NLE Review: Adobe Premiere Pro CC
How do you begin to thoroughly review an NLE as deep and feature rich as something like PPro?
By Scott Simmons | December 10, 2013
If you follow what has been going on in the world of non-linear editing tools for the past few years you know that Adobe has been working very hard to make Premiere Pro a viable option for every aspect of editorial and post-production. The Adobe Premiere Pro team has been asking questions, listening to editors and improving their product with release after release pretty much ever since CS4 came along. I’m happy to report that with Adobe Premiere Pro CC the tool really has arrived.
It’s hard to talk about PPro CC without talking about Adobe Creative Cloud subscription service and the fact you can no longer pay one lump sum for a specific Adobe suite of tools. You now have to pay monthly. That’s not what this article is about so you’ll have to look elsewhere for that debate. Though I will say I do wish there was a video tools only option that was a bit cheaper. So much of the Creative Cloud toolset I will never ever ever never use. It sucks I still have to pay for it.
What follows is not a CC new features review. While it’s hard to review a big update like the CC update without discussing new features (and features that are still missing) I tried to approached this review so that someone who is new to Adobe Premiere Pro could appreciate it as well. There’s some long-standing issues still present in PPro CC and those are discussed. There’s also some things that were fixed and/or modified before the CC release and those are discussed as well. And while this is a long review a tool that’s as feature rich and in-depth as an NLE like PPro can never be completely covered feature-for-feature in a several thousand word review.
One of the most important things about any NLE is the interface and PPro CC seems to complete an interface makeover that began a few versions ago. Most all of the knobs, dials, buttons and dead spaces have finally been eliminated to streamline the tool into something that feels good to spend many hours working in. Customizability is important to CC and you can see that all around the Source / Record monitors down to the much cleaner timeline.
Button customization in the interface is important but it would be nice to have more options for what can be put under a monitor. How about any menu item?
The PPro timeline track patching panel has always been a real mess but with CC the headings can be minimized to show virtually nothing up to way too much.
With all the track patch panel options off it makes for a very clean, minimal patch panel.
With everything turned on the audio tracks come a bit convoluted but you can put in only as much or as little as you would like.
Solo and mute buttons have moved from the track mixer into the timeline where they should be. Patching Source media into a track is finally easy with the drag of the mouse or the tap of a few keyboard keys. The Source media destination only obeys the Source patch just as it should. Changing track size is as easy as scrolling a mouse wheel and custom timeline track sizes can be saved.
Not everything is roses … with all these new timeline options comes a rather convoluted track heading menu. With great power often comes lots of settings.
Audio waveforms in the timeline have changed to a new “rectified” style (as in audio waveforms on the bottom) but the old un-rectified waveforms (as in waveforms in the middle) are still available via the timeline flyout menu. I love that the push of a button will minimize all the timeline track heights and remove the waveform display. Then it’s a simple matter of making an audio track bigger to get the waveform back. I hate that you can’t see clip markers without a track height being expanded just a little. One negative I’ve found overall is that waveforms all over PPro CC sometimes don’t draw exactly when I want them to and sometimes they seem to flicker during playback. I might have to play through a section or zoom the display to get them to draw properly be it in the timeline or, especially, viewing waveforms in the Source monitor.
While waveform redrawing in the source monitor isn’t as good as it could be (that’s full audio in the image above and PPro only draws a piece at a time as I move the playhead there) it’s nice that a click of that little waveform icon at the bottom will show them instead of having to go to a flyout menu setting. And that waveform toggle is keyboard mappable.
The new timeline options don’t change everything as video tracks can display thumbnails in a variety of ways. I still find I leave video thumbnails off way more than I leave them on. Another thing that hasn’t changed is the option to display different video motion and effects keyframes right in the timeline.
I can turn everything in the timeline off except for these annoying little fx buttons?
While this is great for doing animation and motion graphics I find times I want to turn those little keyframe buttons off that appear on every clip. Those things can sometimes just get in the way. If I can turn everything else in the timeline off why can’t I turn those off when I just want to work on my story?
