My film students often ask me to recommend a video editing system. “Which is better, Final Cut or Adobe Premiere?” they ask hungry for a decisive enlightenment. Here is a summary of the main differentiating points... and the non-differentiating points.
Why use one or the other?
I have been using Adobe Premiere as my main editing system at Last Wave Film, occasionally switching to Final Cut Pro when clients ask me to. My personal preference goes to Adobe Premiere, although practically speaking, in the Silicon Valley, it might be more useful for an editor to get experience with Final Cut. The question often comes down to this: are you a Mac or a PC person? Or, more specifically, does your prospective employer work on Mac or PC?
I find that local companies generally require experience editing with Final Cut Pro, not necessarily for the right reasons. The Mac cult is interfering with people's perception of which editing system is better, and although Final Cut Pro has some advantages, I cannot recommend it over Adobe Premiere.
Here is why.
First, let's cut the myths. Since Adobe CS5, it is now possible to run Premiere on a Mac. So just because you own a Mac doesn't mean you have to edit with Final Cut. Running Final Cut on a PC, however, is more difficult--not impossible.
Editing timelines and workspace in Final Cut and Adobe Premiere are very similar, and relatively personalizable, with one notable difference: Final Cut is light gray, Premiere is dark gray. I am dark inside so Premiere is a match, but joking aside, after you learn to use one program, you’ll easily find your way around the other. It is often said that FCP is more stable or faster than Premiere, I say bullshit. This is a misconception dating back to the days when Windows was noticeably unstable. In my experience, both systems are quite stable, and both systems with equally crash when handling that tricky scene full of cuts in your first feature film and you forgot to save. Life just sucks like that. Save your work.
The major difference between the two programs is the way they handle files. Final Cut pro chooses to use an intermediary codec to handle different media, it’s called ProRes. This means that you have to transcode your media files into the ProRes codec and then work with ProRes in the suite. Adobe chooses to go with editing native format media files. Premiere can import and work in a wide variety of video types without first transcoding them. Opinions vary on which is the optimal way to work with files. I personally prefer the way Premiere does it, as I don't have to spend time transcoding files before I can work on them and can edit multiple formats in a single timeline. With the advent of DSLR HD and the RED camera, Adobe smartly adapted, creating a workflow that can handle native formats without conversion. In my opinion, this is the only difference of any consequence between the two systems, and it’s enough to keep me editing on Premiere.
Opinions differ as well when it comes to color correcting, but essentially both systems have tools that do the same thing. In each, you can adjust brightness and contrast, color balance; adjust white, black, and gray levels, and manipulate RGB. However, Adobe After Effects is really what you should use to perform color correction on your projects.
This brings us to another differentiator. Both Final Cut and Premiere are standalone video editing programs, yet they are both available as part of larger software suites. Although expensive, buying the whole suite gives you more editing power and flexibility over audio and graphics. Premiere is undeniably part of a stronger collection of products, including After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop, all highly-regarded industry standards. Apple's Motion is a very good motion graphics applications but is considerably weaker than After Effects. Also, the Apple suite lacks programs for creating 2D and 3D graphics. Final Cut’s sound editing program, Sountrack Pro, is considerably more robust that Adobe’s woefully inadequate Adobe Soundbooth, but you should really be doing your sound work in Logic or ProTools anyway.
What’s relevant to me is that Adobe Premiere interacts with the other programs in the Adobe suite as if they were a single program, and also edits native format.
All in all, if you are not planning on getting the suite, the two programs are very comparable. When one application has a feature the other lacks, the gap is often closed in the next round of releases. It is very similar to the way Canon and Nikon operate or any pair of technologies competing for market monopolization. These companies never let the other get too far ahead without reacting. User comfort should be the main guiding factor. If you like Final Cut or Premiere better because you’re used to it and know all the commands and feel you work faster with it, then use it. If you’re in the industry professionally you should learn and be comfortable with both, though. You will find yourself hired by a client or working with a post-production team that has a preference, and you, if you want the job, will have to adjust.
With the recent CS6 release, Adobe made its suite available “on the cloud” for a monthly subscription fee. This is an interesting option because it removes the barrier to entry that the price is.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions!