip volume. And like FCP7, Premiere Pro 6 has default video keyframes that affect opacity. But Premiere Pro 6 also adds a drop-down menu allowing selection of any of the keyframable parameters associated with the video clip, including effect parameters. This makes all video keyframing easier to manipulate in context.
Premiere Pro 6 effect controls panel - similar to the effect controls in After Effects.
If you need greater precision, double click the video clip and open the Effect Controls tab in the source panel. The Effect Controls will be familiar to any After Effects user and work in a similar way. Keyframable parameter values are on the left with a time indicator ganged to the clip and timeline on the right.
Premiere Pro 6 outline view in the Program Panel. The frame can be directly manipulated as in Final Cut Pro 7.
For motion parameters, Premiere Pro 6 again borrows the best of Final Cut Pro 7. Double clicking in the Program viewer reveals an outline frame with handles, making it possible to set motion keyframes by directly manipulating the program frame.
Together, these Premiere Pro 6 timeline keyframe features make simple track-based compositing and motion effects - one of my favorite techniques and one of Final Cut Pro 7's greatest strengths - better than ever.
Ask any Avid editor what their favorite thing about Media Composer is and you'll likely get the same answer - the trim tools. I'm often told that Avid's keyboard-driven "rock and roll" trimming features are considered the gold standard in the editing world, especially for narrative. But editors more accustomed to trimming with the mouse often find these tools challenging to learn. Avid's introduction of the mouse-driven Smart Tool in MC 5.0 was controversial, with some Avid editors objecting to what they saw as an unnecessary interface change to accommodate mouse users.
Cursor contextually set to Rolling Edit Tool. Rolling edit set up on timeline. Note clip info pop-up which appears after a brief delay when cursor is still. Click on image for larger view.
With Premiere Pro 6, Adobe has done their homework and given us the best of both worlds. All trim functions are literally at your fingertips. The keyboard trim commands rival Media Composer's flexibility and precision, and include the prized, real-time "rock and roll" trimming Avid editors enjoy.
Double clicking the transition brings a context aware display into the Program viewer -- two-up for overwrite, ripple and roll. The display is four-up when using the slip and slide tool. Click on image for larger view.
Final Cut Pro editors more used to the mouse will be comfortable as well. Adobe's default selection tool is context sensitive, automatically showing the right or left overwrite trim cursor while hovering over a transition. Modifier keys switch the cursor to ripple or roll. It's visually clear, intuitive and instantly learnable.
Another nice feature are the discreet tool tips at the bottom left of the Premiere Pro window. This is a status bar that describes the actions of the current cursor and suggests any optional modifier keys.
It's no exaggeration to say that with Premiere Pro 6, Adobe's NLE trim tools now rival the best in the industry. Great job, Adobe!
Premiere Pro 6 addresses one of the biggest complaints of Premiere Pro 5.5 users by introducing flexible audio tracks. In the past, changing track types - for example from stereo to mono - was cumbersome. In Premiere Pro 6, the process is easier and more flexible. Additionally, the new standard audio tracks are format agnostic, letting you place both stereo and mono audio objects on the same single track.
Stereo and mono audio clips, both on audio track 3. Note sync markers indicating a 19-frame sync slip on Clip #3. Click on image for larger view.
Premiere Pro 6 has a full-featured audio mixer panel with busing and effect inserts for VST plugins. Faders can be used to write automation in real-time. Currently, mixer automation is track-based only, meaning it won't stick to your clips if you move them on the timeline. Audio experts make a good point in saying track-based automation is much more useful with a way to attach it to clips. Hopefully we'll see this in a future release.
Premiere Pro Audio Mixer with submix pulldown. Click on image for larger view.
BUILT-IN EFFECTS AND TITLING
Premiere Pro 6 includes basic effects and transitions for audio and video, but this is one area where I missed Final Cut Pro 7. FCP7 comes with a much more comprehensive set right in the box, and over the years I've built a valuable plug-in collection from Final Cut Pro only vendors like Digital Heaven. Hopefully Adobe and/or third-party vendors will fill the gaps soon.
Two effects worth noting are the three-way color corrector and the keyer. Both produce very high quality results with flexible, fully keyframable controls. They were a pleasure to use.
Premiere Pro Three-way Color Corrector. All parameters can be keyframed.
Premiere Pro's three-way looks and works more like Colorista than FCP7's. XML translation from FCP7 worked pretty well, especially given the differences in parameter design. The biggest three-way problem was highlight input levels translating 50% too low. Raising the value from 128 to 255 made things look good - not exactly matching FCP7, but acceptably close.
Premiere Pro Title Generator - window and tools. Click on image for larger view.
The built-in title generator is solid but basic. While good for simple titles, it currently works inside a modal window and doesn't allow keyframed parameters. Again, this is something Adobe or third-parties will hopefully address.