Trimming is great, but not Media Composer great
The great PPro trimming overhaul of version 6 gets some subtle improvements in CC to make it even better. It’s going to take some divine intervention for an NLE to achieve Avid’s level of trimming bliss but PPro is getting closer. I love that you can select multiple edit points and choose ripple or roll trims very quickly. The speed with which you can dig in and achieve a trim via the mouse is quite nice but you can dynamic trim via the keyboard as well.
Like many menu commands in PPro CC you’ll need to search through the Keyboard Shortcuts to learn them all as well as map some of them to the keyboard as they don’t have any defaults.
While dynamic trimming of edit points works very fast and very well the fact you can’t really do dynamic SLIP and SLIDE trims in any sort of easy and proper way seems like a big oversight at this point in PPro’s life.
Performing a SLIP trim via the Slip Tool provides a nice 4-image display in the Program monitor that shows both the IN and OUT frame of the clip as well as the adjacent outgoing and incoming frames. That’s the kind of feedback you need when doing a slip edit. The Slide tool provides similar display feedback.
While you can set up a dynamic SLIP or SLIDE trim by choosing the appropriate yellow trim rollers (the image above is a SLIP) and actually use JKL playback to make the edit there isn’t anywhere near the proper feedback in the Program monitor.
Basically, performing a slip or slide trim with the mouse works very well. But performing a dynamic slip or slide trim where you can actually playback the media is clumsy and only seems to work accidently.
Did Adobe just forget to add this feature?
Shortcuts and the keyboard
Adobe has been adding in lots of new keyboard shortcuts with each update and CC is no different. I never really know exactly which new keyboard shortcuts were added with which update as I’ll often find a new one I didn’t know existed while searching the keyboard shortcuts editor for something else. This is a good thing as pretty much anything you do on an NLE should be able to be done by the keyboard. Yes that might be thousands of actions but it gives the editor choice of how they want to work. Yes all those actions make it more complex to search out and set up a keyboard but we’re big kid editors, we can handle it.
This little option to “step through” a multicam source clip seems to have come along in CC. With that it’s almost ready for large scale music video editing.
The problem with all these shortcuts comes in the form of a horrendous keyboard editor. There is no visual keyboard reference so it’s really a multistep process to search out, scroll through, identify the shortcut and then assign it to a new key. I extensively map my keyboard and with more PPro use than ever before it constantly changes. And changing it is a painful process. Saving the layout even more so as you can’t quickly overwrite your existing keyboard mapping: You have to type in exactly the same name.
I’ve heard Adobe Premiere Pro product manager Al Mooney quoted as saying it would take a lot of resources to create a visual keyboard mapping tool. My guess is that means we won’t see it anytime soon. That’s sad. If Adobe needs a reference look no further than Final Cut Pro 7 as it has/had the best keyboard mapping tool on the market.
A great thing about the Creative Cloud? The ability to sync your keyboard settings into the cloud.
On the plus side you can now sync keyboard mappings (and many other settings) via the Creative Cloud. That means they are safe and sound as well as accessible from other machines regardless of the account paying for the CC subscription. On the minus side you can only map a command to one key at a time.
A real weak point of PPro has long been media management. While still not perfect we have taken a big leap forward with the new “Link and Locate” option. Alliteration aside it means that the new dialog box you get to search out and relink media is very useful.
Adding a dedicated interface to search out and relink media has helped PPro CC take big strides in avoiding the reconnection dance. This used to be a much more painful process with earlier versions of Adobe Premiere Pro.
Things like the last file path used and the ability to use the Adobe media browser make relinking media nowhere near the chore that it used to be. While the reconnection dance isn’t entirely a thing of the past it’s at least more bearable. The fact that PPro CC can show only the file you’re looking for as well as relink media automatically is a good thing. The fact that it sometimes seems to miss media in the same folder is a bad thing, though that is the exception in my experience and not the norm. Often PPro is able to automatically find media that has moved to a new drive name and that is a good thing.
