I’m often asked at the various workshops I run why I don’t grade in Adobe Premiere. Here’s why – they can’t even get basic import levels right.
Below are two screen grabs. The first is from Adobe Premiere CC 2019 and shows an ungraded, as shot, HLG clip. Shot with a Sony Z280 (love that little camera). Note how the clip appears over grossly exposed with a nuclear looking sky and clipped snow, it doesn’t look nice. Also note that the waveform suggest the clips peak levels exceed 110%. Now I know for a fact that if you shoot HLG with any Sony camera white will never exceed 100%.
The second screen grab is from DaVinci Resolve and it shows the same clip. Note how in Resolve that although bright the clip certainly doesn’t look over exposed as it does in Premiere. Note also how the levels show by the waveform now no longer exceeds code value 869 (100% white is 940). These are the correct and expected levels, this is how the clip is supposed to look. Not the utter nonsense that Adobe creates.
Why can’t Adobe get this right. This problem has existed for ages and it really screws up your footage. If you are using S-Log and you try to add a LUT then things get even worse as the LUT expects the correct levels, not these totally incorrect levels.
Take the SDI or raw out from the camera and record a ProRes file on something like a Shogun while recording XAVC internally and the two files look totally different in Premiere but they look the same in Resolve. Come on Adobe – you should be doing better than this.
If they can’t even bring clips in at the correct levels, what hope is there of being able to get a decent grading output? I can make the XAVC clips look OK in Premiere but I have to bring the levels down to do this. I shouldn’t have to. I exposed it right when I shot it so I expect it to look right in my edit software.
I have been editing with Adobe Premiere since around 1994. I took a rather long break from Premiere between 2001 and 2011 and switched over to Apple and Final Cut Pro which in many ways used to be very similar to Premiere (I think some of the same software writers were used for FCP as Premiere). My FCP edit stations were always muti-core Mac Towers. The old G5’s first then later on the Intel Towers. Then along came FCP-X. I just didn’t get along with FCP-X when it first came out. I’m still not a huge fan of it now, but will happily concede that FCP-X is a very capable, professional edit platform.
So in 2011 I switch back to Adobe Premiere as my edit platform of choice. Along the way I have also used various versions of Avid’s software, which is another capable platform.
But right now I’m really not happy with Premiere. Over the last couple of years it has become less stable than it used to be. I run it on a MacBook Pro which is a well defined hardware platform, yet I still get stability issues. I’m also experiencing problems with gamma and level shifts that just shouldn’t be there. In addition Premiere is not very good with many long GOP codecs. FCP-X seems to make light work of XAVC-L compared to Premiere. Furthermore Adobe’s Media encoder which once used to be one of the first encoders to get new codecs or features is now lagging behind, Apples Compressor now has the ability to do at he full range of HDR files. Media Compressor can only do HDR10. If you don’t know, it is possible to buy Compressor on it’s own.
Meanwhile DaVinci Resolve has been my grading platform of choice for a few years now. I have always found it much easier to get the results and looks that I want from Resolve than from any edit software – this isn’t really a surprise as after all that’s what Resolve was originally designed for.
The last few versions of Resolve have become much faster thanks to some major processing changes under the hood and in addition there has been a huge amount of work on Resolves edit capabilities. It can now be used as a fully featured edit platform. I recently used Resolve to edit some simpler projects that were going to be graded as this way I could stay in the same software for both processes, and you know what it’s a pretty good editor. There are however a few things that I find a bit funky and frustrating in the edit section of Resolve at the moment. Some of that may simply be because I am less familiar with it for editing than I am Premiere.
Anyway, on to my point. Resolve is getting to be a pretty good edit platform and it’s only going to get better. We all know that it’s a really good and very powerful grading platform and with the recent inclusion of the Fairlight audio suite within Resolve it’s pretty good at handling audio too. Given that the free version of Resolve can do all of the edit, sound and grading functions that most people need, why continue to subscribe to Adobe or pay for FCP-X?
With the cost of the latest generations of Apple computers expanding the price gap between them and similar spec Windows machines – as well as the new Macbooks lacking built in ports like HDMI, USB3 that we all use every day (you now have to use adapters and dongles). The Apple eco system is just not as attractive as it used to be. Resolve is cross platform, so an Mac user can stay with Apple if they wish, or move over to Windows or Linux whenever they want with Resolve. You can even switch platforms mid project if you want. I could start an edit on my MacBook and the do the grade on a PC workstation staying with Resolve through the complete process.
Even if you need the extra features of the full version like very good noise reduction, facial recognition, 4K DCI output or HDR scopes then it’s still good value as it currently only costs $299/£229 which is less than a years subscription to Premiere CC.
But what about the rest of the Adobe Creative suite? Well you don’t have to subscribe to the whole suite. You can just get Photoshop or After Effects. But there are also many alternatives. Again Blackmagic Design have Fusion 9 which is a very impressive VFX package used for many Hollywood movies and like Resolve there is also a free version with a very comprehensive tools set or again for just $299/£229 you get the full version with all it’s retiming tools etc.
For a Photoshop replacement you have GIMP which can do almost everything that Photoshop can do. You can even use Photoshop filters within GIMP. The best part is that GIMP is free and works on both Mac’s and PC’s.
So there you have it – It looks like Blackmagic Design are really serious about taking a big chunk of Adobe Premiere’s users. Resolve and Fusion are cross platform so, like Adobe’s products it doesn’t matter whether you want to use a Mac or a PC. But for me the big thing is you own the software. You are not going to be paying out rather a lot of money month on month for something that right now is in my opinion somewhat flakey.
I’m not quite ready to cut my Creative Cloud subscription yet, maybe on the next version of Resolve. But it won’t be long before I do.
Sony have just released a plug-in for Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. The plugin allows you to work with HD and 4K XAVC material in FCP-X. As well as the plugin you will need to first update FCP-X to at least version 10.0.8. The handling of HD and 4K XAVC in FCP-X is very impressive with smooth 4K playback on my iMac and Retina MBP. It even handles scaling to HD for SDI output in real time with ease.
When you transcode from 8 bit to 8 bit you will almost always have some issues with banding if there are any changes in the gamma or gain within the image. As you are starting with 8 bits or 240 shades of grey (bits 16 to 255 assuming recording to 109%) and encoding to 240 shades the smallest step you can ever have is 1/240th. If whatever you are encoding or rendering determines that lets say level 128 should now be level 128.5, this can’t be done, we can only record whole bits, so it’s rounded up or down to the closest whole bit. This rounding leads to a reduction in the number of shades recorded overall and can lead to banding.
DISCLAIMER: The numbers are for example only and may not be entirely correct or accurate, I’m just trying to demonstrate the principle.
Consider these original levels, a nice smooth graduation:
128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133.
Imagine you are doing some grading and you plugin has calculated that these are the new desired values:
128.5, 129, 129.4, 131.5, 132, 133.5
But we cant record half bits, only whole ones so for 8 bit these get rounded to the nearest bit:
129, 129, 129, 132, 132, 134
You can see how easily banding will occur, our smooth gradation now has some marked steps.
If you are rendering to 10 bit you would get more in between steps.
If you render to 10 bit then when step 128 is determined to be be 128.5 by the plugin this can now actually be encoded as the closest 10 bit equivalent because for every 1 step in 8 bit there are 3.9 steps in 10 bit, so (approximately,translating to 10 bit) level 128 would be 499 and 128.5 would be 501
128.5 = 501
129 = 503
129.4 = 505
131.5 = 513
132 = 515
133.5 = 521
So you can see that we now retain in-between steps which are not present when we render to 8 bit so our gradation remains much smoother.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.