Let me say that again.
Running Premiere Pro 6 was like working with a new computer. Seriously. The UI is snappy and responsive, instantly keeping up with every move. Everything about it feels tight and precise, like a well-crafted tool feels in the hand.
Then there's playback. It's important to understand how Adobe approaches playback, rendering and output, as it's different than Apple's approach in Final Cut Pro 7. Adobe prioritizes real-time playback during editing, transparently doing whatever's needed to keep playback as smooth as possible the entire time. Rendering is usually unnecessary to see effects or transitions. Add an effect and see results instantly. The idea is to keep working in real-time and only render at maximum quality at the very end, targeting your desired output format. It's a similar approach to the way After Effects works - you send your comp to the queue for final output only after you've finished building.
The practical result is that anything you throw on the timeline plays back in real-time.
It doesn't matter if media matches the sequence settings. It doesn't matter if it has a bunch of effects. It doesn't matter if it's rendered or not.
It. Just. Plays.
The Premiere Pro timeline is the honey badger of timelines.
I tried some edit-friendly formats like ProRes and XDCAM EX, as well as native formats like H.264. Premiere Pro cut them all like butter.
So for grins, I thought I'd try something a bit more challenging. How about some RED 4K on a firewire 800 drive?
Premiere Pro 6's new default 2-up editing layout with 4K R3D timeline (footage from the feature film HEATHENS & THIEVES, planned release Summer 2012, courtesy Orofino LLC, http://heathensandthieves.com). Click on image for larger view.
I made a new project and imported a few 4K R3D files. Dropped them on the timeline and hit play. Zero dropped frames at 1/16 playback resolution. I then cut a 4K R3D scene with full-motion playback on my four-year-old laptop. Keep in mind this laptop is so old I don't get any benefits of GPU acceleration. And the footage is on a relatively slow firewire 800 drive. Premiere Pro 6 and my laptop played it back without breaking a sweat.
4K R3D playback at 1/16 resolution on a 15" late 2008 MacBook Pro 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo. Note CPU usage meter in upper right corner reading less than 50% and green dropped frame indicator at lower left showing zero dropped frames. Click on image for larger view.
Did I say wow? More like mind blown.
Premiere Pro users have long raved about the 64-bit performance of Adobe's Mercury Playback Engine, but as a Final Cut Pro 7 user experiencing it for the first time, I can't help but be impressed. This is some deep and highly optimized engineering. You can feel it under the hood. This program is tight.
So, is that joke about Premiere Pro 6 being Final Cut Pro 8 true? You could say yes and you could say no. Yes, Adobe borrowed many of Final Cut Pro 7's best features and brought them to Premiere Pro 6, often making them better. As a Final Cut Pro user, I feel comfortable and enjoy the improvements.
But Adobe also paid attention to the good parts of other NLEs as well. On top of that, Adobe clearly has their own vision for the future of media production workflow. This includes integration with their CS6 Production Bundle and an entirely different philosophy on render management and output. These are just some of the changes Final Cut Pro users will need to adjust to. But these adjustments are minor compared to completely relearning how to edit.
Is Premiere Pro 6 Adobe's Final Cut Pro 8? If you ask me, the answer is no. It's something different and potentially better. Is there room for improvement? You bet. If you miss certain features, let 'em know. They're listening.
Who's it for? If you already use Adobe's CS Master Collection and plan to upgrade, you already have it. If After Effects is part of your pipeline, it's a no brainer. You'll want it for Dynamic Link. If you work in Avid Media Composer, it's worth your time too. Set up the Premiere Pro keyboard like your Avid and you're good to go.
Make no mistake about it. Premiere Pro 6 is a game changing release in the NLE market.
Adobe has yet to prove itself in high-end collaborative production environments, the demanding workflows of broadcast and feature film where Avid remains king. But I have no doubt this world is firmly in their sights. With Premiere Pro 6, Adobe is well positioned to become the NLE market leader.
Finally, I'm confident in Adobe because of Adobe's unprecedented transparency and open communication. I can't think of another technology company of this size and reach where the actual managers directly involved in product development - guys like Dennis Radeke, Dave McGavran, and Todd Kopriva - actively and publicly converse with their customers, answering questions and asking for feedback on a regular basis. By openly communicating, respecting my professional expertise and listening to my professional needs, Adobe has earned my business and my trust.
I've barely had time to scratch the surface of this program. I'm looking forward to hearing from experts and learning more. I'm prepared for bugs, workflow changes, and things I'm sure I'll miss at first. But with Premiere Pro 6, I feel like I've tasted a bit of the future. And this is a future I can use right now, today; not years from now. I can't wait to get started.
Thanks Adobe, for delivering the goods. After ten years of Final Cut Pro, looks like this editor has found a new home. I think I'm gonna like it.