Adobe needs to continue to refine Link and Locate for a very important reason: their instance on camera native workflows. Camera native means you might have obscurely named media buried deep within weird camera file structures that needs to be located. This can be a pain. With this type of workflow being very common (and encourage by Adobe) the PPro media management needs to be the best in the business. It’s good but not there yet.
All hail the audio
Working with audio in PPro CC is as good as if not better than any NLE out there. It has been good for a while but the addition of the much asked for Clip Mixer means we really have the best of both worlds when it comes to audio mixing.
The Audio Clip Mixer is a welcome addition to PPro’s old Track Mixing way of working. There’s even the option to keyframe audio automation right from the Clip Mixer.
Think about it … you can adjust clip levels on an individual basis by dragging audio rubber bands and then fine tune with the precision of the Clip Mixer if needed. You can also adjust levels and pan, apply effects and keyframe with Latch/Touch options for an entire track with the Track Mixer. The fact we still have a track based timeline makes this incredibly useful for the organized editor. You can then send the entire mix over to the Creative Cloud’s great Adobe Audition if you really need the heavy duty audio mix. It would be nice it there was a way to slip track audio keyframes though.
A search through that keyboard editor will find commands to raise and lower clip volumes with a keystroke.
Yep, all these audio options make for more complexity when it comes to doing audio work in PPro CC. Fear not the complex fellow editors as these are conventional audio tools that editors need to know how to use. Learn it once and you can apply it in other places. Now if only Adobe would add those cool fade handles to the head and tail of each audio clips … like FCPX has. They’re there in Audition!
I hate the audio conform, media cache and scratch disks
Let’s first talk these audio conform files that PPro has to make before it can playback certain audio formats. I can understand the need to have to make some new audio files to play back and draw waveforms for non-standard audio formats. But what an NLE should never, never, never do is present video media and make it appear to not have audio. That is exactly what can happen if you try to load up a piece of video that PPro needs to create audio conform files for that it hasn’t yet generated.
While you can monitor the audio conforming process at the bottom of the interface there is no indicator of how long PPro might take to complete the entire process. It can be a real pain.
I don’t care if you have to take every system resource available and take double the time to generate the conform files but to have video appear to have no audio is the worst possible choice. If you want to see a producer freak then try to load up their shoot before the audio conform is done.
You’d think with the awesome Mercury Playback Engine PPro wouldn’t have to generate as many of these conform files as it does. All of these conform files can make for messy media cache folders but that’s what we have. There is an option to place those cache files along side the media files. That can help solve the issue of PPro losing those files but it sure does make for one messy camera media folder.
I’m not yet convinced that saving these cache files alongside the original media files in an original camera folder structure won’t cause issues if using that native media in other apps. But the option is there and some editors never turn it off.
That brings me to the other frustrating issue which is the location of those media cache folders and PPro’s Scratch Disks. You want your Scratch Disks on your fast media drive but what you don’t want is Scratch Disks to end up on your system drive. This is exactly what happens when you open a project that is missing its scratch disk locations. You get an alert that you have to default the Scratch Disk to your Documents folder. You can’t open the project if you don’t agree.
If we can have a dialog that is warning us the Scratch Disk isn’t there then how come we can’t choose a new location right from that dialog box before the project opens?
Why can't we open this Project Settings dialog box right from the Scratch Disk Error?
These media cache and Scratch Disk issues go back to the importance of good media management. PPro could still use some work in this department and the media cache / Scratch Disk issues are by far my biggest issues with PPro CC.
But how does CC perform in the real world?
I’ve talked about some of the specific features of PPro CC but for the second part of the Adobe Premiere Pro CC review I wanted to look at how PPro performed on a couple of recent edits. I’ve used it a lot since release but it was these two jobs in particular that I think really shows where PPro CC shines as well as where it fell short.
Get articles like this in your inbox: Sign Up